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I should have known better. I’ve been grieving long enough to know. But because I didn’t think ahead, I planned the last grand sale of my parents’ belongings right before Father’s Day.
And right before “death month” – July. Both my parents died in the month of July, three years apart. Every year I march toward the month and replay their lives and my loss. I go over to their home on the anniversaries, go through their things and decide what to keep and what not to keep.
It’s a common ritual for the living, that of deciding to do with what the dead left behind. For some, the task is too painful. They assign the job to a friend, or even hire out the work. Others madly toss stuff in boxes that get put into storage. They put their grief behind lock and key.
I thought I’d never reach the so-called “acceptance” stage of grief, and I didn’t want to. How dare anyone think I’d consent to my parents being ripped from my life?
And yet I find myself in a strange place. After a multi-year strangle-hold on my parents’ belongings – which helped me feel close to them – I’m letting go of items far too easily.
We flushed the toilet using pond water and we took turns in a vigil by the gas stove, our only source of heat. In this way, we survived a power outage one winter during my childhood.
I didn’t imagine my parents were teaching me how to weather a crisis, a physical one. Many years later, I’d need this skill for an emotional crisis, for their deaths. For separation from them.
All my life, my parents placed building blocks in my life on crisis management. The utility outages sort of run together in my mind as though they happened singularly. In truth, we faced a handful of times together as a family, braving the cold after ice storms and utility malfunctions. I learned self-reliance, perseverance and ingenuity.
These incidents came to mind after Memphis experienced high winds last week that knocked out electricity to thousands of homes. We didn’t have power overnight, for more than eight hours. At this writing, about 30,000 customers continue to be sitting in the heat with no power for the a/c.
I grew up outside of Memphis. There in the country where trees flourished beside power lines, we experienced electrical outages quite regularly. And so I know just what to do.
I squealed and talked into the camera. A selfie video. I was going to take the calculated risk of being drowned in an endless ocean to do what my father had done. To follow his footsteps.
Are you afraid? I am sometimes. I was afraid after my father died. I was afraid of a life without him, an ever-present anchor. A friend. A fan. A guide. Grief generates fear. How would I manage?
Honestly, I was always a person of fear. As a child, I feared the dark. Now I fear the water. Not so much that I won’t go into a pool that’s over my head, but I don’t venture far from the edge. I’ve never been on a cruise. The Titanic comes to mind. Read more
I want to share a poem with you that I heard again just before Mother’s Day. I first read it in 2011 at a memorial service for a teenager. She had died “out of order,” before her parents.
Jessica was very much loved. Her family and friends crafted a garden at the church she attended and put the poem in concrete. A particular word stood out for me. It felt like that poem was mine. Maybe it will be “yours,” too.
I discovered the homemade Mother’s Day card inside a box of her things and read what I’d written at the bottom as a young teenager.
“If I didn’t have you what could I do?”
Indeed, I told myself, sitting in her house among her things, This is the question I’ve lived with since she died.
This is my 8th Mother’s Day without Mom. Among my friends are those who face their first Mother’s Day without their mamas. For others, it’s been many years.
We all manage to get through it, but not so easily. I hope by the end of this post, you can personalize my ideas and cope more easily.
How do we survive grief? A major component is embracing new things. New routines. New relationships. But we stubbornly resist. We want things the way they’ve always been.
Must we discard the old to make way for the new?
Sometimes perhaps, but not always. Healing is at its best in the memories that contain both the old and new. And so we come to my father’s desk lamp.
The lamp reminds me of the aliens in the 1953 movie, War of the Worlds. Perched on two slender posts, the convex head beams light below – like an alien head.