Melancholy

Grief knows no calendar.

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I guess I will always feel a little melancholy in January.

I lost my mom two years ago this month, and I continue to be surprised at just how much harder it is to move on from her death than what I’ve experienced after losing our other parents.  I don’t know if it was the fact that she was our last living parent, if it is because I was closer to her than any of our other parents, or if it’s something else.  Without a doubt, though, grief is taking it’s sweet time with me, it seems.

Mother ribbon sm

I think most people tend to give a lot of leeway to family members and friends in the first year after the loss of a close loved one.  Tackling all those “firsts” can be so, so hard, and I certainly found that to be true after losing my mother, just as it was after we lost our other parents.  I had quite a bit of support, especially from my closest friends, and I’m grateful for the love shown that truly helped me through that first year.

Grief didn’t care about that calendar, though.  Not one bit.

Last year was my second full year without Mom, and I swear it was just as hard on many occasions as it was in year one.  Understandably, most people assume that after that first year, all is fine… or at least better, so I started to just keep my feelings to myself and not burden others with my continuing feelings.  Friends have other interests in their lives and suffer their own heartaches.

Life moves on for all of us.

But, as Shelby’s mom said in Steel Magnolias after the graveside service for her sweet Shelby…

“I’ll tell you what I wish. … That’s what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart.”  (Steel Magnolias… 1989)

Oh, how very true that statement is.  So, so true.  (I’m not sure a movie ever truly captured such a true manifestation of grief as this particular scene at the cemetery.)

I have no sage wisdom to share today, except to simply acknowledge that grief doesn’t stick to a one-year calendar, despite that conventional viewpoint these days.  Acknowledging the ongoing grief helps a bit, and that’s why I’m writing today.  Simple acknowledgement.

I hope this lesson sticks with me and reminds me to have a tender heart toward others in the future, perhaps by simply marking my calendar and letting them know that I’m thinking of them and offering a heart-felt, sympathetic prayer for them on their own hard anniversaries.

I want to make it count, this often hard path I continue to find myself on without my Mom in my life.  (The article linked is absolutely fabulous.)

During this anniversary month of Mom’s passing, I’m reading The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, and so far, it is quietly speaking to my broken heart.  Ann’s writings are best savored slowly and deliberately, and every day, I’m slowly “getting it.”  Perhaps if you find yourself with a broken heart right now, this book might offer some insight to you, too.  If not right now, perhaps make a note of this great book for a time you might need it in the future?

Ann is “explaining it to my heart,” and I am grateful.

 

Ambushed

Voting proved to be an unexpected challenge this year.

A few weeks ago, I voted early in the Super Tuesday election.  Over the decades, I’ve learned the benefit of voting early to avoid long lines on election day, as long as I’m prepared to do so in the early timeframe.  If not, I will wait until election day when I’m as prepared and informed as I can be on my decisions because I take this responsibility seriously.  Voting early was a great decision, as the voting lines this year were very, very long on election day, due to both the presidential primary and an open seat in our congressional district for the first time in many years.

As I entered the voting area at a nearby grocery store and dug my driver’s license out of my purse, I suddenly felt ill at ease and tried to figure out why I felt this way as I also talked with the election volunteer.  It didn’t take long for me to realize what was wrong.  For over fifteen years, I have seldom, if ever, gone to vote by myself.  I always took my elderly mother with me.  Now, for the first time in many years, I was all alone while voting.

Voted

I kept my composure fairly well during the initial process, but the tears started to flow in earnest while I was selecting my candidates at the voting machine.  Thankfully, I had my *long* written list with me, so the process went fairly quickly, and after pushing the big red “Cast Ballot” button, I headed to the restroom nearby to grab a tissue and wipe the tears streaming down my face.  A sweet older lady walked in and even asked if I was ok, and I assured her that I was fine.  I briefly shared why I was teary so that she wouldn’t worry, and to my surprise, she gave me a little hug, which made me want to cry even more.  I somehow kept it together at that moment, thanking her for her kindness, and I made it through the balance of the day with no issues for the most part.

