Grief Never Stops Teaching

I’ve spent the last 11 hours wrapped up in a quilt made by a woman I never had the pleasure of knowing. My maternal grandmother, Uma, as I’d inherit calling her from my cousins, died 6 months before I was born.

All my life, every couple of years my Mom’s birthday would fall on Mother’s Day. I obviously knew that thinking about her mother made her sad. But from my perspective, since she had me, was a mom in her own right, and it was her birthday, she must have been having a great day.

Sitting here I think I’ve only just begun to realize how bittersweet that day must have been for her. I’m not sure there are many things worse in the world than not being able to call up your mother and wish her a Happy  Mother’s Day. Other holidays while not easy aren’t nearly as hard because they come with a lot more distraction. A Mother’s Day on May 8th for me has no distraction. I have no choice but to bluntly face my loss. And I’ll tell you what…it’s no walk in the park.

Any other day I know how lucky I am. How lucky I am that before she died my mom and I had moved past the distance teenage angst can put between a mother and daughter. Lucky that I had an amazing grandmother in my dad’s mother that through her strong silence taught me more about being independent and strong than anyone else in my life. Lucky that I have a beautiful support system of friends near and far. Lucky that my mother left me her best friend as my godmother so I’d always have a tie to the southern roots she raised me with all the way up north. Any other day I know those things.

Somewhere, under the pain of today I still know them. And at some point I’ll get up from under this quilt, Uma’s blanket, because of that knowledge. But I think my newest life lesson in grief might just be that everyday is bittersweet some days the balance is just thrown off…and it’s OK to be upset about the bitter taste in your mouth.

Home Sweet Home

Home is a weird concept. A very basic and universal concept but also weird. I’m sitting in Atlanta’s airport and someone just asked me where’s home, and I responded “Austin.” And that’s the truth. But when I was in Austin a couple weeks ago and people asked if I was going home for Thanksgiving, I said “No, Connecticut is too far.” Connecticut as home is the truth. And I still remember the first time while I was in college when I referred to Boston as home and my parents cried a little. But then, it was still the truth.

So yeah, home is this weird thing. It is super fluid and it can mean a lot of different things. It’s your billing address, but it’s also your childhood home. It’s a place and it’s a feeling. I feel it when I see the Prudential on the horizon from the Mass Pike. I feel it when I see the glittering dome of the Capital in Hartford. I will feel it in a couple hours when I jump in my boyfriend’s old gray Mazda when he picks me up from the airport.

I’m traveling home after a week spent with my godmother in Snellville, GA. A town about 30 minutes northeast of Atlanta proper. And here’s the thing, I feel home there too. My mom has been gone for 2 years now and my Godmother is her closest approximation. My mom was Southern in her values and in the way she raised me and therefore, being with my godmother’s home, despite the fact that I’ve only been there a couple other times in my life, is amazingly comforting. Atlanta is a place I’ve spent maybe a sum total of 30 days within in my 26 years of life, but it has a familiar buzz and a homey-ness too.

My godmother and I baked cookies for one whole day while I was there and I realized that her kitchen was a better representation of where I come from than my childhood home is. My childhood home has been co-opted by my Dad’s fiancée’s family and it’s no longer a place I recognize. Bristol is still home, but the dwelling isn’t really, and hasn’t been for about a year. Too bad, so sad I know. But the truth nonetheless.

So you see home is this really complex concept. Maybe it’s just me. But I doubt it is. Maybe the old saying is right, and home is where the heart is. If that is the case. I’ve left my heart in a couple places in my life and with a couple different people. I think I might be slowly collecting more and more homes as I move through this life. Multiple homes with no mortgages to speak of, not a bad way to do it.

Grief Equilibrium

Today is one of those days where I’m blogging for myself. I just need to get something off my chest. As always, I have this small hope that my thoughts might help someone else, it certainly can’t hurt.

Today marks 2 years since my mom died. I feel similarly this year on this day as I did last. Like everyone is expecting me to be curled up in the fetal position somewhere waiting for November 17th.

Now I get that this is irrational. And I get that everyone that makes contact with me today to let me know that they are thinking of me or that they hope I’m doing well is being nice. They are doing what they’re supposed to do. They are trying to remind me that they love and care about me. For the record, I appreciate that. Honestly. I do. I have an amazing network of loving and supportive family and friends and I truly feel lucky to have them. However, there is a small part of me that reads each of those messages as “Hey, just wanted to remind you that your mom died on this day. Love you.”

I know that is unfair, but I can’t help it. What is really comes down to, is that today isn’t different for me. There are a slew of other days in the past year that were way more difficult than today will be. For Example:

  • December 25th – When I had to witness my dad propose to another woman that is nothing like her.
  • Jan 5th – When my boyfriend told me he loved me for the first time and I couldn’t share that with her and tell her how sorry I am that I’ve fallen for a Packers fan.
  • Feb something – When I found out my cousin, and her favorite niece, had mailed back the Christmas gifts I bought her children. Reasons unknown. And I couldn’t call her up and cry, and have her help me understand why her family is so crazy and incomprehensibly rude.
  • April 13th – When I got to go to a conference in NYC for work and couldn’t sneak off at night to see a musical with her.
  • June 11th – When I had my second birthday without her.
  • August 26th – When my childhood best friend and I went to Colorado and saw these beautiful mountain vistas and I couldn’t text her the pictures.
  • November 10th – When I got promoted for the second time this year and couldn’t call her to celebrate and beg her not to brag too much about it to her friends.

