Grief: Reality, Health & Fairness

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My heart goes out to those affected by the Navy Yard shooting today. Living in Washington, D.C., is not without its risks. I am tired of all the violence. I am tired of people hating.

I just wanted to get that off my chest.

So it’s been two weeks since Mom died and I’m feeling OK. I owe a lot of how I’m feeling right now to Gatorade. I have written about an unquenchable thirst, about how I felt every fluid in my body evaporate the moment the police officer told me and my husband and my father in the modest front hall of his home that my mother had not survived.

I sit here again, a fortnight later, and I still have trouble accessing the algebra, the numbers, the algorithm and the formula that makes that statement make sense. “Your mother did not survive.” I see the words, I know what they mean separately; I even know what they mean in a stream like that and I still think it’s about someone else.

It’s not so much that I have a hard time accepting the news. That day, I absolutely had a hard time accepting the news, but I’m better with it now; it’s that there’s this part of me that’s sorta like, “Oh.” Like the kind of detached “Oh” you’d say in reply to witnessing a car drive into a garage door, or the kind of detached “Oh” you’d say after watching crystal chandelier crashing on a marble floor. It’s a numb “Oh.” It’s the worst kind of “Oh.” It’s the powerless “Oh.” It’s the detached “Oh” — different from the non-attached “Oh.”

Processing.

I really didn’t plan to write what I wrote above about “Oh.” So I added the word, “Reality” to the headline.

I planned to write about the Gatorade and how it helped me immensely and how even after all these years of athleticism and health awareness and nutrition and fitness that I’d forget the one thing to do that sustains us all: properly hydrate.

I don’t mean to confuse things: I have drunk a sea of water, juice, herbal teas, smoothies, the rest. None of it did anything. I still felt like I had powder in my mouth. My bodily functions were telling me all systems were go; clear pee, frequent flushing, all that (I’m done now). Someone asked me about coconut water. I drink it fairly often and I tried it and it didn’t work for me. It left my mouth unhappy. Everyone’s different, so if you dig coconut water, go for it.

After the first week, I was sleeping remarkably well, considering the situation. I was glad to be back in my own digs. I love my cousins like the sun loves the moon, but I was ready for my own couch. I miss them tremendously now; I think our ancestors had it right with the communal living and the tents and all that. It’s simply better and nicer being with your own kind in a situation like this.

So to any of you grieving a death or the loss (divorce, break-up) of a loved one, or a job layoff, foreclosure … get yourself some Gatorade (with real sugar in it) and try it out cut with half water first and then give it about an hour and see what happens. I was starting to feel human by the end of my third glass. I still think red and yellow make six, but my thirst is manageable now.

It’s also important to eat well and take your vitamins. I am a religious vitamin taker and my schedule was derailed a few days right after Mom, and I got a cold. The physical toll the grieving takes is the invisible part; we all know we will cry and be distracted, but the body needs rest and proper hydration.

. . . . .

Fairness.

People are dimensional, textured and unpredictable.

Relationships are dynamic and dimensional.

Jung said it best, “Often what irritates us about another person will lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” (I wrote about I think on June 18, 2013; if you want to see it check out the calendar to the right of this post.)

My relationship with Mom was dynamic, dimensional, unpredictable, passionate and complicated. I’ve written again and again about it. The nice thing about a blog is that people can just do a little backtracking; the utter pain in the ass about a blog is that it’s often not linear. I am a linear thinker; all the posts with “Grief” in the title will be about my mom, her death, our relationship and my coping with it all.

I am pleased to say that despite all our bickering and arguing we did manage to have a few really good conversations in her final weeks and I know she processed them as such because she told my dad about them. I know I said “I love you” to her a number of times. I know I kissed her on her cheek that night in July, the last time I ever saw her alive, when I helped her walk to her car, strapped her in and clicked her seatbelt and told her “be bad” which is code for “I love you” around my family. She looked at me that night, crinkled up her nose and said, “You too, birdie.” (I don’t know why she called me “birdie” … honestly.)

