dealing with grief

Seas of Grace

On March 24, 2017, the first anniversary of my mother’s death, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, visiting a dear friend who I jokingly refer to as my “other mother.” Last year, on the second anniversary of her death, Jim and I were in Nashville at the Brentwood Arena along with thousands of other people at an Eagles concert.

Today, on the third anniversary of losing my mother, I am at home with my husband and my puppy. We do all the familiar morning things - drink coffee in bed, read, rub the puppy belly and get puppy kisses in return. We will walk Lacey along her now familiar pathways here in the neighborhood. I’ll make lunch, maybe go into town to the library or wander through Barnes and Noble and spend some of the gift card I received for my birthday a couple of weeks ago.

Then I’ll pick up some flowers and drive over to the cemetery. The flowers will not last - it’s still too cold, and technically according to the cemetery rules I’m not even supposed to put flowers out right now. This is the time of year they’re beginning spring clean ups and they don’t want people making more work for them I guess. But too bad. I’ll take them anyway.

I won’t linger long. As I said, it’s still cold here - colder than it has any right to be at the end of March. But the weather aside, it doesn’t help me to be at the cemetery anymore. I remember my mother every single day, I don’t need to stand on her grave to do it.

Change in the Weather

While we slept, autumn arrived.

Summer has been lingering for weeks, stubbornly hanging on with hazy humidity and disconcerting warmth. Deep inside me was a yearning for the cool air and sharp azure skies that only autumn can bring, the perfect backdrop against which to etch crimson and gold leaves just beginning to appear.

Overnight, my yearning was satisfied. I dug long pants and sweaters out of storage, pulled on a new pair of soft gray socks, laced up my walking shoes, and set out with Magic and Molly to take full advantage. As we walked into the brisk morning air, it was clear that my two little dogs had felt a similar longing. Magic took of flying down the street, entirely forgetting his 14 years and the occasional arthritis in his hindquarters. Molly, often a reluctant walker, gamely kept pace. When we reached our usual turning point, Magic adamantly refused to go back, digging in his heels and urging me to take the long way home.

We did. 

The Upswing

Do you know the feeling you get when you’ve been sick with the flu, achy and shivering with fever, and then, miraculously, the fever “breaks,” and your chills turn to a warm, sweaty flush?
You open your eyes and see clearly for the first time in days. You can take a deep breath without collapsing into a barrage of coughing. You crave cinnamon toast or hot chicken soup. You want a hot shower and some clean clothes. 

That’s how I feel today. After the past week of suffering (“I am not mourning, I am suffering,” wrote French philosopher Roland Barthe about his mother’s death), today I am peaceful, even a little bit hopeful that life may one day resume it’s luster. I’m getting familiar with the drill, this wild ride of grief. Today is a good day. 

Perhaps it was the catharsis of writing yesterday’s post. 

Maybe it was planting flowers last night, the physical exertion of digging holes and placing the tiny plants into the ground, settling them into the soil and cupping it firmly around them.

It could simply be the healing warmth of summer sun, or the vastness of blue sky that today looks promising instead of punishing. 

Whatever the reason, I accept today's gift of equilibrium with gratitude.


Like the Sky

Sometimes I hesitate to write about Grief, about the way my life is these days. I don’t want to constantly put my sadness into a world that already has plenty of sadness. Still, Grief is the vein that runs through everything I am and do right now. There is no getting around it, there is only getting through it. This is what takes all my energy.

Filling the Empty Spaces

My father loved Christmas. His generous spirit delighted in gift-giving, and especially in finding creative ways to present the gift. There was often a big “un-veiling” involved - one year he bought my son a pint-sized 4-wheeler and rigged up a concealing cover that Brian lifted off with a pulley. I recall searching through a huge cardboard box filled with scrunched up newspapers and a carbide tools from his shop, finally unearthing a slender box that contained a diamond tennis bracelet. And one year he presented me with an autographed, hardcover copy of Arthur Hailey’s book, Wheels. He stood in line for hours to get it, and must have told Hailey about my aspirations to be a writer, because it was inscribed, “Good luck with your writing, Rebecca.” I was 14 years old at the time. As we opened and enjoyed our lavish Christmas presents, he often recalled his own boyhood Christmas, which consisted of a box from the Goodfellows containing a pair of socks, an orange, and sometimes a rubber ball. “That orange was the best thing I ever tasted,” he said. As a pampered only child, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to get only an orange- something I had every day -  for a Christmas present. Nor could I fathom the kind of life my Dad lived as a child -where there was never quite enough food for all six children, where shoes were handed down from one brother to the next and resoled with cardboard, where he went without prescription eyeglasses even though he was severely near-sighted because there was no money to get them.

My father was a self-made man, the kind of man who symbolizes everything America stands for. The son of Armenian immigrants, he left high school in his junior year to fight in The Great War. When he returned, he learned a trade and, at the age of 30, started his own business. For the next 30 years, he ran a very successful tool and die company, a company successful enough to put oranges on our table every single day and diamond bracelets under our Christmas tree. He was proud of that, and rightfully so, and nothing made him happier than sharing his good fortune with his family.

Christmas was never the same after my parents divorce and my father’s move to Florida. Those first few years were especially devastating. Not only was he gone from our family, but we learned he had a new family to celebrate with.  I would sometimes find my mother sobbing in the aisles of the grocery store, heartbroken by  tinny strains of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” playing on the overhead speakers.

Over the next decade, I learned to survive Christmas without my Dad around. I missed his gag gifts, missed the packages he wrapped for me in the color comics from the newspaper. I missed seeing him at my concerts, missed him at our dinner table where there was always more than enough food to go around.  In 2005 my Dad and I re-connected after being estranged for some years, and we often saw each other during the holiday season when Jim and I went to our house in Florida.

But of course it wasn’t the same.

This is the first Christmas without my Dad being in this world, but it is not the first Christmas I’ve spent without him in my life. Still, I find myself grieving the loss all over again, knowing the finality of it this time. One more piece of my little family puzzle is gone, a puzzle I imagine being like those made for preschoolers, with only three or four big pieces. When one of those pieces disappears, a huge gaping hole remains.

I’ve been trying to fill that hole with music and visits with friends, with writing in my journal early in the mornings, with soft music at dusk and shimmery white lights on a small Christmas tree. I’ve been losing myself in good books, dreaming  about what the new year might bring. I find moments of delight  in pictures and videos of my Grandson which I play over and over because they always bring a quick, happy smile.

One of the things I valued most about my Dad was his constant cheerfulness and positive attitude.  He was very sanguine about life, and he believed in happiness and good times and doing what you enjoyed. When people tell a bereaved person that their loved one “wouldn’t want them to be unhappy,” I know that’s true of my father.

I’m  searching for happiness wherever I can find it - in twinkling lights and candle flame, in strains of beautiful music, in my Grandson’s sweet voice.  Just for a while, I set aside those things that worry me, and let myself enjoy life everything that’s beautiful about my life right now.  I believe that’s a gift he would want me to give myself this Christmas.

So I unwrap it from the layers of colored paper and revel in it.

Merry Christmas, everyone.