Memory Superbloom

Last week, I talked about the beauty of the spring superbloom in Southern California this year.  During my recent trip back to visit my old homeland, I realized that I forgot how uniquely beautiful the desert can be when the wildflowers carpet the terrain.  It was heart-stoppingly gorgeous.  However, I also realized it was heart-stoppingly dangerous, as the flowers will soon fade and die and become fuel for the wildfires we so dread in Southern California. 

The flowers were not the only thing that bloomed on my trip.  Nor were they the only things that can be dangerous.  As I prepared for the trip, I subconsciously steeled myself for the impact of a superbloom of memories.  The southwest is where I grew up.  It is where I lived most of my life.  It is where most of my conscious memories were born.  My family lived together in New York until I was almost six, but I was so young that most of those memories are lost.  The only home where my immediate family formed memories together was California.  My schooling was there.  My career was there. The crucible of maturity that was my marriage and divorce was there.  I raised my fur child there.  I met Max there and we built a together life there. 

Most of these memories are happy ones.  Still, I have learned, over several trips back to California after moving to Florida, that exposure to the site of my memory banks is not necessarily a completely pleasant sensation.  I’ve found that sticking my toe in the California memory banks can be a complicated, confusing experience.  I’ve enjoyed my time visiting California in the past.  It has been wonderful to spend time with my friends and do activities that were part of my entertainment life when I lived there.  Still, there has always been this sort of nagging gray haze hanging over me when I was there.  I put it down to the idea that everything is so familiar to me that it doesn’t really feel like an adventure or an exotic vacation, but nothing is still familiar enough to me to make it feel like home.  It is very disorienting.  I don’t let it impede my enjoyment of the trip.  I just kind of go with it, but it is a weird feeling.

I was more hesitant about this trip than about other ones, oddly enough.  It was not that I didn’t want to go, but I did feel a certain apprehension.  This time would be my first trip back after my mother passed away, except for last January when I went back to scatter her ashes.  That trip was kind of all about her, even though she wasn’t with us in this life any more.  This time, the trip was about Max and me.  In my anticipation, though, I was more afraid of the memories than I have ever been. 

It might have been because we were going to Laughlin during this trip.  Although Max and I used to go to Laughlin now and then when we lived in California, it was more a place that was part of my history with my mother.  We made several girls’ trips there.  We would pack up the car, head east, and spend a few days just hanging out.  We would eat, sit by the pool, go to an occasional show, shop, ride the water taxi on the river, and just bask in some “us” time.  My mother enjoyed Laughlin and she enjoyed being with me.  I think a lot of the reason she enjoyed our trips to Laughlin so much, though, was a real “mom” reason.

You see, my mom always thought I worked too hard, became too tightly wound, and lived at a pace that was much too rapid.  She was probably right, but I’m not sure there was any alternative to any of that while I was still employed.  She was wise enough to know that nothing she could say was going to change any of it.  She had a sneaky little plan to lure me away from that fast-paced world once a year or so.  She would simply suggest a trip to Laughlin. She knew I would agree to take her because I loved her and wanted to make her happy.  In her mind, if I took her to Laughlin, I’d be forced to slow down and ease up.  Manipulating me into spending two or three days with her by the river, living at the much slower pace required by her age and infirmities, was her strategy for nurturing me.  Truth?  It worked. 

Laughlin reminds me how much I was loved. I was afraid that going back to Laughlin would remind me that the love is gone. 

The trip turned out to be great.  For the first time, I did not get that sense of disorientation that I’ve had every other time.  The gray haze was gone.  Nothing felt sinister or wounded.  I remembered the happy times with real pleasure.  For the first time, I felt like I could be part of the California world and the Florida world without experiencing a psychotic break.  Max had a lot to do with that.  He is always good to me, but he seemed to be making it his particular mission to take care of me during this trip… to find ways of delighting me and making the time special. 

