Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Little Things

Cross post from Lisa Mac's Musings.

The Firsts

When someone you love dies, the "first" events are agony-the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first Mother's Day, Father's Day...the "firsts" reopen the wounds and shine a spotlight on the hole in your life.

My mom died in November, and Christmas and my 50th birthday followed in rapid succession. I knew they would be hard. The "firsts" always are. I braced myself for it, and gave myself permission to feel whatever I was going to feel.

What has caught me off-guard, however, is not the firsts in my life, but the firsts in my daughter's life. I was prepared to miss mom for my firsts-my daughter's firsts are knocking me on my butt.

I had already bought my mom's presents for my daughter at Christmas, so my daughter's birthday was the first "first" for her without my mom. My mom would buy her beloved granddaughter everything under the sun. We all knew that time was finite, and I tried to pick the mountains I died on, within reason.

At the end of January last year, mom and I were out shopping for my birthday and my daughter's birthday. Mom was not herself that day- she was confused, she kept asking why we were at the mall...she had had what I know now was a TIA, but it was the first one, and I didn't know what it was then. We bought my birthday present, and then headed to my daughter's favorite store "Build a Bear." We bought a purple stuffed animal and my mom recorded a special message for my daughter "Grandma loves you..." When we got home, mom phoned 30 minutes later, in a panic because she didn't have a birthday present for me. It was sitting in a prominent place on the kitchen table and she had forgotten why we had gone out that day. She called and asked me 2 more times in the next hour.  I went back to mom's apartment and discovered that she hadn't taken her pills for days, and had forgotten to eat.  It was the day when everything started going wrong and marked the beginning of the spiral downwards to her eventual move to the nursing home, and her death 10 months later. On that day, I almost didn't take mom to Build a Bear because she always spent too much money in there. I'm glad I did.

My daughter makes her first Communion this year, and my mom was looking forward to it. Faith was a foundation of my mom's life and she was very pleased I was giving my daughter the foundation of faith as well. My dad was a man of faith, and he would have been over the moon watching his granddaughter make her first Communion, even more so than my mom.

As the lead up to first Communion, my daughter had her first Reconciliation this week. The church that is associated with her school is not the church we normally attend, but I have a family connection with it. It is the church that my parents attended until my dad died, and it is the church where we held dad's funeral. There are large wooden screens at the back of the altar that surround the sacristy. My dad led the fundraising campaign at that church to build them. They remind me of my dad.

As I sat in the church waiting for my daughter to make her first Reconciliation, grief overwhelmed me. What surprised me, however, was the grief I felt for my mom AND my dad. They would have been so proud of their granddaughter. Missing dad is usually reserved for Remembrance Day...this grief caught me by surprise, to the point where after my daughter returned to the pew, I had to excuse myself for a private cry in the bathroom.

There are a number of other firsts ahead of me, and I have to accept that some will be worse than others. Tears showed I loved.  I can own that.

(Sometimes I sneak into my daughter's room and play the bear. "Grandma loves you." and I answer "she sure did.")

Friday, February 1, 2013

This Business of Grieving

It's a funny thing, this business of grieving. Or more specifically, it's a funny thing, this perceived business of grieving. Why is it that people judge you by the way you seem to be grieving, or not grieving, as the case may be.

I just celebrated a milestone birthday. Many people were expecting me to be an emotional wreck as I approached the day, both because it was a birthday ending in zero, and it was the first birthday without my mom. I was not.  The age part didn't bother me in the least. And I miss my mom every minute of every day. I never understood why my birthday was such a big deal to her, far more so than to me, until I became an adoptive parent myself. Then the penny dropped and it all made sense.

One year ago on my birthday, I arrived at my mom's apartment to find a note on the table saying "Happy birthday, you were the best thing in my life. I love you." Mom was lying on the couch, weak, disoriented and waiting for it to no longer be my birthday so that she could die. You see, she promised me she wouldn't die on my birthday, but the next day all bets were off. When I arrived at her apartment the next morning, she had left me another note that said "I hope all this is over. I love you." That day, I took her to the hospital for a 27 hour wait, a two week hospitalization and the beginning of the year of hell that this blog has captured which ended with her death in November.

