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I’m starting the new year with a dollop of gratitude, and I’m starting with you.
If you are reading this – and of course, you are – I want you to know I’m thankful. I’m thankful you are here. That you care. That you are one of the brave ones.
Grief is scary. Painful. Difficult. It doesn’t take fearlessness to face it. It takes courage – facing it despite the uncertain and insecurity. You are here. You are brave.
I may not be able to call you by name. I’m thankful nonetheless. When you think of who made a difference in your life in 2018, whose face comes to mind? Whose name? Whose words or smile? Here are people who made a difference in my life in 2018.
I remember the disturbing silence of my mother’s electric lungs. The whoosh of the machine that supplied oxygen to her had been quieted. She lay motionless, her eyes closed, the oxygen tubing pushed away. She’d never breathe again.
The muffled voices of a hospice nurse and my husband droned in the kitchen. A hush settled around me and the shell that had held my mother’s soul. My link to her. As I sat by her bedside in the middle of the living room, it was as if I was alone on a planet, a solitary citizen standing at the beginning of creation. Or, rather, at the end of it. The world as I had known it was gone.
I gazed into her face for long moments and then pulled the sheet over her head. Our long talks, our shared laughs – the beautiful, living noise of the house – would never be again.
Christmas at a July Funeral
It was a steamy southern July, but I decided that we’d sing Silent Night at her funeral. Perhaps an odd selection, but in the whirl of grief, I grasped to remember what songs she loved. At the service, the lyrics were transformed in my mind. Instead of singing of a night in Bethlehem, we sang of the night that my mother died in her sleep, in the home where I’d grown up, with a hired aide.
Peace for her. Pain for me.
From then on, the popular Christmas carol that turned 200 years old this year was forever marked as a song of mourning, a consequence I had not intended. Silent Night was perhaps destined to prick my grief anyway. For those who have lost a loved one, Christmas music often triggers sad nostalgia – or outright incidents of wailing. With carols piped into shopping malls, commandeered for commercials and fitted into festive parties and events, the grieving cannot possibly escape.
What is one to do? I’ve dissolved into tears in front of my stereo at home, stopped cold as music drifted into the grocery aisles, and changed the radio station as though I was braking to avoid a pedestrian in the street. As my grief has aged, though, I’ve found myself turning up the music and singing along. In my head, my mother is singing Silver Bells again, or Merry Christmas to You, commonly subtitled Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Funny, I never realized how beautiful my mother’s voice was until I couldn’t hear it anymore.
They told me to find new traditions to survive Christmas with a broken heart. It was on all the lists. As I face the 10th year without a living parent, however, I still haven’t found stability.
I still can’t get the Christmases I once had out of my head. I still haven’t found a routine that fills a sad, black hole that I cannot escape.
Have you found traditions and routines yet that calm that yearning for Christmas past? Or are you still looking?
My expectations always do me in. People just won’t do what I want them to do. (Insert chuckle here.) Communication gaps. Conflicting plans. Unnecessary drama. My hopes and plans for a blissful Christmas of ease dissolve in the wake these obstacles.
My emotions don’t do what I want them to, either. They fluctuate each Christmas. I once wrote that each Christmas gets better and better after the loss of a loved one. That’s what I’d experienced – until I didn’t. It was then I realized grief storms come when they wish.
Especially at Christmas. The holiday is full of triggers. One of my primary ones is music. Sad nostalgia rides on sound waves. No, I’m sorry. I cannot go Home for Christmas.
Can dead people warn us of impending danger? Do they provide the grown up equivalent of “don’t run with scissors?”
That’s a dicey question for a Christian to ask because the Bible tells us that God doesn’t want us to try to communicate with the dead.
I hope my fellow believers haven’t already tuned out. If you’ve made it thus far, allow me to elaborate. I want to tell you about what I heard last week. And how it caused me to swerve from danger.
I think God brings things to our mind from the past that fit into the circumstances of the moment. He reminds us of conversations past.
