Last week public television stations aired a terrific program on children's grief with the Sesame Street crew called "When Families Grieve." (Our station is offering free resource kits -- get more info at WKAR.org.)
It connected me a great deal to the work I did when facilitating for 10 years at Ele's Place and dealing specifically with the challenging issues children and their families face when a loved one dies.
I think about that a lot at this time of year anyway, for my mom died 34 years today. I wasn't a kid -- I just felt like one. At 25, you think you had it together. I didn't have a clue. (I think this photo was taken the summer before she died.)
I think about her a lot. I think about how my life wasn't fully formed when she left -- she never met Rick or the kids or knew about the work I do at WKAR or Gypsy. She never saw my house (neither did my dad, for that matter -- he died before I bought it) and could only imagine that her passion for all things holiday and decorating would live on. (As does lots of her stuff!)
I'd like to think she does know and see that. I guess someday I'll know if that's the case.
She was a good mom. More than a tad overprotective of her only child and I don't know that did me any favors, though it kept me safe. She had good values she passed on and I see a lot of her in me. Not just the holidays or decorating, but the love of cooking, of family, of tradition, of art. Of service. I was at her side at the ripe old age of four, accompanying her when she volunteered.
And she could get people to do things they would never want to do -- really. I mean, who else but my mom could get my cousins and I polishing copper up at the lake? It's neither tidy nor particularly fun -- and it was summer, for heaven's sake! Yet we were a mean cleaning team! And we had fun at it!
Mom was a Lansing person. She grew up here, lived and died within this community, taking a few years away for college and an early teaching job, until she returned to share caretaking duties for my grandmother with her sister Grace. She saw the advent of the car as a little girl. Not so different from so many of our families, I suppose. I wish she'd known about the microwave -- she'd love that! (That's her on the running board with my grandma and her little brother, who died when he was seven.)
She had a great sense of humor and was always laughing (especially with her sisters). She was a photographer -- and again, her humor showed. Who else would put the ugliest Halloween mask in town on their two month old "beautiful" baby girl and take pictures?
(Perhaps this is why my periodic cat humiliation of the occasional reindeer antler doesn't seem so bad to me!)
Her connection with her sisters was a great joy to her -- they were a close family, and I think that's why I am close to my cousins. While we don't spend the holidays together we used to, we have good times, support each other, keep in touch. (My aunt Grace died seven months to the day later; I think she'd like reading Mama K! who was the daughter-in-law she never met! That's Gracie and Martin with mom and dad, below.)
But of course, her greatest connection was to my dad. A true soul connection. I still have her wedding hat...I just can't make myself remove the flowers for art. Maybe someday -- a small bit, for a shrine!
And I think of their small, quiet wedding when my grandmother was so ill. They were married in Martin's dad's house across the street from the one in which they grew up by his minister father. I think she would have loved to plan a lovely "real" wedding for me, but I also think she'd "get" my relationship with Rick, as real and loving as hers with dad -- just one that works better for us.
Rick and the kids. Oh, she'd love those boys. She'd be so proud of Greg's art and you can bet she would have shown up at any of Kevin's football games she could during his playing days. I don't think she ever missed a play I was in -- and a better guess is that she saw them all at least twice!
We never stop missing people, I think. The grieving shifts into a combination of memories -- the good and the bad -- and a sad longing that rears its head at often inauspicious moments, reminding us what changed. We're not so young anymore, either. The people at the birthday celebrations have changed.
When my mom's oldest sister, Iris, died a couple years ago, we realized that we -- my cousins and I -- were now the older generation. We'd like to think we're fun and cool and that the youth in our lives like to be around us. Sometimes that seems to be the case and sometimes... well, you know the drill!
When both my parents died, I really had no "unfinished business" -- except, of course -- a future life without them and of which they had little idea how it would form. I think that's the thing that makes me cry the most. We didn't have arguments then, we knew we loved each other -- we told each other every day. Things fell into a different perspective and we just handled what mattered most. We laughed when we could. We cried. We talked.
My mom was the best sick person I've ever known. She went into the hospital on St. Patrick's Day and died on April 21 -- about six weeks later. That never happens these days. Today there would be Hospice. Her hospital room was like a party lounge -- she had guests all the time, sleepovers. Her breast and ovarian cancer went into her brain -- she was in a lot of pain. Some of us knew it. Some never saw. She was that "up."
She told me once, "Having people here is so good for me, I don't want them to not want to come back."
I hope I can remember that some day. I try every day to live my own illness using her approach, not my dad's -- sometimes with more success than others.
Right now, I know a number of people in both a family circle as well as friends who are dealing with extremely serious illnesses -- mostly forms of cancer in varying stages. It terrifies me, because I don't want to think of having another person I care about leave my world. If it terrifies me, how it must frighten their more immediate family members and those who know them best and love them most.
As I remember Mom today, and the families of those who are facing loss, I am also thinking of you. I'm thinking of those of you are dealing with illness and those of you who are dealing with loss.
Old loss, new loss. It all hurts. It's just a matter of degree.
(There's a new post at "Chopsticks and String" -- finally! Learn about "Outliers" and practice!
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