Working through grief: a view from 4 months after Mom’s death

Much has been written about grief, most of it by people with more experience, expertise, and, perhaps, intellectual interest in the subject than I have.

What I know can be summed up thusly: there are no shortcuts; one must carry on through it, and knowing that fact doesn’t make it any easier to go ahead. Somehow, anyway, most of us do muddle through.

I’ve been muddling for about four months since Mom died.*

As often happens, I find myself abundantly grateful for my extraordinarily blessed life, even at an awful time. Because I am a stay at home parent with a supportive husband whose own parents share our New England home, I had the freedom to spend two whole months with my dad as he grieved the loss of his wife of over 50 years.

Uncountable numbers of friends and family gave generously to support Dad and the rest of us. Mom’s energy and organizational prowess made a difference in so many lives, and people made that clear with their presence and their kind messages. The congregation of my folks’ church, Vancouver Heights UMC, freely provided resources and support far beyond what I would have imagined possible, had I ever been brave enough to imagine planning a parent’s funeral before I was forced to do so.

I can’t begin to imagine how much harder coping is for those with fewer resources. Then, too, losing my mother leaves me exquisitely aware of the universality of this crushing blow. All the resources in the world are a poor substitute for the love of the humblest mom.

Though I tried to be a help to Dad, those two months with him also served as a time apart for me to process my own grief. Oddly, returning home to normalcy hit me with a whole new series of unexpected reminders of loss. For me, at least, lots of things about Mom’s death have been difficult, but the situations I anticipated as particularly challenging have rarely counted amongst the most disruptive or disturbing. Trivial moments have dealt me my most significant blows, perhaps because I couldn’t brace myself for each impact.

Processing grief requires enormous flexibility from its sufferers.

My children, troopers that they are, both spent many weeks helping Grandpa as well. We were all there before the end, Mom’s last days in hospice care being both mercifully and, simultaneously, tragically very limited. The kids needed their own space, their own home, and time to prepare for the upcoming school year, so they headed home to Papa and his parents some weeks before my departure from my parents’ home.

Though I thought often about Really Wonderful Things throughout the summer and fall, I couldn’t find the strength to sit down and commit any of them to the page. Most of the thoughts were disordered; most of the time, my mind played second fiddle to my tumultuous emotions.

Now I know: I’m made exhausted and quite stupid by grief, and also irrationally frightened. I was afraid to approach my own cherished little blog.

Exactly what I’m afraid of is still hard to articulate as autumn decays into winter, but a caring comment from a regular reader did help prompt me to face some of this grief-induced anxiety and scrawl a few words on the page.

If you find this post because you are suffering a loss of your own, I hope my words offer some comfort.

If you’re a regular reader, I hope you haven’t missed my rambling too much. Many thanks for your patience.

*Though I did, in fact, begin this post on Labor Day, nearer the two month mark. An upload failure erased half of what I’d cried over on my cross-country flight home, and I simply couldn’t find the energy to resume until today, in late November.

It turns out that starting my car after school drop off equates in my mind with “call and check in with Mom.” 12 weeks into the school year, the instinct hasn’t left me yet, and it fades so very slowly.

Books by her bedside: a novel unfinished though the reader’s life is done

The smallest tragedies keep haunting one after a loss.

Mom was not quite halfway through a novel when she died. I found it in her nightstand today as I began the process of sorting through her closet to donate what my sisters-in-law and I don’t want to keep.Paperback novel with bookmark in the middle

Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast is a wonderful read, too, though a surprisingly gritty choice for Mom. She tended to prefer a comedic or cozy murder mystery. If it had been a Mary Daheim or Elizabeth Peters caper, I bet she would’ve finished it.

Sometime, soon, the ironed sheets will be gone & so will my mother

Could anything be more trivial?

Someday soon, the ironed sheets will be gone from the linen cupboard, and I will know that my mother is really gone.Neatly ironed sheets in linen closet

Mom’s tidy stack of pillowcases topped by my less elegant effort

She sick now. She is dying now. But is she still here?

Maybe she’s alive so long as crisply ironed sheets grace the linen cupboard? I’m tempted to guard them with my life and body, throwing myself between thoughtless users and pristine lengths of percale. As if bed linens can define the contours of a human life!

There’s stratification where the line between Mom and not-Mom exists in history, but I’m pretty darn aware that the line is not actually important in the grand scheme of things.

Sloppy folded sheets on linen closet shelf

When grandfather and teenaged grandson put linens away

Mom is dying. The sheets are irrelevant except when we sleep on them. And, yet, they seem to signify…

Poetry serves democracy: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home…

Perhaps the most delightful side effect of educating one’s own children at home is the constant opportunity to discover and rediscover the vast riches of all the learning the world has to offer.

Case in point: a poem by Lord Byron.

When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knock’d on the head for his labours.
To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And, is always as nobly requited; 
Then battle for freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted. 

If you read it aloud, you might be put in mind of limericks. That’s because the meter is anapestic,* of course, though the rhyme scheme here differs from that of a limerick.

duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH

Extra credit if you know how many feet are in each line of verse…

Textbooks including Poetry & Humanity by Michael Clay Thompson from Royal Fireworks PressI’m grateful to the skilled teacher, Michael Clay Thompson, who wrote the multi-level language arts curriculum published by Royal Fireworks Press that I’ve used with my son for about eight years now. My own appreciation for and knowledge of grammar has grown alongside my son’s, and many of the poems included therein have become family favorites.

Lord Byron’s cheeky, even snarky, goad to action on behalf of human freedom is both a pleasure to read aloud and a timely reminder to do my part for democracy as people worldwide withdraw into petty nationalism while human unity fractures.

Here’s hoping my reward is to be nobly requited. That sounds much better than the alternative.

*Anapest. You know! The opposite of a dactyl. If I learned these details in school, I’ve long since forgotten them, but the poetics study included at every level of MCT’s language arts program is often my very favorite part. It doesn’t so much demand that we memorize these obscure terms as make us want to by showing us both the breadth and depth of what’s beautiful in the construction of our mother tongue.

The most expensive trip I never took

I thought I’d be in Orkney realizing a dream of touring Neolithic sites today.

Scottish coastlineInstead, with two days’ notice, I had to scramble to cancel a two week trip to Scotland and Ireland. I headed home to the Pacific Northwest a couple of days ago as my mother entered hospice care after her much too short battle with advanced cancer.

I’ve spent about nine months planning the untaken trip to the British Isles. In the process, I began half a dozen posts that might reference that adventure and my preparations for it. I’ve decided I will publish any of those that are near completion if the mood strikes me. My audience will just have to understand that my trip became a different journey and forgive me when my tone sounds too upbeat for someone in my current situation.

Prescription bottle of pain pillsBut I think there were pearls amidst my rambling thoughts, and there may be useful information I can share. I love that part of blogging, and I need all the joy I can harvest in the days ahead.

Please forgive me if posting at this time seems petty. Maybe you think I should be “doing more” for Mom. Mostly, she just needs me to be present.

Mechanical typewriter style keyboardWriting is my natural pressure release valve, so I will take any criticism and reply, simply and truthfully, that this is me putting on my oxygen mask before helping others.

Wishing abundant good health to every reader and your families.