Reflections on Grief Ten Years Later

Reflections on Grief Ten Years Later

By Linda Campanella

It’s shortly after sunrise and I am sitting on the deck of my cabin in the Berkshires waiting for a visit from my hummingbird. I yearn to hear the unmistakable vibration of her wings flapping as she hovers nearby.

Six months after becoming a motherless daughter in September 2009, I was alone in this same spot and, for the first time, allowing myself to indulge my immense, intense sadness. As I sat staring at the lake, alone with my grief in a location where I especially missed my mother Nan, suddenly a hummingbird flew in front of me and hovered no more than two feet away. I could have reached out and touched her.

Over the years the hummingbird—and I'm sure it’s the same one—has returned to visit me occasionally, and always at the very same spot. And in all these years I’ve never stopped trying to photograph her to provide family members proof of this miraculously wonderful visitor.

I have no doubt the hummingbird is my hummingbird. Nor have I any doubt she is a messenger dispatched on an important mission: to signal my mother wants me to know that she knows I'm thinking of her and wishing she were here.

Today I am actively wishing she were here, in the place she loved so much.

The ten-year anniversary of her death at age 74 from metastatic lung cancer is just days away. As I anticipate this milestone, sadness that had receded as my grief mellowed is surfacing again. It is an odd sensation, this anticipation of an anniversary reminding me viscerally of the wrenching anticipatory grief I experienced as Mom’s terminal disease progressed and the disorienting grief that engulfed me after she finally succumbed.

When my grief was most acute, I obsessively surrounded myself with anything having to do with birds, as birds had played a poignant role in Mom’s last months and days. I waited impatiently for a first dream in which my departed mother would return. I looked for her shape, or the letters of her name, in the clouds. I half-expected her to appear around a corner whenever I was out and about, so I was always on the lookout. Once, while driving on the Mass. Pike soon after her death, I spotted a Volkswagen Bug with license plate NAN driving ahead of me, so with my heart racing I raced up alongside the car to see if my mother was suddenly back from wherever she’d gone when she left us; the first car she ever owned was a VW Bug.

While still grieving intensely I immersed myself in poetry, which had been a great love of my mom’s during her lifetime. I tried listening to the music of French chanteuse Edith Piaf, one of Mom’s favorites, but it brought sobs, not solace. Less than two months after she died my overflowing grief found release on the pages of what became a memoir, written and edited in less than three months' time and published two years later. Initially I re-read parts of this story of our last year together almost daily to feel connected with Mom. Then weekly. Now not so much. Mercifully time has done much to tame the grief and mend a broken heart.

It was a very long time before my mother finally appeared in a dream. In ten years I’ve probably had only ten dreams of her, each of which I’ve forced myself to remember in the morning and record in writing for a file labeled “Dreams of Nan.” Occasionally I’ve emailed my three siblings to share the dream with them.

I pulled out that file yesterday. On April 18, 2011, I wrote this to Eric, Paula and Claudia: I had a vivid dream of Mom last night—really only my second since she died. The first was, as I think I excitedly told or wrote to you all, one in which she telephoned me from wherever she is, and it was clear she was calling me from “there.” I asked her frantically if she had called Dad too, and she had. It was an awesome, if hard to explain, experience. Last night I dreamed we were together on the deck at the lake having conversation; there were many times in the dream when we were making intense eye contact during our chit chat, and several times when she gave me typical Nan looks (a smile, a smirk,…). I woke up soon after she and I made plans to go see the newly released “Jane Eyre” movie together. And then I couldn’t go back to sleep.

Ten years after losing her, what I wouldn’t give to see her radiant smile or signature smirk again! And how wonderful it would be to make intense eye contact during chit chat here on the deck, or to see a movie together!

Never again, I know. It still hurts to acknowledge this.

Today I will settle for a visit from my hummingbird, and again I will try to capture her in a photograph. As I sit here, as I have on numerous other occasions poised to snap a photo, I am thinking, wishing, and even praying “Come back, come back!” Literally I am wishing the bird would return, but on a deeper level, my yearning may be a prayer that the woman this beautiful bird represents would herself come back. Come back to me, Mom. I still miss you terribly. Have coffee with me on the deck at Wildwood, the place you loved so much. Come back. Come back.

About the Author-----------

Linda Campanella of West Hartford is an advocate for compassionate end-of-life care and author of the award-winning memoir When All That’s Left of Me Is Love: A Daughter’s Story of Letting Go. More information at Follow Linda on Twitter @campanellalinda

Sep 5th 2019 Linda Campanella

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