Flashback to 1983. My parents are watching Dallas in the basement with their friends. I’m at the top of the stairs, trying not to squeak the steps, hunched in a nightgown with my knees pulled tight. Of course my mom sees me and yep, she is upset. Despite her frustration she lets me sit on the floor and join them in watching the number one show of 1983.
My mom had to do this a lot–put up with a kid who was awake until all hours of the night. Usually it was just the two of us. She’d let me watch Love Boat on the tiny black and white TV in our kitchen while she made popcorn. Initially she would be exasperated (Of COURSE she was, adult Sarah gets it now!) but she always softened and lovingly let me join her in her late night routine.
Let me write it out right here in case my prayers haven’t reached my mother: MOM I AM SO SORRY FOR WHAT I PUT YOU THROUGH. MOM HOW DID YOU DO IT. MOM YOU POOR WOMAN YOU NEVER. GOT. A. BREAK!
Why the mea culpas? Because now I’m in her shoes. My almost-four-year-old is having what I jokingly refer to as the “four-year sleep regression.” She is awake approximately 99.98% of our waking hours. No break from the kid. No down time. And let me tell you, as an introvert this is so hard.
How am I responding to it all? I’m trying to model my mom’s love. (She still teaches me. When people say love never dies, that it extends forever, this is what they mean.) Lately I’m following her lead as much as I can. Like her, I’m surrendering to the fact that my kiddo won’t sleep and there isn’t much I can do about that fact. I might as well make some popcorn for her while she sits on the floor to join in watching Jane the Virgin.
I have a feeling she may someday look back fondly on these moments. I have a hunch I just might, too.
My mom was 43 years old the day that she listened to the voice. Five years older than I am as I type this.
She listened and so she lived. To see graduations, birthdays, weddings, births. To adopt new identities: Mother-in-Law, Great-Aunt, and yes, even Grandmother.
When my mother paused in the kitchen that day to listen, perhaps with her hand resting on the counter near the neat pile of bills and school flyers, her tea nearby cooling, she heard a voice tell her to check her left breast. Immediately.
She did. Her world fell apart. A lump. Cancer. The mother of all cancers, stage 4. She powered through. Surgeries. An experimental stem-cell transplant. It was living hell. And yet she seemed to always find the humor in the midst of the horror. When cancer came back in the form of a brain tumor, she later would quip that “brain surgery was a breeze!” (and she meant it).
One day when getting cash from the ATM, her wig flew off and danced across the parking lot. She calmly walked over, retrieved it and placed it back on her head, not missing a beat.
“I could laugh or cry, but I would rather laugh,” she said.
My mother learned in the hardest way possible the importance of intimately knowing the map of your own body. She’d been diligent about annual mammograms. The year she found the lump, her most recent mammogram screening showed no irregularities. Of course, this was before the use of ultrasound and MRI screenings for high-risk patients, before testing for genetic mutations.
She would later confess that she avoided doing monthly self-exams. I was afraid of finding something, she told me. She understood the absurdity of this, but fear holds a strong grip. When she was twelve years old she saw her mother die of breast cancer. Her fear was a real one.
(I think she would want you to know that the voice she heard that day in the kitchen, it was her late mother speaking. It was my mother’s voice, she said. My mother told me to immediately check my left breast.)
Today I share my mom’s story because she cannot. She passed away in 2013.
Her story is this: my mother faced her largest fear—of finding cancer with her own hands. She chose to listen to quiet, loving voice that ultimately saved her life. While the costs were often great (so many sacrifices were made, of body and mind and spirit) she was able to celebrate nearly two more decades of birthdays. Of wedding anniversaries.
My mom was famous for starting conga lines at parties. Her life was a lesson in choosing to dance no matter the music that is playing—celebratory or sad, bleak or hopeful. She taught me that even when there are detours to dark and scary places, if you follow your heart, it will not lead you astray. It might even extend the dance.
