Grief: A Status Update

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I’ve gotten a few inquiries about my wellbeing lately. I suspect it’s because I’ve stopped formally writing about my grief.

I’ve heard it say that for every 1,000 people, there is one person who will say something; one person who will inquire.

So, with 7 billion people on the planet and seeing as how all of them know who I am, that would mean … take away 6, multiply by a factor of 4, add in daylight savings time, the rate of inflation by 9, and then add in that this was a leap year… I am guessing that three people want to know how I’m doing. (Just kidding — I know I am loved and I am so grateful.)

How am I doing?

Meh. Ok. Largely Ok. The grief is very well and alive but its highs and lows and mind-blowing sucker punches are totally unpredictable. At times, it’s bigger than I am. Laughing now feels more normal and less like a foreign experience or guilty pleasure.

The good news is that I have good perspective and an even greater sense of understanding of life and how we are supposed to live it. My mother lived her way and I have always lived mine. The one thing I can tell you though with complete assurance is that my days of being someone’s door mat and of doing things that don’t bring me some form of value (I’ll even take “hindsight is 20/20” as value) are over.

I’ve been grieving for almost 11 weeks. I feel indulgent saying “grieving” because it sounds so morose, but I guess the reality is that until a year passes, it won’t be a full cycle. “Feel all the feelings,” they say. I think that means all the feelings from all the seasons.

It’s been about three weeks, maybe more, since writing last about my grief and how it is being a member of a motherless society; we are a special group. It’s weird to say “my mother died.” Thanksgiving is approaching. Hallowe’en has come and gone. My birthday and my brother’s birthday were spent without her phone calls. The phone never rings from the house anymore, announcing: “Mimi and Dodo” in my son’s three-year-old voice. It’s really just totally weird. Place cards at the table… we will be one short. Thing 3 likes to make them. Secret Santa this year… her name won’t be written, a gift won’t be purchased or made in her name. It’s just incredibly “off,” like the earth is at an odd angle and you have to walk at a slant.

From time to time, my head is flooded with

  • The Day of The Phone Call: the weather was gorgeous, I was on the deck reading blogs, trying to catch up from my crazy summer, it was Labor Day after all;
  • The Moments with Dad at Their House: it was messy, and the sun shone from the west through the front door, and the policeman was nice, he told us the news;
  • The Ride to the Hospital: I sat in the backseat frantically texting my cousin because I couldn’t reach her mother, between those texts I texted my friend to find my younger brother;
  • Sitting in the Conference Room with the Doctors: the table was clean and huge, the doctor was kind and factual, the carpet was blue and my dad was logorrheic but the nurse had patience fathoms deep;
  • Seeing Her Body There: Good God she is really dead, there she is… that is her shell, she has gone, her spirit has flown to God. …

It goes on and on…

  • Picking out Her Burial Clothes, The Trip to Buffalo, The Signing of the Check for the Cemetery Plots, The Funeral, The Burial … loop and loop.

But not all the time, thank God, and nowhere near as frequent or intense or as long.

I have a keen appreciation, now, for people whose mothers died when they were much younger. I also have a keen appreciation of knowing what it was to grow up with my mother, as challenging as things were, versus having her completely g-o-n-e -gone.

My thinking has had to shift.

There was never a time when my mother was not in the back of my mind. Even when she was at the forefront, she was still in the back. I figure this is because I was often left wondering where she was, psychically, if that makes sense. Now she is still on my mind, but it’s different. There is no more expectation, hope, curiosity, wishing or delusion about anything ever getting better. I suppose that’s a form of liberty and I know it is, but I’d be lying if I said I’d like just one more nose-squinchy, eye-squinty, silly grin from her. I guess that’s what photos are supposed to do.

People come to me with stories about her and I love it; I welcome them to replace my stories.

Time has literally been sucked away. If it weren’t for emails and photos I’d not really know where my summer had gone. I’d like to say that it’s always been like that — that I’ve always moved at light speed and all that, but when you experience and suffer through a massive loss like this, regardless of the tenor of the relationship, your mind is elsewhere, you don’t really know what it is you’re actually thinking about because those thoughts are fleeting yet repetitive and cyclical. You just know you’re wiped out and depleted.

There is no (for me at least) moment of, “why am I thinking of that again?!” -moment because each time I consider something I might’ve already considered, it’s in a new iteration; a new fold; a new moment. Why? Because every moment — Every Single Moment we live is completely different from the preceding one. Just as I am now typing new letters on this screen and you are reading them, you are not reading the ones preceding AGAIN.

