Tag Archives: loss

“From Inferno to Paradiso”

29 Jan

It’s been a crazy week. This has further proven to me that I’m a crazy person.

Monday, January 25 would have been my mothers 66th birthday; one of a few torturous days that used to be just a day and that now will be forever marked. I started feeling the effects of it days in advance, leaving groups of friends to weep uncontrollably in the bathroom and then gathering myself knowing I could be alright. I believed by early afternoon that day that I was going to get through the day itself alright and that the anticipation had worn out all my feelings. I was wrong.

After a lovely phone call with my Aunt, reminiscing about my bright, bubbly, effervescent mother I tumbled into a heartache so excruciating I could feel it in my bones. I lay in my study listening to Barbara Streisand and feeling my insides mush together like they were being shoved through a vice. I felt grief, as I often do, in the most acute way possible.

Sometimes I marvel at how commonplace that feeling has become for me. I feel it, I cry, I ache and my mind thrashes. Then, as though I am two separate people, I ease myself out of it. I remind myself that I am alright, that things are the same and I think about the positives in my life. I remember that I will feel that way again, possibly soon, and I accept it and take breathes in the moments I feel calm. I have learned though experience that I will come out the other side even though it feels at the time like sadness you never recover from.

I move forward.

Wednesday of this week was my Stepfather’s 66th birthday and I made sure to get the night off so I could spend it with him. We went to dinner with a friend of his, I got him his favorite cake and we all spent the night celebrating the ever wonderful Andy. He is such a satisfying person to do things for because he always acts so surprised that anyone has considered him at all. He is appreciative and fun and a joy to be around, so all of it was really most enjoyable for me I think. I would eat Indian food and Carrot Cake with him everyday if I could find an excuse.

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Andy’s first official selfie taken this past fall

Today I received an e-mail from Andy thanking me again for the birthday festivities and telling me that he felt “greatly loved and happier than I have been in some time”. The feeling is so mutual.

Having these two birthdays, which we as a family used to celebrate together, land so back to back had me wrecked with exhaustion this morning. I hardly slept all week and continue to feel something like a hangover of sorrow from Monday combined with a lovely high from Wednesday. I went to work tonight as scheduled and put on my usual public smile. One of my bosses even commented and said, “I’ve never seen you anything but bubbly”. The compliment combined with a friend visiting me at work, my coworkers all in good spirits, and a great comedy show, made for a nice shift.

On the drive home I felt overcome. I felt the ceaseless despair and the undeniable glee that both define my inner self constantly. I thought about each one separately and realized just how dramatic and wild it all is. I rarely feel anything that couldn’t qualify me for a Jane Austen novel or Nicholas Sparks film. I don’t just cry, I weep. I never feel good, I feel exuberant. I love deeply, give heartily, receive graciously and create passionately.

All of this comes from my mother; for better or worse.

Scan 56

My shameless, fabulous mother owning the 90s aerobics scene

Tonight I feel grateful for all of it. Without living in the spirit crushing events of Monday I would hardly have been so thankful for all the love I felt on Wednesday. I don’t want to be someone who tries to stifle all the insanity, it makes me feel alive. My mother would want me to feel alive. I want to cry the way she did, so openly that she left nearby strangers worried. I want to love the way she did, so deeply that I risk everything. I want to find myself in the many moments I am blessed to have because I was raised by a women who was never ashamed to feel what she was feeling. I want to frighten and astonish everyone with my quirk and zeal and find inspiration in theirs.

I want my life to be madness; crazy, wonderful, unrestrained life that spreads from those I adore to others I meet. I’m sure that way I won’t have regrets and it will certainly make the January 25th’s feel more purposeful instead of just sad.

Note about the posting: I wrote this listening to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (noteworthy for those who knew my mother well and for the title of the blog). This is dedicated to Morris, my mothers best friend, who wrote me a letter this week that made me feel like I could and should write again. His reaching out to me made an extraordinary difference in my drive and I’m so thankful.

Year One

4 Oct

One year ago today I wrote about my mother’s passing on day one. Looking back I see that much has changed but the missing her has not lessened. My Uncle Michael said to my Aunt, “The hole in your heart will never go away, but over time it will hurt less to touch it”. I’m not there yet, but I do take some comfort in knowing that the first year is the toughest and I have conquered it with gusto.

Within the past year I molded my life into something that makes me happy everyday. The constant sadness just below the surface runs through me but does not tarnish the parts of my life containing joy. The hardest part about being happy is wanting to share everything with her. I do find things slightly less satisfying without her telling me how proud she is or seeing her face in an audience.