Today has been melancholy. Blah. So MONDAY-ish. Maybe it was the return to work after a great day at the beach with dear friends who were visiting from out-of-state. Maybe it was the post-deathversary-grief. (Grief, after all, is the gift that keeps on giving.) Maybe it was that first thing this morning what did I see but the darn tootin’ squirrel scaling my bird feeder. (Well, I showed him. I sprayed more PAM on the pole. Yes, cooking spray. Try to scale that pole now buddy.)
So yeah. Bummer-ville today. But then this afternoon I hear my favorite little diiiiiiinnnnng –that is the noise on my phone when someone likes a post on my blog! It is like a warm-fuzzy snuggle-hug every time I hear it!
It turns out that WordPress was notifying me for a different reason–this popped up!
IT IS MY SECOND WORDPRESS ANNIVERSARY! Ok where is my cotton you guys??
TWO YEARS. Ahh the memories. But wait–I’ve only been posting since November 18th, 2015. What gives?
Remember how I told the story about how on the first deathversary I went to a beach and waxed poetic and got bit by bugs and angry at life and then had an epiphony that I should start this blog?? That day was two years ago to this day! I hit publish – but the blog was secret so nobody saw it.
I continued to write privately for one full year.
And then, last November...I published it. It took one year plus exactly TWO more months. Baby steps!
Anyway, I love that now on the day after the anniversary of my mom’s passing I have a wordpressversary to ding and cheer me up.
Thanks for reading, friends. For all the dinnnngs and comments and love.
Remembering my beautiful mom
today. I continue to draw sustenance from her love.
In the redwood ecosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire –when, in other words, she dies – the trauma stimulates the burls growth hormones. The seeds release and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients their need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.
-Hope Edelman, Motherless Daughters
I am embarking on the third round of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays without my mom.
In the past two years it often felt like I was fumbling around in the dark with a scarf over my eyes, playing a twisted game of pin the tail on the donkey where I never even came close to the tail and I only ended up poking myself in the foot.
I love making mistakes. It is how I learn! Well, that is what I tell my three-year-old, although I have a hunch I say it out loud as much for her ears as my own.
What have I learned from my many grief journey mistakes, you ask?
I have learned that on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, planning a long contemplative walk on the sandy beaches of Sanibel Island—especially after a storm washes up loads of mussels and seaweed to bake in the ninety-degree heat thereby attracting thousands of small biting gnats—is not ideal. It is not even close to ideal.
I’ve learned that making ALL the special recipes that remind me of my mom on the Big Holidays is
bonkers crazy majorly unrealistic. Not good.
I’ve learned that self-care is paramount. That instead of eating food for comfort (the ultimate comfort, really), instead I can opt for restorative yoga. Or a cup of tea. Or some time alone to draw or paint.
View this post on Instagram
It's a #selfcare day for me! #coffee and #art on this Monday. It's my late mom's bday. Womp Womp. And yes my coffee mug has #gilmoregirlsquotes -no men, just lots and lots of Chinese Food. Appropriate since the hubs was driving me bonkers earlier. Doing some mourning dove #sketches for #watercolor #illustration! #griefandloss #griefsucks #momswithoutmoms #momartist #writersofinstagram #artheals #creativityheals
I’ve learned that there is no gold star for grieving correctly. You do the best you can with what you’ve got.
I continue to learn to be compassionate with myself.
Yes, I have learned over and over that grief often sneaks up, surprises, but it can dissipate surprisingly quickly too.
Lastly, I have learned that love heals. If you close your eyes after blowing out the candles on your late mother’s birthday cake and focus on your heart center, you can connect with her. She will be there beaming and she will say, l love you.
Have any lessons to share? We can learn from each other. xoxox. Sarah
Those were the words that earlier today brought me to tears and figuratively brought me to my knees.
