One of the the things grievers struggle with is when to reveal the truth – the whole my-life-is-completely-changed-because-of-this-terrible-loss truth (much less “oh, but I think my kid still communicates!”) – about ourselves. Who can handle it? Who cannot? And is there a broader lesson here, for us all, about the importance of being real? Sometimes, I have found, the truth just sort of takes over…and further: that it’s more than okay. Being truthful can deliver you to a place of Presence.
I wrote this on October 6 – two days before the third anniversary (crapiversary, re-birthday, you pick) of Mark’s death. I’m part of an online book club that is reading Richard Rohr’s “Breathing Underwater” which is about the spirituality of the 12 Step program(s). The first Step is to admit you have no control over the chaos that is your life, your addiction(s) (and BTW, addictions take MANY forms); and then subsequent Steps take you into surrender, into releasing the illusion of control. It is a powerful book. These are my thoughts, as we moved through the first few chapters.
This is a terrible time of year for us; in spite of all my efforts to stay sane, to reject the “artificiality” of loading one day with more weight than the other 364 days we are forced to live without Mark: I’m very vulnerable. It doesn’t take much to rock my boat. And yet stuff happens and keeps happening. All the way from minor irritations to (what feels like, at least right now) major catastrophes. I still, deep down, want to believe I now hold a “get out of jail free” card. “Man, my kid died and so, God, [since, you know, I get to call the shots!] I’m expecting you to make sure the rest of the road is kind of flat and smooth.”
Except that doesn’t seem to happen.
How do I find my way to solid ground when it feels like I’m drowning in a stormy ocean?
The two months since the Bereaved Parents conference have been very full.
Sarah began her employment in our county school system and her schedule impacts ours – if we want to see her, at least. We love to hear snippets of her days with the small children she is teaching. We are bemused and sometimes frustrated by her lifestyle, like so many parents, because she, like so many millenials, cannot seem to live without spending most of her disposable income on avocado toast and gourmet burgers (this is a joke, and not really one! Heh! Heh. Hmm).
This summer – which is not even close to over, in spite of the fall clothing sprouting on retail racks – has hustled along. I look back nostalgically to slower times, when the kids were little: summer consisted of eating (a lot of corn and tomatoes and grilled things), a few errands, a few chores, and long afternoons at the pool (and once the kids could swim, delicious hours with my head buried in a novel). Or…at least I knew my boundaries then, my priorities – I literally could not over-stuff the days, with my two hangers-on. My own rest and refreshment were guaranteed, at least here and there, because I needed to make sure our kids had plenty of it.
Now: well, there’s work, obviously, and all the stuff minimally required for personal and housing upkeep – that hasn’t changed. Then there’s the newer wrinkles like walking the cat (yes, it’s a thing, and he likes it) and my MIL’s life/care to oversee (she’s doing well-enough in her new digs, thank God). I volunteer a fair amount and will probably continue my one-day-a-week at the preschool. I’m genetically predisposed to DO.
And then there’s trying really really hard to be good, hands-off-but-we’re-right-here-waiting-to-impart-Wisdom-really!-right-over-here-not-too-busy-at-all!-yep-right-over-here! parents to our young adult co-occupant.
Honestly, I feel like one of those people at the circus who keeps innumerable plates spinning on top of bendy poles (most of the women reading this are probably nodding: Yep, that’s what we do). There are a number of plates, most of them of similar size. There isn’t one BIG plate that I get to favor or attend to; I cannot get rid of any of the plates either (or I cannot give myself permission to do so…?).
Behind it all, woven through it all, even invading my dreams – sort of like never-ending background music, except not as lovely – has been My Brain Thinking About Too Many Things, but mostly “can it…shouldn’t my life be different? Oh please: can it please be different?” But I have either NO idea, or too many ideas, as to WHAT, much less HOW.
In late April, we heard from my MIL’s social worker (she lives in a senior center with every level of care – independent living through skilled nursing). Apparently, Steve’s sweet mom had “eloped” – their term for leaving the building, going AWOL – and with a little investigation it turned out that wasn’t the first time she’d wandered (although always inside the building up to now). So the thought was that it was time to move her from her cozy, now-familiar 1 BR unit on the 3rd floor and into the memory care (secure) portion of assisted living in another building. There, the units are all just…bedrooms. Not-even-a-studio, 10×14, only-slightly-well-disguised hospital rooms.
