Archives for posts with tag: grief

The days roll by quickly and you don’t realize it’s that time of year again except for the sad feeling that comes out of nowhere. The winter months are my time of grieving, no matter how much I try to ignore it. I lost my husband in March one year and my son in January of another and my heart remembers and my brain starts unreeling memories when I least expect it.

It’s not that I sit around crying because there are so few tears left and I’ve developed a new perspective on life and death through the years. I understand that we don’t all have long lives and I’m grateful for every day, every year. But grief has no rules and we each do it our own way. I don’t criticize anyone, we all just get through it. When my husband died, a friend told me that it never gets better, it just gets more bearable. True dat. (I love that expression!)

So for the past couple of weeks, there’s been that nagging feeling and recognition of what it is and random memories, good and bad, that may happen at any time during the year, but that flood me at this time. I drive by the hospital almost daily and usually don’t think about it, but sometimes my brain fast forwards through a lifetime of memories of births and surgeries and deaths until I can stop it. Sirens will randomly trigger memories of 911 calls to try and save my loved ones. My cell phone ringing early in the morning next to my bed always makes me jump, remembering the call that morning, my son’s mother-in-law telling me he had died in his sleep. I can see my lost ones everywhere in this city where we lived and loved, memories are everywhere.

With all the triggers that could make me sad, there are so many others that make me smile. I still have a slide show of my son’s life that plays on my computer when it turns off so there are images that flash randomly from his life. There are his friends who keep up with me on Facebook and will post a picture or a memory, filling in a blank in his life, letting me see him again through other’s eyes. There are things around the house that he made or he gave me that I may walk by and not notice all the time, but when I do, I remember.

My son’s name was Clayton, or Clay, a family name, a name that pops up surprisingly often. The summer after my son died, I was driving into Clayton, New Mexico. As we got closer to the town, there was sign after sign, rushing by me in a blur, all with the word Clayton on them. It was a nonstop jolt to my senses. When we stopped at the light in town, I turned to my right and saw this window.

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There are towns named Clay or Clayton, street names, such as this one in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

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I stopped behind a truck recently with Clayton in large letters across the back. I went through a town in Texas with my daughter-in-law, past a company named Clayton, with banners along the road saying Clayton, Clayton, Clayton. I never fail to notice. I like to think he’s saying Hi.

If people asked me if it’s harder to lose a spouse or a child, I would hesitate. I lost both to cancer, so there was nothing too sudden about watching them deteriorate. I grieved greatly for my husband, my heart broke, but that loss taught me so much about life, death, and myself to prepare me for the next great loss, just as the loss of my grandparents and my parents and friends along the way taught me. It didn’t make it easier, it just put it more into perspective.

I’d like to get angry about it, but that would be pretty self serving. After all, I look around me every day and see others who have lost loved ones. If you live long enough, you lose someone you love. It’s the way life works, so gird up, girl. You’re just like everyone else and your loss is no greater than theirs. It just gives you more compassion, more understanding of how great our losses are. And, it gives you more gratitude for what we have.

Losing someone has a ripple effect in the lives of that person. I lost my son, his wife lost her husband, their daughter lost her father, my daughters lost their brother, their children lost their uncle, their husbands lost their brother-in-law, his friends lost a friend, and the world lost another soul, every loss great really in the scheme of things.

Last summer, I went to New Orleans for the first time in years, returning to a city with so many fun memories. My in-laws lived there for many years and our family spent time in the French Quarter as often as possible. The streets were familiar and full of my personal images, my own loving ghosts. I could see my son, when we visited for the 1984 World’s Fair, standing by a pole, dressed in one of his usual uniquely Clayton outfits. I’m sure he wanted to break loose from us and explore, which he was able to do in his teens. He loved this city, the place he honeymooned in later years.

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And there was the memory of my son and husband, poking each other and try to make each other laugh, as they posed for one of my favorite pictures, taken in New Orleans years later.

