Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Monday, March 29, 2004

File under "What the Hell?"

My step-grandparents-not-in-law:

Ahem. Unless you're dead, you have no call to tell me that my mother's death was for the best. I don't care if you're 80 and have all of the wisdom of the earth in your heart. Not dead? No input. Please drive through.

But, well, she suffered a lot at the end.

Hi there. You? Also not dead. Also not there. Who was? I was! She was quite comfortable prior to her death, and if I dare say so myself, I'd rather she were still here. Her getting better would be for the best, not her dying.

Wisconsin calling:

I got a call last night from a childhood friend with whom I hadn't spoken since last August. Among other things, she told me that she heard that I'm going to be a mom.

Whoa there, cheesehead!

She heard from her mother who heard from best friend's mom who heard from best friend that we're going to start trying to have kids, like, yesterday. At this rate, the next time I go back home, my dad's going to ask me why I didn't tell him that I'm pregnant.

Weight loss plan:

The cat hopefully soon-to-be previously-known-as Cat Loaf is going on a diet. The irony? He's eating less than we're giving him which is far less than we gave him before.

For the feet of the brave and true

Back in October, in my fit of rage over Mom’s huge tumor marker jump, I knit her a hat. Wow! you say. Working your anger out through a hat! How hippy health freak pacifist of you! But the fact of the matter is that I drank a lot too. Despite drinking, not eating, and not sleeping, the hat turned out quite nicely.

Earlier in the month, I had purchased eight skeins of thick 90/10 alpaca/wool yarn. Having received a gift certificate for the snobby knitting store that was due to expire and knowing that I would never spend that much per skein again in my life, I went for it and chose eight different and deep colors. Different fibers hold color differently, and the character of the color changes between yarns, even with the same dyes. Wool does well with bright primary colors, but it can also hide the essence of a color so deep within its strands that the garment gives way to some kind of meaning or purpose. With wool, the partially knitted item is distinct from the yarn. That’s when the sweater practically knits itself. Alpaca doesn’t hold bright colors, and it doesn’t hide the color and separate the yarn from the piece. It grasps the color and pulls it in until you’re knitting color instead of fiber. Its colors are dynamic, and every time I changed rooms, the hues migrated with me. The yarn is light and soft, and it never pulls too tightly.

So when I began knitting a hat for my mother, knowing it needed to be thick and soft against her bald head, knowing I needed rich, deep colors, knowing I had an assortment of luxury yarn in my knitting basket, I went for the alpaca. I chose four colors: dark purple, olive green, gray-green, and red. Around the middle of the hat, in huge, red, block letters: CANCER SUCKS. I knitted and knitted and changed colors and knitted. I marked the pattern for the letters on graph paper and followed it back and forth. No missed stitches, no poor counting. Just right. It was perfect. The whole thing took a weekend.

She wore it all the time. I intentionally made it wide enough to fit around her head with very little tension so that it wouldn’t be itchy at all. The bottom was wide enough to fold up and cover CANCER SUCKS in case she was concerned about someone being offended. She wasn’t, though, and she wore it everywhere—that big, bright, blatantly grouchy hat succinctly divulging her innermost thoughts.

When I realized just how close she was to dying, I brought my leftover red and purple (two of Mom’s favorite colors) to their house. I wanted her to have something I knitted, but I didn’t want to lose that hat. My good old fashioned Midwestern guilt had kicked in, and I felt so selfish at not wanting to lose the hat. So I made her two socks, and after I told Dad and Brooke my thought process, they both agreed that the hat wouldn’t do Mom any good, and I really, truly needed it for myself. The socks are red and purple around the ankles with the heels and toes purple and the foot red. The red that had danced around the color wheel from brick to magenta was as red as red could be against that purple. The purple had seemed almost black on the hat, but its royal aubergine gleam was clear with coupled with the red.

I knitted like a fiend her last few days. Every so often, I pulled a partially-knit sock over her foot and asked how it felt. When I finished the first, I put it on her and left it there several hours. The second, however, wasn’t finished until the day she died, completed some time between describing Mom’s volunteer work to the “life story professional” and choosing one of the many caskets displayed via PowerPoint. We had chosen Mom’s outfit before we left for that meeting: red cashmere turtleneck and pale beige linen slacks. After weaving the ends in and clipping the excess yarn with Brooke’s Swiss army knife, I placed them on the pile of clothes, and we left.

