Distraction and Direction

You’ll have to excuse me for my lack of content lately. It’s been a rough haul, and I find myself not wanting to think about anything. Submitting resumés and applications doesn’t require me to think, and neither does watching “television,” in quotes because I don’t actually own one. I use Kodi, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Seeso. I do have cable, but the line running to my room isn’t working (really must have that fixed), and because I already have so much to watch, I don’t really care about it enough to get it repaired. I am happy enough with things like Santa Clarita Diet and The Fall. The former is ridiculously funny, kind of a send-up of The Walking Dead. The latter is scary AF, and stars one of the most handsome actors out there, Jamie Dornan, who you’ll probably recognize as The Huntsman from Once Upon a Time. It also stars Gillian Anderson, and that is the last piece of information you’ll get out of me about those shows, because you just have to watch them. Trust me.

All of these things are taking me away from thinking about writing, because generally what I have to talk about is grief and mourning, and I’m just done with delving that deep most of the time. I know I need to get it all out, but at the same time, I can’t live that way all the time. Distractions help, and I’ve been using a lot of them.

I’ve learned through Never the Same, by old friend Dr. Donna Schuurman, that so much research has been done on grief since On Death and Dying by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was published that we understand grief a lot differently. Kübler-Ross was correct in that there are five stages of grief, but they are not linear and sometimes all hit at once. That is certainly what I am experiencing, although I do not feel anger. There is nothing that can be done for an embolism. If the greatest surgeon in the world had been standing next to my mother when it blew, there’s still nothing that could have been done. I feel like I have done everything I can to look at her situation clinically without emotion, because it was just a freak thing and there’s no one to blame, nothing to be angry about. I don’t feel like I need to rage at the heavens that she is gone. I don’t feel anger that she’s not going to be there for the future I have planned, I just feel indescribably sad & depressed. The best reason I can give for having no anger is that she didn’t leave me on purpose, and I know for sure that if she indeed had any awareness that she was dying (I don’t think she did, because she passed out first), Lindsay and I were her last thoughts.

I also take comfort in the fact that a few days before she died, we had a two and a half hour conversation on the phone, nothing left unsaid, no unfinished business.

As far as deaths go, it was the best possible thing that could have happened. She passed away quickly with no pain at all. The only thing that makes me truly jealous is that a lot of people get time to prepare for the death of a parent, because their illness is drawn out long enough to get used to the idea. I have said this before, but nothing hits you harder when someone dies suddenly that “here today, gone tomorrow” is a thing. It’s a cliché until it happens to you.

My life is so different now. My mother’s death has rewired all of my neurons so that most of the time, I am relaxed and easygoing. You’d think it would be the opposite, but I feel that the worst thing that has ever happened to me is done. Nothing can rattle me now. My grief regarding Dana & Argo not being a part of my life now seems like a dream that happened long ago in comparison.

The only time that particular grief hits me is that they used to be the people closest to me, and I wish I could talk to them about everything that is going on in my life right now, and that I care about them and wish I could know what is going on in their lives, too… because friendship is not a one-way street, or at least it’s not if you’re doing it right.

I am just glad that I’ve been able to create my own urban family here, so that their absence is noticeable but not ever-present. I have other people to lean on, other activities to pull me into the present… although sometimes I have trouble showing up for them because I am reluctant to get into a crowd of people and come undone. The only people I have truly let in are my church choir.

My truth is that I haven’t shown up for either church or choir for a while now, because I just couldn’t handle being around other people. Last Sunday, I showed up with my heart on my sleeve, and instead of making up some ridiculous “acting as if” excuse as to why I hadn’t been there, I told them straight up that I’m bipolar and taking medication for it, along with anxiety meds, and that even with all those things on board, the situational depression of grief cannot match what I am taking. I get overwhelmed easily, especially in church, because it’s so meaningful that it cuts deeply.

However, I realized something important. Sam lost her father and her mother, and she’s still showing up every Sunday. When I told Leslie #1 that, she said it wasn’t necessary to create another stick to beat myself up, and I told her it wasn’t about that. It was about living in community. Everyone has been there for me, but I haven’t returned the favor. She told me that it was a good way to look at it, and I thanked her for being “my person.” She told me “thank you for letting me be your person… probably the sweetest thing anyone has said to me in months.

