i’ll see you in my dreams

“I never knew grief felt so much like fear.”
–C.S. Lewis

Lewis was right on target: grief does feel like fear. The same breathless, sickening sensation of a sharp kick smack in the middle of the gut; the trembly, disoriented, foggy feeling in the brain; the same clenching, harsh pain around the heart.

All summer–strangely, ever since my headaches started easing up–I’ve been dreaming about my parents, especially my mom. The dreams always follow the same pattern. I’m reunited with either or both of my folks, only to have them die right in front of me. Almost every morning I wake up, crying, to face another day of fresh, raw grief, as though they died only yesterday. It’s as though I’m haunted. It’s made me depressed and weepy as of late; I’m extra sensitive, so every perceived slight hurts all the more, and my self-esteem is swimming around in the depths of the toilet.

Obviously, I haven’t processed my mom’s death. As I look back over the past year, I realize I’ve dealt with my grief, in many instances, by not dealing with it. By focusing on having a baby, partly to fill the void left by her absence. (Yeah, my head knows that won’t work, but I suspect my gut feels differently. I should point out that I’ve desperately wanted a baby for a long time; it’s just that losing my mom makes my grief over not conceiving even more intense.) By distracting myself with the TV and books. By telling myself that hey, I’m forty years old now, it’s time to grow up and stop yearning for my mommy. The constant migraines, I now think, were in part, my grief coming out sideways.

Oscar Romero once said, “As a Christian, I do not believe in death without Resurrection.” And I do, it’s the hope I cling to. But I can’t bear the thought that I will never again in this life feel my mom’s arms around me, or be able to rest my head on her shoulder. That she’s not there to soothe my hurt feelings when I feel rejected or like a failure at something. That there’s no one left to reminisce with about the things the three of us did as a family together. I want to get past the grief, to get on with my life, to focus on enjoying my wonderful memories of my mom and dad; I just don’t know how to, I guess.

endless winter

The Topamax isn’t helping yet, so my doctor has increased my dosage. The pain in my neck, shoulders, and upper back, combined with my daily migraines, is so bad that I’m on vicodin (sp?) every day now. All I do is sit in the house with the shades drawn (the light hurts my eyes), desperately wanting relief from the endless waves of pain, aching for a baby to hold, longing for my mom.

I wish spring would come, in the worst way.

still here

Yeah, I’m still alive. I’ve been having a lot of migraines lately, which is the main reason I haven’t been posting. I have one right now, in fact, so I’ll just post a brief update:

  1. I’m having a rough time coping with my mom’s death; I’ve been really isolating myself and immersing myself in books and TV to avoid dealing with my grief. Not healthy, I know, and of course I’m missing her more desperately than ever now that Christmas is coming.
  2. No, I’m not pregnant yet.
  3. I’m also having a major identity crisis since filling for disability with my student loan provider. How do I rise above my illness(es)? I refuse to allow my sense of self to be equated with my disabilities–I’m just not sure how I can define myself anymore. And it’s painful to accept the loss of so many of my dreams. There are many days (like today) when I feel basically worthless, that life is passing me by and I’m not really living, that because I’m not bringing home a paycheck I’m not an equal partner in my marriage (although George never makes me feel this way), that I’m not contributing anything to the world around me.
  4. I am doing one thing, though–George and I are participating in the Basilica’s JustFaith program. Actually I’m a co-facilitator. More on this later.
  5. Well, two things. I’m singing with the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity Chorale again this year. When I manage to make it to practice, anyway. Our big holiday concert (Lessons and Carols for the Baptism of the Lord) is on January 6; we’re also doing a hymnfest in April and singing at the Archdiocesan diaconate ordination in May.

However, regarding my mom, I came across a quote about grief today that gives me some hope:

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow. But this same necessity of loving serves to counteract the grief and heals them.
–Tolstoy

If mom’s death has taught me anything, it’s that broken hearts never completely mend, but at the same time they become infinitely expandable and more capable of love and gratitude than ever.

august update

I’m trying to keep busy. Our social life has taken off somewhat (well, compared to before anyway) and recently we’ve been getting together with friends and family more, and even went to a wedding yesterday (congratulations Meg and Joe!!!!!!!). A couple of weeks ago I took a four-day class at The Loft about writing the short personal essay, and I have two pieces I’m working on: one about my mother’s rosary and her legacy, and another about my first trip out to Fort Snelling to visit my mom’s grave. It is MUCH harder to write short than to write long! I’ve been journaling quite a bit too, which helps me deal with my grief, a little, although of course it’s not enough.

Last Sunday I finally went to Mass at the Basilica for the first time since mom’s funeral. It was as emotionally wrenching as I had expected, although I’m still glad I went, despite the buckets of tears I wept. Ah well. It wasn’t the first time I’ve cried at Mass, and I imagine it won’t be the last.

And I need to thank everyone who responded to my post earlier this summer, when I was feeling awfully desperate. Your messages of friendship and caring made me feel that I was not alone and were SO comforting; grief is mighty lonely and such a long hard agonizing slog it’s sometimes hard for me to believe I might actually live through it.

