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Earlier this summer, I turned on the “On this day” feature on Facebook. If you’re not familiar with it, it shows you your posts and interactions from the same date every year that you’ve been on Facebook.
Around Father’s Day, I seriously considered turning off the feature, because that’s when the bad news started appearing from four years ago.
My mom went into the hospital. She couldn’t breathe. She had to go on a ventilator. She was moved in and out of the critical care unit. She was offically diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. She was down to one working lobe of one lung.
The news got sadder and sadder, and though me four years ago didn’t know what was coming, me today knows.
So I thought about turning away, because it’s so painful, but I decided not to.
The pain of her loss will always be with me. I will always grieve. And because I love her so much, I won’t turn away or run away from that.

I named my baby daughter Della after my mom. It will take me a while to get used to hearing people say “Della,” and not be referring to my mom. I knew another as Della for 29 years — well, 33, actually — before baby Della came along.
What would she think of that, of me naming my baby after her? Can she see us? Does she know how much I still grieve?
I picture her in my home. Holding my baby.
Some stories died with her. I don’t know how much I weighed at birth (so please stop asking), and no one can find her chicken pot pie recipe, perhaps because she just made it from memory.

Things I want to tell her:
• Mom, I had a C-section! Can you believe that?!? I projectile-vomited Jell-O on the anesthesiologist and in my hair and then promptly forgot about it because I was in so much pain and later I thought my blood was splashed all over the draping before remembering the Jell-O.
• I named my baby after you because I love you and miss you and hope we have a relationship like you and I had, except for my adolescent years — sorry about that.
• You didn’t get to see how “The Strain” trilogy ended, but that’s OK because the third book wasn’t that great. And now there’s a TV show.
• You would have loved “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World.” You, along with me, Matt and Nathan, would have laughed hysterically while Gerry kept replaying the scene of the witch jumping off the wardrobe in “The Conjuring” while Michelle screamed and threw things at Gerry.
• Kale is amazing. He was only 1 when you died. Now, he’s 5 and I’m pretty sure his vocabulary is bigger than mine. Emma is taller than me and Lane is umpiring little league games. You would recognize them if you saw them, but you would be astounded!
• Jazbo got ran over again last summer, the day before Independence Day. She died. Maybe you know that already. Maybe your little “junkyard dog” is with you again.

I recently came across the writing below on Facebook and I was curious about its context, so I looked it up on good old Google. Henry Scott Holland, the poem’s author, lived from Jan. 27, 1847, until March 17, 1918. He was a Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, according to Wikipedia, and who can’t trust Wikipedia? He wrote this as a sermon, actually, after the death of King Edward VII.
“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

All is well. Della Marie West entered another room on Aug. 9, 2011. Someday, I shall enter it, too, and I will see her there, and there will be no more tears.

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Wishin’ and hopin’

After finding that email yesterday, I couldn’t resist reading a few more. This one really made me laugh:

“Could you please send me your wish lists? Unless of course you want me to randomly pick things out for you? Send it quickly, ok?

“Yes, somehow I deleted it. I don’t deny it. I don’t know how I did it. And no it wasn’t on purpose. So before you start hassling me how I don’t love you and all just send the list, ok? Thank you.”

She sent that one on Nov. 27, 2010, so she must have been wanting my Christmas wish list.

‘Last Christmas’ (…well, four Christmases ago)

I hate nearly everything right now.
It’s called the holiday blues, and even on my third Christmas without my mom, it’s still kicking my butt.
Sometimes it takes someone else putting it into words for you. My sister Cynda did that the other day. She wasn’t even talking about me, but when I heard those words, “the holiday blues,” it finally clicked. Christmas-time is kind of sucky for people who have lost loved ones. I’m one of those people.

Whether it’s Christmas or some other time of the year and I’m feeling just — I don’t know, sad — for several days in a row, and suddenly I realize it’s because my mom is haunting the back of my mind, I feel a weight pulling on me. That weight is the realization that I will carry this deep ache within me for a very long time, for the rest of my days.

Not this chick?
For a while now, I’ve been feeling like the tough part of me, the part of me most like my mom, has been in hibernation or is gone completely. Just the other day, someone was saying something about expecting me to tell off someone — I can’t remember the exact situation — and described the tough Sarah and how fearsome she was.
“She’s dead,” I said of tough Sarah.
Then, I realized I was also talking about the part of my mom that had been in me. I guess it left when she did.
I found this column I wrote about her a couple years ago, back when she was still alive:
“She stood up to any person who wronged me when I was a child and, as a result, I learned to stand up for myself and for those I love. She shrugged off adversaries whose character flaws made them act maliciously to others and taught me not to bother matching wits with those who have none.”

