The 'Good' Grief Club
Writing this piece has been a time of remembrance for me. I hope "The 'Good' Grief Club" helps others to find peace in their own grieving process. I have struggled to write this since its beginning on February 18, 2019. Not that I didn't write most days on it, but it took on a dark role, and I relived some of the memories associated with my mom. Then, to make it more personal, two friends of mine each lost their Mom. I was so sad for them and my own grief crept up on me. So, I let it marinate for a few days, rewrote, marinate, rewrote, and finally revised and and now it's finally ready. Let me know what you think.
Good Grief is an oxymoron-using two words with different meanings. I mean, how can grief be good? A club is usually something people pay to be a part of. Yacht Clubs, Dinner Clubs, Dancing Clubs, those are just a few. Nobody wants to be part of the club I'm about to talk about. It's not a special honor or medal worthy, but being in this club is special in it's own way. When you are a member, you have deep etchings on your heart. So deep, sometimes breathing hurts. Some days are perfectly beautiful. Then a memory sneaks up on you out of nowhere and you are thrown into a dungeon of sadness. You find yourself looking intently at people, surprised at their total lack of understanding that the world has shifted. Unfortunately, most people will get to be a member of the Grief Club sooner or later.
My understanding of the workings of grief have gradually increased as I have gotten older and lost loved ones closer and closer to me. Like most everyone, I dealt with death at a young age. My beloved outdoor cat, Calico, went missing one winter when I was ten. I found her days later in the shed, long gone from this Earth. It was the first time I had ever experienced a loss. I remember being sad and crying, but life for a 10 year old moved on quite quickly and said cat was just another memory, stored for another day.
Mom always made us go to funerals of family. I'm not sure if this is because she felt like she should go and Dad refused to join her, or if she was trying to teach us a life lesson. Likely both. On these days, she would wake early and whip up a batch of what us kids and Dad jokingly referred to as "Dead Man's Buns." They were the best dinner rolls in the universe, but Mom only made them for friends and family of the deceased. We got a severe word lashing if we snuck any. We did anyway. (Hey, just following Dad's lead!) She would show up at the funeral or visitation with her hands full of a pan of Dead Man's Buns and at least two kids trailing behind her.
In those young years, I rarely knew the deceased personally, as all of the funerals I remember were great-great aunts that were in their late years of life. I had no memory of knowing or visiting these people, but Mom assured me I did. As kids do, I got bored and had to entertain myself. I knew my place, though, and would surely get in a heap of trouble if I caused any disruption, so I studied the people who were attending. Some were visibly upset, wiping away their tears with a wad of bunched up Kleenex. Some were somber, choosing to sit by themselves and reflect inwardly. Some were chatty and social-they were the ones usually in the hall greeting people. I thought these ones were the strangest. I mean, most people walk into these things with a heavy heart. Then, as soon as you enter, there was always someone chatting loudly and happily, and some even had cameras and wanted pictures! Hello, People? Now I see that this was a way of grieving for these people.
I was never sad for these losses, but very concerned about the people who were. I learned quickly to fill my pockets with tissue and give it away generously. I also learned that I was the type of person to try to get others to laugh or even smile. The deafening silence always made me nervous, so I tried to make things better.
There was a particular funeral of my great aunt that is so distinct that I remember where I was sitting in location to the casket and the colors and shapes are still very fresh. Everyone in the funeral parlor had beads and were touching them one at a time and whispering words that they all seemed to know. I felt strange, not knowing the custom, when everyone in the room did, and then I was surprised to see my mom start whispering the same words. "Mom?" She looked at me with eyes that she usually hid from me. They spoke of some unknown hidden secrets that were too hard to share. She blinked and the look was gone. I pointed to those around us and shrugged my shoulders in question. "I'll tell you later," she whispered. In the car, I learned that my mom was raised Catholic, those were Rosary Beads, and they were chanting the Hail Mary Prayer. This memory is so distinct, right down to the red beads of the lady next to us, the look on Mom's face, and the small piece of Mom's past that I should have known at that point in my life.
When Mom's Mom, Grandma Lucille, died, that look that I rarely saw on Mom's face returned for a very long time. Mom was never a touchy-feeling kind of person, but she became more distant. I was an adult, married and moved into my own house, but I lived close and visited often. Plus, I have always had a sense of other's emotions. Durning this time, I would often came into her house and find her standing in front of the kitchen sink, staring out the window. When she would notice me, she quickly switched into busy mode: tidying the kitchen, doing the dishes, or any number of things. She was so good at avoiding the grief in front of others that I find myself looking back and seeing things I hadn't before. It is now clear to me, at least during brief moments, that Mom was heavily burdened with grief. But her being her, she tried to shield me from it.
Several years later, my Dad's dad, Grandpa Billy, died. Mom had an ultra-close relationship to him. See, she and Dad lived right around the corner from my grandparents, and it was Mom who was more available to help than Dad, who was usually working. As Grandpa got more and more unable to do daily things, Mom would step in and help. I know my Mom, she was just as proud as my Grandpa, so the way she was able to allow her to help him was a skill only she could do.