Hubby was out-of-town on business that night, so I took the opportunity to sit outside on the back porch with the dogs and a book before bedtime, thanks to the warmth of our new propane table heater which provided just the right amount of heat to keep me comfortable in the late evening cool.  After about fifteen minutes, though, the tears started flowing again.  Sometimes I just need to let them flow, and this was a time to just have a good ol’ cry with only the dogs as witnesses.

As I sat there, I remembered the many times Mom and I went to vote together and the call I nearly always got from her on the first day of early voting to remind me that we needed to go vote soon.  I also remembered one particular election.  A few years ago, Mom was very sick on the day that the voting machines were brought to the assisted living place where she lived.  I had already told her that I would come to her room and escort her through the initial process, while also voting early there myself.  Due to her illness that day, it was very hard for her to even get out of bed, but she insisted on voting anyway.  I helped her get dressed and pushed her in a wheelchair to the lobby to go vote, and I will never forget her insistence on voting that particular day.  There was a certain gentleman running for office for the first time, and she was determined to throw her support behind him.  I missed Mom terribly that night as I sat there all alone with only my sweet pups and years worth of memories to keep me company, and it was time to just succumb to another round of grief for a few minutes.

My parents instilled me in the importance of this precious opportunity we have to select our leaders.  Perhaps their passion for voting was reinforced by the fact that my father’s younger brother died in a prison camp in Europe in WWII, paying the ultimate price for his country at a young age.  My father and brother also served in the military in wartime, so the very least our family could always do was to vote after doing our due diligence as far as candidate research.

I’m so grateful for the influence of my older family members in this regard, especially my late brother’s influence in more recent years when he challenged me to learn even more about candidates before voting.  He died in 2007, but I still “hear” his admonitions to be more diligent in gaining knowledge, even though it is not an easy process.  My views were forever impacted by his own passion in this regard, for sure.

Still, voting without Mom hit me very hard because I was not emotionally prepared.  I shared my experience on my Facebook page with a trusted group of friends, and one of my best friends shared that such an experience is referred to in grief counseling circles as being “ambushed.”  She and her mother have been attending a grief group for the past few months, and I appreciated her sharing this terminology that gave some clarity and justification for what I had experienced.

Here is the definition of “ambush,” courtesy of Oxford Dictionary.

am·bush

[ˈambo͝oSH]

VERB

  1. make a surprise attack on (someone) from a concealed position:

    “they were ambushed and taken prisoner by the enemy”

    synonyms: attack by surprise · surprise · pounce on · fall upon ·

    [more]
    lay a trap for · set an ambush for · lie in wait for ·

I certainly felt ambushed by both memories and emotions that day.  Mom’s absence loomed very large, and for a brief moment, I even thought about just walking out to avoid making a scene while voting, but I’m grateful that I didn’t have to leave before casting my ballot.  Who would have ever dreamed that voting could bring back such vivid memories and strong emotions.  Obviously, I certainly did not.

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the less I worry about tears and just try to “let them be.”  If the tears come, let them come.  I think it’s just memories paying a little visit to keep my heart tender and keep me grateful for what was, as well as grateful for what is today.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been “ambushed” like this after the death of a loved one, and I seriously doubt it will be the last time.  Hopefully, I can just experience these moments for what they have to offer, then move on with a nugget of gratitude for it all, even if it is hard.  Life never promised to be an easy affair.

“Sometimes we need the salt of tears to remind us how to savor the sweetness of life.” — Lysa TerKeurst

Amen, Lysa.  Such wise words.

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The Last First Anniversary

My first year without Mom and without any living parents

After losing three parents in previous years, I always came to dread the first anniversaries of their deaths each year.  Without fail, every first anniversary was a hard day emotionally for me, especially the first parent, Hubby’s father, who died on Christmas Eve just a few days before our son was born.  Each of our four parents endured a fairly long and hard illness prior to their death, and each illness was brutal on them in the process and excruciating for all of us to watch.

