What Grief May Come…

It’s been three months (plus some change) since my last post. I won’t even bother apologizing.

In retrospect I should’ve committed to making posts every three months. I’d have been more successful with this commitment to log my grief, which is like wearing your heart on your sleeve. This venture is much more emotional work than I had thought it would be. Some nights I pull my post up and just stare at the screen, by then baby is sleeping next to me, feeling her warm little body on my side, her breathing under my hand, and I just…draw a blank for what to share. Grief is so…unpredictable.

Life has been happening, as it so often does. The baby is almost nine months old. The boy turned 14! The oldest child moved to Wisconsin and has returned home. This Southern summer heat has crept in and made things slow down, tremendously. I have been struggling on the highs and lows of this grief rollercoaster. It is kind of reassuring when you can reframe the way you look at grief and think of it more as a cyclical event. There’s no great expectations that it’ll be over and you’ll magically be fixed, or grow into the new grief that has become you.

I now have new clear examples of how holding on to unresolved emotional trauma and grief can trigger a domino effect of upheaval in other parts of your life, in your mind, body, spirit, and social life. One clear example is with my current health situation. As many readers know, I have cancer. I have been struggling with uterine cancer, now it has spread, or we believe it has spread and I have a mammogram scheduled for the lump that had been in my breast during pregnancy. I also have a colonoscopy coming up this week. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that processing the grief from my mother’s death triggered my C-PTSD, anxiety, and every health issue simmering under the surface of ‘I’m okay’ is going to come boiling over. I have now been diagnosed with hypertension II and have been put on a new medication. This is a family gift and was triggered during pregnancy, I’m sure it also has some association with the Makena Injections they gave me. They claimed my adverse reaction was rare, but then denied all of my symptoms. It’s so very frustrating to be silenced and go unheard with medical care. This is something I have experienced my entire life. My mother handed me the knowledge about the consequences of holding on to unresolved emotions for too long, she taught me how those ghosts can haunt you into an early grave. Then she herself departed. It was summer of 2000, we were in California. There’s a beautiful spot that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and as the wind whipped through our hair she asked me if I was still angry. I had just learned of my pregnancy. Today, I am still angry. It’s roots have become so deep I don’t fully understand how to cut it out of me. The deeper I dig into this grief, the more I release, and the more vulnerable I feel. And maybe that’s just part of this process, to become vulnerable and there’s still a sense of fear, but also calmness and humility.

I’ve also been having wickedly vivid nightmares. Several months ago, in May I was in Northern Virginia, just miles down the road from the hospital where my mom died. I was staying at the house where her ashes are still living, tucked away on a shelf. I went to bed late and woke up in my dream. I dreamt of a preemptive attempt to soothe and calm the baby. Still groggy and eyes full of sleep, I quietly slipped out of bed to make a bottle. I came from the bedroom (the last bedroom my mom ever slept in, outside of the hospital), around the corner to the open living room/dining room layout, and there, through the darkness, back stiff, head cocked to the side, my mom. But not my mom. She was a shadowy wisp, ghostly and ghastly. Empty eye sockets, staring me down. I stopped dead, mid-step. Then I woke up. In bed. Baby was stirring, I checked my phone for the time and it was just after four in the morning. I quietly slipped out of bed to make a bottle, turning every light on as I went, scared my nightmare was going to grab me from behind. I drove back home to Southeastern Virginia haunted by memories of my mom. Sometimes, as a joke I would call her mother, and she was answer, “yesssssss, daaaaaarling” and then Coraline came out and I was like…mom, that’s what I picture is the other you. She disagreed and said the other her was much worse than I could ever dream up. I’ve been haunted by that nightmare since. I’ve discussed with my youngest brother, my Aunties, my partner, and my oldest daughter. It’s funny how we torture ourselves with grief. It’s also funny how spirit world responds to questions we’re too scared to ever ask.

I have been deeply and profoundly moved by this death. Just as I have been deeply and profoundly moved by this life. I have been working on shifting my language from saying that my mom died to saying that my mom chose to pass on. I have been formally trained, in the academic sense, to say “died”. As using any other language might teach someone, especially a child, that death is not final, that their loved one may return. The language could also offend someone from another culture, or someone who has strict religious beliefs and so I have decided the someone in this case is me. And I don’t believe that we simply die and are forever gone. As if this tortuous journey we never asked for would let us off the hook that easily. Pffft, yeah right. I believe we haunt the spaces between us and those we love. I believe we exist as the energy between people and places. We linger in the material things that owned us in this world . I believe we are redistributed, and we reach out beyond dusk and dawn, we become memories, smiles, tears, weeping, singing under the stars in the form of breeze rustling leaves on trees. And that is life. And that is death. And that is the magic my mom left with me. That’s something she passed on. And in that, part of that, contains the instructions on how to let go. I believe.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve had Neurofeedback, which I will be writing about again, soon (for treatment of anxiety and C-PTSD). I’m hoping I can coordinate something this coming week. It’s been so helpful for my mind, body, and spirit. I have a couple more weeks of doctor’s appointments and then I’ll hopefully have some down time to heal and recuperate. This post is longer than I had wanted it to be, but it feels good to get it all out. I have downloaded the WordPress app to my mobile devices so I can post more frequently on grief and loss and what’s helping or hurting. As I previously shared, please feel free to interact via comments.

