I uttered those ^^words to a good friend, the other day, when she called me to check in… as she’s done regularly since Mom died, three weeks ago today. Hmm, I know I will reach a point when I’m not counting days and weeks, keeping track of the time that’s passed since she “passed.” I’m keenly aware of the stages of grief and loss. I have a rusty MSW; I trained as a bereavement counselor two years ago, and I’ve had lots of personal experience (as some of you have read (too) much about, recently). I know that “this too shall pass.” I understand that the cards will stop coming; my friends will stop checking in on me, and will return to simply calling me to give me shit about stuff or make plans. The concerned tones and the hugs will disappear. I will move through this, and be surprised when I suddenly look at the calendar and realize it’s been “x” number of months or years. I know that at some point I will stop getting these unexpected jolts of guilt: “Damn! I haven’t gone to see Mom in ages! She must be so upset with me…” Sundays will go back to just being the day before Monday, and not the night that Mom comes to dinner, or we take her out… or the night I remember that. Right now however, the jolts happens much more often than I anticipated. I’m fine, going about my day, and pow! That panicky feeling runs through me, and I think I need to take care of something or go see her, and then I realize again, that she is no longer suffering, that she’s gone.
So when my wonderfully, dedicated friend (who has stood by me through a lot this year, who has loved me just right, who hasn’t missed a step… and has accepted the same from me in return) called and said, as neutrally as she could, on the 4th day in a row of snow day: “So, how you doing?” My response was: “She’s brain dead; take her off life support.” It’s a sick joke. I know that. I understand why some of you might find it terribly callous or cruel. Mind you, I hadn’t heard about the death of Sarah Burke yet (a terribly sad bit of news this week), but I do live in that world of brain issues (surgeon spouse) and I generally don’t joke about that…. however, frankly, it just slipped out without skipping a beat. It was exactly how I felt, in the moment.
I love snow; really, I do. I had looked forward to snow… weeks ago. However, given that winter break just barely ended, the kids had just returned to school; that I’d had (wonderful) contractors at my house all last week, I was really, really counting on this week to just stay home and lick my wounds. Seriously, I haven’t been alone at all (aside for a couple of 1-2 hr intervals, when I had to get things done) since Mom died, three weeks ago (and I not only wasn’t alone before that, but had 5 kids at home, plus holiday guests, and a mother in hospice). Three weeks, that isn’t really that long, is it? I mean, I don’t know what others expect… but it seems reasonable that I’m still feeling a bit “off.” So, I just wanted to be silent and alone for a day or two (dare I ask for a whole school week?), reflect and sort through my mother’s things. I can not do it with a houseful of teens asking me constant questions, and needing attention. I know I need to be alone for this.
<— These happy boys, and a few more, were all here to keep me company… mucky boots and all.
But, no; that was not in my cards. We had no snow most of last winter, none over the break, so I too had wished for snow. But not now, not this past week. This was the week that I put nothing on my calendar, and planned to just do all of the things I mentioned above. Instead, we finally got a huge snow storm, the week I was supposed to be alone… huge by our meager standards. Anywhere else I’ve lived (Michigan, Chicago, Connecticut or Boston/area), school would have gone on as usual, and I would have been home alone (this link demonstrates how I felt, when I was not home alone). That’s really all I want right now, solitude. I have great friends, who have brought some lovely dinners, have pulled me out for lunch or coffee, who have called and checked in regularly, and I’m glad for those lovely moments when I feel connected to my regular world. But, but, but… I also need to take a little time and just let go of the other stuff that has been brewing, pick at my scabs a little. That’s just how I’m wired, and it’s what I need right now. I’ve thrown away all the dried flowers, I’ve collected Mom’s ashes, I’ve begun to clean up the clutter and debris, that piled up while we were in crisis mode… but I haven’t had any privacy or quiet, to just sit and be with my thoughts.
Look, honestly, I posted here and said it more than once: we all knew my Mom would die of Huntington’s eventually, and many, many times wished for that time to come sooner, than later. She had virtually no quality of life left. We were the only family members (me, my siblings, and her grandchildren) who were in touch with her at all. She was lonely, she was in pain most days, she fell 3-5 days a week, before she broke her elbow… the writing was on the wall for a long time. Watching her suffer was insufferable. (Dictionary: Insufferable: “too extreme to bear, intolerable”… begins to scratch the reality of the situation.) There were so many days when I felt like a lousy daughter, because her suffering put me in a bad mood, made me impatient with her, left me drained. There were other days when I took my dark wishes back, and truly wanted more time to sit with her, or just lie there in bed with her, and watch the day melt. Selfishly, though I knew it was awful for her, I wanted a little more time, hoping to connect some dots that are still, and will remain, scattered and lost. She had those amazing moments of clarity at the end (intermittently, on those last two months), that were such a gift and I wanted more of that. I’m grateful I got what I got, but I greedily wished for more. The other days, I wished for it to be over.