And Laughlin was wonderful.  I thought often of my mother. I re-experienced the warmth and joy of our memories together at the river.  As I looked out of our hotel window at the river, I could feel her smiling at me.  I cried once or twice, but I was so happy.  I felt such overwhelming gratitude to have had those times with my mother and to be able to relive them in my mind and heart.  I learned there is nothing to fear from my memories of being loved so much.  That love is not gone, after all.

Is there a particular place that spurs memories for you of a deceased loved one? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a memorable day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Second Christmas

I woke up this morning with a heart so heavy it felt like it was dangling lethargically somewhere in the vicinity of my left kidney.

Everyone says that the first year after losing a loved one is the hardest. I can certainly understand that. All through the tail end of 2017 and 2018, the “firsts” bombarded me. I experienced my first birthday without my mother. I experienced my first Christmas holiday season without my mother. I experienced my first Mother’s Day without my mother. I experienced August 22, which was my mother’s birthday, for the first time without her. I experienced the first anniversary of her death.

In addition, there were many challenging activities related to her death that I had to plow my way through in that first year. I told friends and relatives of her passing. I arranged for her cremation. I packed up her personal items from the nursing facility. I scattered her ashes. I applied for life insurance proceeds. I closed out her affairs.

Now that I am in the second year of orphanhood, I expected life to get a little easier to bear. For the most part, I think it has. It has been a year filled with a certain harshness that has been hard to overlook. On the other hand, it has been a year of great satisfaction in some ways. I’ll be writing more about that next week.

However, the Christmas season this year has been much harder on my psyche than I thought it would be. At first, the sadness surprised me, but I came to realize it makes perfect sense.

Last Christmas, I expected to miss my mother bitterly. I knew I would feel bereft and broken. In a world where most people love Christmas, my mother was a uniquely committed Yule-a-phile. She never met a Christmas decoration she didn’t like. She purchased truckloads of presents. She gathered her family to her heart like toys in Santa’s sleigh and draped us with holly. She let her wacky side run wild, embracing oddball traditions and creating serendipitous surprises.

People who know me would say that description sounds a lot like me. Trust me, the angel doesn’t fall far from the Christmas tree. I am only a faded carbon copy of my mother and her addiction to all things ho-ho-holiday.

Strangely, I floated through the holiday season last year without unbearable pain. There certainly were times when I was sad, but, for the most part, I managed well. I was easy on myself, anticipated moments of grief, and allowed my Christmas season to be gentler and more peaceful than usual. I cocooned myself in the warmth of that gentleness and enjoyed that kind of Christmas. It wasn’t that I tried to avoid celebrating Christmas because the whole holiday thing reminded me too much of my loss. I just settled into enjoying simplicity and doing whatever felt appealing in the moment.

Last year, my mother’s death was still so fresh. I felt shell shocked. I was processing my grief through a veil of relief that my mother wasn’t suffering anymore and that the job of accompanying her as she died little by little was finally done. I think my psyche was more wrapped up in the close of that painful chapter than in the close of the entire book of my mother’s life. I was so glad to turn the page that I didn’t fully experience the sinister finality of slamming of the book’s cover.

This year, the finality of the loss has had time to resurface in my brain. I am no longer as vague and relieved as I was last year. I just miss my mom being with me and doing the things we used to do. As a result, this holiday season has felt much sadder. And I think that is a good thing.

One of my biggest fears when my mother was ill was that all the difficult times and suffering were overlaying the lifetime of joyful memories I had with my mother. I felt like I was not only losing my mother in death, but that I was losing who she had always been in life because I could no longer fully experience the joyful memories. If you’d like to read more about that fear, you can visit my blog post I Miss My Momma. You can access that post by clicking this link:

I Miss My Momma

I think my sadness in this holiday season has to do with the joyful memories returning to take their rightful place in my mind and heart. You can’t miss what you don’t know, right? I think the fact that I am sad that my mother isn’t here to “do Christmas” with me means that I am remembering and cherishing the times we had when we were together. I’m okay with that. There is nothing that can change the fact that my mother died. There is nothing that can change the fact that most everyone will go through the death of one or more parents in their life. There is nothing that can change the fact that it is sad when we miss the people we love. Since there is nothing we can do to change any of that, I’d much rather be sad sometimes than forgo the joy of remembering and re-experiencing the happy times!

