The Basket

My mom loved collecting antiques. Growing up I was surrounded with antiques of all shapes, sizes, and kinds. She always joked that if you had five of anything, it was a collection. When I was a little girl it seemed like every room of our house had an accumulation of some kind or another. Years after the computer age started, my mom “discovered” eBay and it was off to the races for her. She would bid on numerous items at one time and the day started to be dotted with bid times. One night I was downstairs watching television, and my mom was upstairs on her computer waiting to bid on some item and all of a sudden I hear a muffled, “God! Damn! Shit!” I rolled my eyes and realized she had lost the item to someone else. But it didn’t mean she lost every piece. One memory I cherish now is the day I came home from work to find the back porch filled with packages containing antique treasures she had purchased on the website. It took almost an hour to move them out of the way of the door, so I could then get them into the house. I always loved opening them and seeing what she had purchased and wondered if anyone would see what she saw in the items. Usually what she bought sold right away so we were lucky or we would have been living in our car.

The last thing she bought on eBay arrived after she went into the hospital and I’ve been telling myself that I had to wait until she got home to open it with her. Even after she passed away this message still rang in my head every time I looked at it sitting on the dining room chair. Today something inside me decided that I was ready and it was time to open the box. I carried it into the living room and grabbed some scissors to cut the packing tape on it. I sat down beside the box and immediately burst into tears. My fingers ran across the surface as I gasped for breath. After cutting the tape, I pulled the flaps back, and more tears and grief came to the surface. I had to walk away from it for a few minutes just to calm down and gather my wits again. Finally, after being patient with myself and giving myself the time I needed I looked inside and pulled out the basket my mom had ordered. It’s a woven wooden basket that is quite nice looking, but it also holds a great deal of sadness knowing that my mom had always wanted one just like this and I couldn’t help but think that she finally ordered one and she passed away before she could see it. Holding it in my hands, I felt a strange sensation. It felt like I had maybe scratched the surface of acceptance that my mom is really gone and she isn’t coming back. Opening the box hurt like hell but I think it was a healing pain more than anything else.

Snowglobe

Ten weeks later and the world I knew

Still lies scattered around me.

I stand among the shambles as

Remnants of my old life

Still crash around me.

I will never look at a

Snowglobe the same

Way again.

Because I know how it

Feels to be in one.

To have everything you’ve

Ever known to be

Upended and

Left in chaos.

To have yourself

Be shaken to your

Core to such an extent

You barely recognize

Your own soul anymore.

To Push or Let Go

My mother passed away nine weeks ago now, and my siblings and I still have not gotten around to writing an obituary for her. I’ve been anxious to get it done for five weeks now and the response from them, at that time, was “There is no timetable for submitting an obituary so what’s the rush?” One of my sisters admitted she was avoiding working on it. I understand there is no timetable for publishing one, but I can’t help but feel like the longer we wait to write it, the less of a chance we ever will write one as a family. I am so torn between pushing them to start working on it and just waiting until they are ready. We are all processing this immense loss that we are all experiencing. After much contemplating about it, I decided this morning that I’m going to go ahead and write a draft of one and e-mail it to them just to see what they say. I can see one of three things happening if I do this. One, they will tell me that it’s okay and that I should go ahead and publish it. Two, my siblings will say to me that it’s a good start and they will edit it and make suggestions. Or three, they will react with anger and tell me that they will work on it in their own time. But, I can’t let their possible reactions stop me from doing what I feel my mother would want. When she could still read the newspaper, she would always look at the obituaries, and one thing that would drive her crazy was when she came across an obituary that was printed months after the person had died. I know in my heart how upset she would be to know that over two months had passed and there still wasn’t a published obituary for her.

I’ve also found that deciding to write an obituary and actually creating one are two substantially different things. How do you summarize the life of your Mother in less than 300 words? How do you take over 80 years of experiences and life and compress it into a newspaper-friendly size? Over the past several weeks I have tried to write one in fits and starts, but nothing ever sounds good enough to honor her. Nothing has even come close to capturing the magic and grace that was my mother. I can feel my resolve waffling again. I just want to follow my siblings lead and put it on a shelf somewhere and not work on it or think about it. Knowing that’s not what my mom would want though, won’t allow me to do that. The bottom line, in all this, rambling, is that I know what needs to be done. I need to push through this apprehension and feeling of inadequacy and do what my mom would have wanted. This obituary needs to be written sooner rather than later.

The Stalling of The Underground Railroad

 

During my mother’s hospitalization, I had a lot of time on my hands while sitting by her bedside and I started reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. The storyline and style of prose captured my imagination in a way I hadn’t encountered in a great while. I can see why it won the Pulitzer. I find myself re-reading quotes like,

“She had never learned history proper, but sometimes one’s eyes are teacher enough.”

several times to let them sink into my brain. It is such a simple statement and yet so profoundly true, especially in this day and age. Right now we don’t need to be taught about American History, we are living it and witnessing it with our own eyes every day.

