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Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

Next week, we have two important milestones – my oldest graduates from high school and my youngest two graduate from 8th grade. These milestones have created for me a tumult of memory.

I remember vividly putting my son on the bus for the first time. He was happy and proud and excited and puzzled at my tears. I did not plan to cry. But the tears flowed none-the-less. I remember when my girls “graduated” from Montessori. I most certainly did not plan for tears, but the tears came none-the-less.

I was shocked at the quiet that came when I put all three of my children on the bus for the first time. And that’s when I realized for the first time, nearly 10 years after becoming a mother, that motherhood is so much about letting go….

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First day of school for the girls… could they be any cuter, these three?!

Next week also marks the umpteenth anniversary of my mother’s death – she has been dead for more years than she was alive. Her time here was finite and short; the time without her has been infinitely long and grows longer with every passing year. She saw none of her children graduate from anything – not grammar school, not high school, not college.

I am the oldest girl in a family of three girls and my mother had been dead a year when I graduated from 8th grade. After my mother’s death, we had hired a housekeeper – today, she’d be known as our nanny. Her children lived with us during the summer. It was a chaotic time, but what I loved about that first housekeeper was that she expanded our family with her family just as ours shrank incredibly. My mother’s side of the family endured significant losses in the next few years – both of her parents died two years after my mother; her sister, my beloved Auntie Ronnie, died eight years later, also of cancer (like my mother). Ronnie, like my mother, left three small children behind. My adolescence was a time of chaos and loss and grief and discovery.

Our housekeeper had heard stories of how my mother had made my baptism and first communion gowns. She volunteered, for whatever reason, to make my graduation dress. I thought it was pretty.

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8th grade graduation – clearly I had entered “the awkward phase” of adolescence…

During the ceremony, a classmate leaned over and suggested that the sleeves were ripped. They weren’t ripped – they were loose as per the pattern. I was annoyed and embarrassed. I don’t know what possessed this classmate to point out a perceived flaw of my dress during the ceremony. But my middle school experience was full awkward moments so it’s no surprise that the ending of it contained one was well.

And next week, I witness all three of my children celebrate these milestones. My son is very much done with high school. My girls are so ready for high school. And I’m not ready to let go yet.

But let go, I must. It’s all part of the job.

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It is Mother’s Day this weekend.

I have been a mother for 18 years. Motherless for 44. My mother has been dead more years than she was alive. My children are older than I was when my mother died – they’ve already lived longer with their mother than I ever did.

And even after all these years, I am still conflicted about this day – this Mother’s Day holiday. For too long, it was solely a reminder of what I had lost. Now it is a celebration of my role as mother – but still a reminder of what I had lost. It’s a moment when I think about what might have been… what might I have learned… what might I have better understood about life and raising children. The “what ifs…” rise to the surface on this day, taunting me with questions that will never be answered.

My children are now all teenagers and there are times when it is pointed out that I am the most embarrassing thing to have happened to my children. Teen years are tough. I think they are almost tougher to observe as a parent than to endure as a teenager. My friends and I were so incredibly stupid and reckless as teenagers… (but those are stories for another time.) When I remember my teen years, I remember my friends. The teen years are the time when we move from being dependent children into the growing autonomy that comes with adulthood.

Not long ago, I realized that I have no idea what happens to the parent-child relationship after these teen years. I never had a relationship with my mother when I was a teenager – she died before I became one. And since my father died when I was 22, I never really had a relationship with any parent as a young adult. I graduated from college and became my father’s caretaker for his final days on earth.

Mother’s Day is bittersweet for me. The good news is that it’s moved beyond bitter to include the sweetness of watching my children grow up. I hope I get the pleasure of relating to my children in the near future as one adult to another.

That would be really something.

 

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We just got word that my Uncle Tim died today – he was elderly; he had been ill; his death was not unexpected.
He was married to my mother’s sister – both my mother and her sister died of cancer in their 40s many, many years ago. My Uncle Tim was the repository of stories about my mother’s family. I had wanted him to meet my children but he never did. I had some of the most hilariously funny times at his house when we visited him in Ireland over the years. But I have not been back in a long time.
My parents and all my aunts and uncles and their spouses are dead now. Tim was the only one alive for many years. It’s inevitable but sad all the same. The immigrant’s ties to the family back home are loosened by distance but the ties with Tim remained strong just the same. I was lucky to have Tim welcome us into his home every time we showed up with questions about the family we lost when we were so very young.

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GiftsWhen I see this table, I see gifts, many gifts. The plates are from my husband’s beloved grandmother Pearl, a tiny jewel of a woman. The glassware, Waterford crystal, is a legacy from my Irish mother; she collected the glasses; I added to it when I got married. The silverware was assembled as wedding gifts. The center candle was a gift from my girls. The table itself belonged to my parents, one of the first things they purchased after they married.

The meal we ate at this table tonight included vegetables sautéed in the chili oil and beriberi spices my son got me for Christmas.

We had a feast of gifts today. It was delicious….