The kicker was there were two rooms in a 10-room unit available and my MIL’s best friend was also being tagged for this change of location. Wouldn’t it be better to have them move together?
(YES. But. What if it’s US that are not ready? It’s May…Sarah is getting her master’s, then there’s Mark’s memorial dedication…then his birthday in June. Our emotions are already in a tangle. Nnnggggh! God! We gotta talk…)
Mark’s twenty-second birthday. Our third without him here.
We’d been celebrating each year, since his passing, with a pizza party at our neighborhood pool, and that was certainly sweet and mellow. But I wanted to do something that would be a different kind of community-gathering…something that would be fun and also not too “scary” for the folks who wanted to be in touch but weren’t sure how to handle “This”…how to approach grief, a grieving family, much less their own processes.
An idea literally popped into my mind one day, about 2 weeks before his birthday, as I realized “Incredibles 2” was opening in theaters soon. We love Pixar movies, and the first “Incredibles” movie was a family favorite. Could we figure out a way to watch this new one, on his birthday, with a crowd?
Three dreams to share. The first is, once again, from my beautiful friend Maryann; the second two are mine.
In Maryann’s dream, which was several months ago, she found herself at my house, on the bedroom level. “You and Mark were both working, doing something separately in your house. I could hear you both moving around wherever you were. I talked to Mark, but I remember hearing him more than seeing him this time. He was cheerful, hungry, and asked for 2 pieces of buttered toast. I went down to the kitchen, sliced bread, made toast and carried it on a plate back upstairs. When I returned, Mark wasn’t in sight but I could hear him moving around somewhere. I had the sense not to interrupt whatever he was doing. I put the plate of toast on the desk in his room and turned to leave.”
And she woke up.
It was very vivid and powerful but she wasn’t quite sure why. What she didn’t know is Nancy had brought us half a fresh-baked loaf of bread a day or two earlier, and it was sitting in front of our toaster. Steve and Sarah had sliced off and enjoyed a few pieces of toast from it.
Spring is in FULL swing, tax season is over, and we’ve also managed to soldier through some very wonderful, “brutiful” events in our family. I can breathe a little again now; feel some flex in my time and days.
While I get the rust out of my blogging engine, I’m going to add – in the next several days – one, two or three things I wrote in March/April, plus some other writing I’ve done over the last couple of years: several prayers I’ve written and shared – in my role as Worship Leader – with those attending our church on various Sundays. I’ll be backdating the prayers so they “fit in,” time-line-wise, amongst other blog posts I was writing about the same time; the first and oldest will be showing up in August 2016.
You may find them too religious, or too full of Jesus, for your liking. And that’s ok.
May 2018 was the month of corner-turning, the month of next steps.
Sarah graduated with her master’s degree in teaching in the first week of May, and once we managed to take a breath from all the celebrating associated with this significant accomplishment (and: she has already secured a job for this fall! YESSS!), we proceeded down to Mark’s university for what would have (ostensibly) been his graduation weekend as well (his friends were hilariously blunt: “Mama Slough, he probably wouldn’t have made it in 4 years. Almost no one does in aerospace.” Fine. I’m calling it THIS weekend.)
We were there to dedicate a memorial in his name, a bronze plaque affixed to a bench just outside one of the engineering buildings; and, if we had the emotional wherewithal, to also attend the commencement ceremonies – the entire class ceremony and the aerospace engineering one, which were on separate days. Steve and Sarah weren’t sure, but I knew I wanted at least one of us there at each, in Mark’s stead. It just seemed fitting, like the closing of a loop; I felt so strongly that I wanted to somehow finish what he had started, and what we had started with him.
Although “miracles make me lazy,” I am still deeply appreciative of them when they occur. Although these things that happen to me are not huge, and are entirely “dismissable” (if you are someone who needs absolutes/proof, I cannot give it), the timing is always unmistakable, often humorous and always loving and encouraging.
There is MORE. There is MORE!