Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The First Mothers' Day Without Mine

I’ve always been adept at “compartmentalization” or, as it’s less euphemistically known – DENIAL.

I’ve read some wonderful books about the grieving process and its non-linear stages, most notably Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler’s On Grief and Grieving. While those books were wonderfully comforting, I confess that being an only child and a New Yorker make me disdainful of generalized categorization.

Sometimes, though, there’s just no escape; try as we might, the heart feels what the mind and senses seem to ignore. In April, the lilacs begin to bloom. I push back the familiar thoughts that they have always been “the Mothers’ flowers” to me, but my heart recognizes the magnificent scent that always reminded me to pick up a bunch on my way to visit Mom. The fragrance finds its way to the places I’m trying to “protect.” This year, the beauty of lilacs is acutely bittersweet.

I return to my apartment after another lovely jaunt among the now-in-full-bloom lilacs and turn on the television for some respite from missing Mom. NOT SO FAST! Though I’ve not overlooked the imminence of Mothers’ Day, apparently everyone else on the planet has because those card and flower companies issue reminders every fifteen minutes on all 1,914 channels available on cable.

After a couple of weeks of this, Mothers’ Day started to feel like it was coming at me like a freight train. I kept trying to “slap a happy face” on my feelings by thinking of all the friends and family I love who are Moms and the one who’s been a second Mom to me (thanks, Ginnymom!).

Still, all I wanted to do was sleep through the lilacs and commercials and wake up on May 10.

Ultimately, my self-created geyser made its way to the surface and “out of nowhere” I began weeping “for no apparent reason” while on the A train. The tears just streamed down my face. The grief was as fresh and consuming as it was in August.

I managed to contain my yawps and gasps only until I’d made it inside my apartment door. I was stunned by how huge and raw the grief still felt, but remembered that someone told me the amount of sorrow is a reflection of the amount of love. As homage to my Mom, I sat on the floor in my foyer, allowed myself to feel the pain and the love, and wept. 

Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her – many times. I have a quiet weekend planned of nurturing myself and remembering her . . . with love . . . and lilacs.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

There's No Grief In Santa

Last year was the first year my Mother didn’t recognize me at all . . . not even a glimmer. I’d been expecting Alzheimer’s to take away her ability to recognize my face, but wasn’t really prepared.

That was the first Christmas it seemed to make no difference whether or not I called my Mom for the holidays since she didn’t know whether it was Christmas or St. Swithens Day, whether it was me or the Easter Bunny. She’d long since forgotten what the telephone was and what those noises coming into her ear were.

Christmas was always a big deal for Mom and me. She’d come home from work with a fiendish grin as she scurried down the hall to hide my gifts (which she hid so well that, long before Alzheimer’s took hold, we’d be finding gifts into Valentine’s Day). I always loved trying to find the perfect things for her, something that’d show how much I love her, something to make her feel pampered and special. I particularly loved wrapping Mom’s gifts. We always exchanged multiple cards and I’d begun putting a hankie in the “mushiest” one to dab her Christmas tears of joy.

For Christmas 2008, I was longing for some Christmas spirit and for someone to buy a gift for, to wrap it and to imagine the happiness that gift would bring. Then my friend declared she’d created a holiday challenge for herself (and her friends, friends of friends) to get gifts for 100 kids through New York Cares Winter Wishes program. What it really was, was a gift to my heart, another demonstration that it truly is better to give than to receive, and that it is through giving that we receive much more.

I got to shop for just the right super-ultra PlayDoh, beg the salesperson on the phone to hold the last game of Super Uno Flash for me until I got to the store after work, and experience that grin I used to see on my Mom’s face when she smuggled home the perfect gift, anticipating the delight it would bring.

My Mom died this August. I’ll add another child to be Santa for in her honor. It provides so much comfort and joy to hold the handmade letters to Santa in my hand, reading over the simple wish lists, choosing just the right gifts, wrapping them, shipping them off and imagining the Christmas morning grins.

Someone once wrote, “don’t focus on what you’ve lost, focus on what you have left.”

Now, what the heck is a tech deck?!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Calendars

In the Christian tradition, the season of Advent heralds Christmas and starts on the Sunday closest to November 30 and continues for four Sundays. 

Being Catholic(ish) . . . we made up our own rules.  Thus, Advent started on December 1 (I never could quite figure out why some years I had more windows to open on my Advent calendar . . . ).  Every year, Mom would come home from work with my Advent calendar (and even mailed them to me long into my thirties).  Whether she brought my calendar home on December 1 or 3 or Thanksgiving . . . it didn't matter and the season of glee had begun. 

Every day I'd pop open a little window to see what was inside.  There was no looking ahead - otherwise God would know you cheated!  That's it - nothing but anticipation and a little sparkly picture of something different every day.

It was our little tradition and it was a daily reminder of the spirit of Christmas . . . wonder, joy, traditions, love, family.

To honor Mom this year and share this tradition with you, I've posted links to some online Advent calendars:

A Bach Christmas calendar

Advent around the world calendar

Advent history and traditions calendar

Christmas stocking Advent calendar

Medieval Advent calendar

North Pole advent calendar

Perhaps you'll start your own tradition and pick one up at the card store on the way home . . .

Thanks, Mom.  You still are the spirit of Christmas.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Grief Tip . . . Go Get a Haircut!

I hadn't had my hair "done" since June 20. 

