I suspected January was going to be a rough month. In the first place, it usually is, with its gray skies and silent days following the holiday departures of our children going back to their own lives.
Now, I also have to navigate through the anniversaries of the deaths of both of my parents, and the first January 18th that we won’t be celebrating my dad’s birthday. I’m starting to think that in the future, January may be a fine month to pack up and head south for a few weeks. Change of scene. Distractions.
That’s the key, really, isn’t it? Distractions. It all clicked together for me this morning as I watched CNN’s “Sole Survivor” documentary. The wife of a sole surviving pilot of a Kentucky plane crash that occurred several years back said that she tries to make sure her husband has enough distractions. Things to occupy his mind. Reasons to get up in the morning.
I was better at living by distractions when the kids were all young and at home. In those days I frequently yearned for less distractions.
A year ago today we moved Mom from Hospice back to her assisted-living apartment. We wanted her to be able to go “home,” such as it was. She’d only spent four nights, total, there before she was taken to the hospital and then moved to Hospice. But her things were there to surround her. My sister Carol had hung some of Mom’s paintings, all original artwork by family members, while Mom was at Hospice. Mark and I finished the job the day before Mom moved back. The walls were covered in artwork. It was all a futile effort, just one more in a long line of many. When they rolled her back into the room on the stretcher from the transport, she might have glanced up and appreciated it. I don’t know. But after they lifted her from the stretcher to her bed she never got up in the two short days she was back—nurses coming in and out, the Hospice nurse setting up a table, the cook at the facility making her an endless stream of vanilla milkshakes delivered by the staff that we placed in her small freezer until the next one arrived. So many small details.
How long is long enough to grieve? Do I get a year? Do I get a year for each parent? Do I serve them concurrently or consecutively? I read somewhere it usually takes from 9 months to 18 months following the death of a parent. How does someone figure this out? My sister-in-law told me she missed her father a lot at the Christmas holidays and cried this year on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He’s been gone five years.
It’s not like I’ve put my life on hold, shut myself into my bedroom with the shades drawn and light low, snuggled under a comforter, surfacing for the occasional bit of food or refill of water in the glass I keep on the beside stand. In the past year I struggled off an occasional lame post and wrote a chapter or two; I’ve been to New Orleans, South Carolina, a wedding in Buffalo, a wedding in Indianapolis, St. Louis (two or three times), Los Angeles, and had a house full of people at Christmas. I’m skimming along fine on the surface with those distractions.
But there is a level of awareness inside my heart, mind, soul, wherever it exists, where I grapple with the fact that I can’t call my mom anymore. That I’ll never be able to hear my dad’s wisdom on the things life throws my way. That the middle has dropped out of the family of my childhood and the people who share my earliest memories are scattered to the wind. No more family celebrations of Mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day. No more Father’s Day cookouts. No more sitting around a Christmas tree.
Is a year long enough to get over it?
Should I just jump back into life and distract the heck out of myself with projects and trips and in that way forget it? Or should I mull over it until I can put it at rest? This is a core question that goes back to one’s belief system about what it’s all about, Alfie. I suspect you have your own opinion about this based on your particular worldview.
My parents were practicing Catholics, although my mom converted to it when she married my dad. For many years I also followed that bright shining beam. But recently, with the corruption that’s come to light and the gender inequality that is practiced, that beam of light has dimmed behind a clouded-over lens. Maybe I’ll eventually be able to clear it off. Maybe not. I wish I could. There was comfort there.
Some people think the only thing that matters is the here and now. Help other people if you can, or if you want to. But enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be merry. Don’t dwell on things that make you unhappy.
I just can’t get over thinking that we are more multi-dimensional than that. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our sorrow deeply, understand it, learn from it. Then how can we expect to feel our joy deeply?
How long is long enough to grieve? I really don’t know.
Let’s make a deal, though. I won’t tell you, if you don’t tell me.