Two Pretzels: On grief. Three years today.

September 9, 2016

On grief. Three years today.

I wrote this post Thursday night, then re-read and edited it on Friday. There may be errors... just go with it. I'm not sure I want to read it again.


The pillow I bought for Shirl quite a while ago. I was such a Hallmark fan. Yay for cards & gifts.

As I sit down to type this I wonder if I should go take my contacts out. I know I'm going to cry. It's probably best that I get 'em off of my eyeballs and tuck them into their cozy bed, safely swimming in their saline.

Eh, but I don't want to.

"Take the time and go do it, Kylee."

That's what you'd tell me.

That's what she always told me.

"Take your time."

"You're moving too fast."

"Enjoy the moment, Kylee."

"Stop rushing."

"You're so busy worrying about the next thing that you aren't enjoying this thing."

Oh, Mom...

Right. Again. Oy.

::

I've taken out my contacts and I'm sitting here contemplating the photo that my little sister sent me earlier today.

My baby sister isn't a baby any more, in fact, she's about to welcome my newest niece into the world in October.

After my Mom died, days after, we made the decision to put some of her favorite thing in storage.

Finally, three years later, almost to the day, my sister and her husband have emptied the little storage unit. I can't believe we've had her things in storage for 3 years. It's funny how you just tuck things away to deal with them later, when you're ready.


And that's all that remains.

That china cabinet was one of her prized possessions. But let's be honest, she didn't really prize any of her possessions too greatly. She wasn't a "stuff" lady. Still, she had that cabinet since before I was born and she loved it, especially the slightly bowed glass front. She lugged it across the city, from move to move and then out of the state down the rockiest, steepest driveway I've ever driven...

That china cabinet held the fancy dishes, the ones we'd eat off of on holidays. And, as it turns out, our memories.

On Christmas, we'd sometimes set up the ceramic manger scene, the creche, as she always referred to it, inside. The characters in the play of Jesus' birth were beautiful. She painted them all, using gold for various fancy accents (like the gold, frankincense and myrrh) and then she antiqued the pieces. I remember being so impressed by how she committed to the whole scene. Livestock included. And it wasn't cheesy, it was beautiful.

But, that's who she was. If she was going to do it, she did it. And she did it well.

I hold on to that today. If you're going to do it, do it right.

::

So back to today.

All that remains of her physical time here on earth is some boxes, some furniture, some baskets we absentmindedly threw in the cabinet in the whirlwind of our grief...

I look at that photo and I have a memory for every item I can discern.
Those memories make me smile. They really do.
I am so thankful for the memories.

And still, I remember the day that we put everything in storage.
It was another thing I had to check off my list before I returned to Cabo.

I was all business in that time following her death.

We had a job to do, and ever since I was small, I was good with jobs. So, I did the job.

In hindsight, that's how I grieved that first year. I wrote and I cried and I felt, but I focussed on the business part of death: the attorney, the realtor, the bills, the conflict, the estate. I printed out copies and kept folders and a notebook and I organized and took notes with a pen I took from her house after she died. More than once I thought about how she probably held the pen I was writing with to take notes in the notebook that once belonged to her, too. I focused on the next best thing from taking care of my Mom in her life, taking care of her in death.

Then, after we sold her house, the floodgates opened and the grief came fast and furiously.

Whoa.

We drove away from the closing office on the day we transferred title of her beautiful oasis and the tears flowed.

Why? Because that was it.

My job, as her daughter, was done. (Or so I thought.)

And that's what no one can explain when you lose a loved one: the small severs, the paper cuts, those are the ones that hurt the most. They sting. And they keep stinging.

She died once, but I died a thousand deaths as the grief wore on.

With each phone call that she doesn't answer...
With each holiday...
With each question you have and realize you don't have her to turn to...
With each awesome thing your kid does that you want to share, but can't...

The thousand deaths... oh, they're so hard.

I don't wish them on anyone. And when anyone joins this club, this grieving club, I wish I could immediately take the pain away... The immediate pain is breathtaking, but, no one can tell you that it's going to get... worse. It's going to get harder.

I've found that there surely are two types of pain related to grief: the shock filled-visceral, body-numbing pain, but then there's the chronic pain that sneaks into your daily life, at the office, at school, in the car, when your daughter smiles... reminding you that the one you love... is gone.

