Tag Archives: grief

14 Years of Grief

22 Jul

Fourteen years ago, I was pretty sure that my life had ended with his.  Nothing is like facing the death of your child, and I suspect it’s no different when you know that their death is inevitable due to a disease rather than the sudden swipe of some unexpected fate.

My son was my best buddy.  No, I didn’t love him more than I loved my daughter, but the whole relationship was different.  They were very different people, right from the time they were born.  There was also nearly 8 years between their births, which made me practically a different mom to each one too.

No child arrives with an owner’s manual or a warranty, but I doubt that we’d read the chapter on dealing with their deaths if it did.  It’s unthinkable, and I recently had a young father say that he couldn’t imagine losing his son, who is now 3 and my granddaughter’s playmate.

I told him not to ever imagine it.

Nobody deserves the kind of pain that goes with that happening, and imagining it is to endure a piece of the pain for no real reason.  I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I won’t lie either.  Not to myself, not to my daughter, not to a stranger.

The pain doesn’t go away.  That vast hole in the center of your chest never gets any smaller, and the tear drops don’t stop coming.  I dread the month of July, and it gets worse as we approach the end of the month, along with the anniversary of his death.  This year has been particularly agonizing for me, as the photographs of the children murdered during the whole thing in Gaza are plastered all over the internet.

Each one rips me open again as if it was his body laying there.

My son didn’t die a violent death.  He died in his sleep.  He was my borrowed child, and I loved him with a fierceness that was only matched with the fierceness of my love for my first born, his big sister.

I can’t pretend to imagine what the parents of those dead children in Gaza are feeling.  I didn’t have anyone to be angry with.  I didn’t have anyone or anything to blame for his death.  They do.  I know there is nothing I wouldn’t do to bring him back or to even keep his sister as healthy as possible.

Nothing.

I don’t see it having a positive effect on relations between the two groups, not with dead children as a tool towards antagonism.

But it confuses me too.  How can no one care about all of those dead kids?  How can people kill their own children here in the United States?  How can they abuse and abandon them?  It’s incomprehensible to me.  I loved being mom as much as I love being grandma.

There is that.  I have a granddaughter.  My son would have been over the moon over her–she’s the picture of beauty in his mind, with long hair and a bright smile.  She’s as free with affection as her uncle was.  She even chews her nails like her uncle did at her age.  She doesn’t really look a thing like him though, she is the spitting image of her mom.

This past year, she was also the inspiration for another first post-grief step for me.  I put up and decorated a Christmas tree in my house for the first time since his death.  It was in her honor, as her mom was going to be in the hospital on Christmas day.  (We actually celebrated a day or two after The Day to let her join in the fun after she was released.)  That little girl has made the holiday fun for me again, as I look forward instead of remembering the empty spot in the room.  It doesn’t mean I don’t miss him then too, because I do.  She didn’t fill the hole, she simply brought in bright light to make it less painful, I suppose.

I get depressed as we near the month of his birth, and that is always another mountain for me to travel up and over.  April Fools Day is always accompanied by a sense of relief.  I have survived it, and while I remember his birthday always, sometimes even baking a cake, it still hurts that I have no one to hug that day.

It’s the little things that bring out the tears too.  Power rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a brown eyed boy with a Dutch boy haircut, a boisterous boy pretending to do martial arts as he dances around his mother, a shy smile, or someone playing the first episode from Star Wars with the boy Annakin.  Memories.  That’s all I have now, is those precious memories.

Things like the funky doggy smell he got when he played in the hot sun and got his hair all dirty and sweaty, or how he destroyed socks and jeans.  Of building a Hand of Thyme herb bed shaped like a hand.  Making pickles.  Of the birthday I told him he could have all the “juicy eggs” (eggs over medium) he wanted for breakfast until I cut him off at six (I think he was about seven years old).  Of the horrible messes he could make with flour from the time he was first walking right on until his death, and how he could not resist touching flour if opportunity presented it as a possibility.  I don’t know what it was about flour that called to him, but it called to him.

I share the memories, we talk about him when we’re together, his sister and I.  My mother.  My other extended family.  His face is over my desk in the last family portrait we had taken, and my granddaughter knows all three faces in the photo.