Grandpa Billy had Diabetes and had not taken care of himself very well. He suffered from gout. This problem is common with those with diabetes. According to www.mayoclinic.org, "Gout occurs when urate crystals accumulate in your joint, causing the inflammation and intense pain of a gout attack." Grandpa's joints in his hands would swell to the point of him being unable to use them. He would have trouble using simple things, like a fork, and walking was extremely painful. But I didn't know that he was in pain. In fact, very few people did. Grandpa made gout out to be something pesky, like a mosquito buzzing in your ear when you were trying to sleep and instead focused on the company that came to see him, telling jokes and stories of the past. He was just as good as Mom at deflecting pestering emotions.
My Mom, through pure determination, because Grandpa Billy could be quite the "grumpy old man", was able to find the soft spot in his hardened heart. I think that it was because Mom could talk just as colorful as Grandpa and would give him the same as he dished out to her. Or, more likely the reason is the fact that she continued to come back to help, even after he chewed her up one side, down the other, and spit her out on the floor. Not only did she come back, but she never held what he said or did in those moments effect how she treated him. Each time was a new time, and she started out like nothing had been said before.
When Grandpa Billy died, Mom tried to handle it the same as she always had: shove it under the rug and deny, deny, deny. But I knew she was once again overcome by a black shadow. She started smoking twice what she had before, and she was quite the smoker already. The nervous habit I knew she had, where she would rub her pointer finger around the base and nail of her thumb, was constantly there. The tell all sign was the same look that I had only seen briefly when Grandma Lucille died. This time the look didn't go away for a very long time. Even when the look disappeared from everyday life, there were times when I could see her lose herself to her memories and it would return.
Today, I know this look very well because I have worn it. I have also come to know this "losing a close member of your family" type of grief. Mom passed on June 14, 2013 of a sudden heart attack. That day remains as one that has changed my life forever. I remember every detail of the day, every detail of the next day from meeting at the funeral home to preparing for my nephew's graduation party (Because my sister and I knew that Mom would have haunted us if we would have changed the date or cancelled the event, even though it was days from her death), every detail in the wee hours of the next several nights when everyone was sleeping and I was reliving how I could have changed the outcome of that day. Every. Single. Detail. And the most vivid when I look back? A woman who emerged into this newfound Grief Club, much like her own mother. A woman who rushed to the hospital first to be with her Dad, who called her Mom's sister's house, praying her uncle would answer (He did, thank God.), who answered questions and held on to those family who openly weeped to hear the news, who shouldered her husband's wailing cries at the hospital, who held her two children tight and rarely let them see her cry, and one who burdened everyone else's grief with a shoulder to cry on when the one who usually did that kind of thing was gone. Oh, and like Mom, I did it dry eyed. Not that I wasn't upset, it's just that I felt the last thing everyone needed was another person to console. I had my hands full with everyone else's grief, and there wasn't time for mine.
The time did come, when I openly grieved for Mom. I was in Alaska, the summer after she died, traveling by myself through beautiful country. Mom had always dreamed of going to Alaska, and here I was, living her dream. I rounded a corner and the most beautiful scene came into view. A small sparkling freshwater lake, surrounded by the vivid green plants of summer with a mammoth glacier in the background. I was hit by the feeling of being so small compared to the world around me. I pulled over at the next pull off, got out of the truck, shed some tears and had a heart to heart talk with Mom. I felt peace like I had never felt before. That feeling stayed with me for the entire summer. My walls slowly came down, and all the things I held as important thus far in my life: my job, my friends, my belongings, now had to go through the simple test. Everything had to be kind and real and family would always come first.
What do I mean by "kind and real"? Well, just be kind. Everyone is dealing with their own crap, and some, like me, hid it well. So be kind to people, smile at a stranger, that sort of thing. As far as being real, if I saw you in person and you were having a tough time with something, say losing weight, and I see you post on Facebook about how you are doing so well with your new diet regiment, that's not being real. I should see the same person in life as I do on Social Media.
My entire life changed because of losing my mom. I resigned from my job (See my blog titled 'Sometimes Big Changes Mean Better Things') because I was expected to put it before my family. I published my own book and created this blog because I wanted to show people the real me and hope it helps someone along the way. The hardest change was losing a dear friend because we were both putting our family first and couldn't agree to disagree. The best part of losing Mom was finding God again. I don't doubt for a second that He was the one who was with me in Alaska, bringing peace to a conflicted heart. Don't think for a second that I'm a Jesus weirdo, pushing religion at every person I come across and reciting scripture or judging people for their actions because I don't do those same things. Come on people, you'll still hear a "Damn that hurt!" when I cut my finger (True story-it happened yesterday.), I'll have a beer in the fridge if you want one when you visit (Jesus drank wine!) and I have my flaws and I don't hide them (but don't flaunt them either, because nobody wants to see me in a bikini-even with a Snapchat filter!). Some of these changes are hard and hurtful, some have made me a better person. I guess there is Good in Grief. I still miss Mom.
Being part of the Grief Club is having a better understanding of those around you. Being a part of it isn't fun, but are positives. You see things from different perspectives. You have a wisdom unknown to others. It changes your priorities. One could even call it the "Good" Grief Club. If you are like me, you read that in Charlie Brown's voice.
Here's one last thought, directly from Charlie Brown, "Goodbye always makes my throat hurt." That's why I say, "See you later, Mom."