Some time near the end of the first visitation, the socks came into the conversation. I was sitting around with several friends, and I wondered aloud if they had actually put the socks on her. One jokingly offered his flashlight so I could look, but it turns out he didn’t actually have a flashlight in his car. A friend on the other side of me cleared his throat and said he had one in his coat. I demanded immediate possession of it, and told the crowd to cover me, that I was going in to check on the socks. They did, I did, and they had.

The next thing I knew, several people wanted to see the socks, so I called them all up to look as a crowd. Mom, always curious and mischievous, nodded her approval from the great beyond. Brooke pulled her mother aside to tell her that I had made the socks and was now showing them to people, and her mom wanted a peek before they left. I demanded the flashlight again and snuck back over to the casket to lift the white drape and illuminate Mom’s feet.

And she started to cry. I still don’t know why exactly. I don’t know if it has anything to do with her having taught me to knit. I don’t know if it comes from her sadness at the impending loss of her last older relative who happened to die later that night. I don’t know if it’s because of the openly expressed tenderness of preparing a body for burial. Maybe it was all of those things. Maybe it was something else altogether.

I think about those socks and wish I had a picture of them, but enough of my friends and family saw them to verify their existence. I still have the hat, and I have pictures of it on Brooke’s head and on Mom’s. The purpose of the socks is to keep her warm, and the hat’s is to keep her in my mind. I don’t know if the socks are doing their job, but the hat is.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Please and thank you

Someone remind me when I have more time to write about the socks.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Carry the words of love with you

The more I look at her picture, the more distant her death seems. It seems so long ago when I look at a picture that’s four years old. Everything has changed.

I grieved a lot with Mom when she was still alive. For three and a half years, I would have tearful phone calls and weepy evenings with her. Brooke has always teased me for crying at movies and books, and I cried with my mom for her impending death, even three years before it happened. Lying on the bed in the apartment, I was recovering from another bad news phone call with Mom, and Brooke walked in and just didn't understand. She tried, in some sense, to talk me out of it. She's still okay. She's not dead yet. Why cry when she's still all right? It felt as though it was pressure not to cry, not to grieve or mourn until she was dead. But I shared that with my mom. We leaned on one another, held each other in our fear and sadness, and really, I’m not nonfunctional. It wasn’t a shock. We worked up to it and went through it together, but I’m still here.

Mom held us. Any one of us could sit down with her and hold her and be held and cry. I may have done it more than my fair share, but I’m glad that I did. I didn’t try to protect myself from her death. I tried to protect her, but that’s another topic.

The people who didn’t grieve with her seem to be stricken to the greatest degree, but that’s not to say that the rest of us are happy and recovered. I think that most of what I’m experiencing is the letdown from her last days going so quickly. I had expected a month or more of gradual decline, but her quick descent and the fast and intense mourning “process” have left me feeling like someone turned the carousel into the Gravitron after I hopped on. My mother had zip, and then her zip was gone. And then she was.

Last summer, Brooke and I threw a party to celebrate Lawrence v. Texas, and we called it our Sodomy Party. (Leigh Anne had a very special sale for the occasion, but that’s another story altogether.) I emailed Mom to tell her about the Supreme Court decision, and her reply mentioned details about our upcoming weekend together and included the post script, ”I’m glad you’re no longer engaging in illegal fornication. Love, Mom.” Me too, Mom. We’re planning another Sodomy Party for late June, and this time, you can really be there in spirit.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Dirt don't hurt

Every so often, I’m overcome with emotion, and it seems to come from nowhere. Friday evening after work, I repotted a peace lily which was given to me several years ago by a friend who had pissed me off. I had brand new pots and brand new potting soil, but the scissors weren’t in the root cellar with the supplies. On my way back from the furnace room, I saw Mom lying on the hospital bed, limp and yellow, and I was blinded by tears. My face scrunched up, and my right hand came up to my eyes, the scissors nearly gouging my scalp. Those silent, gut-clenching sobs were fierce but brief. Within a few seconds, I was standing over my peace lily ready to renew the soil that held its roots—or which its roots held, no one’s quite sure.

