Grief, Continued

So it’s been almost 3 months since my Mom died.  I don’t cry every day anymore.  I do think about her all the time.  And hear her voice when I call my Dad and get their voice mail.

I have several of her winter coats, which I have taken to wearing.  Of course they each have a pair of gloves in them (and of course, Kleenex.)  My husband gives me a knowing glance when he sees a “new” coat.  He knows my Mom is wrapped around me.  While I know my Mom is a part of me, internally, I seem to get comfort from some of her external possessions.  I am carrying her everyday purse – I know she bought it at TJ Maxx, her favorite place to buy purses.  I carry Kleenex, shopping bags, an umbrella – all of the things she kept close at hand, “just in case.”  I stop short at putting a label on all of my possessions in the event they are lost.  While I am my mother’s daughter, I am my own person.  And I will not succumb to all of her idiosyncrasies.

I got through the first Thanksgiving without her.  And while my parents had been going to Indiana to my sister’s the past few years, I still missed calling her to discuss my menu.

“I’m having 20 people; how big of a turkey should I get?”

“Do I need appetizers?”  “What about a salad?”

Trivial things, I know, but all part of the package of having a mom.  Especially a good, extremely competent mom.  I managed without her, answering the questions with what I think she would have said.  I have grown into a very competent 50 year old woman.  I’m a grown up.  Of course I can put on a dinner for 20 without my mother’s input.

It just wasn’t as much fun.  It felt sad.  And lonely.  And I missed her, even if I could briefly pretend she was in Indiana.

My father spent Thanksgiving with my sister, where she took a turn helping him with his grief.  It’s generally one sided; he talks a lot about Mom but can’t listen too much if we do.  It’s okay.  As my sister said, “My grief pours out of me all the time, through my whole body.  I don’t really feel the need for it to come out of my mouth.”

Yet I clearly feel the need to talk about it some.  Or write about it when the mood strikes me.

Next week my sister is coming so we can clean out our mother’s closets together.  Yet another task for the grieving.

Pouring Grief into a Puppy

I know my Mom is looking down from heaven and thinking, “Are you crazy?” Yes, I finally caved and got the dog my two youngest children have been begging for. I’m sure she also thought that when I told her I was pregnant with my fourth child.   I wanted that child (who to my surprise, ended up being a girl after three boys). I didn’t want a dog.  We had a dog when I was growing up, so I knew how much work it would be.  My siblings and I loved the dog but my parents were not big fans.  Before my Mom died last month I told her I would be getting a dog.  When I asked her why she had gotten one, she said, “It was a moment of weakness.”

If you’re not a dog lover, isn’t that why we all give in?  We kind of want to give our kids the childhood they want, which in their mind includes an adorable dog to play with.  Oh, and they promised me they’ll take care of it.  Yeah right.  I’m not exactly counting on that.

So why did I cave? I received a call from my kids’ sleepaway camp saying they wanted to draw blood on my 9-year-old daughter to test for a thyroid condition.  She was hysterical, so I used “incentive-based parenting,” as my sister calls it. Yes, I bribed her.

“Naomi, if you do this, I will get you a dog.”

Her sniffles miraculously stopped.  Motivated by the prospect of a puppy, she dug down deep and consented to having her blood drawn.

When I told my husband what had happened, he said, “Really? A dog?”

“I thought you wanted a dog,” I countered.

“Well yeah, I did but I was kind of over it,” he replied.

Oh well – when you’re the mama fielding those calls, sometimes you just have to make an executive decision.

I know this will be my dog.  And once I made up my mind to go for it, the idea that I could pour my grief into loving a puppy became kind of appealing.  A big distraction from my grief, for sure, but also another way to think of my Mom all the time.  My childhood dog loved my mother and followed her everywhere.  The guy who picked up and delivered the dry cleaning (yes, in the good old days) used to chat and flirt with my Mom; our dog hated him for it.  I will miss sharing my experiences as the “dog mom” with my mother; I would love to compare notes with her.  Like how the dog follows you all around the house, just wanting to be near you.  Laying on my feet as I wash the dishes.  Hanging out while I fold laundry.  A little companion for the daily drudgery.  Or share a laugh with her – when I was telling one of my son’s friends we were getting a dog, he asked if we were adopting it.

I said, “Son, unless I gave birth to the dog, it’s adopted!”