::

The other day my sweet nephew, who lost his Mom last October, asked me what first felt after having learned that my Mom died.

"Numbness. I felt numb."

"Me too, he said."

::

You get the call.
Your limbs are no longer attached to you.
You heart is beating so loudly you cannot hear what you're being told. Or maybe you're choosing not to?
You make decisions.
You tell the funeral director, "Yes, cremation."
You tell others who loved her that she's no longer on earth.
You fly and you hold your baby sister tighter than you ever have.
You sleep together, in the same bed.
But you don't sleep.
You're in shock.
You are handed your dead mom's purse.
You see the car.
You feel the steering wheel.
You take home shards of broken windshield glass that remains, three years later, in the front pocket of the orange leather bag that you simply cannot bring yourself to carry again.
You write an obituary.
You plan the memorial.
You walk in. In front of all of those people.
You have to grieve in front of them.
It's over.
They go home.
It's over for them.
And it's over for her.

But it's just the beginning for you.

You have far to go. Alone.

Death is stupidly permanent.

::

I was thinking that today, the day before she died, I would go back and re-read the blog posts that I wrote when it was all happening. (They're all here.)

But I can't. Not tonight.

I don't want to feel it again. At least not today. Maybe tomorrow, but not tonight.

Three years ago tonight, I was getting ready for bed.  My Mom was alive.

Maybe I had just blogged? I had talked to her earlier that night and it wasn't the most incredible phone call we'd ever had, but it wasn't a bad one, either. My Mom was alive.

I called her while the girls were heading to McDonald's for dinner with their Daddy.
The last words I ever said to my her were something to the effect of, "Oh, I've gotta go! They're home, Mom. I better let you go. I love you."

These two were heading to dinner, then I called my Mom.

I hung up the phone and she was alive.

And that was it.

Our last call.

She woke up the next morning, got in her car, drove off with her Bible and her library book that needed returning and that was it.

Just like that my Mom wasn't alive anymore.

No more phone calls.

::

Losing your parent, in an instant, in a way unrelated from what you had ever expected... is... hard.

But losing anyone you love, is hard.

Grief is grief.

The grief of an unborn child you will never hold.
The grief of a child stricken with illness.
The grief of a loved one who had to to suffer.
The grief of someone you never reconciled with.
The grief of a parent who loses her child.
The grief of a husband who loses his life-long best friend.
The grief of a sister who loses her sister.
The grief of a cousin, a friend, a co-worker, even a pet...

...it all has meaning and it all matters.

Loss is loss. And all of it, hurts.

::

I wish I could offer some incredible, life-altering declarations about how to handle losing your Mom or anyone you love, but I can't. It's all so personal, but here's what I have learned thus far:

1. Grief knows no time frame.

Sometimes it will hurt as sharply as it did those first days after you felt the loss. You'll develop random emotional claustrophobia. You won't be able to breathe, because it hurts. Time will go on, and you'll be doing fine, but then out of no-where, a tidal wave will come and swallow you whole. Grief is what it is, when it wants, wherever it wants. The waves will come. Instead of fighting them, feel them, float in them, and then allow yourself to be pushed back to shore and get your footing.

2. Grief is not, nor should it be, synonymous with guilt.

Sure, you could have said something differently or been more kind to the one you lost. Why didn't I call my Mom Monday morning, on my way to work, like I normally did every.single.day? Sigh... Why was I so "Kylee" and not soft and kind and sweet? Sigh... You have to let that go. You must let it go. You cannot live under the heavy guilt of what could have been or should have been. Feel it, then release it up in the air like a balloon. Let it go. And it's ok if you just cannot, for the life of you, handle living under a cloud of sadness any longer. It's also ok if you laugh, or for a brief moment, forget that she died. Don't feel guilty. It's part of the process.

3. It's ok to not want to move forward.

I remember dreading the passing of days. It meant one step further away from the last conversation we had, the last hug, the last time we sat together. I remember when I had Lila, at first I'd tell people how old she was by the days, then the weeks, then the months, then the years. I did the same thing with my Mom's death. It had been 10 days since died, then two months, then a year, now three...

Moving forward was hard because it meant that it was one more day that she wasn't breathing. It meant more time that I had been living without her. It's ok not to want to move forward, but you must. Because others need you and are depending on you. Because you are strong. And you can do it. You are not disloyal. You are moving forward, because if she can't, you can. You may not feel it right now, but you are strong. Keep going.