Never forget…

image: my hand pulling down a poster that reads, “Someone is (or will be) lucky to have you.”

Good Grief, I’m Exhausted

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…it’s been another promise that I’ve not kept. I’m also not Catholic. Not even diet Catholic.

In my previous post I had committed to sharing a post a week as I journey through processing grief. Which I have not done. It’s been approximately 3 months since I’ve posted any update on my journey through processing this grief. In retrospect I wasn’t ready to process the loss of my Mom. I’ve just needed to sit in my anger and melancholia, ping-ponging back and forth in an internal storm that has been raging it’s way through my head and heart.

At this moment I’m in Northern Virginia, not more than 5 miles from the hospital that my Mom died at, at my Auntie’s house. My Mom’s ashes are here, they’ve been here since she was cremated, they’ve sat here at my Auntie’s house for almost 5 months. Many of my Mom’s belongings are here, the rest are in a storage unit not more than 2 miles from my house in Southeastern Virginia. I’ve become the administrator of my Mom’s estate. I’ve been fumbling through the steps needed to open her estate and how to handle her affairs.

Today I hastily sorted through her suitcases full of clothes and separated what I needed to keep, to donate to a shelter, and to send to my brothers, or her grandchildren and friends. Today I paused and shoved one of her favorite shirts into my face, breathing her in and wrapping myself in a memory of her hug, I could almost feel her hair falling over me as she pulled me in and squeezed me tightly. I’d slowly stopped dreaming about her. I’ve avoided pictures of her, memories of her, I’ve pushed the sound of her laugh and her voice to the back corridors of my mind. I’ve ignored the nagging sensation that something is missing, the sternum crushing pain that comes when I wake in the middle of the night momentarily forgetting she’s “gone” and I can’t call her. I can’t send her silly Facebook messenger videos of the baby laughing or playing with her toes. I can’t vent my frustrations of being in a relationship with a man I love to argue with, I can’t listen to her advice on how this is an opportunity to experience it all in this one lifetime, I can’t make plans to spend her birthday with her. These are tough truths to swallow. I feel her nowhere and every where all at once. It’s confusing. It’s maddening.

Needless to say this has been the longest winter of my life. During this time I’ve asked for “signs”. I’ve waiting, patiently. I’ve prayed. I’ve talked to her spirit. I’ve read her journals. I’ve pretended she’s sitting next to me, and maybe she has been. I’ve plotted and planned and decided that I need to set some long-term goals for this grief journey. I need this to be a good grief. I need to accept the reality of this loss. One of my long-term goals is to work through the pain that comes when I face the reality of this loss. Second, and not in this particular order, I need to find ways to continue the healing journey my Mom and I were on (when she passed). I’ll have to find ways I can continue to grow and heal in our mother-daughter relationship, without her being here. Another essential and difficult goal/task is to be able to place my emotions related to my Mom, our relationship, and her untimely death in the “right” place and not misplace those emotions in or on someone else. I’ve slowly been working on the reality of this loss, and what that means to my daily life. An example of this is how I am unable to call my Mom and simply have the mother-daughter daily check-ins we normally had. I have replaced those voids with writing to her; sometimes I write her letters, other times I glue a picture into my journal and tell her about the moment/picture, or I’ll write her poetry. Another example of adjusting to my life with the loss of my Mom is making a greater effort at recognizing my brother’s birthdays and life event celebrations, not to replace the mother role, but to step up and be more encouraging, motivating, and/or ask them what they might need (as our mom would’ve). As I set these goals and work on these tasks I begin to process through some of my pain and grief, a little at a time, growing through the hurt and trying to make sense of my world and life without my Mom. It’s been a good grief in these past few months, and although I’m exhausted, I’m noticing progress in my journey.

To A Good Mourning

“How are you doing?” -Almost everyone I have never met, with a look of pity on their face.

This is the number one question I’ve been asked since my Mom passed last month. I have become aware that I shake my head while saying ‘fine’, or whatever lie rolls off my tongue, to complete strangers who’ve injected themselves into my life at a pivotal point.