Knowing that I have to self-affirm and hear her from within myself is sort of like having a big salad for dinner. I know it’s healthy and I know I’ll feel better and stronger afterwords but it’s less instantly gratifying. I tire of hearing, “your mother is with you and you know what she would say”. Yes, that is true and the sentiment is appreciated if only for it’s good intention, but mostly I just want her. My frustration at her being always gone is tangible and it makes the air somehow harder to breathe; yet I keep breathing because I have to.

I appreciated my mother when she was around, always. She and I got an extra amount of quality time in, between my illness and hers. We got the unique opportunity to truly take care of each other for an extended period of time and every minute was just me with my very best friend. She once told me while sitting in the DMV, “You make everything so much fun. It’s a talent you’ve always had.” I felt the same way about her.

She was at almost all of my chemotherapy treatments and I was at almost all of hers. I loved them and I know she did too. How we took something so terrible and draining and turned it into days full of laughter and fun can only be explained by our magic. Last week I found myself back in a Cancer Treatment Center with my Grandmother, specifically the one where I had received my radiation treatments and I felt panicked. Sitting in that waiting room I saw all the sick people and I wanted to scream and cry and felt an overwhelming need to just get out. I thought at the time that I just couldn’t take any more hospitals or doctors offices and that is part of what I was feeling. Mostly though I realize it was that I wanted to be there with her. I saw people sitting in treatment chairs and getting their blood-work and eating their lunch from the cart that goes around the room and It was all so familiar but now missing from my life. I miss those terrible sandwiches and I miss getting myself a regular V8 and my mother a low sodium V8 and then watching her add salt packets to it (the most adorable sight to behold). I miss waiting hours to see a doctor and having it feel like minutes because we could always talk indefinitely. I miss being able to make everyone else in the treatment room smile with our infectious energy. No matter if either of us were struggling through the process, we kept each other afloat. We were unstoppable.

I think that’s why I believed she would never die. I got better right? I’m healthy and strong now because of her, so I believed that our love could heal anything. The reality is that my cancer was more treatable and that she fought as long as she could but she was dealt a poor hand.  I didn’t face that until after she was gone. I wanted her to fight more and didn’t allow myself to see how tired and weak she had become because I always saw her as the strong, capable and beautiful woman who raised me.

I see that woman even more clearly now. Her absence has given me the opportunity to re-frame and see her in a new light. Losing her thrust me into adulthood even though I thought I was already there; I look back at her now as a woman and she is forever my guide.

In this past year I have learned that chasing a career that I am passionate about is worth all my best efforts and I will never do anything else. I have learned that I am capable of a type of love and nurturing that I only ever knew in that magnitude from her. I learned that I am everything she ever said I was and knew I could be. I’ve learned that family is worth the extra time and that it can be found anywhere, especially in good friends. I have learned to ask for help and give myself time to be sad. I have learned that I can live without her but I am allowed to still feel like I can’t.

Us at the beginning.

Us at the beginning.

To my mother on the one year anniversary of her death: To think this world has seen a year without you feels unreal and impossible but I have missed you every moment. Today does not mark the time when this journey gets easier, because you are worth missing for a lifetime. Thank you for giving me passion from your life and in your passing. I love you, I love you, I love you forever.

Grief.

14 Jul

My mother died.

Everyone knows. I say it to people I’ve only known a short while because it is so a part of my reality I feel it’s impossible to hold it in. I make people uncomfortable by blurting it out in a conversation about groceries or the weather or their dog. Everything makes me think of her.

I talk to her. I call out to her daily knowing she will not respond and still feel panic and grief when nothing comes back. Am I sensing that the air around me feels warm because I need her to be there or is she really there?

If I talked about my unending sadness as often as I feel it, I would wear thin the generosity of those in my life who I know would never stop listening. Some days I want to talk about it the entire day, cry and scream with someone else there. I am not sure why someone else being there would comfort me but it would. I don’t know how to ask for this type of support because having to verbalize my need for it degrades its constance. Saying the words, “I need to talk about my mother” feel obvious and weighted. Nobody would ever say no, but I cannot ask.

I scream alone, I cry so hard that I emit guttural sounds that alarm even me. If someone else were there to see it, to accept it, to hold me and encourage my screaming I might feel better. When I weep in solitude it feels like an effort to connect with her, to smell her, to feel her big red hair engulfing me, to sense her presence. I feel her everywhere and nowhere all at once and it takes my breath away.