I’d have adopted more kids, if we could afford it.  We can’t…we’re just not financially stable enough to qualify, even for older children.  That’s sad, but it is the truth.  Instead, we have three dogs and one granddaughter to spoil.  We spoil friends’ kids when we get the chance too.  Sure, it’s not the same, but that’s all we have now.

I know his generous nature.  He would have been horrified if I had become bitter and unpleasant, or shunned other children.  I try to be the person he thought I was when he was ten, and I still knew everything and could do anything.  Some days, the “do” anything can be a challenge, but I always try to keep learning new stuff.  He wanted to have 150 kids (he really did say that…often).  All I can do is try to give forward the love that he gave every day he was alive.

But damn, I miss him.

Sure, I have heard all the platitudes about how he is in a better place and all that.  Don’t ever say that drivel to a grieving mother.  If you are lucky, she ignores you.  If you aren’t, she may try to send you to that better place too.  To a mom, there is no better place for her child than alive and with her.  No exceptions.

I still want him back.  Badly.

Yes, I know its impossible, but if I am going to dream, I’m going to dream big.  Sometimes I still relive the day he died in my nightmares and I wake up with the grief as raw as it was that first day I put it on.  Some days, I never cry a tear that shows.  I can laugh.  I love.  I smile.

And sometimes I still rage when I see a parent treating a child unjustly, and I think, if they knew how much that child really means to them, would they still do that to the kid?

Do me a favor.  Hug your kids like it is the last time you can ever do so.  Do it three times a day. Never imagine losing them, but do it and remember to never take tomorrow for granted, because sometimes…it never comes. Ever.

Then all you have left is that last time you hugged them.

 

What can you say?

10 Oct

Today is my brother’s birthday.  Unfortunately, it’s also the anniversary of my father’s death, which really probably puts a damper on my brother’s celebrations.  It also happens to be a milestone birthday this year for him.

He’s reached the big Five Oh, as they say.  I remember when thirty was practically retirement age, at least in my opinion.  Forty was really ancient, and fifty, well…you were just occupying space until you died.  After all, what could you do when you were half a century old?

Little did I know then, right?

You can do a lot after fifty.  Most of the nation’s population is now at that age, and we’re doing a lot of stuff.  We hike, bike, backpack, tour, write, read, make movies, do business, create, innovate, and a lot of other things.  I’m now suspicious of those without a few gray hairs, because after all, what can someone without a bit of experience under their belt possibly have to offer me?

What can you say?

It seems I suffer from prejudices.  Pretty arrogant of me to not want to admit it too, actually.  It takes a two year old, or rather an almost-two-year old, to remind me of the things that youth has to teach us.

Like in the purely sensual pleasure of taking a mini cupcake frosted with luridly colored “buttercream” (it actually contains no butter and way too many chemicals to possibly pronounce) and licking it with a rapidly flicking tongue as though you were a lizard is pure delight.  You don’t notice the greasy texture of the frosting, but your tongue will positively spasm with delight at the sweetness.  It takes a good fifteen minutes to enjoy that tiny bit of frosting that way, compared to the two bite “adult” way of eating a mini cupcake.  Then, you still have the cake to enjoy too.

You don’t have to worry about what to say then either.  She isn’t into verbalization much, it’s all about sound, facial expression, and tactile expression.  Jabber a bit, laugh a lot, smile more, and give hugs and kisses with total spontaneity, and hey…life is good.

What can you say about that?

Grief.  There are no words to ease that pain.  I know that, I’ve been there.  I’ve mourned a lot of people, from childhood friends to my son, to my father and all of my grandparents and great grandparents.  Aunts and uncles, cousins, co-workers, acquaintances…I’ve lost them too.  It hurts, and it’s different each time.  With the intensity of the grief, people are under the misconception that it gets better over time.

Hogwash, total hogwash.

About all I can say about it is that you get used to it.  It’s like a scar, it’s always there, you never forget it is there, and it never goes away.  You just get used to looking in the mirror and seeing it.  When my son died, it felt as though I had this massive hole through the very center of my being, and part of me was shocked that the sun still shone, the birds still sang, and I still breathed.  How could that be, when my world had ceased to be?

