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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Some things we hear stay with us for a long time. We might not understand them completely when we first hear them but we know they will come back at some point and we’ll understand completely.

Many years ago, one of my three brothers committed suicide. He left a wife and four children and then there were us, his siblings and parents. I won’t go into all of the feelings and thoughts that followed his death. That’s not where this story is going. At some point, not sure exactly when, I think it was about a month after his death, my sister-in-law started calling me in the mornings. We would chat about her feelings. I would let her talk and respond when appropriate. Sometimes we talked about silly things. There was always, as you can imagine, an underlying sadness to those calls. I soon learned that my brother used to call his wife at morning break every day and that was the time that they spent talking about the kids and feelings and stuff. It was their time with no kids around.

One of things that she was missing without him was the chance to tell him about what the kids were doing when he was at work. She said that it used to be that she could share the silly things the kids did that made her crack up and then things they did or said that made her proud. She said that as parents, they were the only ones that would understand those things. She could share the same things with other people but it would never be the same.

I thought about that a lot. I was a new mother then. My son wasn’t even a year old yet. I understood what she was saying because I used to fill my husband’s ears with all the things the baby did when he was at work. Every day he did something new and I shared that with him. Although I understood part of what my sister-in-law had said, I would understand it more and more as the years went by.

When my husband walked away from our family and turned the whole thing into a very hostile situation, I thought again about that conversation all those years before. I no longer had someone to share my day with and what the kids did and said or what they needed. He was out of the picture and inaccessible to me. It made me understand even more than before. Now, all these years after that original conversation in 1982, it has come right back to me.

For years, I used to talk to my mom on the phone and tell her all about the kids. When I moved far away, it became more important because we didn’t see her as often anymore. So the phone calls meant a lot. Then I moved further away and the grand kids arrived. For the last eleven years, many of our phone calls centered around sharing with her what my grandchildren were doing. How big they had grown, when they started school, and all those milestones, as well as the everyday silly things that happened involving the grandchildren. And that intensified four years ago when my only granddaughter arrived. She wanted to know all about her. She did meet her when Maya was about six months old. It was the only time she saw her. It was love at first sight…on both parts. After that visit, my mom wanted to know all about Maya. Was her hair getting darker? Was it curly or straight? How big was she? Was she talking? Walking? And because I didn’t have anyone to share those all important things with, I would not spare a detail. Sometimes I would call her just to tell her some silly thing the kids had done and we would laugh and laugh over it. It was the highlight of our conversations.

And then she died.

And now I miss that again. That’s one of the things that gets to me, almost every day since my mom died at the end of last August. I forget and I reach for the phone to tell her about Maya or about one of the boys and then it hits me. I can’t tell her. I can’t share that with her anymore. I don’t have anyone to share those moments with. I miss my mom. I miss that I can’t get in the car and go see her even thought it is a two day drive. I used to do it when I got to missing her a lot. I can’t anymore. I used to send my sister pictures of the kids by text and ask her to show them to my mom. I used to have pictures printed and mail them to her so she would have my grandchildren with her. I can’t anymore.

I miss her a lot. I miss her for many, many reasons and at so many different times but this is one of the things that gets to me almost every single day. There is something I want to tell her about the kids but she’s no longer here.

Sometimes it takes a long, long time to understand what we hear. Sometimes we don’t get it until we walk in other people’s shoes.

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Lamar

This is not the post I was going to write today but I feel compelled to write it anyway.

Lamar was my brother-in-law. I first met him around 1980, which was about two years after I married. Lamar and Sylvia (she’s my sister-in-law) began dating long distance. She lived in Los Angeles and he lived in Berkeley. They were both in graduate programs, she at UCLA and he at UC Berkeley. Eventually, he finished his program and moved to Los Angeles where he became not only a part of Sylvia’s life but a part of all of our lives, including mine and eventually, my kids.

Lamar was from Maryland, if I remember correctly. He was raised with southern ideals and manners and thinking. Lamar, before any of us knew him, was in the Peace Corps and often spoke of the things he learned and the things he did in Africa as part of his stint with the Peace Corps. After that, he went back to school and studied architecture, finally becoming an architect which was a major feat as the road to becoming an architect is a long one, but he stuck with it and did it.