Ever since my mom passed away though, I haven’t cracked the book open once. I still have about 1/3 left to read. The main character’s life is in grave peril and yet I haven’t had any interest at all in finding out what happens next. In the past when books have interested me like this one, I haven’t been able to stop reading until I finished them. There have been so many times, over the past two months, when I have gone to open it and have just stared at the cover before putting it down again and walking away.  Yesterday I did it again and sat there contemplating why I had stalled out on such an excellent book. I realized that it could be that I associate the book with my mom’s hospitalization and don’t want to revisit that experience. But I think about it every day anyway, so rationally that makes no sense. So what is it that has made me stop reading this book? Why do I keep putting it down and walking away from it? Then it hit me when I looked at the problem from a different direction. It’s not that I was reading the book while my mom was dying, I was reading it while she was still living. Maybe I’ve developed a mental block on this book because it was the last book I read when she was still alive. And if I finish it, I lose another connection to those last weeks of her life. It’s just another instance of my wanting to remain in that moment. That line of thinking makes more sense to me but now how to overcome it? How do I get past this seemingly monumental hurdle that finishing this book has become? It’s all mental and psychological, I realize that, but it seems so tangible. Like I can reach out and run my fingers over its glass shard-like surface. I find myself wanting to keep one foot in the past, during those days with her, and move forward at the same time. When I do that though, I feel like I have one foot on a dock and one foot on a boat that is drifting away from the world I’ve always known. I need to choose one or the other before I fall in and drown. I know which one I should pick. Hop on that metaphorical boat and sail further and further away from the world I’ve always known. The idea of that, moving on without her by my side is going to be the toughest part of the grief process for me. Dealing with this sense that I’m betraying her all the while knowing that she would want me to jump, leap, and dive onto that boat and never look back. My mom would want me to live the fullest life I can. It is only myself who is standing in my way now. Perhaps, finishing that book is a first step towards doing that.

Therapy

Yesterday I started therapy again. I had seen this particular therapist a few times before my mom went into the hospital and I just haven’t had the energy or inclination to go back until recently when I realized just how much trouble I was having processing the death of my mom. Blogging about it has helped but overall I have been feeling stuck in a mindset that wasn’t healthy. For example, a package arrived for my mom while she was in the hospital that still sits unopened. Every time I slip up and look at the box I think that I have to wait for my mom to come home to open it. This always triggers my grief and I end up curled up on the sofa sobbing. So I do my best to ignore the box that sits on a chair in the dining room. I realize it’s only been seven weeks since my mom passed away. I know I’m very early into the grieving process, whatever that means, but I’m so aware of becoming lost in my grief, of sinking into it and allowing myself to drown in this sadness that burbles just underneath the surface of my consciousness. I’m learning that getting through this loss is more than taking care of my physical self but my mental, psychological, and spiritual self as well. So I’m seeing a therapist again as part of my ongoing effort to make my way through this unknown journey.

The Paintbrush

My hand hangs suspended in the air

Paintbrush dipped in blue paint

Clasped in trembling fingers

It’s just a test swatch

I tell myself for the

Millionth time.

But still brush has

Yet to meet wall.

It feels wrong to do this

It is still Mom’s bedroom

I’m looking for approval

From someone who can

No longer give it.

And yet the need to

Take that first step towards

A future without her

Feels so critically important.

A primal instinct to not get

Entrapped in my grief

And enshrine her bedroom

Never to be touched

Or changed.

I can’t let that happen.

Taking a deep breath

Brush meets wall in

Broad strokes.

Color shall lead my way

Towards an uncertain future.

I only hope I choose

The right one.

This Journey

Yesterday was a tough one for me. I woke up feeling the gaping hole in my heart that my mom has left and I started crying. I got up and cried. I ate breakfast and cried. It’s safe to say I tapped into that maelstrom that has been brewing within me. By last night I was so exhausted and cried out I fell asleep quickly and would have slept through the night if it hadn’t been for the nightmare. A nightmare where this giant spider descended from the ceiling wearing my mom’s face. I woke up shivering and freezing and scrambled to pull the quilt over me and try to find warmth again. I lay there in a fetal position my heart and thoughts racing unable to find the path back to peaceful slumber again. I got up and rifled through my closet until I found my childhood teddy bear and brought it to bed with me. It seemed so ridiculous for a middle-aged woman to curl up with a stuffed animal but it brought me enough comfort that I did finally fall asleep. This journey I’m taking with grief is a strange one. I thought I knew what twists and turns I’d be facing but it hasn’t been like that at all. Some days I feel like nothing has changed, which has been the most unfamiliar feeling of all. How can I feel like everything is how it’s been when I’m adjusting to a new normal? It is a maze of confusing contradictions and I can’t find my way out. I’ve taken too many turns trying to outrun my grief. And now I’m lost somewhere in the middle of it. At least I think I’m in the middle, maybe I’m still in the outer ring of it. I wish I had a drone’s eye view of it so I could figure out how much further I have to go. Realistically I know this grief will be with me for the rest of my life. Time heals all wounds but does it lead you the middle of the maze where I imagine acceptance and peace dwell?