Nobody tells you how sneaky grief is.
For the first five months or so after my mom’s stroke, I rode the emotional roller coaster all the time. It was understandable. So much was happening and changing on an hourly basis. Of course my emotional reactions fluctuated.
After about five months, my mother’s condition plateaued. She was not improving, but neither was she undergoing stressful medical procedures. I got her settled in the nursing facility. I resolved the financial side of things. I sold her mobile home. Once her status quo seemed to be pretty stable, I thought I might be able to begin to stabilize myself and start learning to cope with my own feelings.
For the most part, I thought I was doing pretty well. I was figuring out how to accept the new reality. I was even starting to carve out a “mini life” for myself. I was regularly spending some time without being engulfed in my mother’s condition and care. None of it was easy. I certainly can’t say I was truly “okay,” but I felt I was gradually repairing my shattered psyche. Both my mother and I seem to be living in the now with a little more good grace and good cheer. Our relationship is certainly not what it was in the pre-stroke days, but we are starting to find our footing in our new one. We both seem to be recognizing each other again and are acting more like ourselves. Things are far from “okay,” but, for right now, they are better than I can expect. So there is every reason for me to put on my big girl panties and get on with life.
Still, every now and again, I am just floored by sadness. There isn’t even necessarily a reason or a trigger I can identify. I’m fine… and then I’m not.
The other day, I was walking up to the door of the nursing facility. I was carrying my purse, a case containing a portable DVD player that I bring to show my mom home movies, and a milkshake. I don’t quite know how it happened, but I tripped on a warped place in the pavement. I might have been trying a new technique for long-jumping, except that I think you are supposed to land on your butt when long jumping, not forward onto your face. It was as if I really believed I was Tinker Bell and had sprouted wings. News flash- I had not.
Luckily, I didn’t really hurt myself. As I lay on the sidewalk, stunned, all I could think about was the milkshake that was now spilled all over the cement and the DVD player that might have been much more disabled by the fall than I was. For some reason, that milkshake spill just demoralized me beyond almost anything I’ve experienced in life. I felt so defeated that I kind of just wanted to lie there and hope the world would end. It was a weird sensation of knowing that I was reacting beyond all rational thought but not caring.
I knew the reaction wasn’t really about the milkshake. It wasn’t about the DVD player (which, remarkably, was unharmed by its flight). It wasn’t even about the fall. It was the same old grief and stress that I thought I was conquering. The reaction was about the fact that my mother is so compromised and I can’t fix it. I thought I was coming to terms with that reality, but the sadness came crashing back out of nowhere.
A very nice gardener guy helped me to my feet. I stared at the mess I had left in my wake. The gardener guy asked if I was all right and I said, “yes, but the milkshake is all over the ground and it is ruined. Besides, there will be bees and people might slip on it.” The gardener guy looked at me strangely and mumbled some sort of embarrassed response. Still a little in shock, I made my way into the facility and into my mother’s room, where I greeted her sans milkshake. I burst into tears when I saw her, apologizing profusely for the lack of ice cream. I think I kind of alarmed her. She kept telling me to go home but I wouldn’t. I didn’t want the fall to win.
When I did leave the nursing home, still feeling unspeakably sad, I noticed the milkshake mess was mysteriously gone. I am sure that my nice gardener guy cleaned it up for me. Thank you, nice gardener guy.
I read somewhere that sometimes you don’t have to get over things; you just have to get through them. Maybe the “getting through them” isn’t always by a straight path.
Has grief ever “snuck up” on you? How do you cope? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a thoughtful day!