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.