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.

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.

words to live by

Life is rarely what we expect it might be, but we need to look for the lilies. We need to do what brings us joy and what gives us a sense of purpose.
–Elizabeth Edwards


Words to live by, especially for those of us with chronic illness who live with pain and disappointment on a daily basis, spoken by an amazing woman from the depths of her own experience.

tragedy on the river

Like everyone else, I think I’m still in shock over the 35W bridge collapse. George was out for a run on the Stone Arch Bridge and actually saw the bridge come down. A cousin of mine drove over the bridge less than half an hour before it collapsed. I found out today that one of the deceased was a parishioner of a priest I was friends with back in graduate school. If the collapse had happened during rush hour next week instead of this, I might very well have been on it myself; I’m taking a class at The Loft (it’s in the Open Book Building on Washington Avenue) next week and the 35W bridge would have been part of my route home. And I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been on that bridge, especially when I lived in south Minneapolis; I was probably on it three to four times a week, and when I worked for the Wellstone campaign that was how I got to work.

George is beginning to have a delayed reaction to the trauma of seeing the bridge fall into the river, and I’m still freaked out because he usually runs along the river road UNDER the bridge–he didn’t Wednesday because it was so hot and he was tired, so he took a shorter route–but he could have been crushed under tons of concrete and steel. Fate is so random. We are all so vulnerable, at every moment, a fact we usually manage to forget, until a sudden unspeakable tragedy occurs and we are forced to face the reality that we aren’t the ones in control after all.

I know we’re all lucky as a community that there weren’t more fatalities, but that must be small comfort to those who lost their loved ones that day. John Donne was right when he wrote “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” We are all the lesser for the loss of those beautiful people–each of them someone’s father, mother, brother, son, daughter, sister–who died on Wednesday, whether we knew them or not.

All of this reminds me of what my mom always said: Life is too short not to say “I love you.” Or in the words of Father Kevin McDonough at a prayer service at St. Olaf earlier this week:

We live only for a short time and are not promised tomorrow. Be grateful for today and be a blessing to somebody else.

Amen.

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