To all of you are experiencing loss this Christmas, may you be blessed with peace, hope, and joy.  That is what Christmas really means.  In a Christian perspective, it is about the beginning of our redemption by Jesus.  In a secular perspective, it is about allowing the warmth and love of this world to fill your heart and comfort you.  Please allow my warmth and love for you travel through cyberspace to fill your heart and comfort you.

 

Terri/Dorry 🙂

 

 

Busy-ness

Reader Neki commented that it sounded like my last year with my mother was extra special. When I read Neki’s comment, it caused me to reflect. While I was living that last year, I don’t know that I would have described it so. Living that year at my mom’s side was the most painful and most arduous thing I’ve done in my entire life. There were many times when I felt like the pressure of the grief and the stress were unbearable. In reality, though, Neki was absolutely right. That time with my mother was extra special.

As difficult as this past year has been, I would not have had it any other way. If my mother’s fate was to suffer a stroke and decline so heartbreakingly towards the end of her life, I wanted to travel that path with her. Whatever support I could give, I wanted to give. Whatever comfort I could provide, I wanted to provide. Whatever shared joy we could find, I wanted to find with her. The time and effort I spent with her in the past year was my gift to her, but it truly was also a gift to me.

Now that my mother is gone, I am a bit disoriented. The time I used to spend with her and taking care of her needs is now empty. I have a new-found and somewhat unwelcome freedom.

I’m not quite sure how to navigate this new life condition. I feel a bit tender and tentative, as if I am dipping my toe into the water of the part of my life that is all about me. In the days since my mother death, I grasp wildly for activity. I’ve started the processes to finalize my mom’s administrative matters. I’ve gone through most of her possessions. I’ve sent thank you notes to people who sent cards and flowers. My house is cleaner than it has ever been. I plunged myself into a new life filled with new events, new people, and new thoughts. I initiated outings with friends. I began accepting every invitation offered me. I signed up to join a women’s group at the church. I began preparations to survive Hurricane Irma in a manic frenzy, despite my absolute certainty that I would die in the storm. Max and I took a trip to Las Vegas. I’ve been planning a trip to New England to see the fall foliage next autumn. I seem to flit from one activity to another without ever stopping to let my feet touch the ground… or to take a breath.

I do want to try new things now that I have some more free time, but I think this busy-ness is more about not wanting to sit still and feel than it is about expanding my horizons.

The truth is that the hole my mother left in my life is so huge that I am afraid of falling into it. If I stop and stare at that hole, I am sure that it will suck me into its emptiness and I will never recover. My mother was all about light and happiness. Her absence leaves darkness and grief. If I am to honor her memory, it is important that I look beyond this present darkness and grief to find the love she left behind. I can use that love to live in a way that would bring her joy. I can and will be her legacy of light.

The thing is… I’m not quite ready to do that yet. I am still too vulnerable to the darkness to risk getting too close to that empty hole. After so much sadness for so long, my strength is depleted and needs rest to be replenished. So I keep moving and doing, propelling myself far away from the emptiness. I’m sure I will eventually be able to find a better balance between activity and introspection. When that happens, I know I’ll find a way to live more beautifully and meaningfully than I ever have because my mother showed me how. I’ll know my mom will be smiling down on me from Heaven.

In the meantime, I think I’ve earned a little distraction!

What do you think?  Does a whirlwind of activity help us heal after losing someone?  Or is it just a whirlwind of activity?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a pleasantly busy day!

Terri 🙂