A Riptide of Grief

Hi all,

Sorry I’ve been quiet for a few days now. I was doing fine. Getting the house ready for Christmas and thinking I was dealing with my grief pretty well. And then wham! I got caught in a massive riptide of grief that dragged me off my feet, and I’ve been trying to find my footing again ever since. I had heard that the first Christmas after a significant loss is hard. Hard is the most useless word to describe it. For me, it has been utterly debilitating to the point that I can’t do anything much except cry. The pain I’ve felt the past two days has been spiritually excruciating. I miss my mom more now than at any other time during this grief “process.” Yesterday I thought I’d try to make myself feel better by putting the lights on my little tree. After finishing, I was looking at it thinking how cold and harsh the lights looked this year. There was no soft twinkling glow at all. There was no anticipation of the upcoming holiday that I had been looking for. I felt even more miserable and also thought about taking the lights down again and putting the tree away. I’ve contemplated not having Christmas at all this year because the pain is just so intense. I’m not seeing the world as it is right now and I know it. I’ve heard of rose-colored glasses; I wonder what color grief colored glasses are. I’m thinking a swampy greenish-brown color. I feel like I’m just treading water until the day that I’m dreading arrives and departs as it does every year, just surviving instead of living. I don’t know how to change my mentality but I know I want to. I hate feeling this way. My mom wouldn’t want me to feel this way. But if I try to swim against the grief, I know it will just drag me out of my life even further, and I’ll drown. So I’ll just keep treading and try to move forward towards Christmas and hope I find a way to get through it without her.

A Possible Visitation

Yesterday, my niece and nephew came for a visit. I had them help with a few things while they were here including taking my mom’s bed apart. Seeing the pieces of the bed my mom has slept in for over 40 years was very emotional but having to walk by it every day had gotten to be much too painful and I knew it was time to remove it. Hours after they had left when I was getting ready to go upstairs for the night, I went into my mom’s room and looked at the dark empty space where her bed had been and asked if she was okay with my removing her bed. I wasn’t expecting an answer, how could she answer me? Taking one last look, I went into the front hall and turned on the lights, one in the downstairs and one in the upstairs. Climbing the stairs, the light behind me blinked on and off one time. “Once for yes, twice for no.” flashed through my mind and I stopped mid-step dumbfounded. Could it have been her? I don’t know. There was no accompanying cold or air or feeling like she was there, but I’d like to think it was a sign from her — a sign that she’s okay with me moving on and changing the house to suit my new needs. It’s also comforting to know that her spirit is still around watching over me.

Happy Birthday, Mom

Swedish princess cake

Today would have been my mother’s 88th birthday. She was born in Stockholm, Sweden and every year for her birthday she had to have a Princess Torte (cake). A Princess cake is a Swedish dessert with white cake surrounded by layers of whipped cream, raspberry jam, and a thick cream filling, surrounded by a cover of green marzipan (almond paste), dusted with powdered sugar with a frosted pink rose on top. When we lived in Massachusetts, my sister would drive to Worcester to The Crown Bakery and get one for her every November. Once we moved to Maine, that became too much of a drive, so poor mom was deprived of her cake for a couple of years. Then last year, I found a European Bakery near where we live and to my surprise and delight, they sold princess cakes. I arranged to get one for her, and she was absolutely stunned when she saw it. She ate the entire 8-inch cake herself over the next week and said she wanted more. Last spring when she was in the hospital I got one for Mother’s Day to make it more special. It was one of the last solid foods she ate before she passed. I’m missing her incredibly today but having the memory of last year’s successful surprise is helping me immensely. So, happy birthday mom, wherever you are, I miss you incredibly, and I love you like crazy.

Primal Grief

This week has been difficult for me, regarding my grief process. My mom loved certain television shows and one in particular, “The Good Doctor” had become one of her favorites. I have been a fan of Freddie Highmore for years, my mom became a fan when we watched “Bates Motel.” This week was the second season premiere of “The Good Doctor,” and I knew it would be hard to watch, but once again I underestimated the power of grief. About halfway through the episode, I turned to ask my mom what she thought and froze. The room felt so empty, and I felt so alone in that instant that I started to cry, and then I just couldn’t stop. I tapped into the primal side of grief and just sobbed and wailed and begged whoever could hear me to allow my mom to come back again.  Afterward, when I was a gasping blob on the sofa, I felt more drained than I ever have before. It wasn’t just the television show that brought this on, last weekend was the 4-month mark since my mom passed. Having it be one-third of a year since she died felt like a substantial milestone. Now I am looking forward, with dread, to the upcoming months which will have her birthday, the first holiday season since she passed, and my birthday in January. I wish I could just crawl under the covers in November and not come out until next February. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to get through it, it’s going to be the hardest time of my life. There are a lot of dark days ahead, but at the same time I know I’m going to get through it because even though my mom isn’t with me in person anymore, I know she’s still around. She’s still with me, watching over me, and that helps.

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.

Hollowed Out

I feel hollow.

The foundation of my life is gone.

Unstable ground is what I

Tremble on.

Unsure of who I am.

Unsure of where to go.

Unsure of everything.

I try to move forward,

But my gait is unsteady

And I fear falling

With no one here to catch me

Before I hit the ground.

At some point forward movement

Will become necessary.

I know it is what she

Would want for me.

But for now, I sit trying to

Fill this aching emptiness

With memories of happier times

With my mother.

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley Aaron Burden

My mother’s favorite flower was Lily of the Valley. The small white blooms hold so much fragrance they’ve always seemed otherworldly to me. On our property we’ve had a few plants here and there but nothing like we had at our last house. At the last house we lived in, we had a whole bed of them that bloomed every spring and filled the air around our house with sweetness. On Tuesday night, the one week anniversary of my mom’s death, I was walking my dog out in front of the house when a smell hit my nose. I shined the flashlight along the ground and there they were, more Lily of the Valley than I have ever seen here. A little grove of them all blooming in the nighttime. My knees buckled and I found myself sitting there looking at them with tears streaming down my face. My dog, who unfortunately is becoming all too used to my random sobbing, came over and started licking my face and pressing himself against me to comfort me. I ran a shaking finger along one leaf and swear I felt my mom there with me at that moment. Of course, I couldn’t see her but in my heart I know she was there. After a while I stood back up and went back into the house and went to bed and, for the first time since she passed away, I felt comforted knowing that there was some part of her watching over me.

Surprise Visit

Yesterday my niece and nephew surprised me with a visit. They have been absolutely wonderful during this difficult time. They lost their dad in 2011 and their mom in 2016 and they keep telling me that I was there for them during those times so they are making sure they are there for me during this sorrowful time. The three of us have always been close ever since my sister and her husband adopted them from Russia. They are also close to my mom and losing her is hurting them deeply. To see them doing their best to set that aside to be there for me has moved me beyond words. I just feel so lucky and grateful to have them in my life. They are definitely one of the things that are bringing light to my life right now and pushing the encroaching darkness away.