He had a lot of nicknames in the family, mostly because my ex-husband’s family is into giving people silly, and often mean nicknames. For example, when his arm was in a sling because of a shoulder injury, he became Lame Arm instead of Lamar. Ha ha. But the one that stuck the most was Space Case because he would often “zone out” during conversations. We would all be discussing something and one of us would turn to ask him a question or get input from him and he was “gone” to the point where we would have to call his name several times, usually ending with “Earth to Lamar. Come in Lamar.”

He was inventive, curious, handy, a problem solver, laid back, and supportive. As spouses of a brother and sister in that family, we often were the outsiders so Lamar and I stuck together. And, more than once, we also discreetly exchanged eye rolls when “they” were being “too Martinez.” He was my pal when we were all together. Later in life, we were both diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (adult onset diabetes) and so we had that in common and shared some tips and experiences that non-diabetics would not be able to understand.

Many years later came my divorce and their move across the county so we saw each other less often. I visited with them in D.C. twice and they were at my daughter’s college graduation in Baltimore so our contact was limited but when we saw each other we slipped into the same “us” and “them” routine.

Then came word that he had cancer and was starting chemo. That was in late July. Then three weeks ago came word that the chemo was not working and that the doctors had told them there was nothing else they could do. There were no other treatments for his type of cancer. A few days ago came word that his death was imminent, he had just a few days left. This morning, word came that he had passed. The only positive thing to hold on to is that he was medicated and was never in any pain. He was comfortable. He could understand everything but could not speak. And his death was peaceful.

I’m shaking. That part of the family is too far for me to get to. I wish I could be there with them to support each other and to share some favorite Lamar moments but it’s not possible. So here I am, sharing Lamar with you; sharing my pain. And it hits a bit harder because he was diagnosed the same week that my doctor told me I had cancer and had only three to five months. Of course, he was wrong as it turned out and I do not have cancer. But Lamar did. And I keep thinking that it could be me. I’m glad it isn’t but I also feel a little bit guilty.

I will miss Lamar greatly.

 

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It was a beautiful spring day in 2009. My daughter, her boyfriend, and I had driven out to the coast for the first time since we had moved to Oregon a year before. We had spent a few hours at the casino and we were on our way home talking about going back to the coast again. My cell phone rang and I saw it was my older sister, Sylvia.

“Are you home?”
“No. We’re on the way home from the coast and we were just talking about how you would like it there if you came to visit.”
“Are you driving or is Tina driving?”
“Tina is.”
“Okay. I just called to tell you…I’m sorry I have to tell you…Carlos just killed himself.”

Again. Another brother. I was speechless. She had to hang up because the police were there and she had to talk to them. She asked me to call my younger sister and let her know. I did. The rest of the day is a blur. My daughter took care of everything and before I knew it, we were on a our way to the airport for a 6 am flight to southern California. We muddled through the week that followed. My daughter and I came home to Oregon. The next few months were filled with grief and memorial services in both southern and northern California and then spreading his ashes.

It was difficult for me to go back to see my mother because my brother had been staying at my mother’s house before he died. When I was finally able to return to my mother’s house, everything was fine; quiet; normal. One day, I was in my sister’s bedroom reading. My mom was in her bedroom and my sister in the kitchen. My nephew was in the dining room on the computer. He is autistic and is nonverbal and spends all his time in front of the computer watching videos. There was no one else in the house. All of the sudden, the bedroom door swung open, there was what I can only call a “whoosh” and then all was still. A minute later, I heard a male voice just above a whisper. It said “What’s goin’ on?” I looked all around. No one was there but I had recognized the voice. It was my brother, Carlos. I sensed him in the room for another minute or so then he was gone.

I wasn’t scared. I knew he wasn’t there to hurt me.

I told my sister later that night. She said she had felt him there before and our mother had often felt him and heard him until one day when she spoke to him telling him to leave because he didn’t belong in this world. After that, my mom hasn’t felt his presence anymore. I felt it and heard him. No fear. No threat. Just a sense of peace. He was there with me for that short two or three minutes.