It might have been more graceful if I had actually been brought to my knees. I could have avoided the very obvious and very awkward moment when I realized I was the only choir member not standing, only to then find myself standing with the wrong hymnal, only to then stumble to find the correct page in the correct book. Singing apparently wasn’t happening for me either, unless it was going to be me squeaking out words, which then generated more tears in a never ending cycle of grace and tears, grace and tears.
All the while as this was happening (in front of a hushed and watching congregation) I was thinking about how funny it was that of all people, I was the one openly crying. (This thought touched me and, you guessed it, made me tear up more.)
Until recently I never really spontaneously cried. I operated on a delay. Longer even than the Olympic delay. Only after my logical brain could examine and then parse it would I finally feel safe enough to FEEL.
So back to the openly-crying-when-I-was-supposed-to-be-singing…I don’t know what exactly it was about the words but the guided meditation stirred the pot, as it were.
We were led to remember both a moment recently that was infused with love and a moment that was not. And the take-away was that we should remember how that moment of love felt and we should have it ready to to hold when another crap-tastic moment comes up in our life. (My words, not quite what Reverend Allison said.)
Yeah, I know this song and dance. Where you honor the pain, but ever so gently…you don’t want to squeeze it until your knuckles are white. You don’t want the pain to overcome you, or numb you, or embitter you. (Been there, done that, not pretty.)
And the trickiest dance step of all: meeting that pain with love.
That part can be hard. Like, really really hard.
So today I was crying about it all. Thinking about the moments of love made me realize how much I miss my mom right now. Her birthday is next week. And come a month from now, it will be three years she has been gone from earth.
And then I thought about the crummy things too. All the things that have come undone since my mom died. How there are wounds that remain very much not healed. The kind of pain where simply facing it is hard, let alone meeting it with love, thank you very much.
Tears tears and more tears. Of love and grace and pain and heartbreak all meshed together.
It may sound strange to count this as a victory, but how wonderful that I was able to openly cry among other imperfect humans who tolerate (nay, encourage) my weeping into the wrong hymnal on the wrong page at the wrong time.
I know none of them were judging me. (If they noticed, that is—we have a bad habit of staring down into our hymnals and not looking up and out at the choir! but we are working on it.)
And get this: as I sit here now, writing it all out and re-feeling the love, I heard something outside my window near the bird feeder I put in recently.
I looked out, and outside on the ground was a mourning dove.
Blessed be. Love endures.
Do you know this dance? Share if you feel so inclined.
I have a confession: I didn’t fully believe my mourning birds.
I’m talking about the birds behind this blog. The birds that came to me and were like, hey, Poppins! HELLO.
And I was like, Hi?
And they were like, We are your blog’s omen. (Who knew blogs had omens.)
So, I looked it up. Mourning doves represent: MOTHERHOOD, LOVE, AND HOPE AFTER LOSS.
Lovely, right? This is the catch. I DIDN’T FULLY BELIEVE THIS OMEN. I was grieving. I was like, hi, you and your “hope and change” makes for a nice slogan my feathered friends. But I am not with you. Not yet.
I was like, They say that time’s supposed to heal ya, but I aint’ done much healing…
Ok I promise, no more Adele lyrics.
Back to those birds: hope, love, blah blah blah. It still felt so far away.
That is, until recently. I’ve had nothing short of a huge shift. A release of grief. A changing of the season of my heart.
I realized yesterday that I have only been writing this blog since November. I’ve only been writing for four months but it seems like it must be longer because so much has shifted in that time.
I know that the writing played a role in that shift. It helped me to transmute this pain, to take the heavy stuff and perform creative alchemy.
I had a hunch about something and I checked: it turns out that there are more blog posts tagged with love and hope than are tagged with grief. Even in the midst of that pain I was feeling the love.
There is so much I want to share with the dozen of you lovely humans who read my blog. I’ve started drafting some posts about the healing process. Some of it is pretty intense and to be honest, downright spiritual. I will share soon.
But in the meantime, it feels really good to say…
….HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE!
(I know, I promised…I just couldn’t resist. What can I san, it’s quite possible that Adele is also my spirit animal.)