4. It's ok to phone it in.

The first year after my Mom died was a fog. An absolute fog. I let relationships unravel. I stopped asking questions of others. I probably should have been fired from my job. I just sat, in my grief. And I had to. I remember sitting on the couch one minute, then convulsively crying the next. My silent, kind, supportive husband sitting beside me. (I ruined so many movies.) Because that's what I needed to do. It's hard to care about putting the Christmas decorations up when your Mom died. Phone it in. Just get by.

5. Feel your feelings.

As my Mom said, you have to work through it. You have to get.it.out. Cry. Yell. Punch a pillow. SCREAM in the car. (That was her favorite thing, I think. I can still recall my teenage-angst forcing me to roll my eyes whenever she'd do that. "MY CRAZY MOTHER IS SCREAMING IN THE CAR LIKE A MANIAC." Uh... guess who screams in the car with her kids now?) Get it out, friend. If you put it in a box, on a shelf, in the darkest corner of your closet... one day, when you're putting something else up there to ignore, it'll fall down and slap you on the head and you'll have to deal with it anyway. FEEL the feelings. Now.

6. Grief is different for everyone.

Reading a book about grief may help. Talking to friends may help. Being silent, or praying, or writing or listening to music or being in nature or creating may be the salve you need to heal your bloodied and battered heart. And that's ok. You do you. You grieve like you. And allow others to grieve like them.

7. It's ok to dissect it all.

In the days, weeks and months following her death, my sister and I would talk and totally Dateline together about the details. We couldn't wrap our brains around just how this car accident happened. This is NOT what we expected or planned. HOW did this happen? There were no answers. There will never be answers. You will never understand why. Never. But this is what we needed to do. When someone we love dies, we re-trace it all. It's ok. Take your time. You'll find what you need, or you'll find that you don't need what you thought you did anymore.

7. Hold space.

This is a relatively new concept for me, but one that I wholeheartedly adore. When others are grieving around you, when they are going through something difficult, stand alongside them without judgement, without drama or complication, and hold space for them and just be with them. Just be there in any way you know how. And when you hold space for others, you heal. When you reach out and see that others are hurting and have been hurt, or have healed a bit... it will help you, too. You will heal. There is peace and healing in being there for others.

8. Say their name.

To this day, when people talk about my Mom, and use her name, I want to stand up and cheer! "Yes! She DID live and she was GREAT and thank you for saying her name..." If someone you love dies, keep talking about them. Keep their spirit alive and living in your home and in your life. You will feel closer when you share with others who know your Mom, or your brother, or your daughter. Memories are your oxygen when all you need is a hug from your Mom. Tell a story. Ask someone to tell you a story. It's ok to talk about it.

::

My Mom was a caretaker. She saw the best in everybody. (I did not receive that trait from her; but I'm working on it.) She was with more than a few people as they took their final breaths. She believed that heaven was incredible and that the minute she got there her body, which had been wearing her down for years, would be replaced with one that was pain-free. Preferably one with thick hair and awesome teeth.

Losing her has been the single most life-changing event in my life.

I am a different person.

"Something good will come of this..." my sister and I would say to one another.

And while I would give anything to have a happy, healthy Mom sitting next to me playing scrabble and eating crudites, I know that I will see her again.

So many great memories with this board.

I wish she could know that I was listening.
All of the years, when I thought I knew what I was doing, or that I knew better...  I wish I could say to her, "You were right. Oh, you were right."

She told me to stop using anti-bacterial soaps years ago because of the triclosan, and it was banned a few days ago. I smiled when I read that.

She told me to slow down.
To listen to my body.
To take care of myself.
To use cloth napkins.
"Kylee, are you journaling?"
She always told me to rest and relax.

I was so stressed back then... I'm shaking my head now, though. I was always so hurried and stressed when I talked to her. What, on earth, was I so worried about?

I found this book this weekend, she had given it to me after I had Lila, at the height of my massive sweating of the small stuff.



I ignored it.

I put it on the shelf.

When I opened it this weekend, I smiled. "Chapter One - Stepping out of the Everyday - Learning to Relax."

Got it, Mom.

Message intercepted loud.and.clear.

