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.

Hug ‘er if you’ve got ‘er this Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day is one to teach me the value of gratitude for what I have.

If your mother is still around, embrace her if you can. Call her if she’s far away.

Woman hugs childThere’s no one quite like the person who puts you first before all others. Or, perhaps, just makes you feel like she does.

Shh, I won’t tell your siblings you’re Mom’s favorite!

If something besides space lies between you and your mom, try hard to find some way past it.

Loving someone for who they are doesn’t mean agreeing with everything s/he thinks, feels, or does. It’s simply a blessing for both parties and a way of bettering our world.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who is or has a mother.

Gee, I think that’s everyone!

Chronic illness stinks, but I still opt for gratitude

I woke up this morning and realized:

Yesterday was the first day in months during which I hadn’t needed any* pain medication!

Bottle of pain pillsToday, then, it is perhaps “too easy” for me to write about living with a sense of gratitude in spite of the burdens of chronic illness.

You might assume I’m just having a great day, or that I’m naturally perky.

It is fair to describe me as fundamentally optimistic, but perky? Not so much. I’m decidedly prone to uncontrollable outbursts of snark and cynical enough to doubt the motivations of others.

This “less pain” holiday certainly does, however, make it easier for me to reflect upon the gifts I’ve gained from living with chronic illness.

Most importantly, my pain and physical limitations have made me more empathetic. I’m a better person for the suffering. That’s something, anyway!

I am now more likely to give someone else the benefit of the doubt in frustrating situations. I have more patience for slow movers and “inconvenient” people in my way. I’m far more generous with my tolerance.

Pain is also teaching me to have patience with myself. This is true not just when I need physical accommodations like using the buttons to open powered doors or taking the handicapped stall lest I find myself perched and suddenly realize the knees won’t raise me back up without an assist from a sturdy grab bar.

Bathroom fitted with accommodations for physical disabilitiesGiving myself permission to make use of aids for physical disability also seems to rub off on those nasty tendencies toward negative self talk that can be so undermining to one’s psyche. If I’m worth accommodating when my body fails me, why, suddenly, I can forgive myself for a day’s lapse in will power or my other myriad and sundry imperfections.

I wouldn’t wish a life interrupted by chronic pain or ongoing illness on anyone. Then again, I wouldn’t change anything about my own history if a genie popped out of a lamp and gave me the option.

I’m grateful for the life I have, warts and all. It would be wonderful to find a cure for what ails me, but I’m thankful for the lessons from the illness in the meantime.

Wall art stating “Give thanks”Being sick is beyond my control. Choosing to live my life with gratitude is up to me.

*With the exception of the topical prescription NSAID that eases my most finicky—and much used!—joints in the fingers and wrists, I suppose I should add. A day completely without pain is, sadly, no longer something I ever seem to have.

I’ve had such frustrations with the side effects of opioids and the synthetic alternatives that I have a truly love-hate relationship with them. Taking these pills does make the pain a little more bearable on a bad day, but nothing actually stops it completely when it is bad. Oh yes, and then the drugs screw up my sleep which can create its own vicious circle because fatigue increases my pain!

There is lots of room for improvement in medication for the management of chronic pain.

A gift of self-sufficiency: I got mechanical advantage for Mother’s Day

For Mother’s Day, in addition to a new Lego set to add to my part of our family’s miniature neighborhood, my kids worked together with their dad to solve a problem that plagues me when my arthritis symptoms flare.

Implementing one of the simple machines so fundamental to all efficient mechanical work, they gave me a lever. That’s right, I got the gift of mechanical advantage for Mother’s Day.

Shower handle - 1

It’s hand-crafted and lovingly decorated, too. With Sharpie, which definitely won’t show up in the laundry after this. I had to blur out the part where they made personally identifying marks on my gift. Just in case I forgot who made it for me, or gave their less artistic father too much of the credit.

Is this the most elegant of DIY home improvement? Perhaps not, but a bathroom remodel is outside the budget and the stark reality is that residential plumbing fixtures aren’t always easy—or even possible—to operate with arthritic hands.

Lego Diner set - 1

I haven’t had the time plus hand dexterity to begin building the fun part of my Mother’s Day gift, yet. Much to my younger guy’s chagrin. My lever, on the other *ahem* hand, has been used every day.

That is a gift that is easy to appreciate.

I’m kind of worse than average at pretending childish efforts are masterpieces or displaying scrawls on the fridge in a place of honor. I had no problem going with clutter-busting digital posterity by photographing then trashing stacks of preschool efforts.

This useful lever, however, fills me with a glow of pride. My kids made something real to help someone else accomplish a task. That’s heady stuff.

I love the Maker mindset and hope cultivation of same is one of the gifts we manage to bestow on our sons.

Thank you, boys, for thinking of me. And thanks again for easing a daily problem with which I struggled. I love my lever at least as much as I enjoyed the chocolate chip pancakes.

Spring Break: a great time to tell kids, “I’m glad you’re here”

Spring Break is winding up in our neck of the woods, and it brings up a pet peeve I’ve written about before: messages in popular culture that suggest children are an annoyance, or a burden, more than integral parts of our families and society.

Of course, I understand that a week at home with kids one usually sends off to school can disrupt orderly routines. It requires scrambling for babysitters or fun activities to fill unaccustomed hours. That presents an element of inconvenience, especially for those who can’t take the same days off of work to spend time relaxing with the freed children.

Calendar spring break - 1The disconnect between today’s school calendars and the dual working parent/single parent households that make up most American families doesn’t make the children themselves the problem.

Try to find a moment to tell your kids so, even if you think they’ll roll their eyes or believe you’ve gone batty. It’s good for them to hear it said.

It’s good for us to say it, too.

It’s easy to get caught up in life’s buffeting winds of distractions and disappointments. Kids are beholden to us adults for everything: shelter, food, toys, and a sense of where they stand in the world. Don’t forget that last bit in the struggle to optimize the tangible needs.

Mom hugI tell my kids I love them, but I also say how much I like them for who they are, no matter how different from me, and even when* those differences cause us to disagree.

They’ve heard me get angry at “back to school” sale ads that suggest parents rejoice once the brats are out of their hair. I reject those offensive notions, and I tell my kids so. Kids deserve better than that, just because they’re human beings, and even when their vacation weeks disrupt our schedules.

Spring Break this year at our house did include my sending them out to dinner and a movie with Grandma so that a group of moms could join me for a ladies’ literature evening. I know I’m fortunate to have willing family members available to give me a few hours off; I’m grateful for that.

My mom did bring our young friend, The Scholar, along for the evening together with my boys. Since The Scholar’s mother wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise, this was a gracious favor on Mom’s part.

That brings up one other option for showing kids during school breaks that they are valued by caring adults: make the offer to help another parent fill some of those hours if you’ve got a bit more bandwidth free.

Children thrive when a variety of adults show them consideration and make time for them. Society thrives when all of our children are well cared for.

CrocusI’m not sure it’s the village that matters; I think it’s all about the tribe.

It’s amazing how tiny an effort can make the world a better place for someone else. I live in certainty that every child deserves at least that much.

*Not so much during a fight, say, do I remember to be so gracious, but I try to get the message across the rest of the time, so the good things overwhelm family squabbles. I’m no saint!

**She’s another home educated child whom I tutor in math because my talents differ from those of her mother.