I do believe that in many ways I am fine. I’ve learned to shoulder, shift, and carry the grief I was born with; it’s a huge part of this intergenerational trauma that’s always haunted my emotional, physical, mental, social, and spiritual being. I’ll occasionally break the awkward interactions with honesty and let the intruder know that I’m experiencing memory loss, massive amounts of clumsiness, that my usual aloof and numb state is becoming a concern associated with my PTSD and disassociation, but it’s really okay because I’m seeing a therapist for that. They’ll be taken aback, stammer out a quick reply, sharing that they hope I’m “seeing someone” for that, when they could explore their own grief and be confident in saying that these things are normal. And as much as I hate to slap normalcy on anything, these reactions are very “normal” or “typical”. And normal doesn’t mean easy, quick, painless, but it does mean that someone else might have similar experience with the same things I’m feeling. It means that I’m not completely alone. It means I might find comfort in knowing that someone else has been where I’m at, or is there with me, in their own private hell, right now. My grief won’t be a spittin’ image to anyone else’s, but my grief might have some things in common with someone else’s. I can pretty much pick my poison when it comes to defining grief; there are dictionary definitions, hospice center definitions, text book definitions, accurate quotes, millions of descriptors that breathe life into dealings with Grief, similar to the way we bring Death to life. Grief becomes a living, breathing entity who stalks you and shows up, always uninvited and always outstaying it’s welcome.

I keep reminding myself that struggling with my grief does not mean that I’m not handling things well, it doesn’t mean that I’m failing this grand grief and loss test. It does means that I need to slow down and be easy on myself. It means there’s something more there that I need to explore, and perhaps my reactions to grief are being ignored and my body is trying to find ways to let me know that on a subconscious level I need to process my grief.

After many sleepless nights I have decided that I want to keep an ongoing public journal of just how I am doing (with my grief). I was thinking about this last night as I fed my 2 month old daughter, how this will keep me accountable to myself, to my healing, my mom would welcome this, it might connect me with others who are experiencing/have experienced something similar, it might help someone else, and it will keep boundaries on people’s access to me as I grieve. I’m not sure how often I will post updates, at least weekly, if I’m having a harder time, or I’m busy there might be a surge in posts, or decline. I will keep this pattern up for a year, the first year of my Mom’s passing. I will include things that have been helpful to me, possible links to resources I learn about, anything I can share that might help someone else, and most importantly I will share my struggles and hardships on this journey. I will welcome comments, replies, interactions, tips, and sharing.

As I come to a closing point on this first post I will share that it’s important to remember that Grief is most commonly associated with death and dying, but can and should be applied to many different types of life loss. Said losses can include relationships ending, job loss/employment, illnesses, and other life changes. Other’s grief shouldn’t be trivialized. Grief may trigger other mental health diagnoses or preexisting conditions you’re dealing with, and should be included in medical and psychological reports and evaluations. Common reactions to grief can be emotional expressions, physical & mental/cognitive symptoms, social effects, and can have an impact on your spiritual beliefs and perspective. Grief is commonly broken down to “stages” and there are notable authors, experts, and researchers on Grief and Loss, so it’s good to become an expert on your grief, even if you use their framework, theories, research.

It will be important to note that I have C-PTSD, I have a 2 month old baby (so I’m in my postpartum healing period) as well as 2 older children, I have cancer, and high blood pressure that hasn’t resolved itself from preeclampsia that lead to the late-term premature delivery of my daughter. I have a background in mental health work and advocacy, I’m a Mortician/Funeral Director by trade, with a death positivity perspective. Also important to note I’m an enrolled and active citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. I’m currently living in Virginia, having moved here two years ago to be with my mother, as well as decided to return to school (again) while here. This means that I’m physically away from my entire support system, aside from my immediate family and a couple of friends. My mother and I lived together for a year before we both moved, and we lived in neighboring towns. She was also in the midst of moving across the country when she was suddenly hospitalized after being taken to an emergency room. She had been doing very well in her recovery and we even had some time with her while she was awake and were making plans for her discharge and rehabilitation. My brothers and I chose to respect and honor her life, wishes, and physical being by taking her off of life support after we learned she would not recover from the damage that occurred during the cerebral vasospasms that are common after cerebral aneurysms. I believe that these things influence my grief processing. I’m also working with the hospice grief counselor, and have been treating my C-PTSD through neurofeedback treatments, and will be seeking a new therapist due to recent insurance and employment changes.

I hope that if you choose to follow my journey of healing and grief processing that you share and grow with me. Cheers, to a good mourning.