So the context changes. And then so do the undulations of the thoughts and memories and smells. The angle of the sun these days: I find it delicious. I always have. I love how the sun is weaker but its light feels more white to me, as though it is crisper and it knows, in some odd way, that its strength is waning, so it tries a little harder to work.

I am sleeping OK. I am eating well. I have resumed yoga in class and at home. I am walking more. I’m outside, running errands more with less anxiety, I guess that’s what it is… I’ve been volunteering a lot at the adult’s rowing club and helping out where I can at school. It brings me fulfillment to help others. Humility is a wonderful driver to get us out of our own egos.

I think I have sciatica. I say think because on a scale of 1-10, I believe I’m dealing with a 2 or 3. It’s more of a nagging sensation rather than a pain. But at night it bothers me, just as I doze off. It’s like my hip, just at those dots we have on our lower backs, it’s punch-drunk… like a kid who doesn’t want to go to church or who has a hard time falling asleep in the car: it’s whiney and nagging and annoying and then I get irritated, which of course doesn’t help things.

To remedy this, I’m going to read John Sarno’s The MindBody Prescription again. I believe most of our ills are self-induced. If stress and anxiety can create heart disease, which can ultimately kill us, why can’t I create a nervous issue in my back? We’re not as binary and separate as we think we are.

I’m also reading another book, Lit, by Mary Karr. It’s her memoir of recovery from alcoholism and abuse and how she came into accepting a higher power in her life. She also came from an alcoholic background, her observations of her mother’s antics feel familiar to me.

Karr herself sounds familiar to me… I see similarities in our self-defeating thoughts; in our anger and its repression and our lashing out. It scares me a little. I could be like Mary Karr: I could’ve ruined the first half of my life with alcohol but something stopped it. I credit my pregnancies along with the brutal self-awareness that if I didn’t get my act together that I’d be continuing Mom’s cycle. Karr has a way of completely making me feel worthless as a writer though — she’s a poet and her words are so gorgeous.

What’s the phrase, “Compare and despair.”? Yeah. That.

The other night, in a moment of supplication and more humility, I was weeping for my mother and my history wondering about why these things happen, why was I born to such a tragic person, what was my lesson? Watching your parent slowly self-destruct for decades without nary a thought for the future or her own health, and who just (seemingly to me) blithely lived … that it was all going to be OK, was not only soul-stealing, but it was so very cruel; it took me with it at times. Her narcissism and self-destruction created a rage that engulfed me.

I am sad at times. It’s ineffable, this woe. It weighs on my head and holds me until I process it. I still weep at night, silently or as quietly as I can. I don’t want to disturb my sons. Thing 2 (12) seems to have the hardest time with my distress; he wants to hold me and quell me, but ALL of my years of therapy have told me: don’t stop a crier. Let the crying process, let it slow itself down and let it pass before you offer a tissue or a glance or embrace. When we go to a crier, it’s we / us — the witness — who can’t handle the emotions, so we subconsciously try to stop it. We think we are helping, but we aren’t. So that’s how it is at night sometimes around here. I cry in my pillow or sniffle into my sleeve.

I’d get up and go to the basement and wail into a cushion but I’m too lazy, plus I know it will come back, so I may as well stay warm and drowsy.

. . . . .

You can not solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it. –Einstein

“Let go or be dragged.” That was the quote yesterday in yoga that our teacher read to us.

About a decade ago, I used to think that when something didn’t arrive when I was expecting it that it was late; and that its lateness was an inconvenience to me; it was a personal effrontery. I was like Kanga of Kanga and Roo in Winnie-the-Pooh books. “How dare …” and “Well! Hmph!” about those things. I fancied myself Mrs. Thurston Howell III I suppose. I internalized that I was somehow separate and better and above, when I was really nothing of the sort. Those affectations / coping skills were not nature. They were taught. As much as I can love my parents, they were/are probably some of the snobbiest people I knew… it came from feeling inadequate. I see that now. Snobs are the biggest ironies.

Mom used to say ironically of alcoholics that they are narcissists with self-esteem issues. That about sums it up.

I bring up my interpretation of something being ‘late’ and “letting go” because I ordered a DVD of The Sedona Method, aptly titled “Letting Go,” about three weeks ago from The Daily Om. I received an order confirmation, but no shipping information for about a week. So I inquired. They wrote back quickly and told me that it would be shipped the following week because it was out of stock and in high demand. “Great, that means with the Veteran’s Day holiday it’ll be even later…” I thought to myself, later smirking at myself: So much for even allowing The Sedona Method to start to trickle into my psyche.