Letting go, it’s something I don’t do well. I hold on long past when the writing on the wall has become bold, nasty graffiti. Friendships that are dead in the water, or limping along, I’m still pining over and trying to revive, when I should be moving along. Family dynamics that are damaged beyond repair, difficult or strained, or chronically toxic, and I’m still looking for bandaids and hoping for rapprochement. It’s a good trait sometimes. I’m a faithful friend, despite my potential DSM qualifications. I hold my own, and more, in the aunt, cousin, sister department as well. Of course, this is all my say only… but trust me. I watched (and learned from) so many of my mother’s generation, and the one before it, who walked away and did not look back… let loved ones bleed out. Siblings who didn’t speak, cousins who gossiped or ignored each other, aunts and uncles who slipped away, as if the difficulties so outweighed any good that ever existed, that effort to repair relationships was unthinkable. Ugh. It’s ugly, and it’s not for me. It left so much pain for the next band of (us) cousins/aunts/ uncles/parents/and siblings to muck through. So, I don’t walk away easily. However, it gets a bit blurry when the writing is indeed on the wall, or death adds that final period. That’s when my difficulty with closure, with holding on, just adds salt to the wound.
I’m not holding on to my Mom. I’m not second guessing things or wishing for other outcomes. Those days came and went a long time ago. There were plenty of very hard times, when she was first diagnosed, when I raged against the machine. By the time she was really sick, I’d given up on trying to fight it or go back and fix anything. Right now, I just want to sit with that reality and take it in. I want to fold her clothes and let them go. I want to empty that big bin of things, go through the closet full of summer items and stuff that landed there back when I was still in denial, and then just stayed there collecting dust. It will feel good to clear the things away, and then let the feelings fall into place. It helps make room for clarity in other places where I’m still stuck. Ironically, watching this ending so closely… willing myself not to blink, as death came through the door, has opened my eyes to other places that I need to move beyond as well. I’m making room for good, healthy choices and clear, mutually rewarding relationships. It’s a process; slow and tedious at times, and clear as can be, in the golden moments when I see things for what they really are.
<— Even my faithful companion, Luke, made life harder this week.
So, I want some time. I want some space and some solitude. I want the weather to be kind and my kids back in school. I want the chance to practice the work I’ve been learning, apply the changes I’ve struggled with. I want to get off auto-pilot and figure the rest out. I’d give anything to drive back to Yellowstone right now, and deal with the snow there… the quiet, snow. When my friend called, I was trying to hold it together, after three weeks of just the opposite. It’s been non-stop activity since the day Mom died. Kids and more kids, with snowy wet feet; kids packing to go back to college and needing errands run, help with the minutiae; it’s been decks being built; dogs sick and shitting all over the floors that need mopping for muddy boot prints; and it’s been three weeks of feeling like all that is in my way… When my friend called, the words slipped from my mouth without a pause: “She’s brain dead, take her off life support.” And while I see the dark, inappropriateness of it now, it was funny. We both laughed, because she knew what I meant. My brains been on overload long past sustainability. It’s fried. I don’t need support, or life saving efforts anymore… I just want to breath on my own for a while. I want to take a few days and be with this phase of my loss. I want to give it its proper attention and space, and then I will wash that graffiti off this wall and move on. I’m ready to let go … almost.
IF you still don’t know what this next part means, or why it’s important, go back and read A Dick, A Tid Bit and FYI… Life in Blog Land
Stop! Really. Read this. Please note: If you enjoy these posts hit “Like” and make me smile. It also helps my blog grow and that is the point. Go back and hit Like. Thanks. Then, be nice and “Share” them with others; ’tis the season. Better yet Like them; Share them and then do something nice for yourself: “Subscribe.” You won’t get any spam, you can sign up with an anonymous name (I won’t know who you are, unless you tell me), and you will get an email each time I post. Think of it as a Holiday gift to yourself. You know you want to. Go ahead, make my day (sorry about the gun, but this is serious business).
Very touching. I relate to much of what you said after 12 deaths in 3 years. I am so deeply sorry for the loss of your Mom. Reading your post was like hearing someone speak my own mind on many things. I agree solitude is a huge part of grief – in fact, to me, it is the most important part. When my Grandma died, I was feeling just like you, almost squirmy in my skin, bustling about through life like usual with two kids, two dogs and regular routines. I FINALLY got some moments alone and they were so healing. I did a little quiet reflection and really uncovered the depths of grief – it felt great to honor and acknowledge them, it released a bit of the pain so I could move forward better. We never forget, but we can get stuck in grief if we don’t face it when we can. Eckhart Tolle says, “Any negative emotion not fully faced at the time arises leaves behind a remnant of pain.” Sounds like you and I both have had too many experiences with grief to know, we gotta face it in silence asap in order to save ourselves from that remnant of pain sticking around. I hope you get your moments to yourself soon and I’m here now following you and liking this post!
