Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: grieving

A Note To My Children This Christmas

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Christmas is supposed to be the time of year when you indulge the child within; a time when the twinkling lights and Christmas songs fire the imagination and spark precious memories. When decorating the tree reminds us of all the Christmas’s past as we hang our favorite ornaments. When a trip to the Providence Civic Center to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and their “frickin’ lasers” would indulge both the seasonal sentimentality and the rock show need in us.

However, this Christmas there will be no Christmas tree, no Trans-Siberian Orchestra, no lights or lasers. When we lost your mother, we relegated those good times to memory, never to be added to – only to be recalled. There will never again be nine Christmas trees decorating 3 Deerfield Drive. There will probably never again be a house built with an outlet beneath every window so that electric candles can easily be displayed.

We always had a beautiful garden. I say we like I had anything to do with it. I pruned and weeded, but your mother designed the garden and hand-selected all of the plants within it. Now I will move to a condo with no garden, and the best I can do is a patio tomato and a house plant. No more luxurious rose bushes, the names of which I had committed to memory. Now it is all only a memory. I will miss those roses. I almost cried the other day when we went to Kroger. As we filled the carriage with supplies, we passed the florist section. I would normally buy a dozen roses. Mom and I had a ritual. I would buy them and bring them home. She would complain that we couldn’t afford to buy roses every time I went grocery shopping. I would lie and tell her I had a coupon. Now there is no need for me to buy roses. Another painful reminder that she is gone forever.

Nothing makes you appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I had life by the balls. I had a wonderful wife, two great kids, a beautiful home that we had built, and a job at which I could make a decent living. I had a fluffy white dog and two nice cars, everything but the proverbial white picket fence. I thought I appreciated everything I had and, to a point, I did. However, it wasn’t until cancer visited our house in 2008 that I began to see how fragile my grasp on this reality was. And now, my wonderful wife is gone, our beautiful home is gone, you two are one year away from beginning your lives apart from me, and Delbow is old and in constant pain. I had my time. I had my life. Now it is your turn. I do not begrudge you the incredible futures before you.  I simply wonder when it was agreed that cancer could shatter my future at fifty. I still have a nice car and my job is better than ever, but my world has slipped over the event horizon.

I am so grateful for you both. You have been through hell. And despite that, you both completed the fall semester of your senior year with amazing grades. But I know you are hurting. As long as we continue to talk to each other we will get through this and into a different “normal.” It has been three months, and this is a difficult time in our grieving process. We realize Mom is no longer coming home now.  We are beginning to understand that and wow, it hurts.

Some memories are fading, like the names of all of the medications she was on at the end. Something so important at the time has begun to fade and, despite all reason and rationale, it begins to fester within me as guilt that I am beginning to forget her. I know that is silly, but the guilt is incredibly real. I also feel guilt for being the one to survive, given how close you were to Mom. I wish it could have been me that had cancer and died. Not because I would want to miss anything of your lives or the incredible things you have yet to experience, but because I know what an amazing person Mom was and how disgustingly unfair this all is to her.

Seven years of fighting did nothing to prepare us for her loss. And I know that any smiles or laughs we have are met with the urge to share them with Mom. The fact that she’ll never be there again is the sharpest pain I’ve ever felt. My one wish this Christmas would be to stop your pain by having Mom back –and healthy. But I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore and even if I did, I believe that this wish would be beyond his reach. I’m so sorry. I hate this new normal, but I love you both so much.

Stage Whiplash

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“There is not much sense in suffering, since drugs can be given for pain, itching, and other discomforts. The belief has long died that suffering here on earth will be rewarded in heaven. Suffering has lost its meaning.”                                                                                                                        Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote this in her groundbreaking 1969 book, On Death and Dying, she was, of course speaking of the patient, the person dying. In the book, she famously describes the “stages” the terminally ill patient goes through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. The book was not meant to be considered a research study, a point she repeatedly makes. She also emphasizes that these stages may be skipped, occur concurrently or be returned to on the way to Acceptance. And yet we suffer. We all suffer.

As I watch my wife go through this process, I cannot help but realize how similar the process is for the caregiver, the family members, and the survivors. We, too, are passing back, through, over, and around these stages in our effort to understand what is happening to our loved one. My initial Denial and Anger had given way to Bargaining (“this is our new normal, we’ll take as much time as we can get”), when on any given day, I can slip easily into Depression and back to Anger only to wake up the next day after a dream in Denial. No seatbelt or ABS brake can prevent that whiplash.

I cannot imagine a day when I have reached Acceptance because Kübler-Ross also wrote:

 “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Am I grieving already? Yes. Am I confusing the “stages” and grieving? Perhaps. All I know is that each day (and often times several times within a day) brings a new emotion for which I am unprepared, I thought I had made peace with, or I anticipated would bring me peace, only to find myself confused and lost again. And one of the worst emotions I carry is that I know that while I am suffering the whiplash of these stages, I am not the one dying, I am not the one suffering or actually going through Kübler-Ross’s stages of the terminally ill. As she also wrote, “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” Suffering has lost its meaning because we all still suffer.