Without the soil, plants would have no where to grow. Without the plants, the soil would all wash away. Human relationships are like that. We hold each other and lean on each other and serve very different purposes to one another, but we still serve a purpose. The truth is that I need to write these things, and if you’re still here, it means you need to read them. I need to know that you’re out there and reassure myself that someone, somewhere will be able to lean on what I’ve written here.

Originally, I moved my blog here to separate my writing about Mom from my writing about regular, everyday funny things, and I didn’t think it was important for anyone other than my friends to read it. They could keep themselves updated. And then one told me to make hard copies of these entries and how much she wished there was something like this when she and her partner were going through the same thing. I guess all I can hope for is that someone who is going through this same thing can read and relate and receive something good.

tidbit (the lowercase palindrome)

The good people at Hospice sent a small packet of information on their bereavement programs. Within that was a photocopy on deep blue paper describing the stages of grief. I have been reassured by professionals that inappropriate hostility is a perfectly normal part of the grieving process. So there.

I’ve gained five pounds since the funeral and continued exercising five days a week. I’m well on my way to being back to a healthy weight by the end of May.

I have work to do and time to do it.

And guess who I spent Saturday with... Uncle McJackass and Aunt O'Mascara! I had sporadic twinges of guilt in the morning, but then I got over it.

Friday, March 19, 2004

"One Moment More"

Mindy Smith

Hold me
Even though I know you're leaving
And show me
All the reasons you would stay
It's just enough to feel your breath on mine
To warm my soul and ease my mind
You've go to hold me and show me now

Give me
Just one part of you to cling to
And keep me
Everywhere you are
It's just enough to steal my heart and run
And fade out with the falling sun

Oh, please don't go
Let me have you just one moment more
Oh, all I need
All I want is just one moment more
You've got to hold me and show me now

Tell me that someday you'll be returning
And maybe
Maybe I'll believe
It's just enough to see a shooting star
To know you're never really far
It's just enough to see a shooting star
To know you're never really gone

Oh, please don't go
Let me have you just one moment more
Oh, all I need
All I want is just one moment more

Oh, please don't go
Let me have you just one moment more
Oh, all I need
All I want is just one moment more
You've got to hold me and maybe I'll believe

So hold me
Even though I know you're leaving

Excerpts of various conversations transferred into prose

Within the next couple of weeks, I’m going to tell Hope about calling the agency, because I’ll need her help to decide whether or not we should tell Paul. Then Paul, Hope, Brooke, and I will decide whether to tell Dad. If the adoptee wants to get in touch with me/us, things will get complicated. Despite my father’s desire not to have the adoptee involved in our family, I know this was the right thing to do. She has a right to that information if I'm able to give it to her. The normal, adult, conscientious part of me says that I'm just putting that information out there and can choose at any point now to end my involvement with the agency and the adoptee. I can't think of any harm in what's been done, but that doesn't mean I'm being laisse-faire about this. I'm not making decisions that I'll want to erase.

I hadn't realized that I hadn't told my best friend about Mom's pregnancy, and the topic came up sort of randomly over the weekend. She said that her mom had a kid around the same time, but her mom was in her mid-20's. Her mom never talked about it with them, and my friend heard in 1999 from her dad who thought the kids should know about their half-sibling. Her mom wanted to keep it from the kids. Apparently, our moms talked about it together, which I guess is something to be grateful for. They had a chance to share that experience with someone who is very, very safe.

Mom ended a lot of silence about the depression and abuse in her family, and she wasn't willing to let "the lesbian thing" be silenced either. There's a lot of harm in silence, but speaking up at the right times and in the right ways is important. I don't know how one'd figure out the right times/ways, though.

The thing about silence is that it implies shame, and it's the shame that gets carried down most intensely. Heather is left feeling her mother's shame because her mom won't talk about it. I had the chance to talk about it and tell Mom how proud I am of her that she didn't marry the kid's father, that she didn't marry her old boyfriend who she cared about who was willing to come home from the military to marry her. I'm proud that she knew not to raise the kid in that house, and I told her that.