I was intrigued by the DVD because I’m really tired of therapy. I don’t want to drive, sit, or share. I just want to be done.

This is a new therapist, for EMDR, whom I started with last spring because of reasons I haven’t disclosed until now: my father flat-out stopped talking to me in February because I laid down a boundary and effected a deadline of actions that he asked me to produce in order to help my mother. My boundary was quite clear: you asked me to do this and this and this. Here it is. Now, you do what you say you will do, based on this list, and then I will assist. My boundary was considered “hostile.” This is what you get when you deal with someone who’s not used to hearing, “No.”

It never was a game to me — to take care of her — and the patterns of my youth: to save her at all costs to myself, regardless of the toll it took on me (I failed 8th grade and then blew off some college), were rearing again and I simply couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle his abdication nor my mother’s agency in this crusade (I can feel my sciatica kick in now…) to save her. Her involvement was as much then as it always was: inauthentic insofar as any result outside of garnering attention. I feel in my heart of hearts that the request in February was highly ambitious, a bit fake and for me, too late. But my calling him out on it, my drawing a boundary and executing a clear directive is what enraged him. I was no longer a child. I was a mother, a wife, an adult and I HAD CHANGED CONSIDERABLY.

Dad’s silent treatment of me lasted about three months. It only ended because I took on the high school rowing club presidency and I had some questions about coaching for him. It wouldn’t have ended unless I ended it, perhaps it might’ve even gone until she died; I know this as we’ve gone longer years before, always because I’ve displeased him somehow and always because I’ve supplicated in the end. Mom tried, in her usual triangulating way to get us to talk, but I was clear with her about what and why I was doing what I was doing. She admired my concern for her, and never brought it up again. Often, my personal code of honesty and truth in all matters was very hard for her.

So I see now: that is when the ball started rolling which prepared me for her death and I am guessing my rebirth. I am fighting the rebirth. I like it here in my cave where I know nothing new is coming; but I know that’s how we stay stuck. So that’s why I got the DVD. And it didn’t arrive until I was ready to accept it. Today it arrived; after the quote in yoga, to ‘let go or be dragged.’ I must not be so näive: the ball has always been rolling, since way before I ever came into the picture.

I started to watch it today, while I was making Thing 3’s birthday cake. As you can see, I ended up laughing at myself — my inability to do one thing at a time enough to take a picture of it all:

I couldn't hear a blame thing he was saying. When I turned off the mixer I heard this, "... and so when you are fully in that state, you are ready to move on..." I think I missed something important.

I couldn’t hear a blame thing he was saying. When I turned off the mixer I heard this, “… and so when you are fully in that state, you are ready to move on…” I think I missed something important.

Admin notes: I have acquired a few new followers lately and I want to thank them for coming to see what I’m up to. Thank you! I’m in a transition. I’m trying to help me figure out what to do now that I’m all grown up. A few years ago when I first started this blog I was content to just let it be at that. Now I’m not so sure. Everyone has a shtick, a hook with their blogs: geek, humor, fitness, art, faith … I don’t have a shtick. This is who I am. But I feel a draw to do more with it. What? I do not know.

I know this was long and super twisty. I just wanted to touch bases with some of you.

Thank you all … 🙂

10 responses »

  1. It’s amazing how those moments…where you get the call and do all the things you have to do…get burned into your brain like a photograph. I have this memory shortly after my dad’s death of making tea. I can still see perfectly the way the color swirled out of the tea bag into the water. It’s so vivid. I think that is what trauma does. I can barely remember anything, but I can remember those moments.

    I am really curious to hear about that video.

    Hang in there. Maybe you are turning into a butterfly.

  2. I am never granted permission to comment here on Word Press, so if this doesn’t make it…

    I love Mary Karr. I didn’t read Lit, but I read The Liar’s Club several times. She’s amazing. So are you. Your writing is beautiful, lyrical, thought-provoking. Honestly, while reading this, I found myself wanting to highlight the screen.

    “Humility is a wonderful driver to get us out of our own egos.”
    “Snobs are the biggest ironies.”
    “…you don’t really know what it is you’re actually thinking about because those thoughts are fleeting yet repetitive and cyclical.”

    Beautiful, Molly. Thank you!

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