Each year when those first anniversaries of losing our first three parents came around, the day always seemed to bring back the emotional pain of those terrible illnesses, as well as a reminder of the gaping hole left in our lives.  We learned over subsequent years that this pain begins to subside as time goes on, but that first anniversary is always hard.

Mother ribbon sm

Following Mom’s death a year ago, the next four months were the hardest times for me as I tried to grieve while also having to deal with immediate estate matters amid sometimes tense family issues and moving her things out of two separate living facilities.  For these reasons, I don’t think that I truly grieved until the estate business was finally settled in May.  Tears flowed numerous times during those first months, but I’m not sure I grieved as I needed to do.

Finally, in early May, the last estate matters were settled.  Hubby and I took a postponed anniversary trip to Maui, and our first full day on the island was Mother’s Day.  We opted to take the trip over Mother’s Day so that we could change our routine for that day that would be hard no matter where we were, but would be especially hard if we stayed home.

I woke up a couple of hours before my husband and just sat on the lanai with a cup of coffee, overlooking the ocean and the sunrise, and that is when my grief really came to the surface rather unexpectedly.

It was my first Mother’s Day with no mother.

I’m glad that Hubby slept in upstairs in as I sobbed to the point that I got a terrible headache, but somehow felt joy and some relief at the same time, a truly remarkable feeling.  It felt like grief and closure all at once, and I even took a few photos and a video of the stunning beauty around me afterward with my phone to try to capture this memorable moment when God felt so close.  There is really no good way to describe that time, except that a tremendous burden felt like it had finally been lifted from my shoulders for the first time in many years.

Ever since that special sunrise experience on Mother’s Day morning, I’ve felt much better in how I’ve handled Mom’s death.  We still had two more deaths to go with other close family members last year, and while those were also very hard, I remained at peace with Mom’s passing for the most part.  Still, I dreaded the first anniversary of her death, based on past experiences.

This last first anniversary came and went on Wednesday, and just like all of those other first anniversaries, it was pretty hard, with some of those same old feelings I felt when she suffered so much for an entire month and passed away making an appearance once again.  I felt more prepared this time, though.  I deliberately kept that day free from appointments and times with friends, and I’m glad I did.

Sometimes we need to simply recognize that at times like this, we need to be gentle with ourselves as we can and give ourselves a pass on some things without feeling guilty. We can’t help our feelings, but we can have a say-so in how we deal with them.

Wednesday was an uneventful day of simple household chores, reading and jotting down a few thoughts privately and on Facebook to commemorate the day and honor her life, and a few tears once again found their way back to my eyes again while Hubby was at work.  My best friend sent a simple text to just say she loved me and was thinking about me, which meant so much, as she also lost her father early last year.  Hubby and I just opted for take-out from Chick-Fil-A, dining at home with the pups keeping us company as they always do in the evenings, and this was exactly how I needed to spend the day.

There is truly a beautiful blessing in the normal.

This last first anniversary also brought home once again the significant difference in our lives now that we have no living parents.  Even after a full year, we are both still learning to adjust to this reality.  Once again, we took some sage advice to change our routine during the holidays, which was interesting and actually helped us get through Thanksgiving and Christmas pretty well, even though Christmas morning still brought a few tears.

Lastly, I have found myself quite unprepared in some ways to now being one of the elders of the family, even though we are only in our 50’s, which is not the norm for most people our age.  All of our friends still have one or more living parents, and perhaps this would be a good topic for another post sometime.

If there is any consolation right now, it is this simple fact…

No more first anniversaries for us. Ever again. (At least for our parents.)  It should get a little easier from here.

Note:  In my previous Wordless Wednesday post, I shared a simple photo of a CD.  “Stained Glass” by Doug Smith has some of the most beautiful Christian piano music I’ve ever heard.  I took that photo just a few hours before Mom passed away as I sat with her, both of us listening to this beautiful music in her peaceful, private bedroom.  It was such a beautiful, yet emotionally hard, time.  I will never forget our priceless time together as she transitioned from one life to the next.  God’s presence was so real and strong in a truly remarkable way that day, and I continued to feel that strong presence throughout the coming days as we dealt with her arrangements.

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