In some ways, I feel as though I’m being crass or impersonal by calling this woman to whom my mother gave birth “the adoptee.” Biologically, she is my half-sister. Biologically, we share a mother. But she has her own family. She was raised by her own parents and may have grown up with brothers and sisters. Yes, there’s something valuable in being connected to your biological roots, but her real family of origin is the family in which she was raised. They’re the family that influenced her. I think that a lot of my opinion on this issue comes from two things: my cousins and my future family.

My aunt, the one who died in 2000, and uncle adopted two children whom they adore(d). That was their family. The younger of the two has had no interest in finding her biological family. The older expressed some desire to when his first child was in utero, but from what I’ve been told, that was primarily an issue of medical history. As far as I know, he never received any information about his biological family. They were both adequately satisfied with their lives with the family they had, and the didn’t seek that out. They are siblings by law and by family.

Brooke and I will never be able to produce a child who is a genetic mix of ourselves. Any child we raise will have to be adopted by at least one of us, and that’s okay. We can raise a family based on being a family, not based on biology (and maybe not based on law, but that’s for another day). We will be the parents of those children. It won’t be based on who birthed, who contributed to the genes, whose laws say it’s okay for us to parent. It will be based on what we provide for the children in our home.

And since I didn’t know about this woman until four years ago, there’s really no place in my heart for her. I know her age and her gender. I’ll admit that I’m curious to know if she looks like me. There’s a part of me that wants just the basic facts about her, what she does for money, what she does for fun, pets, partners, children, etc. But I don’t miss her. I don’t yearn to know her. It’s about curiosity, not emotions.

The real struggle for me will be deciding what to do if she’s interested in getting to know Mom’s family. Even though she’s been without her birth mother for her whole life, learning that Mom is dead may create some new urge to know about her. Or it may just be enough to know that we’re out here.

I’ve wondered what Mom would think about my choice to call the agency, and there’s something about this deep peace that tells me she thinks it is the right thing to do. After I got off the phone with the kind Ms. N, I choked on tears and felt a sudden release. My eyes burned for a moment, but they never came. I really did the right thing, and my mom is still proud of me.

Oh, baby, just call me (when you need a friend)

I called the adoption agency Wednesday. My officemate left for a meeting in another building and said she wouldn’t be back for an hour and a half. I thought about calling, realizing that it was my first chance to call when I had the information handy, had my cell phone, it was during business hours, and so on. And I thought about it and considered putting it off, but the more time that passed, the more nervous I was about it, and I knew that I would drive myself crazy if I didn’t just call. So I did.

I spoke with a kind woman, Ms. N, who answered her phone asking how she could help me, and I choked out, “Uh, well, I don’t even know if you can.” I told her that my mother had a child who was adopted through their agency, and that my mother died recently from “genetic breast cancer.” I tripped over my words and blanked when she asked what the difference was between that and other breast cancers. The difference is that some cancers are hereditary. Only 8% of breast cancers can be linked to the two genes which have been identified (BRCA-1 and BRCA-2), but there are others which have a suspected hereditary basis and haven’t been identified. Her father’s prostate cancer in conjunction with hers indicates a hereditary susceptibility to hormone receptive cancers. But all I told her is that hers was so aggressive that it’s presumed genetic.

(For the sake of accuracy, I have to include a disclaimer that there is a significant difference between hereditary and genetic. The opposite of hereditary is spontaneous or congenital—that is, it wasn’t passed down. Genetic refers to the goings on in genes, can be artificial/environmental (radiation, pollution), congenital (spontaneously inborn), or hereditary. All cancers are genetic because they’re caused by gene mutations, but in the vernacular, genetic tends to mean hereditary.)

She thanked me for calling to offer the adoptee this information, and she asked some questions about Mom, both with regard to her contact with the agency and to her disease. She asked if I wanted to give her my number so that they could contact me if she wanted to contact me, and I hemmed and hawed. She said they can't give her my or Mom's identifying information without written permission, so I said yes. Good thing, because she called yesterday morning to say that they didn’t have a file on Mom.