He’s only been here a few days and it’s like having a newborn.  I know this phase is temporary.  I have a lot on my plate what with a disabled son who is medically fragile.  I will rely on my other children to take care of the dog when I have to care for my sick son.  When the dog is yapping from 3 to 5 am, I have moments of thinking, “THIS is why I didn’t want a dog,” but they are fleeting.  It gives me an excuse to stay close to home, since he needs the company as he acclimates to our family and he needs to be walked frequently.  Home is where I feel like being now, six weeks after my Mom died.  I can tend to running our home life and contemplate a world without my Mom in it.

I think the puppy will help me manage through the “ruff” times, don’t you? Image

God Giveth and God Taketh Away

Let me start by saying that my Dad is a great guy.  He was a loving and devoted husband to my mother for 54  years.  He was a dedicated, caring, and very competent caregiver when she was ill.  And he misses my mother very much.  It’s interesting to me how the loss of a person changes relationships, and how people grieve differently.

In my previous life, I was a social worker who worked in a cancer center.  I understand the grieving process and that grief takes many forms.  My Dad and I have a close, loving relationship.  I am the child who lives closest to my parents, so we are an integral part of each other’s lives.  But mothers and fathers have different roles in their children’s lives.  I said to my Dad, “You’re great Dad, but you’re not Mom.”  “I know,” he replied.  Just like I’m a wonderful daughter, but I’m not his wife.  The nature of our relationship will change, while it continues to shift.  I now will be focused on him, without trying to smother him with my attention.  “I don’t need taking care of,” he told me.  I assured him that I respect his autonomy and independence.  But I still drove by his house recently when I hadn’t spoken with him one day, to make sure the paper had been taken in – he was alive, I surmised.  We will find a balance of communication and space.  As an adult child, I feel more vulnerable to have my Mom gone and feel the need to make sure my Dad stays around for as long as possible.  Otherwise, what is there between me and my mortality?

 My father is on a 2 week trip to Israel, where my parents have a second home.  I spoke with him the other day and got choked up and teary when talking about my Mom.  “We need to keep living,” he told me.  “I know,” I squeaked out (although I wasn’t contemplating NOT living – I was just expressing sadness.)  “God giveth and God taketh away,” he tried next.  Really, Pop?  He clearly could not tolerate my tears and sadness, as he tries not to grieve that way.  He grieves by making lists of things to do, and keeping very busy.  Of course he does – he’s a man and he lives alone.  I am a woman with a bunch of people who share my house and need tending to.  I have built-in distractions.  We quickly ended our conversation as my grief was too much for him.  Fortunately, I have many other people to share my sadness with – I called my sister.

I know my Dad thinks of my Mom every moment of every day and grieves in his own way – which is perfectly fine for him.  And I’m okay with it too.  We’ll help each other the best we can.

 It’s new territory for both of us.

A Ceiling on Happiness – Living with Grief

Let me tell you something….

Many people tell me I should write. They apparently think I have interesting things to say, strong opinions, and a bluntness that can be refreshing.  I thought I’d test out the idea.  Let me know what you think.  I begin with a recent life event. 

A Ceiling on Happiness – Living with Grief

I am a 50 year old  housefrau, married with 4 children living at home.  I have experienced many difficult things in my life: family strife, a disabled child, breast cancer.  I am familiar with the concept of grief and have been aware of grieving the loss of my family as I’d hoped it would be, the loss of the healthy child that I thought I would have, and the temporary loss of my health.  None of those things prepared me for the most recent loss I have experienced – the death of my mother.

She had cancer.  Not a new story.  She was a wonderful woman, a “good enough” mom my sister and I used to joke (she was actually a really good Mom; just perfectly imperfect like all of us), a loving wife, grandmother (“Bubbe”) and friend.  I was lucky enough to end up living nearby in my adulthood so she was a big part of my daily life.  I talked to her frequently, sought her advice on cooking, fashion, shopping, childrearing, etiquette – standard Mom fare.  I used to be disdainful of her lack of formal education, her June Cleaver-ish life.  As I matured I came to appreciate her life experience, her goodness, her practicality and lack of pretension.  She was completely comfortable with herself and seemed content with her life.

It’s been one month since she died.  I cry easily and when asked how I’m doing, I usually reply, “sad.”

I spend my energy caring for my family and my home.  While the initial shock is wearing off, I make an effort to get out of my head and interested in the lives of my friends – be “other directed.” Sometimes there is even a glimmer of happiness, such as the thought of a gloriously rainy day at home by myself without the children to tend to.  But then I remember that my Mom is dead and my happiness is tamped down.  I know this is temporary, that time will help, that there will always be times when I acutely miss her.  For now though, there just feels like a ceiling on how happy I can be.

Stay tuned…