I planned that night several days before. I wanted to celebrate my parents’ 51st anniversary. My younger brother and his team came over and we all planned to call my older brother and his team to sing happy birthday to him. We made hamburgers and my youngest, Thing 3 (T3), set her up with a tray table and chips in our leather club chair, her favorite chair, in our home. She was right beside the TV and T3 asked her if she’d like to watch his favorite show, “How the Universe Works.” She saw the big red Netflix screen and her face brightened.

“Do you have ‘Columbo’?” she asked him, leaning in and smiling like a little girl.

“We can find it,” he said, with a little smirk and an eager flick of the remote control.

So there she was, in her throne, watching “Columbo.” I was happy with that because she was happy with it.

When dinner time came around, I nudged her, “Mom. It’s time for dinner. Let’s go eat on the deck; we have a seat and pillows all set up for you. It’s your wedding anniversary dinner…”

“No.” She said. “I want to watch ‘Columbo.'”

I tried to change her mind, guilt her into eating with us.

“No.”

There was no changing her mind… ever. Even without “Columbo” there would be no changing of my mother’s mind.

So I was a little sad about it and I asked my dad.

“Leave her be. If she wants to sit and watch ‘Columbo’ while we are all out here enjoying one another’s company, so be it…” he said, loudly so she could hear him (which she could, she had ears like a bat and my parents would often talk to each other like George Costanza’s parents on “Seinfeld”).

I imagined my mother doing this, “pfft.”

So I set her up and let her stay there and watch “Columbo” while we all sat on the deck.

And it was odd. It was fair and real and odd.

“The pretending was over,” I remember my therapist saying the following Tuesday after the dinner.

“What do you mean?” I asked, my head tilting like a Labrador retriever’s waiting on a treat. I wanted to bitch about it.

“It was probably one of the first real nights your mother had where she didn’t have to pretend that she didn’t want to be alone and that you all were some Hallmark Card family. It was a gift you gave her; no fighting, no begging, no drama. She wanted to watch ‘Columbo’ and you let her. You showed her you accepted her when you let that happen. You showed her love. Believe it or not: you heard her,” she said.

My jaw dropped. Then my face fell on the floor. If my eyes weren’t still in their sockets, I’d’ve been unable to piece myself back together.

Daaaaaaayyuuuumn.

She was right. The gift was right there: Mom was heard and that was cool. My parents’ relationship is their own; they had their own folds and layers to work through, but how was I to know that the last time I’d ever see my mom alive would be the night that I’d finally heard and accepted her? I mean, I didn’t feel bad that she was watching “Columbo.” I was rather glad for her (and a little jealous of her solitude, truth be told). Plus we all joined her later when the next episode cued up.

Mom got to “live” that night. She was heard and fed and celebrated in her own way, as “unmarried” as it seemed, it was totally married. It was real.

So I say this to both of you: be real. Be fair to yourself and to your memories. Allow the good and the “bad” memories. Another alternative: just stop with the labeling altogether. None of the labels matter; it’s just ego and coping. These moments are what they are; it’s up to us to be fair by accepting and allowing them. If we fight them or force them, we will break them.

“We are all imperfect beings,” I hear one of my brother’s best friends say to me.

I miss my mom, I miss the idea of growing with her this fall. I had so many plans for conversations with her. I learned so much about Senior Yoga while on the retreat; I was looking forward to sharing what I learned with her. I wanted to ask her about my life ideas and plans and what she thought I should do; I was planning to consult with her; treat her as a mom, y’know?

That moment with my therapist crystallized for me my acceptance of my mother. I was able to grow from that moment and so the last couple chats I had with Mom reflected that growth. If I didn’t have my therapist, I’d’ve not realized that the “pretending” was over. It would’ve taken some time, I know this. That acceptance softened it all for me. I could meet Mom on her terms.

The other night, my dad came over for a spell and I walked him to his car. It was the first time in a very long time that I didn’t help buckle in Mom. Seeing her seat empty beside his and not being able to strap her in and say goodnight after we all had a meal together sliced right through me. But this is life. We must experience it for all its richness.

Thank you.

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