Now, it’s been over ten years.  Longer than I got to have him, I have grieved for him.  I still feel tears well up sometimes when I think about it, and we still talk about him, as well as talk about “That Day.”  I still will cry, and I still remember him, every day, not just on the anniversary of his death or his birthday.  I still miss him.  We still laugh about some of the things he did, as well as some of his idiosyncrasies, and that’s good too.

I grieve for my father too.  Not in the same way, for we know from childhood that our parents are probably going to die before we do and that we’ll have to grieve for them then.  Part of my grief with my father is over our rocky relationship, which we had managed to repair in the last years of his life.  I grieve for the fact that there were so many missed opportunities, so much more that the relationship could have been, if only things had been different.

Grief comes with guilt too.  You second guess yourself, you wonder what you could have done different over time, if you could have changed some of the worst parts of the relationship in some positive manner if you had been that perfect person we all strive to be.  That’s normal too.

But it’s also normal to be normal and not that perfect person.  I think the perfect person, the one that I hold as a mental image of who I’d like to be, would scare me half to death.  Who could be that calm, that rational, that loving and considerate, and not have angel wings and a halo?  Most of us don’t interact daily with angels, and if I suddenly became one…well, I’m not sure anyone would see me or even admit that they had seen me.

Come on, what would you say if you saw an “angel” walking down the street or shopping in the local store?  What could you say that didn’t have your family wanting to lock you up?

That doesn’t mean we should quit striving for the impossible goal of becoming that perfect person we’re striving towards though.  I may not be an angel, but sometimes, you don’t have to be perfect, don’t have to have a halo, and you don’t need angel wings to make a difference to someone else.  Angels come in many forms, you know.   Sometimes, they are a middle aged woman bringing groceries to a single mother who is struggling to feed her children.  It might be coats for someone who can’t afford to buy coats that actually fit their kids.  It might be stopping to help someone change a tire on a summer Sunday morning, getting dirty and making yourself late for church in the process.  It might be helping a neighbor move in or out.  It might be giving some bread to a man standing on a corner begging, or to a young homeless couple that is probably addicted to drugs.  It might be helping an old woman get her groceries from her car to her door.  It might be hiring a guy who has been looking for a job so long that he has nearly given up daring to hope that his application will ever get any attention.

All it takes is to care actually.  To do more than merely go through the motions.  Sometimes it means not only doing the letter of our “job” in the course of the day, but actually putting real effort into it, going an extra inch or two to help someone.  Other times, it cuts into our “play” time, or means giving up something that we’d rather be doing in order to make someone else’s journey a little bit easier.  Other times, it may be as simple as reaching into the groceries that you just bought, and taking out the bread you don’t really need…and handing it to someone outside the store that does need it.  Another day, it might mean that you simply do your best to solve your own problems.

Sometimes, it is also a case of minding your own business instead.  That is especially the case with gossip.  Too often, gossip is mostly fiction, but presented in a manner that makes it sound perfectly plausible.  It may seem innocent, but the problem is…it can seriously damage someone’s life and cause them a great deal of problems, all for something they never did or said.  It can lead to real financial hardship on occasion as well.  I know in my own case, I was once upon a time merely amused about gossip about me, never realizing the damage it was doing and would continue to do even years later.  (Gossip had my life far more interesting than reality ever was!)  Ultimately, it almost cost me my job, and had repercussions that pursued me for over a decade, and the truth is…none of it was even based on truth.  I was judged guilty, plus never had the “fun” of committing the acts!

What can you say?  Your mother was right.  If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  If you don’t know that it is true, don’t repeat it.  In addition, sometimes, things aren’t exactly what they appear to be.  Be kind.  Be considerate.  Try walking in the other person’s shoes.

If all else fails, along with words, there is always the option of opting for non-verbal communication too.  And no, I don’t mean giving someone “the finger”, but rather a smile.  Don’t wait for Washington to bring us change, be the change yourself and be the change.

It takes something, someone, some act to be the catalyst for change.  It can be you.

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