See You Soon

time has dropped its hands in my lap, there is only a before and after you.

memories weave themselves throughout my moments, no rest, even for the weary.

when i close my eyes, you’re there. behind my lids, like a movie,

the VHS film, delicate and crinkled winds itself around my fingertips.

i place my heart in the VCR and press rewind, i must’ve watched us a million times;

queen of corn palaces and balls of twine, road warrior, still battling mile markers,

scar across your furrowed brow, talking in poetry…the last of a dying breed,

true romantics can’t even speak our tongue

reading maps, the folding kind. my legs tick tock, tick tock

my arms are restless, i reach for you in the dark, only more night comes

i examine stars like they’re freckles on skin, searching constellations

for signs of you. strung out on hope, movies, and memories-

for a moment i feel you, so i don’t give up on wondering

                                                            what happens to us when we die.

i’ve a newfound faith in a cactus’ ability to teach us lessons in how to keep love alive

and you stretch out in front of me, like the vast expanse of desert floor,

like mountain meadow with a meandering stream,

like the fruited plains, switch grass rolling like ocean waves

there isn’t a place i can run to escape memories of you, memories like movie-

from sea to shining sea, left coast to right now

i press my tongue to the roof of my mouth

swallowing hard, turning in bed, twisting in sheets,

recalling the sound of you snoring, recalling the sound of your happiness

scared i might forget what that means, worried your ghost won’t remember

                                                                                                the good in me.

-i press pause.

we are frozen in a single embrace

your hair gently falls across my face

my arms crush you, as i squeeze

“okay, mom. see you soon”

The End.

Room 704

Room 704 is bursting in a million different directions, scattering down the hall, slipping through cracks on the floor, under doors, forcing its way through closed windows stretching out into azure sky In my mind this room has become a collection, of mason jars with lids haphazardly screwed on, piles of cardboard boxes, and suitcases full of teeth, heartstrings, shoelaces, crumpled pieces of paper, half-written letters in lost languages There are jars full of hope, a box crammed to the tiptop, overflowing with heartache. I shiver from a loneliness I cannot shake, in a world away from you. A suitcase filled with spring leaves, tender green catches my eye, then a jar of seashells, a suitcase full of red clay earth, boxes are stacked to the ceiling, full of cameras, dragon’s scales, stamps and stones and crystals gleaming… Screens light up the gloom of Room 704; one full of pastel cloud filled skies and a sliver of a moon, another with flowers blooming and my head is booming with all of I’ve been holding in Boxes under the bed, full of smiles, screams, rage, handfuls of moments well-lived, secrets whispered over table tops stained with water rings, turquoise memories, single strands of silver hair, boarding passes, avocado seeds, expired credit cards, never declined invitations Mason jars lined the window ledge, jars full of laughter, Wyoming roots, tree branches with naked limbs, projects unfinished jittery movements, felt hearts, mountain tops and winding rivers, eagle feathers and river flutes, I listen to the beep, buzz, hum of machines inhaling to exhale for a tremendous collection of love, stretched thin on a hospital bed. And Room 704 is so full of collections of life that this much proof of living cannot be contained in four walls, for too long The heart and soul of Room 704 shifts, slips, and brushes past me, Rushing into all it could never be when it was being contained In Jars. In boxes. In suitcases. In body.

A Journey

A sliver of a moon hangs
lopsided, like the Cheshire Cat’s smile,
nestled in the deepest dark.

Stars sprinkled around us, like
Forget-Me-Nots in heaven’s meadows,
we remove the clock from the wall
and sit in silence.

One stubs their toe,
the other wipes their eyes
I prick my finger at the exact moment
you become a collection of memories,
all of everything between mile markers
on universal highways, a journey
of your own making.

We want signs, we beg for them,
signs that’ve been there all along-
even a word that might embrace us in this silence.
We sink into the quiet, watching You light up
the vast expanse of foreverness,
witnessing the beginning
of a million stories being told.

We’ve never been your children
more than we are right now.
We take the road you haven’t gone down.
You take the road we’ve not yet traveled.
Sky is ablaze. Earth bends.
Only time breaks, shattering
into a thousand unspoken confessions
of love, of loss,
of a lifetime of movement
stretching out in front of us, for always.

One sighs, the other cries out.
I hold my hand to my chest and feel
You embracing us.
As you have all along.

Lambs Death and Honey Wine

lambs teeth shoved in pockets
she greets me at the door with sweat soaked pits,
blue buckets of frozen rainwater on her porch,
under a heavy winter’s moon

she tells me we’re making mead over her shoulder,
as she disappears down a darkened corridor
gallons of honey, the whole house smells of raw meat and sweet
this is a lengthy process

she slips across hardwood floors in flowered socks,
dressed in a hand-me-down corduroy skirt, stiff
standing over butcher’s block
we were raised by wolves in sheep’s clothing

Kotex Queens in acid wash jeans,
engagement and wedding rings sat sink side,
because sometimes feeling unowned is the best vacation
naked bodies tangled in white cotton gowns, with menstruation stains at the hem

as the moon sets she pulls lamb’s tooth from pocket
and asks me what i thought they felt just before they died