The Joy of Remembering
My beautiful friend and soul sister, Karen Caterson, invited me to contribute something for her annual blog round robin, Support Stories – Strength from Within. The invitation arrived on November 8th ~ four days after the one year anniversary of my Mom’s death.
A few days after enthusiastically agreeing to contribute something to Karen’s series, and after making several attempts to write and visualize what it was I wanted to share, I realized I was stuck. I had absolutely no idea what advice I could possibly give anyone who was just trying to get through the holidays. And I didn’t know how I was going to back out of my commitment to Karen. So I didn’t.
Instead, I filed the project away in the circus that is my mind and went about my life. My promise to Karen was always there, always present; I was just coming up completely empty and didn’t know how to handle it. It’s now December 13th at nearly midnight. And now – NOW – I know what I want to say.
What I know now is that I haven’t been ‘stuck’ these past five or so weeks … I’ve been grieving.
It dawned on me that this time of year has long been challenging for me and my family. Since November 27, 1991 to be precise ~ the day my younger brother Blake died in a car accident ~ the day before Thanksgiving. A few years after Blake’s death we started referring to the month of November as the one that could just be wiped off the calendar as far as we were concerned. That statement became even more true last year, when my Mom lost her four-year battle with cancer.
The holidays for our family, while still filled with joy, have also become a poignant and painful reminder of loss…
- Mom’s death on November 4th
- the death (2 weeks later) of Mom’s longtime friend, Patt (Mom of my lifelong BFF, Kerry)
- my brother’s death on November 27th
- my parents’ wedding anniversary on November 30th (they were married in 1963!)
- and then Mom’s birthday on December 13th
It was my honor and privilege last November to create my Mom’s memorial video. It was a therapeutic labor of love and I’ve found myself watching it often during the past month, just to bring some good memories to the surface and mute the grief for just a little while. I’ve also noticed that I’ve been feeling more vulnerable … the heart-cracked-open, overflowing with love and gratitude and memories kind of vulnerable. Of course there have been tears, yet they still surprised me. I’ve been so busy just trying to get on with life and wearing the “everything’s fine” mask that I didn’t realize how much I have actually been grieving. That is, until last night at midnight as I lit my Mom’s favorite candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to her.
Then I had myself a really good cry and talked to my Mom. I said I’m sorry for not visiting her and my brother’s graves more than I have (they’re next to each other). I told her I missed her and apologized for not being there with her more during her last year; that I love her and still can’t listen to any Barry Manilow music (Mom used to sing “Can’t Smile Without You” to me and always signed my birthday cards with those words).
I told her how the new Publix commercial has me in tears the second I see the truck with the Christmas tree on top.
And I told her about Dad’s girlfriend and how much I love her and how guilty I felt about that at first ~ and that I really hope she’s okay with the whole situation because if she’s not she’s just gonna have to get over it ’cause Dad’s finally smiling and laughing again.
Then I asked her to help me get through decorating the rest of the Christmas tree because I’ve been putting it off as each ornament starts a fresh wave of tears.
And I asked her to please, please send me a sign that she’s okay; that she’s at peace; that she’s still with me somehow; that I’m doing a good job raising The Teenager; that she’s proud of me; that she loves me; and to please hug my little brother for me…
So instead of offering you advice on how to cope during the holidays, I want to instead offer you a wish for all days … a heartfelt wish that you find ways to remember the people who are missing from you, whether it be from death, divorce, distance or some other circumstance. Say a prayer, light a candle, make a scrapbook or photo album, make a video tribute, write down your favorite stories, tell those stories to your children and friends, frame a special photo in their memory, plant a garden (or just a flower or tree), make something with your hands.
Reflect on the good times you shared, the laughter, conversations, lessons you learned from each other, and most importantly remember the love and carry it with you always.
And so I leave you with a little video ~ a love/thank you note I wrote to my Mom for Valentine’s Day 2012. Love really is all.