Posts tagged ‘Grief’
My mother prepared me for the onslaughts of lustful and malevolent men. I was a girl, encased in loving cocoon, listening to how they had hit her. Tried to rape her. Tried to kill her.
She left her first abusive husband only to be abused by the second. He then poisoned her with arsenic. Later, a landlord’s son cut a window screen. He tried to rape her. Mom tricked him and escaped. Through the years, many men claimed superiority over her simply because they had different sex organs. As incidents of men brandishing power mounted, her courage grew.
And she became the mother I knew. She refused to be subdued.
Her stories didn’t teach me fear. They taught me bravery. Boldness. Nerve. But as a girl, I didn’t think any of the violence she’d gone through would apply to me. I was unaware that Mom was giving me valuable tools that would protect me. That might even save my life.
I think about Mom’s cautionary tales – her gift to me – as women flood the public stage with #MeToo stories of sexual assault and harassment. I think about her stories as a nation stands divided between a Supreme Court nominee’s good name and a woman’s life-changing tale of trauma. All the narratives ping pong in my head against the backdrop of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
On the emotional, physical and sexual fronts, many women share an uncomfortable if not painful experience. I don’t have a #MeToo story like the ones that are circulating. But yes, I’ve been the subject of unwanted advances and tiptoed around the edges of dangerous encounters.
Daddy died, and I thought the universe owed me a break. My mother was terminally ill. And I had a chronic illness. I deserved a pass on all other trouble – or so I believed.
And thus, understandably, I blew my top six months later when the guy I adored walked all over me and out the door. I yelled at God for the first time since my daddy’s death.
I experienced an unbelievably chaotic, bizarre week, which reminded me of that period a dozen years ago. I would put this past week into the top five crazy weeks of my life.
What happened? And what can we do when the cosmos seems to be against us?
Check out this list with the tune Livin’ La Vida Loca (Living the Crazy Life) in your head:
I walked from the night into the veterinarian’s office with blood smeared on my arms, caked on my T-shirt and dried into the crevices of my toenails.
I’d nursed a lot of animals before, but I’d never seen so much blood. At the sight of my baby’s wet, dripping, red paws, I had initially thought the worst.
“Oh, my God!” I yelled to my husband on the porch. “He’s been attacked!”
I helped my 10-year-old friend clean and organize her room. As she lobbied to keep a shoe that was about to fall apart, I saw shades of myself in her. And a characteristic of my mother.
Her name, which I’m withholding, means moonlight. So I’ll call her Moonlight. An artist, Moonlight saw value in things that might be useful someday.
That shoe? Its unique straps could be saved. I don’t know what for, but I looked at them through her eyes. Maybe, I thought, they’d get a second life in a piece of art.
My mother used to stow things away for someday. I must admit, I inherited the trait to a degree. The practice makes cleaning out a loved one’s stuff after their death, well, interesting. I still don’t know why Mom put a handful of her long, straight, gray hair in a grocery bag.
I found the bag of hair tucked in a drawer of the coffee table. I kept the hair.
I bet you inherited books. Maybe a Bible. Or a series of recipe books. Or maybe like me, you inherited enough books to fill a small library, too many to ever read during your busy life.
What are you to do with them all? I suggest you examine them closely before deciding to haul them to a donation center or library because inside their pages lay buried, priceless treasure.
And just like treasure, we must “dig” to collect it.
What am I supposed to be? At different times in our lives we may ask this question or versions of it. Our sense of purpose – what am I to be? – is wrapped up in our identity – who am I?
Nothing shakes identity’s foundation more violently than death. We were spouses, but now our mates are gone. We were friends, and then our lifelong BFF dies. Sisters, now without a sis.
Or we were daughters, but now our mommies and daddies are dead, leaving us with a crisis of identity. Or perhaps the feeling that we are orphans. Adult orphans. Lost. Belonging to no one.
Death strips us all possessions. So it isn’t surprising that, yes, my parents left behind all their keys – a mass of keys that I combed through on the anniversary of Dad’s passing last week.
Door keys. Car keys. Keys to the post office box I still rent. Keys to who knows what. They didn’t take a one with them. They left them to me to sort through and dispose of.
I remember as a child sitting in the back seat of my parents Chevy, playing with a set of their keys. That’s before we had smart phones and television reception to entertain children in cars.
“What’s this one to?” I asked, dangling one key between my thumb and index finger. My mother craned her head to the left, between the seats.
“I don’t know,” she said. My father didn’t know, either.
I thought for sure they’d already approached senility. How could one not know what a key unlocks? I didn’t know then that you can amass so many possessions and so many keys that you lose track of what goes to what. Earlier this summer, my husband and I got out our keys.
I expected a grand attack of grief upon the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, but it passed with a poised emotional response at the cemetery and a handful of flowers.
Not so this time. Next month marks the 12th anniversary of Dad’s death. And the ninth anniversary of Mom’s. And the 1st anniversary I’ll spend without their home, my grieving space.
How we respond as each anniversary approaches depends in part on the year, month or week that precedes it. Because grief has a way of meeting us where we are.
Right now, I’m in a season of embarking on new things. Excited, yes. But uncertain, too. We tend to run to anchors during uncertain times. After my widowed mother died, one anchor was her home, the place I grew up. Surrounded by their things, I felt as if my parents were there.
That was comforting. Each death anniversary I’d go to their home and go through their things. As the years passed, I finished the job of cleaning out their home. I sold the house in May.
I’ve got an anchor in God, but I also find myself reaching out for my parents during this uncertainty and change. Their loss is on the front row again. And while I’m not exploding in tears, I feel a sort of ache. The loss of the house has awoken the loss of them.
As we approach death anniversaries, we have four possible singular or combinations paths to take.
We may distract ourselves from grief. We may take on a project or go on a shopping spree or spend time with friends. A certain amount of distraction may be healthy, but we should not allow life to press us so far that we don’t deal with our grief.
We may dedicate time to memorialize our loved one. That’s what I did by going to my parents’ home each anniversary. This year, I need to make a new plan. I think I’ll go to the cemetery, but I’d like to do more to acknowledge the loss. Something meaningful. Honoring.
We may dive in or immerse our day in memory and tears. Setting aside time to grieve is an important part of healing. The only way to get to the other side of grief is to grieve. That may look different each year as our grief evolves and as different seasons of our lives unfold.
We may deny our grief or pretend we’re over the loss. That’s the unhealthy way to handle grief. It will emerge in other ways if we deny it a place in our consciousness. Again, the only way to minimize grief is to fully embrace it first.
So even though it’s been 12 years, I’ll bend to grief again in this new season of my life. I won’t deny it or say, “It’s been a dozen years already. Enough!” I’ll be compassionate with myself. And through that compassion I’ll find new ways to journey through grief.
What do you do when anniversaries attack? What’s your go-to plan? What helps most?
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