If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.
E. died in October. She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me. Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden. She’d been ill. I’d been in denial. Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.
Sometimes I don’t make the time I should. While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card. I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people. It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.
I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy. And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”
I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.
E. was my first major loss. It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma. When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience. I’m bumbling through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.
Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.
When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package. We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled. We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.
In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks. As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves. It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments. I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”
It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.
Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me. I’ll share what I came up with so far:
1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps. A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.
2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been. E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever. There are ways we still connect and touch one another. It is a time rich in wonder and affection.
The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.
I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom. I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death. Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now. I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it. Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .
3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away. In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable. When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them. I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.
These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.
Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain. Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for. It’s an apt analogy. And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.
My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death. I worry people won’t see the connection.
But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.
Being a mom is my most important role in life. I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive. But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need. My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do. It helps me integrate and consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.
I have faith in myself and in the process. Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process. We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream. Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff. In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness. Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.