My heart sank, and I started to panic. I could have sworn she told me it was that agency in that city. It was a name that was easy to remember. Oh, God. Oh, good God. But, it seems that two of the letters were transposed (probably my fault), and she called back to say that the file was there. And now I wait until she finds the adoptee (if she can), then she calls me to let me know that information was communicated to her. It could be several months or a year. If she tells me the adoptee wants to get in touch with me, then I have some hard decisions to make.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Tales of the idiotic

Dad told me last night that my grandmother was in the hospital for four days. No one thought to call Dad about it, and it makes me wonder if anyone would have bothered calling Mom. My uncle, Mom’s brother, henceforth known as Uncle McJackass, told Dad last month that it’s important to him that we all stay in touch—all of us, including me. Yet, Uncle McJackass didn’t think to call any one of us when his mother was hospitalized.

Uncle McJackass has always looked down upon our family, probably because he looked down upon Mom. The most obvious of reasons for this is Mom’s teen pregnancy and the resulting child who was adopted in the late 1960’s. Nay mind that Uncle McJackass and Aunt O’Mascara conceived their first child out of wedlock. They had the good sense to get married and live in that same small town. Mom didn’t. Mom had the baby and fought for her dignity and consequently got kicked out of her parents’ house. They denied her her own luggage, so she left with her things in garbage bags. She arrived in the nearby state capital and never looked back.

My father is a slight and gentle man. He isn’t interested in sports or cars or weightlifting. He enjoys the Wall Street Journal, The Newshour, and Terry Gross. He worked in data processing and payroll and now runs a small business. Uncle McJackass watches sports, reads only on the can, and knocked his kids around whenever they lived in his house. Dad and Uncle McJackass are nothing alike. Uncle McJackass believes he is more of a man than my father is.

And then, of course, there’s that lesbian thing. For the last two years, Uncle McJackass sneered at my mother whenever she spoke of me. My mother loved me. My mother was proud of me. She truly loved Brooke and believed that we were capable of building a wonderful life together. She wanted us to have children. Uncle McJackass found himself in a position of moral superiority once again.

Mom was a slut.
She married a sissy.
Her kid is a lesbian.

And she wasn’t even ashamed of herself. She didn’t know enough to be ashamed of herself. Here’s the thing that you know and that I know and that Uncle McJackass wouldn’t understand: She didn’t need to be.

Mom didn’t want to marry anyone just because she was pregnant. Just like Uncle McJackass, the babydaddy still lives in that small town, but now he beats his wife. Mom escaped and found love, and she continued to love until her last breaths. She received love in return.

I’m proud of her.

Mrs. Malfoy

If I had realized you all wanted comments, I would have added them a long time ago! I was a bit hesitant to use them, since I wasn't sure what kind of feedback I was looking for and what kind I would get. No one ever requested them...

But please go back and comment on back entries if there's something specific you want to say. I'm a bit curious and, well, narcissistic.

Very narcissistic.

Monday, March 15, 2004

We're gonna have a celebration

Mom had bought a bunch of cards on her last big shopping trip with Sonia. Several Valentines, but only Dad’s and Sonia’s were signed. One card was for “Daughter,” so I took that one for myself. Among the others are three sympathy cards and two bridal shower cards, though Dad and I can’t figure out who they’re for, and one Congratulations on Your New House card for Paul and Hope. She had signed it from Mom and Dad, so We tucked that card away for when they closed on the house they had bid on. FHA and the homeowners and the inspectors couldn’t agree on much, so it took longer than anyone had expected.

But Paul and Hope closed on their very first house on Friday. I’m so happy for them. I’m proud of them too, even though that seems patronizing in a way, Paul being my older brother and all. I probably wouldn’t be so afraid of being patronizing if we hadn’t bought a home first, and our looking for and buying a home wasn’t the catalyst for Paul’s own househunting. I’m embarrassed to say that I may have encouraged that. Everything we do turns into a competition, even if we don’t acknowledge it.