Both my parents died young of cancer. I was young when they died; for a long time, I measured my life in what I had lost. But now, decades later, I see the gifts in my life. And of course, the most important gifts are not yet at this table – my husband and my three children.

In life, it is sometimes appropriate to acknowledge all that we’ve lost on our journey. Tonight, however, I celebrate the many gifts – the people who’ve supported me in my lief, and the gifts they’ve shared with me.

I wish all a merry, merry Christmas and a year full of gifts and gratitude.

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My husband and I are fast approaching our 20th anniversary – I look at my plates, my silverware; all those things that were a part of my bridal registry and cannot believe they are all 20 years old right now.

But my oldest wedding gift was one bought long before I ever married. It is a pair of candelabra my mother bought for me (and a pair for each of my two sisters) to be given to each of us at our wedding.

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I was 12 years old when she bought this wedding gift for me. She was three months away from dying. She knew she was dying and she knew she would never see her daughters marry. But she bought us each a present.

The plan, of course, was that my father would present the gift to us on our wedding day. But he, too, died before any of us married.

I brought out the candelabra last night – they had been packed away for many, many (too many) years. They are ornate and fancy. We are informal and casual. But I was thinking about my wedding anniversary and the many gifts we received and how much enjoyment we’ve gotten from them and I realized it was time to bring out the candelabra my mother had gotten for me. She was so very ill when she embarked on that particular shopping trip. I have no idea what she was thinking when she was looking through the silver section of Marshall Fields. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like for my mother to go wedding-gift shopping for three small girls, the eldest being just 12, knowing that she would never see us grow up and marry.

There is so much emotional weight in that choice she made to purchase these gifts.

So last night, in celebration of my birthday, I put out the gift my mother had bought for me so many years ago, the wedding gift bought years before my wedding. It is a beautiful gift. Solid, strong, decorative. And when I light those candles, I think of my mother and how much she missed and how loss never leaves you. But the mementos stay and remind us of the love that went into the gifts we have received from those we’ve lost.

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I was on the phone the other day, talking with a friend of mine. My husband was out on a bike ride, so I was on the phone while alone in the house with children.

(Can you see where this is going?!)

I’m at the stage where chatting on the phone with friends is as rare in my life as large diamonds, but my friend and I were chatting about a dear friend who had died last weekend. We were both overwhelmed with the news and, frankly, we were both a little teary.

Clearly, this was an important conversation.

Then, suddenly, all hell starts breaking loose upstairs, where my children have been sent to get ready for bed.

It is difficult in my house for my children to get ready for bed without proper supervision. There are all sorts of battles that can erupt – over who gets the toothpaste first; who stands where at the sink; who gets to use the toilet first, etc. and so on.

From the sound of it, there was a major war going on upstairs. And I am rather irritated because I am alone without the hubby to help and I want to be talking on the phone with my friend about my dear friend and all hell is breaking loose and from the sound of it, if I don’t go upstairs to stop the war, there may be casualties.

Then my son comes down, giggling hysterically. “Mom,” he says, ” they’re fighting about who farted the loudest!”

My two six-year-old girls, dainty flowers that they are, were at war over the sounds of their farts. Not sure if the louder fart was the winner or loser in that battle, but there you go. A new battlefield had been established. And there was a sound and fury to the war that had grown exponentially in just moments.

I decided to plunge into the fray. I explained the situation to my friend, who was astonished to have our conversation about grief interrupted by a story about farts. I went up into the battle zone with the phone so she could hear.

When I entered the bedroom, it was obvious the battle had shifted from farts to beds. One girl had pulled down the covers of the other girl’s bed. Both were screeching at the top of their lungs.

I held the phone up so my friend could hear it all. And she heard my girls screeching the exact same thing to me. “Stop looking at me!” “Stop LOOKING at me!”

And because they are identical twins, the tone and sound of the statement sounded exactly the same – as if one person was fighting with herself.

My friend and I couldn’t help it. We both burst out laughing. And we both knew that our dear friend who died last weekend would have laughed the loudest. In this moment of grief and loss, laughter rang out, and I was reminded once again that life is complex. Emotional. Contradictory. Life is war and anger and love and grief in one room. And life is laughter. Never forget the laughter.

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I posted pix on FB recently – and a friend from HS, who I’ve reconnected with thanks to FB, made a comment that my son looks like my dad.

It was an innocuous comment that caught me off guard.

Yes, my son looks very much like my dad. But my father died more than a quarter century ago – and there are very few people I see in my day-to-day life who have any memory at all of my father. He simply does not exist for anyone I’ve met since 1984.

So to have someone note the resemblance my son has to my father is highly unusual. And it made me sad. My son is so very much like my father – but he’ll never really know that because he never got to know my father.

Memory matters. Our memories of people are very powerful. When you lose someone you love, you lose the ability to introduce that person to all the new people who enter into your life as time passes on. My friend’s comment on FB made me realize that my parents, so important to me, are completely absent in the lives and memories of most people I see everyday.

And I realized yet again that the tentacles of loss are very long.

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