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Leaving Time

I recently read a novel by Jodi Picoult, her most recent novel in fact.  She always makes her readers think.  This one was no different.  It deals with a character on an elephant reserve.  We learn about memory, not just elephant memory but human memory as well.  And we learn about elephant grief and elephant mothering.  It’s really a fascinating bit of research in this novel.  If you are at all interested in memory and grief, you should pick it up.

As usualy, the ending was a surprise.  Didn’t see that coming.

In any case, here are some quotes from the novel:

“A bruise is how a body remembers it has been wronged.”

“When someone leaves you once, you expect it to happen again.  Eventually you stop getting close enough to people to let them become important to you because then you don’t notice when they drop out of your world.”

“No matter how much we try, no matter how much we want it…some stories just don’t have a happy ending.”

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The other night I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.  Her mother just passed away and she has been having some problems processing her death and grieving.  Before I met up with her, I made a journal jar for her.  I am one who has always thought that journaling is a way to work through grief and difficult times in our lives and I felt she might benefit from the journal jar.  When I gave it to her, she thought it was such a thoughtful gift that it made me think of how easy it is to make one and how others might want to make their own journal jar or one for a friend.

A journal jar is a jar that contains strips of paper which each have a writing/journaling prompt.  The jar should have a wide mouth and a lid.  The wide mouth to accommodate ease in getting a prompt out of the jar and the lid to keep the slips of paper in there.  The container doesn’t have to be a jar.  It can be a box or a basket or other container.

For the jars I fill, I like to choose something like a Ball jar, preferably with a wire clamp lid.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or new.  The one I used for my friend’s jar was from a thrift shop.  It was probably meant to be used for storing coffee with the tight seal.  I think I paid 99 cents for it so nothing fancy, just functional.  Then I used swagbucks (my preferred search engine) to search for “journal jar prompts” and found tons of them.  I copied and pasted them to a new document then went through and deleted anything that was a duplicate or just kind of dumb.  I reworded a lot of them so they didn’t say anything like: “Write about something you learned from your mother.”  Instead mine said things like: “Once my mom and I…”, “My favorite thing about my mother is…”, “I will never forget…”, etc.  I wrote a lot of my own prompts so that they were aimed at working through her grief.  Then I formatted them so that each one took just one line of typing straight across the 9×11 page of typing paper (you might have to play with the font size and the margins).  I triple spaced mine so they would have lots of room on top and beneath.  After printing them (I used different colors of computer paper for each page of prompts) I cut them into individual strips and folded them twice.  Then you simply fill the jar with the strips of paper and close the jar.

I stuck my journal jar in a little shopping bag along with a Mead Composition Book (which I got on clearance after back to school last year for about a quarter.  So the entire project cost me $1.24 plus five sheets of typing paper and about two hours of my time.

When I give a journal jar, I let the person know that it’s best to grab a prompt at random and write about that one prompt.  They shouldn’t put it back and grab another if they don’t like the first one.  They should try to stick with the first one and write about that.  Also, in this type of journal jar where someone is working through grief, it’s not a bad idea to ask them to save the prompts they’ve already written about and put them back in the jar periodically because they will most likely feel differently when they pull that same prompt a few months later.  It’s important that they be pulled out at random which is another reason to have them inside of a jar where it’s less convenient for them to go through them to “choose” the one they want to write about.

You can gear the prompts at any age, any topic, or any purpose.  If you save them on your computer, the next time you want to give a jar to a friend, you’ll already have the prompts.  Also, you can add to the prompts at a later date if you know what you already gave them as prompts.

Below is a partial list of some prompts you might want to use.  Keep in mind that these were written for the purpose of my friend working through her grief.

In words, draw a picture of your mother.

In words, draw a picture of your father.

Tell about a special moment in your life that you shared with your mother.

The most important lesson I have learned is …

My father and I used to…

My mother and I used to…

Tell a courtship story about your parents. How did they meet?

Shopping with your mother?   Any particular stories?   What was your favorite store?

On the day that I was born…

When I was a child, my favorite toy was …

When I was growing up, my family used to go to …

Describe a sound from your childhood.  What does it bring to mind?

Write a want ad that describes your mother.

Write a want ad that describes your father.

Right now I feel …

My mother always …

My mother never …

My mother loved …

My mother hated …

I remember when my mom and I …

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