Brooke and I discussed the plans for the next few months, including that we need to make a list of all of the birthdays and events to be had and gifts to be given. Between now and June, Hope, B’s mom, Paul, Dad, B’s stepdad, B’s dad, and I all have birthdays, we have to find gifts for the housewarming, and we have to remember Mother’s and Father’s Days. Brooke started talking about what she wanted to do for her mom this year, and I felt my abdomen contract. Reflexively, I started to curl into a ball, but I was on the bus, and my computer was in my lap. I had to grab the bar next to me to sit up straight again. I didn’t want to cry and willed myself not to, but the thought of Mother’s Day makes me more sad than anything has in a long, long time.

Comments, etc.

I'm adding comments and links because I'm feeling isolated and it's driving me nuts. Not as nuts as other things are, but this can be remedied to some extent.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Why I Might Move

Good afternoon. It seems like everyone fucking hates me right now. That is, more than half of the legislators in my state think that I’m not worthy of a legal relationship with Brooke. Some number of legislators also believes that only one of us should have legal guardianship of the kids we hope to raise. They know that this could easily lead to one or more of the people in my family, including the kids, not having health insurance.

But this is “for the children.” It’s to protect marriage and families and children. I’m all about protecting marriage and families and children, but I don’t want to do it their way.


Make it more difficult (but not more expensive) to marry than it is to divorce. Any old (heterosexual) pair of yahoos can tie the knot in a matter of minutes if they both show valid identification. Divorces take much longer and cost much more money, and that implies that people are supposed to be unhappy in marriage. Not so! Protecting marriage means making sure that people who enter in to the legal contract are in it for the long haul. Making divorce easier allows women to escape abusive relationships more quickly and puts children through the divorce process in a shorter and less intense period of time.


When there is one and only one legal parent, allow that person to select their partner as a legal co-parent. Allow either partner to deduct child care costs. Require employers which offer health benefits to make the benefits available to non-married partners at the same cost as to married partners. Also, require that health benefits be extended to the partner’s child or children at the same rate as to the employee’s child or children. Or better yet, implement a universal health care system.


Encourage parents to play an active role in their children’s lives. With the understanding that children who have three or more adult role models have the highest self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-awareness, institute programs which encourage parents to develop communities and get involved in other children’s lives as well. Allow legal parents who are single to appoint a co-parent or secondary parent in the event that the primary parent is incapacitated or dies. Require that all school workers, medical staff, municipal employees, and all others working with children to go through training for appropriate ways to work with children with nonheteronormative families (i.e., not assuming the child only has one parent of either sex).

Or maybe I should keep it short and sweet...
Let people of the same sex get married if they want. Then the health insurance divide is at least equal between same sex and opposite sex couples, and they can adopt one other’s children and assume the legal protections and responsibilities thereof.

(A few months ago, Mom had a phone conversation with a friend she hadn’t heard from in a while. When Friend asked how I was, Mom told her about the anti-gay marriage amendment and how I was working to oppose it. Friend told Mom she didn’t approve of gay marriage, and Mom ripped her a new one. When I heard about this, I gave Mom tips on how better to argue her case. So, Mom? You probably don’t have a use for these notes, but drop this in the form of a clue bomb in Friend’s lap. I miss you.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Time is on my side, yes it--no

G. over at DaddyZine wrote this a few weeks back about his toddler daughter’s trip to the emergency room.

Then you realize there are really only two units of time: healthy-time and sick. The two are mutually exclusive and while wading around in one the other remains an abstract concept like surplus value or charmed quarks. You read the words on paper but they make no real sense.

Its accuracy alarmed me. I’m not operating on sick time anymore, but my head still feels stuck there. I suspect that’s because my life and mind have been changed as a result of Mom’s death. The fact that she hasn’t been buried yet may play a role.

The truth is that I’m worn out from human interaction, but my interaction level is on the rise. My best friend from childhood is flying out this weekend to see me, and I don’t think I’m going to handle it well. I love her and miss her, but I haven’t had any time to myself in the last month and a half, and before that, it was few and far between. After being at work for a week, we decided to rejoin the flock and go to the church dinner last night. No one had heard from us, and a few seemed a little put off that I had been back for more than a week and didn’t call. We’re hosting knitting on Thursday, and Heather is arriving on Friday. The house has to be cleaned, there’s dessert to be made, and I just want to go to my room and shut the door and not come out.