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I wish I had words of wisdom, words to comfort others. You take comfort in your memories, in the solace of others, in nature. You never know what words will be the ones that help. At my son’s memorial, one of his college friends commented, “He just burned so brightly.” She didn’t know how that comment has warmed me through these years. And helped me put his life into perspective. Funny how that comment leaped out at me, how I hung onto it. Irene probably doesn’t even remember saying it, although she’s a songwriter, so she may. We grab for whatever comforts us and hang onto it for life support.

I am comforted by my daughters and their families, by my daughter-in-law and my son’s daughter, now four. They breathe life into my life and keep me focused. He lives on through his family, his friends, and especially that little girl, so much like him in all his impishness and so uniquely herself. She’s hard to ignore and makes us all smile. We smile at her and for ourselves, because she helps us understand that we are all part of this earth and we have our time here with no way of knowing how long that will be. We need to cherish every day.

Dang it. I can try to be philosophical about it, but I miss my son, my husband. I miss hearing them, hugging them, laughing with them. Sometimes I do a double take when I see someone who has a slight resemblance or walks a certain way and there’s a dim flicker of hope before I remember. I wish they were here to see the family grow, to share with us. I wish they’d had more time with us. There are things I want to tell them, so I do. Why not? Grief is an everlasting process at best.

For those who are grieving, for those who have lost loved ones and think how lucky I am, you’re right. I’ve had so many happy memories and have so many loved ones near me and I’m very aware that for others, it’s not that easy. They may have lost the only person in their life and I can’t even imagine what that’s like. Some people on this earth live their life without a day of happiness and I have so much.

I’m not sure about that saying that God gives you no more than you can handle. There was a news story several years ago that stuck with me, that helps me put my whole life into perspective. After a horrific earthquake in Turkey, there was an image of a woman sitting by the rubble. She had lost 18 members of her family, her home and her business. I don’t think there was anyone left. I think of her often. How did she ever stand up? How did she ever put one foot in front of the other? Who reached out to her? Surely someone lifted her up. Her world died that day, but she didn’t. Where did she find strength? Or did she? I still think of her and hope that she somehow managed to survive that unbelievable loss, that she found a way to face the unimaginable. I wonder what I would have done, where I would be.

As I remember my own lost loved ones, I also try to remember I’m not the only one out there. None of our losses are greater than those of others. They all hurt. All we can do is always remember, always reach out, always love. Nobody ever said life was easy.

There are some ugly words out there, some of them mean and cruel, racist epithets, hateful terms.  But there are a couple that I find the ugliest of all.

The first one is Cancer.  If you hear this word, no matter what you know or who it’s about, you immediately think DEATH.  Tell me you don’t automatically go there, no matter how many people you know who have beat it or are in remission.  In those first shocking seconds, that’s what makes you gasp!  From what I’ve read, it’s always there and it just gets a foothold on us when our immune system is down or we suffer a trauma or many other reasons.  And it never really goes away, even if you’re in remission for years.  You may never have another occurrence, but it is always hanging there.  If it’s active or recent, you live from scan to scan.  Even after the all clear, there has got to be a gulp before a doctor’s visit or every time you feel a twinge or ache.  It’s not a death sentence for all, thank goodness, but it’s still pretty devastating to hear it said.  I’ve lived through it with my husband and son, both of them gone because of the disease & the treatments, and with friends, some who lived through it, some who are still dealing with it and some who are now gone.  It’s just an ugly word.

The second ugliest word to me is Widow.  I looked it up and it’s been used since before the 12th century.  That’s what it feels like…archaic.  It comes from Middle English, Old English, Old High German and Latin variations of the word.  The Latin word, videre, means to separate.  I learned that widowhood is also called viduity.  That’s an obscure, strange term that sounds like…what does that sound like?  Anyway, widower doesn’t seem to have the same ugly sound to me.  Widowers are men, sad and lonely, who most often will find another woman as quickly as they can.  That’s kind of cold, but it’s very often, not always, true.  This doesn’t mean they didn’t love their wives, but it’s just a male thing.  I’m not making a blanket statement, just an observation.  There are always exceptions.

I don’t know what the label Widow does to most women, but I didn’t like it.  It’s a strange word to check on forms, an ugly word for a strange club you never wanted to join (as another widow friend of mine said).  Here’s what the word conjures up to me.