I also think wisdom and other bits of information people like our parents gave us get embedded in our brains. And at the right moment, it’s like a “play” button is pushed. We hear them again, but this time, their words apply to present circumstances. It sure feels as though it is from our departed one, doesn’t it? But is it?
The Commercial Appeal, my former employer, published an article on Grief Dialogues: The Book and on my contribution to the publication. Raina Hanna did a fabulous job on the story, and I want to thank her. What an odd feeling to be IN the story, rather than on top in the byline.
I’m sharing the link below. I confess my computer skills aren’t top notch, so I hope the link works. If it doesn’t, you can still find the story in the Nov. 28 issue of the paper at http://www.commercialappeal.com.
It’s appropriate this week to thank you – to offer gratitude – to you. I’m thankful for reader friends and for those who support my writing in any way.
Whether it’s by following my blog or sharing a post, hitting “like” on social media, by showing up at a book signing, or by simply offering an encouraging word, I am grateful.
I recently read a post about envy. Isn’t that unusual, to think about envy during Thanksgiving, a time to express gratitude for what we have? I had to admit I had been guilty. I had wanted something that was someone else’s.
I think back to two years ago. I had wished I was one of those writers followed by thousands. One of the ones whose book had been picked up by a traditional publisher, with my book in a store. One of the golden few. And so when my memoir proposal was rejected by a top-name publisher, I was devastated, though I knew rejection was the norm. I took it personal.
I had a lot of good, wholesome reasons for my book to land in lots of hands. Or in anyone’s hands. But my envy was the fly that spoiled the soup.
I think envy may come from a few places, but for me it sprang from insecurity. I felt confident I could write a good news story, having been in the business for 25 years, but memoir writing was a different animal. Even though I received some great encouragement at a writing conference in 2016, I wasn’t sure I was good enough. I needed affirmation.
UPDATE: The book event may be postponed due to inclement weather. Watch my social media sights & the blog Thursday for any changes.
UPDATE to the Update: We are on schedule. Please join me starting at 4 p.m. today at Master Jewelers, Olive Branch, Miss.
Of course, I was having a bad hair day. Or maybe it’s a bad hair life, nonetheless, this isn’t really about me but about taking grief and mourning out of the shadows.
The former mayor of Olive Branch, Miss., Sam Rikard, interviewed Elizabeth Coplan and me about Grief Dialogues: The Book. As I’ve written, I’m a contributor to this publication, the brainchild of Elizabeth, an author and playwright who resides near Seattle.
Sam is called the Weather Mayor around here. He always wanted to be a weather man, and now in retirement, he is. He posted the YouTube link (below) to the interview immediately, and it will go on OBTV, a small station that broadcasts in Olive Branch, on today, Nov. 14. He was a great interviewer, and he’s at ease in front of a camera. Me? Not so much, but I’ve really been enjoying marketing the book this week. Read more
He called to me to get my attention – “Mom” – but I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. I wasn’t his biological mom, but I wanted him to be attached to me in that way.
“What?” I asked. He shook his lowered head. “What did you say?”
He refused to repeat himself. I then realized he seemed embarrassed. He had spoken accidentally, and to my disappointment, he’d wished he hadn’t called me Mom at all.
Even in my youth of 25 years, even in my inexperience with grief, I assessed that he likely felt as if he’d been disloyal to his real mom. She had died months earlier, when he was 10.
Children’s Grief Awareness Day is on Nov. 15 this year. It falls on the calendar as the joyful togetherness of the holiday season approaches and punctuates the sense of the loss of loved ones.
To mark Children’s Grief Awareness Day, I’ll be at Master Jewelers in Olive Branch, Miss., to sign books. I’m one of 61 contributors to Grief Dialogues: The Book, the brainchild of author and playwright Elizabeth Coplan. Elizabeth and I found each other via Twitter while she was looking for contributions. She’s flying in and will do a reading at the Thursday afternoon event, and I will read from my entry, Standing in the Gap.