But my body is back in healthy time, even if my mind isn’t ready for it.

I’m doing everything I can to stay close to Mom. I’m wearing her sweaters, and I snagged her leather coat with coordinating fleece hat, gloves, and scarf. I’ve been wearing something of hers every day. Her jewelry too. I just want to give it all back and drive to my parents’ house and curl up with my mommy on the couch. We would rub each other’s feet, and I would rub her head with the nice vitamin E lotion and she would stay okay forever.

See? My mind isn’t back yet. I can get my work done and function adequately, but I don’t want to. I actually want to go back to that sick time when I had my mom, because she was there and I wasn’t here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


This pain is a gift. I remember that nearly every minute of the day. She gave her love to me so freely that I had almost as much to give back. I do not kid myself that a child’s love for her parents can ever compete with her parents’ love for her. It is different. It is a kind of love that I do not quite know. My love for her comes initially from our familial relationship, but I love her for so many other things, including our friendship and our struggles to get to know one another. I admire her for her strength, for her courage, for her honesty, and for her devotion. I am in awe of the similarities of our bodies. This pain is as deep as this love, but not deeper than it.

This pain has meaning. I want to live without heartache, but nothing will come of that. Joy does not arrive in our lives risk-free. It comes with the promise that pain could be around the corner, and we accept the joy without reservation. No career or friendship or romance comes without the possibility of loss, but we take them on. And I have been graced with the joys of my mother’s love. This pain is how it feels to be truly human.

This pain will heal. I am not there yet, and I cannot say that I am truly convinced that it will happen. She will not meet my children. She will not see my marriage become legal. She will not be around to pester me in her old age. But her disease gave me time to say goodbye, reminded me that we share this world together, and allowed me to spend time with her. I did not have time to grow resentful of caring for her, but instead had time to engulf myself in this loss and vow to see her to her death. She saw me into this life, and I will see her out of it. This pain is surrounded by the love that she gave me, and that love will force me to survive.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Another day, another sweater

This was our first weekend at the cabin after Mom died. We, the five of us, had decided to do Hannah’s birthday there instead of at my dad’s place. It was good for everyone else, I think. I had work-related difficulties to overcome, and that didn’t help anything.

I’ve been hostile. Not always angry, exactly. Just constantly hostile. In the right moments, I know I’ve been a jackass, but when it’s happening, I just get defensive and irritable. I’m oscillating between sad and hostile. It’s no good. I cried in the car nearly the whole way to work this morning. I was up until 2A.M., pouring out an angry stream of consciousness drivel that was more than 1000 words more than I had intended to write.

Because I have nothing more profound to say than the email I wrote this morning, I’m going to post that. This is in response to a fairly anonymous email I received on February 13th, just after noon. The recipient contacted me to say that she did the same thing with her boyfriend's mother a year earlier, and that she cried with each entry.

Hi Katie,

Thank you for your kind words. As I'm sure you realized, your email reached me the day my mother died. I read your message with sadness but some strange sense of sisterhood and appreciation.

With all that has happened in the last months, I've learned to appreciate the small blessings. Dwelling on what is horrible isn't going to diminish my grief any faster, and while these blessings won't either, being aware of them makes the days go by a little more smoothly. One of those blessings is that other people are in this with me. Two of my good friends have done this same thing--one with her stepmother, one with her partner's mother--and they know what I was going through and what I am going through. You have done this too.

I didn't have any resources for what to do in my situation. My friends were great and could relate, but they didn't have any record of their own experiences. The details fade over time and are not available to you years down the road. They recognized the details in what I wrote and said, but they couldn't describe them for me.

I only recently found out about Anne Lamott's novel, Hard Laughter, in which she describes a family's struggle with cancer. It may well cut in line of other the books on my reading list, because it's Anne Lamott, and she's funny. She wrote it in part so that it's a funny book about cancer. I need that right now, and I thought you might like to know that it's out there.