I can’t stand up for myself very well anymore. I wish I could, but that part of me feels broken. I’m sorry, Mom.

I went looking in my email for an address today, and this old email from my mom turned up in the search results. She sent it to me on May 30, 2007, when I was living in China.

Hi sweetie,
How are you doing? Sorry I haven’t gotten to talk to you much lately. I’ll sure be glad when you get home. I really do miss you lots and lots.

I loved those pictures of you swimming in the waterfalls. Very good.

Well, all the gang will start arriving tomorrow — Wilma and Leonard, Edward and Peggy, Lois and Lee, Rowan and Grace. Then on Friday, Nathan and Michelle, Gerry and Cynda and the babies. We’re having the family reunion Saturday at the park. Too bad you’ll miss it. You would have gotten to see a lot of family on my side. It could be really interesting, to say the least.

Glad you got your new toilet. Notice how I just threw that in there? Things just sort of pop in my head and I’ve got to say them before I forget them.

I guess Winkie wants me to move to Texas so she can take care of me. Boy, everybody must think I’m pretty helpless. Not this chick.

Well, better get back to the cookies I’m baking for the gang. Love you bunches, sweetie. Take care.

Love,

Mommie Dearest

It feels like maybe she could have just sent it last week. I love when she says everyone must think she’s helpless, and then she declares, “Not this chick.” She was one tough cookie super-mama.

She also refers to herself as “Mommie Dearest,” an old joke between us, and her comment in the middle about my new toilet made me laugh. She was just so funny.

My nephew and niece, Lane and Emma, stayed the night with us a few weekends ago.
The next morning, the three of us were out to visit the Halloween store and to go to some friends’ house to decorate pumpkins.
They ask me such adorably precocious questions sometimes when it’s just us. I never know what they might think of, ask or say.
For instance, when we pulled up to my friends’ house, Emma said, “Well, this is a pretty good-looking house.”
She’s 9, going on 10.
While we were in the car that Saturday morning, one of them — I don’t actually remember which one — asked me one of those surprising questions.
“What was the best day of your life?”
Who is the interviewer here? I thought to myself with amusement.
“Oh, well, the day I married your Uncle Matt,” I said.
“What was the second-best day of your life?”
It was starting to sound a lot like one of those precocious conversations I had with my parents growing up.
“Probably the days you guys were born,” I said.
Third-best day?
“The day I was born,” I said, which they thought was funny.
After a little silence — I could practically hear the gears turning — Emma asked: “What was your worst day?”
I had to take a moment. I knew this question was coming, and I knew the answer, too. I felt they probably already knew the answer as well, but they wanted to hear it.
I steadied my voice as much as I could. I was driving, after all, and I didn’t want to upset them.
“The day Gee died,” I finally said.
The next silence may have been the most expressive silence I’ve ever experienced, or maybe I’m just projecting onto them. After a little while, a small, sweet voice said, “Mine, too.” That’s my Little Ems.
They couldn’t remember how Gee, my mom, and how Gammaw, Cynda’s mom, died.
“Gee’s lungs weren’t strong,” I said. “It wasn’t her fault — there was nothing that could be done. It was a disease.”
This helped them remember how Gammaw had died, that she had passed peacefully in her sleep, with her sweet dog beside her. Then they discussed how that dog recently died, too.
The topic was certainly sad, but being resilient little kids, they looked on the brighter side.
“I don’t think I’ve had my happiest day yet,” Emma said.
“You will,” I told her, “on your wedding day.”
“My happiest day was when I hit that grand slam,” Lane said.
Those two. They keep us going.

My parents celebrated 40 years of marriage on Aug. 1, 2009.

Though I thought they should go on a romantic date – just the two of them – they insisted they would be delighted if I went with them to dinner.

The day before, as a small gift, I gave Mom a manicure and pedicure. I made it as elaborate as I possibly could so it would be as much like a salon experience as possible. I massaged her hands, feet, arms and legs, exfoliated her skin, pushed back her cuticles and even put a special foot and leg mask on her after soaking her feet for a while (I did the same for her hands with another mask). Finally, I buffed and polished her nails. I had purchased a pink polish specially for the occasion that I knew she would like.

