September 14, 2010

Tell your story

I just stumbled across the blog of a Mom who lost her 19-year old son in a car accident. He had three younger siblings and she asked readers to help her children by telling their stories about losing a parent or sibling at a young age and any wisdom they'd learned for how to cope.

I was in tears by the time I finished reading her post and the comments. Rather than filling her comments, it made me want to write it out here. None of my stories are likely to help a teenager cope, but it was interesting which ones popped into my head.

Three stories jump to mind about telling people my Mom was dead. The first filled me with unholy glee, the second was difficult and the third was maliciously fun.

Right after Mom died, my sister and I remained home for a month. Together we cleaned out the house, returned the hospital bed, and answered the phone. This was before the 'do not call' option, so there were a lot of telemarketers that called to ask for my Mom. It's really hard to derail a telemarketer script without just hanging up on them. I'm sure it's my wicked sense of humor, but it was actually fun to just say, "She's dead" and wait to see how they'd react. "...oh. um. OK. well, thank you..."

When I got back to my job after the leave of absence, one of my annoying coworkers heard me tell that story and said with a look of deep sympathy in her eyes, "That must have been healing for you." I just nodded at her, but inside my head I snorted and thought, "No, really, it was just very amusing. Crying and telling stories about her is healing. Stopping a telemarketer in their tracks is just fun." I knew she saw herself as empathetic but she'd never said or done anything that showed me she 'got me', so I didn't bother to clarify.

The next time when I had to tell the uninitiated about Mom's death was at my 10th high school reunion. Mom died in '97, the reunion was two years later. Jrex was in residency so he couldn't join me. I wandered the room alone chatting with many amazing people. Unfortunately, during high school, I'd had many of them over, or they'd met my parents in various capacities. Because my Mom was an amazing listener and a truly empathetic woman, she made an impact wherever she went. I must have had 10-12 conversations where friends asked how my parents were doing. "Well, my Dad has retired from his non-profit housing firm. He's now doing lots of writing. And my Mom died two years ago from cancer." Cue sympathy moment. Somehow by burying the lead, it made it easier to say, but it was still hard each time. What WAS healing was that they would tell stories of what they remembered about her.

The third time was three years later. I was working as a designer within a printing company. I was the ONLY woman in the pre-press department. I had a great sister/brother vibe with most of the guys and we'd tease each other about lots of things. One of them was a big, burly guy with a loud laugh. He ribbed everyone really hard all the time, but he had such a warm heart that it never stung. He came in on a Thursday and chatted about what he was going to do for his mom since Mother's Day was Sunday. He went on and on for a while. I guessed what was coming and braced for it a little.

"So, OTRgirl, what are you going to do for your mother this weekend?"


"Nothing!! Nothing?! What kind of daughter are you, you have to do something for your mother." He blustered on for a while and I just let him dig a nice deep pit (cause I have an evil sense of humor...) When he finally slowed down, he asked, "Why aren't you doing anything?"

I grinned, "I'm going to answer your question and you're going to feel bad, but you really don't have to..."

He looked confused.

"She died five years ago."

"Ah, shit, OTRgirl, you should have stopped me. I'm so sorry!"

I laughed at him, "I told you you'd feel bad. I couldn't resist letting you walk into that one."

It's interesting to write these down. Obviously a big part of my coping is humor. The truth was that the healing for me was in having a husband who listened to my stories about her. It was in talking with my brother, sister and Dad. It was remembering, writing, painting, and drawing. It was working at the time with kids in residential treatment--looking at each of their awful mother experiences and knowing that even losing my Mom at the age of 26 wasn't a reason for self-pity. I knew I'd been loved and I had amazing riches of wisdom and compassion deposited in me for 26 years. Yes, I was overwhelmingly sad/angry/depressed for a year. Then year by year the emotional intensity lessened. It took 7 years for life to feel 'normal' again. To always have a Mom-shaped hole, but to know how to live around it.


NGS said...

My father died recently, leaving me with complicated feelings and lots of laughing over what some other people call "inappropriate" things. This makes me feel better than I'm not the only one who finds dark humor better than sadness all the time!!

Inkling said...

Thanks for this post - dark humor and all. I liked the line about a "mom shaped hole". I was just thinking about my grandma the other day and how she and my grandpa are grieving the fragility of life as they age and near the end. I was wondering what it must be like for her to face something so monumental - dying or the possibility of outliving my grandpa after over 60 years of marriage - without the benefit of being able to call up her mom for a listening ear or emotional support. I mean, I know she's in her 80's, but I just can't imagine ever outgrowing the need for a "mommy", you know? Even with the tenuous relationship I have with my own mom, there are times when I still have that feeling that I just need her to be my mommy. Thank you for being so real about the journey and how it is taking time to figure out how to live with that hole.

I really appreciate you for what you write, what you share in the comments on my own blog, and just who you are through your words. You are a blessing, more than you probably realize.

Anonymous said...

Your Mother's death -- and the death of each of my parents -- left great holes in my heart. Thoughts of each of them still zoom into mind unexpectedly, and I miss them.

But, you're right, there are great ironies connected with death. Do you remember, after Baba D's death, my Dad and the five of us were sitting in Dad's condo at the Towers? We were telling great stories about Baba D -- we were having a joyful wake -- and suddenly our friend, Whitie, the Mexican drama queen, burst into the room as the masque of tragedy. With tears streaming down her face, she gave my Dad a huge hug. She chilled the temperature in the room at least 60 degrees and we all had to sit there with long faces until she and her husband left.

You know, you certainly have a mean streak, and I want you to know that I appreciate it.

alwaysmomof4 said...

Thank you for your comments on my blog and continuing the conversation on losing a parent or sibling on your own site. I do wonder what that month of being at home with your sibling cleaning out the house was like for you. It seems to be a point of adulthood, of "crossing over" that a lot of us face or will face.

I don't have the mom shaped hole yet. Your description of the part of you that you lost when your mom died is so poignant. I'm fortunate to still have my parents. I don't know what I would have done without them right after losing my son.

I'm glad we've connected through our blogs.

Anonymous said...

There are still times that I feel that I do not have an anchor anymore because mom is gone and it hurts. I think about all of the ladies that are not able to join us for sister's weekend and miss them anew. We talk about them during the weekend and it feels like they are there. That helps a lot.

Just in case you want to know my take on clean out after mom death. She is getting back at me for everything wrong that I did or said. jj

OTR sister said...

Aunt J, I love your comments. And your last paragraph made me laugh.

As for me, that month with OTRgirl after Mom's death (and the following two months when I was there on my own) was a period lived in a painful fog. It was like trying to move through molasses, everything ached.

One moment I loved though, was after carting things to be thrown away down the three flights of stairs it occurred to OTRgirl and I that we could throw everything out the window. (The side passageway of our house was only 3 ft. wide with a brick wall on the other side.) THAT was cathartic! We didn't care if it was breakable or not. It's hard to find healthy ways to express the anger of losing someone, and I'm not sure how healthy this was, but it did feel nice.

Anonymous said...

I think that is a wonderful idea and I knew you girls had brains. Also we take our laughs where we can find them. jj