My sister got married this past weekend. Her wedding, her dress, how incredibly beautiful she looked all exceeded my expectations. She was perfect, he is perfect for her and every moment was so effortlessly “them”. Their friends, the food, the venue, the ceremony, it was all this beautiful reflection of how happy they are and although I knew it would be an emotional time, I didn’t know I would feel it so deeply. We all cried the whole day. We cried because we were happy and we cried because we were sad. My mother would have sobbed the entire day; nobody I have ever known cried so many tears of joy as she did. A few stray notes from a symphony or a hug from a loved one could hairline trigger her tears.

During the ceremony the officiant announced they were lighting a candle to honor my mother. I knew about it beforehand but apparently not the timing of it and I was so overcome with grief I felt I wanted to run away. Instead I cried uncontrollably in front of everyone. Seeing dozens of guests sympathy and personal sorrow while I stood on display made it more impossible to get my weeping under control. My eyes searched the scene for anything, I don’t know what I was looking for but I found my sisters face and she found mine and for a moment we both reached out our hands. I have never loved a person more than I loved her in that instant.

It was knowing that she and I understood the loss in the same way and moreover, that we were in this together. That connection with each other would have made my mother weep with joy.

This week I need my mommy. The world is an intensely scary place.

I am an adult. I am an adult. I am an adult. Right? Some days I am charged by a motivating force and I can accomplish anything I tackle. I want to make my mother proud and show her that she doesn’t have to worry, I am doing it. Other days I am a six-year-old lost on the beach, frantically looking for my mothers umbrella. The waterfront is long and the people on the sand are dense. All I can do it search under the dozens of umbrellas I think are my mother, feeling I will never find her. I need to find her because she is my mom, an everyday concept I never and always took for granted when I had her.

I read a book by Ann Hood called Comfort; it is about her passage through grief after losing her 5-year-old daughter. Although I couldn’t relate every experience that came from her specific loss, I couldn’t put the book down. I have never read a whole book in a day, until now.

In the prologue the first sentence is, “Time heals.” Reading that arrangement of letters on the page I found myself wanting to trust that it was true. I read it over and over with purposeful breathing willing myself to believe it. If time heals then some day I will ache less.

On page 133 a chapter begins with, “Time doesn’t heal.”

I suddenly felt that Ann had betrayed me. She had lied to me and was taking it all back; I could no longer believe that someday I might be lighter again. It doesn’t surprise me how quickly I let go of the original phrase from the prologue, somewhere in my mind I knew it was never true. Yet the latter sentence made me feel better; it let me know that if I miss my mother this much every single day forever, that is okay. I am allowed to feel emptiness and fear, I will even admit that I want to feel those things. The idea that I will never get over this makes her special and she was incredibly special.

I do not remember the good in my mother because she is gone, I remember it because it is all that she was; good. Even the things we used to fight about or the times when she made me cuckoo came entirely from her goodness. We would fight about a bill I had neglected or I would get mad when she gave me advice I didn’t want to hear. That was just her being a mother, caring for me and guiding me through life. It made me insane that she didn’t get out enough or that she held on to so many things in her house. Tiny, curled up her on the couch with a book and a pen to mark the words that moved her or write he thoughts in the margins. There are shelves of books with pages containing bits of her and her experiences with novels she read over and over. She would wrap up one bite of food to save for later if she didn’t finish it so that she wouldn’t waste even one morsel and tall glasses with one sip filled the fridge in her house. It’s too much for that to be gone. To open the ice box at my parents home and see normal leftover portions or the lack of a phone call to yell at me about a parking ticket is a loss of so much good.

I want to write forever to tell about how extraordinary she was. If I can just make others see what the world has lost then somehow I will find her, or feel it less. How can people not feel the difference in the energy the earth is missing? I want to shake strangers and say, “Don’t you sense that?! The air from the world is gone and you act like everything is the same.” The best way I’ve ever read this sentiment came from an article in the New Yorker written by a girl with an experience so similar to mine I now reread the article regularly. She says, “A man was out on the street walking his dog. I stared at him, waiting for some sign of acknowledgement that the fundamentals of life had changed. He kept on strolling, of course. How stupid of me, to think that everyone knew.”

These times occur when the normal everyday stresses of life seem so petty and cumbersome on top of my grief that it all spills over. I have to still push forward, find joy, work hard and live fully in spite of this void.  Some days I hope that “time heals” and on others I know that “time doesn’t heal”. I will navigate the eternal struggle and even find comfort in knowing I loved someone that much.  I am grounded and managing in the unalterable reality that strikes me time and again. My mother died.

Us.

Us.

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