There is a poem I can’t stop thinking about that I first read not long after my dad died; it’s even more poignant now that mom is gone too. It captures all my aching loneliness, my anger over what is gone from me forever, my sense of despair and crushing loss. And my broken heart. By Edna St. Vincent Millay, this particular poem keeps reverberating in my mind, day after day:

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind.
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew.
A formula, a phrase remains.–but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love–
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses.
Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know.
But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave.
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind.
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

–Edna St. Vincent Millay

My parents on their wedding day in 1963
They are now buried together in the same grave at Fort Snelling National Cemetery

dirty little secret

The dirty little secret about death that no one ever seems to talk about is that the funeral is the easy part. The hardest part is learning to live without the person you loved so much. And by then everyone else has gone on with their busy lives and either don’t care or want to hear about it or maybe just don’t want to take the time and effort to pick up the phone for ten minutes a couple of times a month and just ask, “How are you doing? Would you like to have lunch, or maybe go to a matinee, or just talk awhile?” With a very few exceptions, everyone–family, friends–I thought I could count on are just…gone. And when I do try to reach out, it’s very awkward, as though they don’t really want to talk anyway.

It’s just unbearable, the loneliness. I would like to die, I really would, and be with mom and dad again. I don’t feel as though I have much here left to live for. George would remarry. I don’t have any children who would miss (nor will I ever). Apparently none of my extended family would miss me too much. My biggest stumbling block is that I don’t know who I would leave my family mementos too, because I can’t think of any of my cousins who would cherish my dad’s things the way I do. And since barely any of them bothered to show up for my mom’s funeral or even send a card, I know no one would treasure her pictures and writings as I do. And I don’t have any life insurance, so I don’t know how George could afford to bury me.

Anyway, I made an emergency appointment with my therapist for tomorrow. She’s paid to care, after all, so maybe that will help. It would be nice to not cry myself to sleep every night.

life these days

  • I am a teary, sweaty, fat little ball of grief these days, mostly huddled on the couch watching CNN (or the Twins but sometimes, like most of their recent road trip, that just intensifies the grief) or flipping through magazines
  • Everything reminds me of my mom. which, of course, makes me cry.
  • Every time I try to tackle the mountain of thank you notes staring me in the face I cry and cry until I make myself sick. Something about doing them makes the loss so real or so final, or something. I’d be lying if I said I understood it.
  • I’d sell my soul for one more phone call, or even more, just one more hug.
  • I finally brought flowers out to Fort Snelling on Memorial day. Mom and dad are buried in the same plot and share the same headstone, dad on the front, mom on the back. Ever since going out there I feel as though I’ve lost him all over again, too.
  • A couple of weeks ago mom’s nursing home called to inform me that we owe them $1600. (A long story that involves mom’s social worker repeatedly giving me the wrong information over the past few months and reassuring the mom’s Medical Assistance was covering everything. It wasn’t. The social worker is now in Fargo, however, and out of my reach and of course the billing office doesn’t care.)
  • The next day a hail storm visited us and inflicted thousands of dollars in damage to our roof, siding, screens, window frames, and George’s car.
  • The next day I started shaking uncontrollably. This was on a Thursday. I didn’t stop until George brought me to Urgent Care on Saturday and the doctor prescribed Xanax (a tranquilizer). She should have just shot me with a tranquilizer dart and be done with it instead of giving me pills.
  • I started shaking when we were discussing how I could go to graduate school while we were trying to pay back the $7,000 we borrowed for mom’s funeral plus all of the above. Obviously, we did not come up with an answer.
  • I keep having horrible nightmares that mom is angry with me and I don’t know why. I wake up sobbing and drenched–soaked–in sweat.
  • All I want to eat are cinnamon rolls. Mom always had them for me when I went to visit her, so they are now my sweet gooey comfort food of choice. Hardly any of my clothes fit.
  • My rosacea is terrrible. I keep getting pustules on my forehead and cheeks, which has never ever happened before. It started right after the funeral.
  • I’ve had an ulcer since I found out mom wasn’t going to get better. That was around mid-January. It HURTS and I’m on medication twice a day.
  • I now have a bad sinus infection too.
  • I keep remembering something my both of my parents used to tell me: Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. But I feel so lost without them, like I’m only partially a person now, as though something crucial died with them.

the fog begins to lift

The presence of that absence is everywhere
–Edna St. Vincent Millay

In a few hours it will be exactly three weeks since my mom died. For some reason, I can’t get the memory of reaching over and closing her eyes after she quit breathing out of my head.

The last three weeks I have been mostly numb, stumbling around in some sort of fog. But the last couple of days, the fog has begun to lift, and I have to say that I really, REALLY miss it, now that the realization that she’s gone, forever, that I’ll never see that warm and beautiful smile, or hear her voice on the telephone, or give her a hug ever again is starting to set in. It’s beyond belief, the pain is. My heart hurts, literally, actually hurts, like it is breaking and shattering into a million pieces, my eyes are red and sore and puffy (my whole face is for that matter) because I can’t stop crying, and I feel like I can’t breathe. I can’t concentrate, can’t sleep, can’t function very much if at all.

I am dreading the next week. She would have been 79 years old on Thursday. And now I have another reason to dread Mother’s Day.

I’m sure that someday I will be able to feel grateful that I had the chance to say goodbye, to be with her when she died–I’ve been haunted for years by the fact that my dad died so suddenly, always wondering if he really knew just how much I loved him. Adored him. That someday I will find pleasure and comfort in my memories, that the pain will recede, and I will be able to feel her presence. I know this, intellectually. But it’s the kind of knowledge that hasn’t found its way into my heart yet. All I know is that I’ve not only lost my mother; I’ve lost my best friend too.

I want to thank all of you who have been so supportive and thoughtful during all of this, and ask you to please be patient with me now. Your friendship means more to me than you’ll ever know.

funeral today

I’m too exhausted to write about the funeral today…but I did want to write something in honor of the occasion. So here are the quotes I used in my eulogy:

“Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limitation of our sight.”
–Rossiter Worthington Raymond

“We do best homage to our dead by living our lives fully even in the shadow of our loss.”
–Jewish proverb

And mom’s favorite prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith:
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
–St. Francis of Assisi