Yeah, today is not nearly as bad as any of those other days this past year. Today is just another day without her.

So thank you to everyone who has and will check on me today. That’s really nice of you. Just know that I’m not off somewhere weeping. I’m likely fine. I could be laughing. Regardless, I miss her every second of everyday and always will. It’s the ups and downs of my life that tip the scales on grief equilibrium, not the calendar.

A Thank You Note to Yoga for “Intention”

Guys, it took almost 2 years, but Austin has finally converted me into a yogi. Okay, not like a real yogi. I don’t go every day. Honestly, I really only average like 1-2 times a week. But I’m prepared to take on the yogi identifier for a couple of reasons.

First, I have goals on my mat. Yeah goals, plural.One of them isn’t even “Don’t fall over.” I’m actually kind of okay with falling over these days. I want to be able to do crow pose. That’s one of my goals.So far I haven’t really gotten to hold it without falling over.Crow Pose

I also want to be able to consistently do wheel. The crazy thing is that I’ve done wheel. But sometimes I go to class, and I get scared and I think I can’t hold myself up and I don’t do it. It doesn’t even correlate to my physical fitness. Last week, I was honestly probably a little hungover, and I did wheel just fine. I could barely balance in the simplest of poses, but I could do a full back bend. It doesn’t really make sense.

Right there is another reason why I think I can call myself a yogi. I have come to a place of acceptance in my body, where I don’t need it to make sense. I’m a pretty linear thinker so this is a big deal. One of the reasons I’ve never been really great of staying physically fit is because I am not naturally athletic, and I don’t really like being bad at stuff. But now when I come to my mat, I’ve finally found a way to not expect anything from myself. I can let me self try and fail, because it’s not really cataloged in my mind as failure anymore. The trying to make my body do that crazy thing was the goal, not actually being able to do it. Can I please get a pause for what a big step that is? I, Amanda, have accepted a non-traditional framework of success. That’s huge for me….and I would argue huge for anyone that’s a type A personality.

I was able to get to that place because of setting my intention. It’s one of the crunchy granola things you do in yoga practice where at the beginning you set your intention for class. The instructor usually uses that moment to share a theme, give you an intention if you haven’t got one lined up. I only even have one intention and that is to do this. Do it. Not do it well. Not “today were doing crow goddamnit!” Nope. My intention is always. “self, we’re here, well done, let’s do it.” And that has made a really big difference.Taking that moment to set an intention is so huge! And finally there’s the last reason I think I’m a yogi now. That is because I have started to take my practice off my mat.

The practice of clearly identifying my intention has been, not to sound cliche but this whole post kinda is anyway, life changing. I feel like before I found some yoga studios I like, I never really bought into the whole yoga thing because I’m unapologetic-ally not a chill person. I’m just not, and I don’t feel the need to be. I get stuff done. That’s my personality. But intention is getting stuff done. It’s complete mindfulness. I’ve come to realize how often we do things without really identifying our end goal. I’ve used intention to convince myself to eat the lunch I brought instead of going out and buying something by reminding my self of the intention I set when I made it to be healthy and financially responsible.

It’s a little thing but intention has helped me use myself to hold myself accountable and to give myself some slack when I need it. Yoga is definitely not for everyone and I honestly doubt I’ll ever get to the place where it’s my central activity. But I am really happy I’ve added it to my life. There are physical health reasons for going. But that’s not really what get me out of my bed on the weekends to go, it’s the head space changes. I thought to be a yogi, you needed to mediate and drink a lot of tea and bend your body crazy ways. These days I think being a yogi is letting your practice be a part of your life, however small. I’m grateful for my practice, and if you haven’t got one I encourage you to at least give intention a shot. You can set an intention from child’s pose…heck you can set it from your couch, yoga pants encourage but not required.

Time Heals All Wounds….and Other Lies

All my life I knew exactly what day my grandmother died. I knew this not because I was there, I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be born for 6 more months. I knew it because my Mom was always sad on that day. Ten, twenty years post, and still that one day in January…always a bad day.

So I kind of figure I will be sad tomorrow. I’m planning on it, but I’m kind of annoyed about it. What right does a day on the calendar have to control my emotions. That doesn’t seem fair. Especially such a run of the mill date. Mother’s Day, ok, you are a special day and I give you permission to make me sad but November 16th? Who do you think you are? You’re not special.

I guess it is special. I will have made it one whole year without my mom. In some ways it feels much longer, in others ways much less. One thing that feels just the same is how unfair it all is. I personally don’t think those feelings will ever change. A common phrase is “time heals all wounds.” What a pile of shit. It does not. No amount of time is going to change the facts. The fact is that when I was 24 my mom died. And she’ll never see me get married. And just like me, my kids will never know their maternal grandmother. And I don’t get to turn to her in times of crisis. And I don’t get to share with her all the great times. And it’s been a year and those are still the painful facts. And you know what, ten, twenty years from now I’ll probably still think its unfair, and I get to think that.