Mom was terribly ticklish on her feet and did a lot of yelping when I exfoliated them. She would howl when I pushed back her cuticles.

This gave me the giggles, of course, which made her amusingly indignant. It took us probably twice as long to get through this process than it would have because we were having so much fun.

She said her hands and feet felt so soft and looked so nice.

That wasn’t the first time I polished her nails for her, and it probably wasn’t the last. But I remember it so well that I think of it every time I polish my own nails or get a manicure or pedicure at a salon.

She was not really awake for her 42nd anniversary and she did not live to see her 60th birthday. I so wish we’d had more time, that there could have been more manicures and pedicures for special occasions, that I could have kept giggling uncontrollably with her for many more years.

*****

The sadness of losing someone so precious is always with me, but I have mostly gotten used to it. However, there are times when something slips through, something taps into the deep place where agony lives.

I try not to think about her last day, in particular, because it opens up something truly terrible and painful that I cannot control.

But it happened last night, that her last expression popped into my consciousness. And I want you to know that while you may never witness someone die, you will lose someone precious. So love like crazy and express it openly, because you will never regret loving. You will never regret loving someone deeply and being patient with them and forgiving them and being humbly thankful that you have them.

Matt (my husband) is on a fishing trip today with his dad.
He provides so much support for me, emotionally and psychologically, that I get very depressed when he is away.
I hate to admit it, because I don’t want him to feel guilty for going and doing fun things or important things like weekends of class in Memphis.
I tried really hard to keep myself from falling into a depressed state – I watched a couple episodes of Conan, I watched approximately 1.2 billion videos on Vine, I played Robot Unicorn Attack 2…and then the iPad died.
The coffee I made is really weak. (I’m out of practice. Matt usually makes it.) The Pandora station I picked is not helping. (Is it the “Yesterday” by the Beatles station or something?)
My gaze wanders to the pencil drawing of my mom by Lindsey. And the tears come. Next to the drawing are my mom’s ashes.
Sometimes I wish I could have raised her, to give her something back for what she did for me, being who she was – so funny and kind and warm and talented. She had a very hard childhood. Her mother suffered from bipolar disorder. She told me she never remembered her mom telling her she loved her or even hugging her.
So I wish I could have raised that beautiful little girl who would become the most amazing woman and my hero taken too soon from my life. Maybe some day I will raise my own little Della. And if my daughter is anything like her, well, that will be the kind of pride that could comfort me in my grave.
God in heaven hears me crying. I miss you, Mama.

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Since starting this blog, several concerned friends and family members have commented or contacted me. See, they thought I was doing OK, for the most part.
I understand their confusion. Let me explain myself.
Like many, many other people experiencing grief, I appear to be doing OK. That’s because I am doing OK, generally. I’m not great or fantastic or any other really positive words that I seem to only use sarcastically. I’m just OK.
I’m getting by. I still laugh and joke and come off as “normal,” but there’s a lot more going on under the surface.
I’m finally ready to write about some of those feelings, hence the blog. Some of my dear friends and family were worried, maybe a little alarmed, but let me stress that I am OK. The battle is already won, after all. I will be OK and everything will be OK.
What you read here may be hard to take. I understand if it is too depressing and you don’t want to read it. I am OK if you don’t want to have to think about these things, or at least not as often as I do.
I can’t escape my mind, however, and letting it out helps me. I would be lost if not for my loved ones who listen to my troubles even when they would rather be thinking of happy things. So I want to say thank you to a few people.
Matty Hilton, you are easily my favorite person ever. You can tell just from the look in my eyes how I’m feeling. I am so, so blessed to have you.
Dad, Cynda, Gerry, Nathan, Michelle, you all have been so supportive and loving, even though you grieve just as deeply as I do. What a wonderful family we have.
Lauren, I love you with all my heart for who you are and how tireless you are in your support of me.
Patty, you’ve been through everything I’m going through and more. You have a way of making me feel completely understood, and we both know you should be the writer.
Christy, I know you would do anything for me, and I’m so astounded by your goodness and kindness.
My church family, Jessica, Jess, Danielle, Lindsey, I know I’m going to forget someone, this is a sentence just to see if you’re still reading, Barbara, Amanda, so many good friends who encourage me on Facebook, in text, on the phone, any way they can – thank you.
Thank you, all of you, for allowing me to grieve.