The weather is shifting in Joshua Tree. The once winter-barren trees are full of beautiful green leaves, and the rose bushes are laden with beauty and aromatic flowers-- and – I made it through my fourth Mother’s Day without my son.
People who are not currently in grief may not understand the hills and valleys of the process. One day you’re navigating the process, as we will for our lifetime, and you may even find a reason to laugh, smile, dance – and like being caught naked, your utter sorrow comes flying toward you at the speed of light. Sometimes the absence of your loved one is felt so palpably it takes your breath away. I have doubled over as a pang hits, and it truly does feel physical. Or a memory of that awful day destroys you for an entire day.
I am learning, however, to live in the present. What I mean by this is, I do have the ability to live in the present, and I have the choice to stay there as often as I can. I have a responsibility to myself and to those with whom I am in close relationship. The maintenance of relationships is very important to our healing. I have spoken with others who are in grief, and sometimes, we think no one cares because the casseroles have stopping coming.
People are fragile and the thought of death is more than some can handle. They are uncomfortable talking about it. They hem and haw because they really don’t know what to say. I have learned to cut them some slack. When you lose someone, you become the focal point of all who love you. You see, I don’t think they are no longer around because they are tired of our grief; I think it’s because they are tired of their powerlessness, the kind that makes them aware, there is nothing that can be said, no matter how hard they try. I know because someone finally said to me, “I have no idea what to say to you.” I was grateful for the honesty.
The powerlessness of someone I love, kind that comes from wanting desperately to comfort us, and being absolutely unable to, is hurtful for me to consider. I get it now, three and one-half years since the death of my beautiful and tortured son. I have spent time until I am blue in the face, in self-examination. I have looked in the mirror of my Soul until I could make sense of the whole damn experience. I have self-analyzed at a dizzying pace – until I have collapsed from death’s vertigo. What I didn’t do once I could see straight is open the door to relationships I had not nurtured after a time of supreme grief.
People love us; we are fortunate to have supportive and loving people in our lives. I don’t want to say, “I have no one to support me”, because the fact of the matter is, we probably have church folk, work folk, and our folk – both family of origin and family of choice. For example, the week my son died, one of my husband’s colleagues organized a group of people who brought us dinner every night for two weeks. Friends I hadn’t heard from in a very long time, put many things aside in their busy lives, to try to comfort me, and many times, they did.
When we’re in pain – everything hurts. We got snow in the desert this year. I am a San Diego native and we just don’t get snow. I thought it was so beautiful it made me cry. I cried because I could not share it with my son – my son who saw beauty everywhere too. I hear a song that says nothing about mothers and sons, and yet, I become a weeping mess. No rhyme. No reason. Beautiful things make me think of my son.
The time when the calls, visits, and casseroles stop coming is when we finally get to sit in our grief and participate in a timeless ritual. Some deaths make absolutely no sense. They were children. They “didn’t even look sick.” They suffered from addiction. We could choose to spend the rest of our quickly passing lives to make meaning of our losses. We could. My gut, my physical, and my emotional gut, tell me I’m missing out on seeing beauty with different eyes now. I miss my opportunity to be an active participant in my relationships. I miss out on joy.
Making meaning is important to our healing hearts and our foggy, grieving minds; I believe the act is how we’ve survived as a species, but being present in your life and making memories is more important. Sure, making meaning is where art is born, but making memories with people we love is where we are born – again and again and again. Life unfolds before us, and it’s lived in shorter duration than we want to imagine. My son’s friend, Oscar, was 7 years old when he was struck by a car and killed. His best friend, Louie, died at 13. And my son was 32 and had his entire life before him. Some deaths, maybe all deaths make no sense. Making sense when you’re in pain is nearly impossible.
My friends and family were there despite their own grief. Some of them were terrified to say anything that might add to the pain, so they said nothing. I get it now. It’s not all about me. I can push everyone away because they didn’t save me from my cataclysmic pain. Irrationally, I thought they should have. I hurt people because I refused to see or talk to them when they reached out. I hurt people when I lashed out and spewed the hurtful words, “you have no idea”.
In my pain, I didn’t try to understand my friend’s and family’s silence. In retrospect, I see now, they just loved me enough to say nothing. There are some things that we as grievers are responsible for. We are responsible for our healing. We are responsible for how we handle our relationships after the death of our loved one. We are responsible for making certain we are heard. We are responsible to hold a space for others. We are responsible for maintaining compassion for others even in our grief.
Life goes on, even after the loss of your loved one. Life speeds by and before we know it, it’s over. We love and we lose – and sometimes those losses break us for a while. But if we’re very lucky, our friends and family are able and want to be physically present – even if they have no inkling what to say. We are so centered on surviving our own grief, we may not notice our pain reflected in the faces of those who love us, those who have been waiting patiently for us to return to a life that includes them.
About the Author---------
Sherrie Ann Cassel is a writer and blogger. She writes about grief, addiction, and healing, after losing her only child to the disease of addiction. She has written a book of poetry called LOVE SONGS TO A JUNKIE SON, chronicling the chaos of her son’s final years and the aftermath of his death. Sherrie holds a B.S. in psychology and is planning to attend graduate school with an emphasis on positive psychology. She has been published in Addiction.com and Grief Digest. She lives in Joshua Tree with her husband, Ben, and their three grouchy cats.
Grief to Gratitude: https://grieftogratitude.home.blog/