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.”

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.

Human Touch

I.
His tiny fingers slide over the skin on the palms of my hands, he laces his fingertips around the soft spots between my fingers and squeezes tight. He does this so that the tiny palm of his hand is pressed against mine, just barely. He loosens his grip and we start walking in stride, or as close as possible, I slow my steps so he can maintain his steady pace. He asks me if I like this, I think for a moment…

“You’re one of the only people I’ve ever held hands with as we’ve walked along.”

“Along what? What are we walking along?” He asks me, impatiently.

“Along the hallway. But we’re walking along a life moment. When you’re older you won’t remember this, but I will.” He squeezes and replies, “I might just surprise you.” This gentle loving gesture, this subtle exchange of energies, this moment interlocked between us, with fingers and hands, this is human touch.

Fall 2013

II.
He presses his bare chest against my back, I push my ass against his groin and feel him growing. The morning sun slips through the blinds and he nuzzles the nape of my neck; we’re both uncomfortable and not ready for sex, my breath feels hot and my eyes are filled with restless sleep gunk. He reaches around and squeezes my breast, then lets go of me, completely. We take a few moments untangling ourselves from sheets, our love is becoming comfortable, which is typically when I let go. He sighs and asks me, “Will you ever get sick of waking up with me?” I chuckle, and tell him the truth.

“Aren’t you going to ask me?” He reaches back across the bed and his fingertips graze the tips of my naked erect nipples, they grow harder, so hard that it aches and I want him to just touch me instead of tease.

“No. I’m not going to ask something I already know the answer to. We’re wired this way, we’re built to grow tired of one another, all of us. We just turn that off for the kids, for the vows, for self-preservation’s sake, for the safety, for the comfort. Because leaving wouldn’t be right. Or would cost too much.”

“You’re such a fucking cynic.” He finally grabs my breast, and this is human touch.

Summer 2005

III.
The sun is slipping below the mountain tops, the hard outline of the Snowy Mountain Range is melting into darkness and overcast evening skies. Spring storms gathering strength before they release Winter’s grip, and here I am. Spread eagle, body trembling, legs in stirrups, my mother at my side with Dr. Laura’s head between my legs. “One last push! Now!” The pressure that’s been building for months, for weeks, for days, for hours, for minutes, seconds…it’s gone. Exhaustion envelopes me and I can hear myself whimper, but I’m a distant voice, an out of body experience. I draw in a second breath, deep and hold it in my chest, everything sounds muffled, and as if it’s slow motion. Blurs of soft light and shapes who must be humans shuffle, whisper, and move just past my line of clear vision. I wait for it. Reality is a blur and I start to fade into the darkness, just like the mountains that frame our life giving scene and then it comes-her first cry. Her first noise. Her first. I’m too tired to move, and I know I’m not done, there’s more. I’ve prepared for this, the placenta, the nurses, the family, so many moments must pass before she’s gently set on top of my chest. She’ll feel this side of the heartbeat she’s grown accustomed to. She’ll look up and lock eyes with me, blind to the amount of love that will embrace her as I check to make sure she has two leg, two arms, five fingers, and count her tiny toes. Really this is just seconds, but too many to count. I close my eyes and listen to her brand new cries, this is human touch.

Spring 2000

IV.
For thirty-one years this woman has been the porch light that has lit my way home, no matter how far I’ve traveled, how lost I’ve been, how broken I’ve become. The beautifully strong resistance that silently screamed, never give up. Full of spit and vinegar, unconditional and moxie, “gypsy blood” and tradition, I’m her legacy. Still and cold to my warm touch, her sweet curved lips are now a thin line of Cha-Cha Cherry Red lipstick. I gently dab a bit of her make-up off. My private viewing is breaking open a flood of emotion; the reservoir of love and hope inside of me rushes forward in a choked sob, escaping just shy of the dark wooden box that shines with a polished seal coat under soft flickering candle light. When I turn to leave this lonely room I will be empty, maybe forever. This is human touch.

Summer 2010

V.
My body has been a clumsy chamber of change since birth, I’ve become more often than not, with each cycle of change that creeps across this earth I’ve joined the march. The moons have guided my shedding womb. The years have shaped my hips, waist, thighs, and breasts. I have cut, cropped, chopped, my hair, and my heart has quickened it’s deafening beat with the tides. I’ve loved. I’ve lost. I’ve cared about the win, but more important was how I got there. I’ve been ripped open, from the outside in and the inside out. I’ve been split, divided, shifted, transformed, thrown away, faded out, and lost. I revisit my scar garden daily, ritualistic in recounting the times I’ve been busted open at the seams, and each retracing is a reminder. This is human touch.

The Shower, just a hour ago.