Again, thank you. I hope POG didn't remind you too much of your loss, but that if it did, it somehow salves the pain. That sisterhood thing is powerful, and we can be comforted by the small blessing of our connections.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

And another thing

Do not tell me how good it is that her suffering ended. There are other ways to end suffering besides dying, and I would much rather one of those. Whether she suffered or not, she is dead, and I miss her.

If you are in a service-oriented profession and dealing with me at a very stressful time in my life, do not piss me off.

I understand that you think I have lost too much weight, but your stating that more than once in a day will not give me weight. You see, I have not yet had time to gain the weight in between mention number one and mention number two. Mere hours have passed.


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Rules for Attending Funerals and Related Events

A primer on appropriate behavior for those visiting grieving families.

You may hug me upon greeting me and wishing me goodbye. You may hug me if I indicate a willingness to be hugged.

Do not hug me when you are distressed. It is upsetting to be hugged by someone who is freaking out. Your desire to hug me is not indicative of my wanting to be hugged.

Do not cry on me. I have to wear these clothes all day.

Do not dab at me with your Kleenex, even if it is clean.

Do not tell me that she is in a better place. Unless I ask for your input, your spiritual beliefs have no place in my grief.

Do not ask me about her relationship with any of the spiritual things you deem significant. If she did not discuss her spirituality with you before she died, she did not want you to know.

Do not say either of the following:
She looks so peaceful. (That is because she is dead.)
They did such a good job with her. (Is that your professional opinion?)

You may tell me how beautiful she is. You may tell me how much I look like her.

Please tell me what you loved about her.

Please tell me a funny story about her.

Please tell me how much you admired her.

Please send me a copy of your favorite picture of her.

Please call and send cards and letters and emails. It is important that I hear from people who care about me.

Do not be offended when I do not respond. You are not the only person who has gotten in touch with me, and my energy for talking about this is rapidly waning. Just know that I appreciate hearing from you.

When you ask if there is anything you can do to help, do not sound disappointed when I suggest something.

Do not make any kind of mess in my house that you do not clean up yourself. Suck it up and take your shoes off at the door. Take the initiative and find a dishrag on your own. Be creative and rinse your dishes before you go.

When you bring food, put a return address label on the dishes you want back. I cannot keep track of which casserole dish belongs to whom. Do not make me guess whether you want the GladWare returned.

Unless you are my boss or my catsitter, do not ask me when I am coming home and going back to work. When my plans change, I already have a lot of people to inform. I do not need to add someone else to the list.

Do not probe for specifics about how I am doing. When I give you vague answers to your questions, understand that I am telling you politely that I do not want to tell you.

Remember that my grief is a process for me, not for you. I may take my own sweet time with it. I may never be completely back to the way you knew me before. My life has changed dramatically.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Everyday cashmere

Iff home = the house I own,
then I am home.

Last weekend, we went shopping at the yuppy mall, and aside from being sneered at in front of the jewelry counter, it went pretty well. I had fun. I bought things I didn't exactly need but of which I could make good, practical use—a black belt, bergamot body spray, and some new stuff for the bathroom. This past Saturday and Sunday, Paul and Dad did a lot of work around the house, and I'm truly thrilled with the results. Some of it is as mundane as putting a new anode rod in the water heater, but all of it is wonderful and useful and noticeable. Some even involves moving and buying furniture, and for that, I am enthusiastic.

The sadness is more consuming now that I am home. I want to call Mom. I wonder if she called, and then I remember that she most definitely has not. I'm trying to make a few changes so that I'm not in the routine of work, home, work, train, the other home, work, train, home, work, and so on. It helps that Brooke got a new job, and thus, my work transportation situation has changed. Last Thursday, I was looking forward to coming back to work, but Saturday and yesterday, I wasn't so sure.

However, I had to guess how ready I would ever feel to come back. Knowing that staying off the horse any longer would make it that much harder to get back on—that is, knowing that neurotic and working is better than neurotic and bored, I came back. So now, here I am, answering questions and providing alternative solutions, setting up tables to study the minute details of the esoteric and locating people at the farthest edges of civilization who are doing highly specialized work in highly specialized subjects. I do love my job, even if I am considering another field.

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