Posts tagged ‘toni lepeska’
Under the bowels of the dressing room sink, I discovered a half-completed painting, a sort of portrait of an unfinished life
It wasn’t the last evidence I’d find of a life interrupted. Nor the last grief trigger to cross my path.
I found Mom’s half-done crossword puzzles. Her hand-drawn plans for a circular driveway that was never poured. Dad’s sippy cup, half full, the day of his death. A harmonica he’d hoped to learn to play. I mourned for their loss of various pursuits. For their unfinished business.
I preserved the evidence – these things that triggered considerable sadness for me – like a detective at a crime scene. The things served as evidence of a robbery – the snatching away of two lives. Their fingerprints were all over them.
How can we cope with these land mines, these triggers, and handle the disposition of belongings? How can we hope to achieve a measure of healing while being showered with overwhelming emotion?
After eight years of slow but progressive work on cleaning out my parents’ home and grieving their loss, I saw four ways that helped me move to a happier place during the onslaught of grief triggers.
Delegating what to do with what the dead leave behind is a common ritual for the living. And when it’s your own loved one? In each slip of a paper and garment is a memory. Or a smell. A joy followed by a grief.
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.
And then there’s me. I worked on the process off and on for eight years. I loved my parents’ belongings jogging my memory and filling in the parts that time blurred. But it was also a very difficult job. I bawled my head off. There are things I just could not throw away. That suited me. Their things made the house feel lived in. Like they were there.
Grief is surrounded by myths. Believing things that aren’t true isn’t healing and isn’t helpful. Myths cement us. We can’t move forward in our grief or, if we’re the comforting friend, we can’t be helpful. And in fact, we might accidentally injure our grieving loved one.
When we don’t measure up to what our myths tell us – for example, that stifling tears will smother our grief, but we can’t help but cry – we think we’re broken. We try to fix something that doesn’t need fixing. Or we ignore something that does.
Here are five myths that need snuffing out of our society.
For all the sifting I did through my parents’ things after they died, I did not find one indication they ever made New Year’s resolutions, but somehow the practice caught on with me.
They did create goals from time to time and posted inspirational quotes and phrases. I’m more intentional. I divided my 2019 goals into five categories: Book & Career, Income, Health, Home and Spiritual.
I don’t treat my resolutions or goals like masters with a whip, but I allow them to nudge me into the places I want to be. They are guides.
While the calendar gives us a fresh start on our lives each year, there are also sign posts that redirect us to create a new us. One of those sign posts is loss.
Grief remakes us. We may become more aware of mortality and aim to spend more quality time with the loved ones who remain, or we may become too afraid to hurt again and pull away. We may bitterly complain to God about suffering and death, or we may allow that season to fade into the perspective that our Creator cares about our pain even when we don’t understand his methods.
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?