Three years ago August 16th, my mother died. I’ll never forget how guilty I felt; if I’d let her stay home, the ER doctor, a first year resident, wouldn’t have overloaded her already fragile heart with three thousand cc’s of saline in an hour. I questioned him, but it was too late, she was lapsing into a coma, never to speak to us again. The last words she said to my aunt, sister and I; “I’m surrounded by beautiful women.”
That was so my mother. She was the kindest woman to a fault. Much of the injustice she was dealt can be directly connected to her willingness to look the other way, and to keep giving. When we admonished her for doing so, she’d say, “What difference does it really make?” I often ask myself that very same question. She wasn’t looking for anything in return. As long as we are kind to each other, what difference does it make? So much of what we worry about or what makes us angry really won’t make that much difference in the end. I’m slowly learning to let go of things that previously irritated me and I have my memories of my mom to thank for it.
What I’ve learned through losing her, and experiencing loss with my friends who’ve suffered far greater losses than I have, is that grief is cyclical. You may see your pain through unfocused eyes one day, and have the sharpest clarity the next. I hate to give my body’s chemistry any credit for the way I feel because even the most depressing moments are rich with thought and epiphany. In my darkest hours, I’ve learned the most about myself. I hope it’s not due to lack of Vitamin D.
My beloved friend Jill and her husband tragically lost two adult children within three years of each other. Her observation of grief is powerful.
“Grief takes on many faces, losing someone who has lived a long, long happy life, brings a bit of sadness because you know they are gone, but you know it was their time and you are happy you had them for so long.
But losing a young life is a whole animal unto itself. They are ripped from us way too soon, and we are not prepared, have not walked that long journey toward death with them, they are just beginning to live. This sort of grief is raw, primal, your body and mind feel like they are being torn to shreds…time does not heal grief, the edges become less jagged and sharp, but the hole in your heart and the empty seats at family gatherings are constant reminders. I have experienced many losses, each is different and changes us forever, but with some, a part of you goes too and you can never get that back.
Grief arrives and never leaves, even though we continue on with our life…”
Even after their devastating losses, Jill validates grief no matter what its source. It’s that kind of love and acceptance I long to emulate.
I love the memes people post on Facebook. A recent one reads, “Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.” I’m learning that I can spend a lot of time being sad about what has passed. I wonder if it’s just my personality. Longing for joyful times as a child, or wishing I’d spent more time listening, I have to pull myself away from such self-indulgent and time-wasting behavior. It can also escalate into a full-blown depression if I’m not careful.
Forty years ago, I met a woman who would become my best friend. After our children grew up and Jim and I moved out of state, Carol and I could talk once a year and it would be like we’d just talked the day before. Then, as life often dictates, we didn’t talk for a few years. I tried calling her but the number was no longer in service. When I discovered Facebook, I thought of her and did a search. Her daughter, Donna popped up and of course, I had to bug her right away. She broke the news that Carol had died. It was so awful to discover I’d gone through two years thinking I could just pick up the phone and call her whenever I wanted, and she wasn’t even there. What a monumental lesson about not letting time pass between friends.
Donna and I have been in contact ever since and I feel so grateful to have part of Carol to talk to whenever I want. The following story is Donna’s.
“About 25 years ago I suffered a huge emotional loss. My mom helped me through this by feeding me. As most good mothers know, food fixes life’s worst problems. LOL. Well she had given me soft-boiled eggs that day. I didn’t even realize I hadn’t eaten them since that day. My son, Mark was over and my granddaughter Ella wanted soft-boiled eggs. Mark asked me to make them for her and this caused all that long-buried pain and memories to come flooding back. I had to excuse myself and let Mark cook them for her. She then asked for them again a day later when I was the only one available to cook. I panicked! How do I explain that I can’t cook her eggs without freaking her out? Say a quick prayer and suck it up grandma. So I cooked her eggs while I had a quick tear and then got over it. I took a bite of her leftovers and the taste was amazing! A hug and comfort from my mom in the taste of an egg. Incredible how food = memories and emotions. I’m crazy I know but I just finished cooking eggs for myself and had the same feeling again. Thanks [to my son] for not pushing me that day and for making me the grandma now, I can do this! People lie when they say [loss] gets easier with time. It doesn’t. It just changes you [so you are able] to live with it.”
What an amazing story. Food, the scent of earth, the tangle of weeds around an abandoned farm implement, chintz fabric, Greek Bouzouki music, a table set for Thanksgiving dinner, Suffolk sheep, antique stores, oak furniture and stained glass, the Eastern Market in Detroit, sepia photos, and a jar of Ponds cold cream. Those things immediately remind me of my parents. I’m learning to try to find enjoyment rather than sadness when the waves of memory pass over me. Take a deep breath, smile, and wait for the next surge.