Because if there is one thing that has changed with time this past year it is how I’m dealing with her being gone. In the beginning I kept feeling like I just needed to get through this. I quickly realized that what I need to get through was the rest of my life. And that sounded awful. “Getting through life” and “living life” are not nearly the same thing. Once I realized that it was a lot easier to give myself permission to feel however I wanted. And that included, angry, frustrated, annoyed, nostalgic, and happy, sometimes all at once. If you give yourself some slack and accept that you’re allowed to feel whatever you are feeling life is a lot easier. I don’t think that applies just to grieving either I think that applies to everything. I don’t see why they don’t teach you that in Kindergarten, could save the world a lot of time.

This is my favorite picture of my parents ever. It's one of the things I let myself feel, annoyed, angry, nostalgic, and happy about all at once.

This is my favorite picture of my parents ever. It’s one of the things I let myself feel, annoyed, angry, nostalgic, and happy about all at once.

While I’m reflecting and knowledge sharing, this past year I’ve also learned a couple other things I think are useful. The one most pertinent to this post is that everyone grieves differently…and that’s ok. I, personally, mostly grieve in private. To me, those are intimate feelings tied deeply to who I am as a person, so I just assume keep those to myself. Some people don’t grieve like that. Some people grieve outwardly, publicly, loudly. And that is ok too. Because you know what? No one has figured out how to grieve perfectly. In fact, I think it might be the one thing humans are just not meant to figure out. We might one day discover time travel or how to get to other parts of space, but I don’t think we’ll ever discover a perfect way to deal with death. Because we’ve been trying for millennia and we haven’t gotten it down. Hundreds if not thousands of religions have been part of the scene over time and not one has a fool-proof solve for how to lose a loved one and not be sad. Even modern medicine with its many feats can’t give you a pill that just gets you over it (I’m not counting anti-depressants because arguably to be prescribed them you’d need to suffer a lot of grief first). So grieve how you want, and I’m not going judge you.

Tomorrow, might be a bad day. It also might be a perfectly fine day. We will have to wait and see. It will, like all the days over the past year, be a day I miss my mom. What it will not be is just another day to get through. I’m putting my foot down on that one. November 16th, I’m going to live you tomorrow with whatever you bring and you can’t stop me.

Progress

So when you lose someone people tell you “it will get easier with time.” This like most everything society has been trained to say when someone dies a load of bullshit. It does not get easier over time to not have a mom. Sorry, it just doesn’t.

However, over time the complex feelings that you carry around because that is your truth do change. I could see how people might mistake that for easier. It’s not, it’s just different and more manageable.

Case in point: I don’t remember my dreams all that often but sometimes I have dreams and my mom is in them. In the beginning when I would wake up from dreams where she was there I’d be pretty much a complete mess. However, today I woke up from one of those dreams and instead of wanting to crawl into a hole and hide the rest of the day I thought “it was nice to see her.”

That might be a crazy person thing to think but I really don’t care. I’m going to take it as a sign of progress. Not that it’s getting easier to have lost my amazing mom, but that me and my subconscious are finding some really creative ways to deal with it.

I think that really all I can hope for. Mom, it was nice to see you last night, I hope you’re enjoying watching me write this while I listen to the playlist I made for your retirement party. Maybe next time I dream we can do The Twist.

June 2014, A Success Story

So circa Spring 2012 I decided to give running a try as an adult. Up until then I had negative bordering on traumatic memories of running having been subjected to mile runs in gym class as a chubby asthmatic kid. Somehow I turned a corner on it and me and running worked out our issues. I’ll never love running the way I love say, cheese, but since running helps me eat cheese without turning into the 600 lbs woman we have come to an agreement.

I have no desire to be one of those insane people that runs marathons. Sorry, just no. However, when  I moved to Austin I was working my way up to a 10K having completed several 5Ks and having settled into 3 miles as a standard run.

Yeah, well a lot has happened since last August and since running doesn’t make me happy the way cheese makes me happy I have seriously slipped. And it’s whatever. I’m not going to beat myself up about it . Perspective, it’s one of the only good things that comes from unthinkable loss.

So at the start of this month a bunch of people in my life were talking about starting 30 day challenges: abs, yoga, etc. I was feeling a little left out, until I decided to give myself a June challenge, too. I opened my Nike+ Running App and figured out how many runs per month I had averaged in the last year as well as how many miles.

Then I set my challenge, beat my average of 7 runs and 13 miles with an 8 run/13.1 mile goal. Not exactly a Herculean feat I know but hey judgey-mc-judgey-pants it’s a start.

We’ll there is a solid week left in this beautiful month and by using an aggressive red sharpie on my lovely Boston wall calendar to mark my progress I have hit my goal. 8 runs totaling 17.92 miles.

June

None of those runs were 3 miles. None of them were at the pace I used to run. But that’s not the point. The point is that I set a goal and I met it. And it feels good. It was such a little thing but life is totally in the little things. Like sweaty runs, achieved goals…..and brie.