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Now, tell me the truth.  Isn’t that the image that jumps to mind?  Some variation of this, at least.  Especially the wringing the handkerchief part.  At least this one isn’t wearing a black veil.  I’m not trying to be flip about it, because it is a painful, painful state of being at first.  Your heart is ripped apart, if you loved your husband, and you feel like you’ve been torn in two.  It’s not an easy thing and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I know people who have suffered through this at all ages, although I guess at some point as you get older, you suspect it will happen to you or your spouse.  Even then, it’s not easy and can still be a shock.  My parents were married over 50 years and my mother was devastated.  She was a strong woman, but this was her life.  Like all of life, everyone handles it differently, hence, the merry widow, the black widow, etc.

I don’t know where I’m going with this but it was on my mind since I’m marking 15 years of living with this label.  I still think of him every day, I still miss him, I can still hear his voice.  Mostly, I remember with love and humor and I’m lucky to see him in our children and grandchildren.  My life isn’t like I pictured it when I was young and in love.  It’s not even how I pictured it when I was turning 50, but it’s pretty darn good.  Maybe because I know how loved I’ve been all my life.  But, that crappy word.  What can we do about that?  Or would any word be just as bad?  Just ugly, ugly, ugly!

 

 

 

 

My first instinct is to ignore the fact that my son died two years ago today, but people keep telling me they’re thinking of me and I feel obligated to share.  I wasn’t dreading this day, wasn’t even thinking about it, but here it is.  You know the things people say when they don’t know what to say…it’s not natural to lose your child, he was too young, he had so much more to do.  We all say them, but living them is a little different.

I was a little less in shock when Clay died because I had already lost my husband.  I guess I can thank him for giving me experience in the loss of a loved one to help me through.  It’s still a shock and it hurts.  It’s another splintering of your heart, another mending with scars growing to keep your heart functioning.  But, we keep on going.  Or not.  Those are the choices.  Last night I saw a character on a tv show ask another one how she was able to smile when she had lost several members of her family.  The one with the losses said she chooses to smile.  So do I.

One of my wisdoms of life is that we are never ready to lose those we love.  It doesn’t matter if it is a sudden death or after a long illness or a long life…we’re never ready.  We can be told that the person will die in the next five minutes and we’re still totally unprepared for the shock of them being here and then they’re not.  Where are they?  They were just here…where did they go?  Your beliefs may help you, but it’s still a shock.  I know this for sure!

Every person deals with loss differently.  Here’s what I do.  First, when you lose a loved one, you feel like the whole world has gone on while your world has stopped.  When you crawl out of your immediate grief, you find that you aren’t alone.  At my son’s service, I was struck by how many people I know who have lost a child.  For a bit, it seemed like everyone I saw had lost a child and all I could think was how ill prepared I was to relate to them at the time of their loss.  There were children lost to accidents, murder, disease, car wrecks, suicides…all manner of horrible losses, all the same pain for the parents.  We all have loss in our lives…death is part of life.  With children, we are always lucky to have them for as long as we do.  I’m amazed that we don’t lose more of them when they’re little because we can’t watch them every minute, no matter how hard we try.  It doesn’t matter if we lose a child as a baby, toddler, child, teen or adult…we don’t want to lose them ever.  They grow within us or we bring them into our lives in another way and they attach themselves to our hearts.  It seems like every day is a challenge to keep them here with us as we struggle with our parental responsibilities.  We grieve when our children die for what we will miss with them and for what others will miss.  We wanted them to live longer than we will because they were the way that our selves would continue after we are gone.  It doesn’t always work that way even if we want to believe it.

Life is a cycle.  I’ve learned to contemplate this truth, helped by the fact that the deaths I’ve endured have been balanced by the joy of life.  When my husband died, we had three brand new grandsons to help me through.  It was hard to grieve the loss of one life when you needed to rejoice at the new ones.  When my son died, we had his 15 month old daughter to keep us balanced.  She didn’t understand the enormity of her loss and her joy of life keeps a smile on our faces even when we think of all he and she will miss together.  Who knows anyway…she seems to know he’s with her in ways we can’t even comprehend.