Thanks parentingalive. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my post and share these thoughts. “Interestingly,” I just heard that very excerpt from Eckhart Tolle’s book the other day. I have it on my iPod, and it spontaneously came on, when I got in the car this week. Great that what I’m writing connected with you, but sorry it’s the harder stuff. If you go back before September, there’s lots of laughs. Fewer after October, but my goal is to write in the moment, and I’ve been in “this moment” for a little longer than anticipated. 😉 Thanks for checking in.
You must be in Seattle, we definitely were hit with snow. And they always close school at the first sign of a snowflake.
I am sorry for your loss…hope you get some time alone soon.
Yes, north of Seattle by an hour. Seattle got a lot I heard! Thanks for checking out the post Sarah and I hope you’ll check back, or read some older ones. The first ones, back in June/July were a fun trip to Yellowstone.
I think you have to give yourself a lot of time and space. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. My parents are in their 80’s and everyday seems like a new crisis.
As far as endless snow days- I understand too (though no more kids at home.)– send them back as soon as possible– never could understand how anyone would want to home school! Take care of yourself.
There’s a whole different set of issues to contend with, when your parents are very old (my mom was 68 when she died)… depending on their health. I hope they remain as healthy as possible and your life is as calm as it can be cyclingrandma! Very stressful, for sure. Just be sure to enjoy the sweet moments that still exist. Write it down, the things they say… ask your questions, while you can. It’s gone in a flash, and then you think of all the lucid moments that you wasted, being overwhelmed or annoyed… kind of like parenting our kids, don’t you think!? Thanks for reading and weighing in. 🙂
Once again I connect with what you say. There is something wonderful about being home alone. It’s actually something we practically have to negotiate here. I feel funny when I notice I’m resenting that everyone is home and I want them to leave. It is rare for me to get the house to myself with retired hubby home 24/7 and daughter still popping in for days at a time.My cherished alone time is the 20 minutes in the car to and from work. It’s not enough, but I make the most of it. My brother and his family were here yesterday, braved driving down our 1 mile long snow covered road after 80 miles of bare and dry. The topic of grief after a dozen years since my Dad died came up. We all of us got teary just remembering him and talking about the month of hospice when my family moved in with my parents and my siblings came up for evenings and weekends. The current catch phrase “It gets better.” is so appropriate and when I say it, you know I am not belittling anything you are going through. I know you have hope and strength and you are well supported. I hope you get the house to yourself all week now!
Thanks Heidi! Yes, I do know that it does in fact get better… no belittling there. It is just unpleasant in the moment. I need some good sleep, and some difficult to find solitude. I hear you: some days the car is the best place I know! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your family’s memories. How nice that you all had some time together, despite the snow (!) and shared some tender memories. Big cyber hug.
You get to say off kilter things whenever you want. You’ve been through a traumatic loss. Different than mine since it was years in the making, but trauma is trauma.
When my Mom died I was about 27 years old. I was not only the baby of the family by 9 years, but also the only disabled kid in the family. I was so tightly bonded with my mother that the concept of life without her in it was unthinkable. She was my Mom and my confidant. She was so young – only 63. The cancer came out of nowhere and in 3 excruciating months she was gone. She was the glue that held the family together and after she died, we disintegrated.
To top it off, I was the only trained death and dying counselor in that part of the state. She was so hurt, so angry, so wounded, that in the end I set my own feelings aside to be provide the only thing left that I could for her. My life turned upside down and I moved home to care for her, working all day and driving an hour to her house each night. At the end she made me promise not to cry and because I’d have done anything for her, I agreed. And I kept my promise for about six months – at which point I imploded.
I didn’t have your active family or a great dog or much else to keep me busy. I had a job working in the field of death and dying, not the best of environments for me, considering. So I worked 18 hour days and slept when I could not stay awake any longer. I had cops stop by the office to see if someone was burglarizing the place (small town) and tell me to go home.
A few years later one of my psychiatric nurse friends said I made some strange comments up ’til the night I spent with her when I finally imploded with grief and loss. (Note to readers: Never make a kid who will really attempt to honor a parent’s last wishes to promise not to grieve.)
Give yourself time. There is a rhythm to recovering from traumatic loss. There is a rhythm to dealing with grief. It has been 44 years since my Mom’s been gone and it took me about 10 years, rather than 7, to largely work through the process. There isn’t a day that I don’t think about her at one point or the other, but now there is the patina of great age to the loss and the realization that this summer I’ll be the same age she was when she died.
Be gentle with yourself. You’re still healing.
When my Dad passed on at the ripe old age of 97 1/2 there only a slight poignant twinge for all the things not said or done. It was a peaceful passing from one side of existence to the others. There are deaths of trauma and deaths of peace. I’m thankful his was one of peace.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post anotherboomer and for your thoughtful response. Yes, we all grieve differently and we all live through different experiences. I’m sorry that your mother’s loss was so traumatic, and impacted you so powerfully… for so long. I appreciate your words of wisdom and empathy, and the fact that you took the time to share my blog. All the best in this New Year.
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