All I could hear when I looked in the mirror was my Mom's favorite expression for a less-than-fabulous apppearance: "I look like I'm going to haunt houses."  I did, too. 

Every day, I knew less and less what to do with "the mop," so I'd throw it up into some sort of "who cares" pony tail.  Every day, staring back at me was HER.  Every day, she looked a little bit more disheveled . . . not so that anybody would really notice . . . just a little something off . . . never any ooph or effort. 

If you looked really closely, you could see the grief in the eyes (and you didn't have to look too hard since no effort was exerted applying makeup either). 

The thing is, after all those months, it doesn't even matter so much what you saw when you looked at me; it's what I saw day after day reflected back at me in that mirror.

Right after my Mom died, a day or two before the first funeral mass in Southbury, my friend, Grace, asked me if I'd had a manicure:  "it'll make you feel better and you can't go to your Mother's funeral looking like hell - it's disrespectful."  I did as I was told.  I ended up getting the whole "schmear" . . . nails, toes, legs, shoulder massage. During the process, I'd occasionally feel a little inappropriately narcissistic getting "dolled up" under the circumstances.  By the time I left, I felt pampered, taken care of and human.

Since then, I've not tended to grooming so much, thinking I didn't need to impress anyone.  It's not for anyone else at all, really.  It's about what it says to me about me.  Even when I do my own manicure at home, I end up feeling taken care of, clean, orderly, "normal". 

Last week, I got my hair cut and got rid of the mousy color.  I felt fabulous.  I feel human, not quite so much like the walking dead myself.  I could definitely hear Mom saying, "Oh, Connie, you look so much better.  Don't you feel better?!"

Yes, I'm still grieving over my Mother's death, but I'm not making that pain worse by being mean and ignoring myself. 

I just might add a little mascara to that face in the mirror this morning . . . maybe even get a new outfit!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Anger could never be the first stage of grief!

Anger could never be the first stage of grief

First, you're busy making arrangements, then you're just numb.  I figure it takes a good couple of weeks before you get good and pissed off.
If you've never juggled before, but always wanted to, you will now have an opportunity to experience the "thrill" of trying to navigate your own grief, while donning the socially-expected (nay - demanded) stiff upper lip, while simultaneously restraining yourself from slugging someone.  It's quite a feat.  Nowhere will you get more practice than when you return to work (more about that in another post).

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book On Grief and Grieving, found that "anger is usually at the front of the line as feelings of sadness, panic, hurt and loneliness also appear, stronger than ever.  Loved ones and friends are often taken aback by these feelings . . . . "

If all of the other things haven't lunked you on the head, you can now add something else to juggle:  being "likeable."  The inherent unfairness of this has been noted by Kubler-Ross, the late Gilda Radner, and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin in her Happiness Project blog: "Being gregarious and upbeat wins you more attention and care. It doesn’t seem fair that your likeability should matter at a time when you’re in pain and afraid. But it does."  Mustering likeability does prevent isolation and can actually pull you out of your own quagmire, but it takes an effort that you sometimes feel you just don't have.

Everyone in my bereavement group has expressed some degree of anger.  Interestingly, very little of it is directed toward the person who died or God.  It's the result of what is sometimes experienced as an astonishing lack of compassion, disappointment in various people or family members we thought would "be there", and simply that the world keeps turning and expects us to do the same as if nothing ever happened.

Yep, we're angry.  Some of us are even sleep deprived, which probably makes us even crankier.

Like the lion with the thorn in its paw, we just want a little gentle compassion.  We promise not to bite. 

And so it is that for the many kindnesses shown to me, my gratitude is unbounded.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Firsts and Lasts

Today is my birthday.

I've been scheduling posts here to publish Mondays at 12:35 pm because my Mom died on a Monday at 12:35 pm. 

This Monday is my first birthday since she died.  I was born at 2:17 pm.

I thought about the "appropriateness" of writing a post today, but that seemed like avoiding the proverbial elephant in the room.  Right behind that thought, was "I wouldn't even be here if it weren't for her."  I am so grateful for this wonderful life she gave me.  I am her creation.  I am her legacy.  She lives through me. 

I remember all the lasts I shared with her:  the last time I held her hand, the last time we gazed into each other's eyes, the last time I said "I love you," the last time I said "goodbye."  I think of all the firsts she must have been so delighted about . . . my first tooth, word, step, boyfriend.

My firsts.  Her lasts.  We shared them all together.

And so it is my first birthday without her . .  . though I'd not shared one with her by phone or in person for a couple of years due to the Alzheimer's.  I remember missing getting that call from her every year at 2:17 pm to mark the moment of my birth and her wonderful cards (we always sent each other several).

Because I saved them, this year I have birthday cards from Mom.

It is indeed a wonderful life.  Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Think of your favorite animal, your favorite setting in nature.

I am proud to participate today in Blog Action Day (www.blogactionday.org), where bloggers from all over the world will discuss climate change as it relates to their blog's theme/perspective.

What's Blog Action Day got to do with grieving the death of my Mom?  I think of how much I loved her, how much more I realize it now that she's gone. 

I don't want us to miss this planet and its natural beauty when it's too late!  Let's be its loving, grateful stewards NOW.

I know we have the technology, passion and creativity ensure that our water, air, plants and animals - and ultimately WE - thrive.
Please support implementation of bold, comprehensive, significant and innovative action to reduce greenhouse gases and develop clean energy.
It's not too late.  Listen.