::

Today, I'm more at peace than ever before.
I am more calm.
It takes far more to raise my blood pressure today.
I'm more solution-oriented.
I respect time more.
I cling to relationships harder.

::

I have learned so much from her.

And, I'm becoming more like her as I get older. And, I never thought I'd say it, I love it.

She mirrored to me what passion is.
She gifted me a work ethic.
She found purpose in the mundane.
She made everyone feel valuable. And loved.
She was funny. Oh.so.funny.
She was diligent and knowledgable.
She stretched herself in every way possible.
She was never afraid to try something new; to step out.
She was a pioneer, a delicious cook and a sensible human being.
She was reasonable and ethical and honest.
She was whimsical and creative.
She was realistic and optimistic.
She wanted nothing but the best for my sister and I.
She always did what was right.
She experienced so much loss, so much tragedy, so much hardship...
...but she stood with her shoulders back, bravely, never a victim... and pressed on.

She always pressed on.

So, that is what I do.
That is what my sister does.
That is what my girls will do.

We will press on.
We will persevere.
Because she did...
...we will, too.

Found today. Feathers all around. Shirl all around.
--

The Story of Loss. On Losing my Mom. Get a tissue.
September 9, 2013  ::  The day I found out ::  Post here.
September 16, 2013  ::  It's One Week today  ::  Post here.
September 25, 2013  :: The Call  ::  Post here.
September 30, 2013  ::  Slivers of Sunlight  ::  Post here.
October 6, 2013  ::  That first week.Those first days :: Post here.
October 14, 2013  ::  14 days after  ::  Post here.
October 20, 2013  ::  I found a treasure  ::  Post here.
November 4, 2013  ::  She's been gone for 4 weeks  :: Post here.
November 13, 2013  ::  I smile and drive and cry and smile and cry  :: Post here.
November 17, 2013  ::  Weekends aren't easy  :: Post here.
November 26, 2013  ::  The holidays, the firsts  ::  Post here.
December 1, 2013  ::  8 weeks  :: Post here.
December 10, 2013  ::  The Dream  :: Post here.
December 19, 2013  ::  Vulnerability and Moving Forward  ::  Post here.
December 22, 2013  ::  The reminders. They're everywhere  ::  Post here.
December 29, 2013  :: 2013  :: Post here.
January 1, 2014  ::  The New Year  :: Post here.
January 7, 2014  ::  2 days from 4 months  ::  Post here.
January 17, 2014  ::  Another Gift ::  Post here.
January 25, 2014  ::  She would have been 60 today  ::  Post here.
February 9, 2014  ::  Five months  ::  Post here.
March 6, 2014  ::  Almost six months  ::  Post here.
March 27, 2014  ::  One of the Best Gifts Ever  ::  Post here.
April 1, 2014  ::  We're all in this together  ::  Post here.
April 24, 2014 :: 7 Months, Easter and Nope, I'm still not normal.  ::  Post here.
May 6, 2014  :: Mother's Day without a Mom  ::  Post here.
June 1, 2014  ::  Moving "forward"  ::  Post here.
July 6, 2014  ::  Denial & acceptance & blah, blah, blah  ::  Post here.
August 20, 2014  ::  So, I'm 35  ::  Post here.
September 2, 2014  ::  7 days  ::  Post here.
September 8, 2014  ::  The Day Before a Year  ::  Post here.
September 9, 2014  ::  Hello, one year  ::  Post here.
October 11, 2014  ::  The brain is funny  ::  Post here.
November 6, 2014  ::  Love  ::  Post here.
November 30, 2014 ::  Post here.
December 4, 2014  ::  Another feather. Post here.
December 28, 2014  :: All was calm, all is bright. Post here.
January 18, 2015  ::  They're always with us? They're always with us. Post here.
January 25, 2015  ::  And today I remember. Post here.
March 8, 2015  ::  A year and a half later. Post here.
April 16, 2015  ::  And here I stand. Post here.
April 29, 2015  ::  Joan & Shirley. Post here.
August 26, 2015 :: Perspective. Post here.
September 9, 2015  :: Two Years After. Post here.
November 1, 2015  ::  Watching others go through it. Post here.
January 25, 2016  ::  Happy Birthday, Mom. Post here.
March, 5, 2016 ::  Air Tears. Post here.
April 26, 2016  ::  Sitting Still. Post here.

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