I stared into the sky at the black hole ringed with white-hot fire. I’d never seen anything like this before in my life. It was unearthly. Alien. Tears flooded my eyes. Awe flooded my soul.
My mother taught me to gaze into the cosmos as a girl. She walked into the front yard, brought the binoculars to her eyes and found the craters on Luna. Then she handed the binoculars to me.
Mom never saw a total solar eclipse. I wish she’d been alive to see it with me Aug. 21. My husband and I traveled from Memphis, in the partial eclipse zone, to western Kentucky to see the sun go totally dark. We’d booked our hotel room 10 months in advance. I packed a bracelet of Mom’s. I’d wear it during the eclipse in honor of her.
In the moments before the moon totally blacked out the sun, I was skeptical, building to upset. I’d heard it got dark enough to see stars, but it was daylight with more than 90 percent of the sun covered. An eerie pallor draped us, but I’d seen a partial eclipse before.
Loss can feel like a great abyss, like my parents are a trillion miles in space, on a planet I’ve never seen, in a place I can neither fly to nor telephone. But death doesn’t end a relationship.
Nor does it end a connection. No, it’s not the one I want. I want them here. In front of my face. But at least our bond isn’t completely severed.
I felt the connection again one July evening in 2013 when I was going through my parents’ things at their home. I found a letter. It had been mailed to them in the 1960s before I was born.
I didn’t expect to take eight years cleaning out my parents’ home. But here I am.
I also didn’t expect to feel walls of resistance erect inside of me, blocking my ability – or rather, my willingness – to throw away, give away or pack up their stuff. Propriety dictated I go over to their home and get the job done. I just wanted to sit with their things and cry.
Along the way, I noticed what nudged me to act when I’d get stuck holding on to their things. I’m not advocating we push ourselves past the point that our emotional journey takes us. In fact, I’d say take all the time you need and can reasonably acquire. I had the luxury of keeping my parents’ home, the house where I grew up, for almost as long as I wanted. I wasn’t paying a mortgage on it, it was close by, and my husband indulged me.
However, if you discover you need a nudge, try these strategies to get back on track.
Do you feel safe? I don’t mean do you fear you’re in danger of being robbed or burgled or murdered. I mean do you feel like you are emotionally in a place of safety?
I admit I haven’t always felt safe. In fact, one of the most unsafe times in my life was after my father died in the summer of 2006. I wasn’t aware of it in exactly those terms at the time, but in the years that have followed, I’ve thought a lot about this human drive for safety.
I think we all recognize the desire for physical safety. We lock our doors. We look twice to cross the street. But emotional safety is sort of nebulous. Undefined.
I find safety in relationships and in roles. I didn’t realize how glued I was to my parents and my identity as a daughter until I lost my dad, and then three years later, when I lost my mom. Over time, I’ve examined how magnetized I was to them, even though I was an independent woman. I bought my own home, alone, at age 29. Umm….it was 10 minutes from their house.
What is the good of grief? Is there anything we can snatch from the jaws of death? Or is it a final defeat – senseless, purposeless and meaningless?
My mother died eight years ago today. I remember feeling the sense of total defeat for her. I was still alive. I might rise from the ashes of my grief and find joy again. But she was dead.
My feelings contradicted my spiritual beliefs. I believed my mom was in heaven and in the presence of God. But I live in a tangible world. I could not see where she was or how she was.
I dreamed I was a child again, playing with my toys. I feel like a child a lot when I grieve. I even cry out for my “mommy” and “daddy” like a girl who has tripped and bruised her knee.
But in my dream my parents were alive, and I was playing with the toys they’d given me. I woke up with a delightful sense of well-being. I felt loved. I felt taken care of.
I realized of all the things I sifted through at my parents’ home, the toys in my old bedroom always made me smile. I cried over a lot of their possessions, but the toys took me back to joy.
Joy is an important ingredient in grief. We cannot properly face the ocean of sorrow that death plunges us into without the life preserver of joy. But how do we find joy at a time like that?
I call July “death month.” Both my parents died in July, three years apart. I’ve been through lots of Julys since Dad’s death in 2006, and I’ve noticed three ways I’ve responded.
We cannot necessarily pick the way we will feel on the anniversary of our loved one’s passing, however, we can prepare ourselves and use the day to further our healing.
Here are the three Ds we may use to address death anniversaries.
Distract. I distracted myself with an intense romance after the death of my father, and on the first anniversary of Dad’s death, I was distracted by the impending breakup. My heart was torn up in so many ways, I hurt too much to know which hurt hurt most.
We may busy ourselves with activities unrelated to our loss. A certain amount of distraction is necessary to weather the throes of grief. Go to the movie. Spend time with friends. But we should not allow life to press us so far that we don’t deal with our grief.