Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

I’m sitting in the Alaska Airlines lounge at the Seattle airport, watching the planes land and take off. We have a couple hours to wait until our connecting flight to San Francisco, where we’ll spend the night before getting on a ship and heading to Hawaii. 4 days uninterrupted by email, voice mail or phone calls. Just the ocean, good friends, books and fun.

It’s a grey morning in Seattle, but isn’t it usually? The sun seems to be trying to fight its way through the clouds, so it may end up being a sunny day. The view outside reflects how I feel inside today.

5 years ago today was the worst day of my life. It was the day I walked into the garage and found Tim, lifeless with a gunshot wound to the head. My world shattered that day. It has taken a tremendous effort to rebuild it. There are those who try to destroy that peace. And there are those who help me preserve it. Most days, it’s a small ache in the back of my heart. It’s seeing his picture and smiling, because I remember the joy he brought to my life. Sometimes it’s a curse and a thrown rock in the woods because I still don’t understand why he did it. Some days it feels like it happened a very long time ago, and some days it feels like it happened yesterday. Time is funny like that.

In the last 5 years, I’ve found that the best way to move through this day, is to keep busy. Traveling is the absolute best. Being with my husband Bill, who helped me want to stay in this world, makes me want to fight those grey clouds away. I will let the grey sit for a little while yet, but then the sunshine of love, friends, travel and adventure will fight it’s way through.

As my son told me this morning, “watch out for pirates Mom…arrhhhh”, and I heard Tim laugh.

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A year ago today my phone rang at 8:10am. Sleepily, I reached for it, saw it was my sister and answered. “She’s gone.” “What?” “She’s gone. Mom’s gone.” My first thought was, where did she go? How did she get out? She’s in a locked dementia ward, how did she escape? Did they leave a door open? Have they put out a silver alert? And then it hit me. My sister wasn’t telling me that Mom had run away, she was telling me she had died. In a way, I guess she had run away. She had escaped in the most complete and final way.

Mom loved to travel, to take trips and explore. Summers, when we were children, my Dad worked long hard hours, from sun up to sun down, pouring concrete. He gave us a very good life, one that meant Mom could take those trips, could travel and explore. It meant he didn’t actually get to enjoy that life with us much, but he was happy if his Nancy was happy. It was nothing for Mom to load up the car with us four, plus how many other extra kids were around (and there were always extra kids) to take us on an adventure. Sometimes we would end up driving through endless forests, looking for unique places. Sometimes it seemed like we were driving in circles. My brother would ask if we were lost, and Mom’s response was always no. We were just exploring. I wonder what she’s exploring now?

The last couple of years of Mom’s life were not easy ones. It became evident about 4 years ago that she was having difficulties with her thought processes. Blank looks when something was explained. Poor financial decisions. Outbursts of anger. Paranoia. Meanness. Each getting progressively worse over the years. Slowly my sparkling, witty, charming momma was disappearing. Trips were on the well traveled roads to the doctor, not exploring what was around the next bend of a fire road. By the time Dad died in December of 2019, we could see that things were not going to get better. And so began a series of moves.

From the house they had lived in for 50 years to an apartment in a very nice assisted living setting. When Covid hit just months later, she couldn’t understand that the whole world was shut down. Everyone was being restricted, not just her. The assisted living no longer worked, she needed someone with her all the time, which the assisted living didn’t like. So we brought her to the cabin. My sister and her son were there, and my brother moved his family in as well. I live next door. There were plenty of us to take care of her.

From spring until the end of summer, she stayed at the cabin. By August, the world seemed like it might be getting back closer to normal. School was supposed to start again, people were going back to work and the decision was made to find a place for Mom back home. Back where she had friends, could have more of a social life, and closer to her regular doctors. Move number three was to a new living facility near our hometown. On the surface it looked ideal. Beautiful building, lots of activities, people that she knew. Unfortunately, with this move she was placed in the dementia part of the building. An admission of where things were with her mind. After a couple of months, it became apparent that she wasn’t being cared for properly. Covid had tightened restrictions again, they were understaffed. Her room wasn’t being cleaned thoroughly. We met with the staff, and were assured that changes were being made. They weren’t. December led to another move.

With this last move, she had constant supervision from family. Even though the facility was still in fairly strict Covid lockdown, we thankfully had family that worked there. They were able to check on her everyday, which she enjoyed immensely. She had several health challenges during this time, including several falls. And I think she got tired of it all. So she took her final trip and made her great escape. She got up that morning, needed some assistance in the bathroom. As the aide helped her stand, she died. Just like that. One minute she was here, the next she was off exploring.