.In the last month before her death, mom often told me that she wanted to "move on" so that I could "get on with my life." I kept telling her that she was a big part of that life, and I was just fine with that. In the week she was dying, I changed my opinion. I told her that I loved her and would miss her, but it was time for her to go. Her favorite scripture passage was John:14-there are many rooms in my Father's mansion. She took comfort that there would be a place for her. Mom started dying on Tuesday and by then, sepsis had been confirmed. She was still lucid, and I told her that her room was ready. "Have you booked the movers?" she quipped, and I replied I was waiting for her to give me the date. And then I told her that it was time for her to go, and I would be fine. I told her that a few times over the next few days. I knew mom would fight to stay if I tried to hold onto her, and in the face of the extreme pain she was in, I couldn't do that. The hardest thing I've done was tell my mom it was okay to die. It was also one of the most loving things I've ever done.

In a weird way, I did too good a job of being "okay." I couldn't grieve and I couldn't cry. I think my subconscious decided that if I broke down, I wasn't keeping my promise to mom about being okay with her dying. After 2 weeks of insomnia, debilitating back spasms and complete numbness, I told mom that I needed to be able to grieve for her. I've cried a bit since then, but it's still a loss deeper than tears. Let me be clear. I miss my mom every minute of every day. My whole life needed to be restructured and reshaped and I'm still working on that.

My mom knew about my plans for a birthday celebration. My last birthday celebration was probably my 15th birthday. I was snowed in on my sweet 16 and nothing much has happened since. Mom thought it was grand that I was going to have a party. She also thought I was nuts, but anyway...

I think some people were surprised that I went ahead with my birthday celebration. People expected it to be a sad day, whereas I welcomed the new age and was thrilled so many of my friends came to help me celebrate. Confession time...I had a party in high school, my only one, and it was an unmitigated disaster. No one came, and the couple who did come left. It scarred me for life and entertaining has not been something I've enjoyed since. The fact that people came surprised and thrilled me, although I had been posting tempting things on Facebook all week...I baked myself into a stupor but I wanted it to be a thank you to all my friends, as well as a celebration of the new decade of my life. So many times in the last year, my friends were the ones who got me through, let me vent, let me cry,  and supported and held me up through the worst year of my life.

Mom may not have been there in body, but she was certainly there in spirit. One of the last conversations we had before she slipped into a coma, I told her I knew she would never be able to let me dress myself and would always be whispering in my ear. She left and said that was probably true. She was certainly not going to let a little thing like death slow her down. The morning of my party, I chose an outfit that I really liked until I looked in the mirror. Clear as a bell, mom's voice in my ear said "that's not going to look very nice in pictures, dear." And mom was right, so I went and changed. Later, in one of the group pictures of friends I have known since high school there is a very distinct orb in the photo, right beside my head. It's not in the next picture of the same group. For angel workers and intuitives, orbs are clear signs that angels and spirits are present and I am a firm believer in the presence of both angels and our loved ones. I felt mom there all day, so she popped in to show me. She was still a part of things.

I got the sense that some people feel I'm not grieving enough because I had the party anyway. My mom would haunt me for all eternity if I had called off the party because of her death, just like she would have haunted me for all eternity if I'd cancelled my daughter's Christmas party because it fell the morning after mom died. Mom was very stoic and matter of fact about things, and living and dying was something we talked a great deal about. She was emphatic and firm about me moving on with my life after she died. One of the last conversations we had revolved around that topic. I also know she's in heaven using her influence to throw new opportunities my way. And I know she's around me always.

Grief is personal. There is no right or wrong way, no time frame and the only way to get through it is to go through it. I can manage the big things, but the little things will trip me up, like watching the Queen's Christmas message alone for the first time in my life, or finding something in mom's handwriting while sorting through a box. I promised mom that I would be okay, and I mean to keep that promise. She also made me promise that I would get on with my life, and I'm trying to keep that promise too. She had little tolerance for "moping" when she was alive, and I doubt that has changed. My mom would never let a little thing like death stop her from communicating with me, and I'd like those interactions to be positive. So I straighten my shoulders, raise my head and keep moving through this, some days better than others. It's how my mom expected me to cope.