None of us know how long our life will be or how long anyone we know will live.  I just saw a statistic that there are now 7 billion people on the earth, up a billion from not too long ago.  Even with people dying, we have more people.  We can’t all live to be old – we’re just like other animals and plants and everything else on the planet.  We have a life cycle of our own and our only job is to try and make the best of the time we have, however long that may be.  I know that I’ve had loss and will have other losses, which I dread, but I will try to keep them all in the universal perspective.

I’m a photo nut and have been since I was a little girl.  I like any kind of photo and love that they capture a moment, a look, a thought, a place.  When my husband died, I remember looking for photos, knowing that there would be no more.  I gathered all I could, getting a picture of his life and it was comforting to know it had been a complete one, even if it ended before I wanted it to – or before he wanted it to.  With my son, I have an album of pictures of his life on my computer – I’ve shared it before.  It’s my screen saver, so I see a slide show of pieces of his life every time my computer is winding down.  It’s comforting for me because the images bring back memories of a sweet impish funny caring little boy who was always uniquely himself and carried those traits throughout his life, enriching the lives of those who knew him.  And new pictures surface here and there, little surprises, that add another moment to the hours I wasn’t with him or teach me something new about him.  I smile a lot.

A couple of months after Clay died, a friend lost her son in a car wreck.  She gave me a book that she was given, a little book, “Healing After Loss” by Martha Whitmore Hickman.  It’s a book of daily devotions written by an author who lost her 12 year old daughter years ago.  I say she is Christian, but it’s a book I would give to anyone because she uses quotes from all religions and thoughts that anyone can relate to.  She writes to people, not based on your beliefs or lack of them.  A page a day.  I read it just about every day and go back to read the ones I missed if I’ve forgotten.  I’m on my second or third round.  It’s amazingly relevant for life in general.  I’ve been given and read lots of poems, books, etc on loss and grief.  This one is my favorite.  I have it on my iPad and iPhone – I’ve given away several copies of the paperback.  It’s not for everyone, but it might help someone.

So another anniversary has come and they’re never as bad for me as just some random memory.  I still flinch at the sound of ambulances and jump when the phone rings and have flashbacks at odd times that I have to push away from.  Holidays aren’t so bad because I’m surrounded by family and we laugh and share funny stories.  I’m lucky that my loss of my son is softened by having his daughter near.  I feel the huge responsibility to her and my other grandchildren to keep on living as healthy a life as I can so I can share stories with them and give them a sense of the family they won’t get to know.  For my son’s daughter, I have a box of stories about her father, copies of photos and videos for her to understand a little bit about who he was and what his life meant to all of us.  I collect the funny things his friends write about him and the things I find.  Someday, she can go through and read them all.  At three, she is beginning to look at stories of “baby Daddy” and relate to the fact that he was once little like she is.  I gave her a necklace with a picture of them together and she told me it is “bootiful.”  My heart melts.

I had a memory of Clay a couple of weeks ago that came out of nowhere.  He had just gotten back home after his treatment for cancer in Seattle.  The radiation hadn’t begun to change his ability to talk and eat yet and he was feeling grateful for having been able to have this new treatment.  When we were at the hospital in Seattle, he told me how much seeing the little children with cancer affected him.  One of the first things he did when he got home was go to the hospital and volunteer to help by visiting other cancer patients.  They loved him there as he was one of their youngest volunteers.  Even as a volunteer myself, I thought it was remarkable that he could give back in that way.  I’m not sure I would have wanted to go near the hospital, but he didn’t think about himself.  The internet was somewhat new in 2001, at least in our home.  He went online and found a community of people with the same rare cancer he had and reached out to them.  I thought he was finding out more for himself, but I happened to see some of his exchanges since we shared the computer.  He was comforting them, helping them through it.

I don’t know why that memory popped into my mind, but it’s one of the things that helps.  This boy of mine lived a complete life for the time he had on this earth.  He lived and laughed and loved for all his days.  May we all do so well with the time we are given.

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