Because Leslie lost her mother, too, she understands explicitly and I don’t even have to talk. She can tell with one look when to put her arm around me and when I need a hug. She was a bit older than me when it happened, around 52, but she still feels the pain of her mother dying too young, just like mine did. Of course, every child is going to feel on some level that their parent(s) were taken from them too young, because all children, even adults, cannot remember a time when their parents weren’t there for them. Now, I know that for lots of children who’ve had toxic/abusive relationships with their parents, this is not the case. But for the stereotypical nuclear family who is generally close, I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t feel that level of pain, because no one knows them better than the people that raised them.

It is not an easy path to walk. I feel that it would have been easier to accept my mother’s death if she’d been 86 or something… at least the feeling that she’d lived a long and fruitful life and 86 is not too young to die. In the years that my mother was alive, she indeed lived a fruitful life, but the trees were not finished blooming, heavy with oranges, her favorite.

Her memory lives on, not just with us, but with all the children in her music classes and the parents who were grateful for her influence. She was one of those people who could make you love music, especially if you’d never had any exposure to it before. She took kids on journeys through classical, jazz, blues, you name it… starting in kindergarten and working upward through show choir for fourth and fifth graders.

I am grateful that she was also a substitute teacher, so she was my own music teacher in third grade and my social studies teacher in fifth. Years earlier, she and my dad went on a tour of the Holy Land, and one of her lesson plans was to “take us” as well. She brought in all the souvenirs she’d gotten in Egypt, arranged the chairs like a 737, and projected images she’d taken on the screen. She also made us passports we could keep. No detail was left out, and that’s just who my mother was when it came to education. Her drive to be impeccable was strong and intuitive to what children would want and need in the classroom.

She was always there for Lindsay and me in both our academic and musical pursuits. She was my accompanist both as a trumpet player and a singer, and when Lindsay made it into the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, she never missed a single rehearsal or performance.

She helped me with my homework inasmuch as she could, because neither of us understood math. Her father, a former Algebra teacher, tried to help me, and it was my mother’s idea to make him my tutor. There was nothing that she wouldn’t have done for me, going above and beyond every single time.


There wasn’t, isn’t enough.

The old saying is that “time heals all wounds,” but I do not think that it stands up in terms of a parent dying. You don’t ever get over it, you just learn to absorb it, make it part of your DNA, never forgetting what happened… simply trying to emotionally relocate those memories so that you can make room for the future instead of being stuck in the past.

I’m not finished being “stuck” yet. It doesn’t show in terms of memories that constantly come to mind, but in the weight of grief that slow down my movement in the world. The best thing I’ve done for myself is to clean my room so that it is once again uncluttered, and I feel, as Oprah has said, that my room rises to greet me when I walk in the door. I take comfort in being organized, but my mind is still cluttered. There are entire days where I cannot get out of my own head, even though I know that new experiences take me out of my grief and add happiness to my world. There are just lots of times that I don’t want happiness. I want to sit in my loneliness at having one less person to call when I am truly “in the weeds.” I feel guilty that I hadn’t made the effort to visit, so that by the time my mother died, I hadn’t seen her in over a year. But at that time in my life, when it came to Houston, I could not even.

However, she came alone to DC to visit, and we had a spectacular time together, something I will always remember as a highlight. She also left a card on my dresser that I didn’t find until a few days after she left thanking me for being the perfect host, and a gift card to Macy’s so that I could buy new clothes. I am still looking for the hoodie that I bought with it, because it’s the warmest thing I own. I think I may have left it somewhere, because there is no stone unturned in my room or my car. It’s the most I’ve ever spent for a jacket, but it was worth it for the double weight during DC winters… and I must have told her a thousand times how much it meant to me. I hope that it will turn up one day in the place I least expected to find it, because it’s too early to give up hope that it’s gone… or that if it is, it has been picked up by someone who truly needed it.

That’s the kind of thing that would have made my mother happy… that if I lost it, a homeless kid found it. There will be other jackets for me, but I often wonder what I can do to keep the homeless warm. I don’t have a lot of extra money, I don’t have coats to give away, but surely there is something I can do even with my limited resources.

If my mother has anything to say about it, it’s go find out.


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