I miss my momma, the momma I used to have. But I can’t help but be grateful that her last journey started the way it did. The end stages of dementia can be very ugly. I’m glad she didn’t have to go through that. I hope she is dancing through the clouds with Dad, twirling and laughing as they travel new roads together.

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A Broadway Show

Last weekend I went to New York to see my youngest son, Jason. He received tickets to a Broadway show for Christmas, and, lovely surprise, wanted Mom to be his date.  I love spending time with this young man. We have wonderful conversations about books, friends, life. We sit on the couch in his Upper East Side apartment, sharing a whiskey, talking into the wee hours of the morning. One of the joys of my life. I was looking forward to seeing a show with him. If I had remembered what he had told me about the story line of the musical, however, I wouldn’t have gone.

The show was Dear Evan Hanson. A musical that has won six Tony awards and a Grammy award. The music was wonderful, the dancing terrific, the staging unique. And the story line heart wrenching, for me triggering. You see, it is a story about a socially  awkward young man (Evan) who invents a friendship with a young man (Connor) who kills himself in the first few minutes of the show. Evan’s lies comfort Connor’s family, and it all sparks a movement about suicide. It is an important conversation that is often hidden in today’s society.  We try to sweep suicides under the rug. We feel shame that our loved one decided to end their own lives. We believe that it is our fault. We don’t speak of them, as if their death negates their lives. We grieve in silence, pretend to have moved on, for to do otherwise is to invite judgement by society. Unless someone has experienced it, they don’t understand that suicide causes a grief like no other. We have guilt like no other. If someone dies of cancer, do we blame ourselves? No. We believe it is fate, or God’s will, or it was because they smoked.  If someone dies by suicide, the survivors will always believe there was something they could have done to prevent their loved one’s death. We have failed, in our love, in our roles of loved ones. In the show, Connor’s parents feel like they have failed in their roles as parents.  I failed in my role as wife. I should have seen the anguish he was in, and been able to stop him.

In the beautiful Music Box Theater, I cried through half the show. My hand clutched by my son, my head on his shoulder, tears falling unfettered down my cheeks and onto my blouse. Thank goodness we were in the back.  This musical, no matter how difficult, was an important one for Jason and I to see together. An important step in our healing. One song in particular pierced my heart. And gave me hope. Hope that someone, somewhere would hear this song and put down the gun they had aimed at their head, or flush the bottle of pills down the toilet instead of down their throat, or drop the razor in the trash.  Evan’s lies created a movement. An awareness of suicide.  A powerful prayer. I hope it translates from the stage into the world.

“You Will Be Found”
(from “Dear Evan Hansen” soundtrack)

Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay
‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand

And oh, someone will come running
And I know, they’ll take you home

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found
You will be found
You will be found
You will be found
If you are in the depths of despair, as I have been several times since Tim’s suicide, reach out your hand. Someone will come. Someone will find you.  I will come, as others have come for me. If you want to listen to the song, here it is:

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The Empty Boat

The Empty Boat

In the dusk of the evening, the haunting wail of a loon searching for it’s mate drifts over the lake, and an empty boat waits. There is no one at the helm, no fishing line in the water. It waits for a pilot who is no longer here. You have left us, with no explanation, no understanding. My grief is as deep as the lake, as dark as the approaching night. Did you take this boat to the other side? Did you drift upon the crystal clear surface of the lake to somewhere you felt no pain? I see you in the evening light, the skies purple, pink and blue, your hand on the trolling motor, a grin on your face. Why have you drifted away from me?

A year ago today, you decided for some reason known only to you, that you could no longer stay in this world. Did you know that you would destroy my heart? Did you know that my world would end when that bullet struck your brain? It may have ended what pain you were feeling, but it exploded mine. Charon has carried me across the river Acheron into my own personal Hades but left my body here.

This has been a year of unending grief. Will things change now that all the firsts are done? TheĀ  first holidays, the first birthday, our anniversary, and now, the first angel anniversary? I don’t think there is any magic to the first year being over. My grief hasn’t ended. Every day is still a challenge to move forward, to live, to have a life not framed in sorrow. But move forward I do. One step, one breath at a time.

As Maya Angelou wrote, “I answer the heroic question ‘death where is thy sting?’ with ‘it is here in my heart and mind and memories’. “. My heart and mind are full of you today. The memories are overwhelming.


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