Autumn is the hardest season. The leaves are all falling and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground.
The summer after my mom died ten year ago, I discovered a cache of letters, poems, and old photos I had never seen before, many of which dated back to her high school and college years. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to discover that my mother–my mother!–had once been as immature and silly as I remember myself being during those years. Well, almost. There were other surprises awaiting me as well.
I think I was somewhere in my twenties when I realized that my parents had actually been people before I came into their lives. Interesting, intelligent, fun people, growing and experiencing young adulthood just as I was at the time. My head almost exploded at the thought. “Well, of course,” my mom said mildly, barely looking up from her mystery novel when I shared my discovery with her. My dad just looked at me. “When I was your age, I was fighting a war, ” was all he said, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open and my world tilted on its axis a bit more. Ever since, I’ve been hungry to learn more about them, the young woman and man who became my parents.
My mother’s letters and poems have helped me understand how she dealt (actually, she didn’t really deal) with the sudden loss of her father in a farming accident when she was 20. Reading her prose makes me sad that she never followed up on her youthful ambition to be a writer, and makes me more determined than ever to somehow, someway, realize my dream of becoming one, chronic migraines be damned! Looking through her papers I am continually reminded that although I may not be her flesh and blood, I am so much like her I might just as well be…The passionate love poem she wrote to my dad shortly before their wedding, well, I just have to keep putting that one aside because I can’t wrap my mind around that one, nor am I entire certain I want to!
But most astounding and overwhelming letters that I found were the ones I had no inkling existed, the letters she wrote to God when she converted to the Catholic Church in her early twenties. My mom was a real Christian; she lived the Beatitudes and was warm, generous, joyful, and loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental and kindness itself. But these letters reveal a depth of love so overwhelming that it is shocking, in the the same way some of the more mystical writings of the saints are shocking. It’s a good reminder that not all saints are canonized, that even those we love most have hidden depths, and that, indeed, we are all called to holiness.
The little peanut in the photograph below from 1928 would be 89 years old today, and was lucky (?) enough to have been my mom. Mildred Elaine Baach (later Resch) was born to Fern and Edward Baach in Austin, MN on May 10, 1928; this is her tenth birthday since she’s been gone, and I have to admit that I still haven’t gotten to the point where the happy memories outweigh the pain of missing her. Maybe if she hadn’t been so wonderful–warm, generous, funny–or if we hadn’t been so close, it might be easier…or if I didn’t have the chronic illness and depression stuff to deal with all of the time…or if we had kids, and I could feel as though the cycle of life was continuing…but then again, maybe, most likely, none of that would make any difference at all.
I think part of the reason I am posting this is that if you are moving through grief I want you to know that there is no set time limit, no arbitrary rules that say, oh, by one year (or whatever) you need to be HERE emotionally and if you aren’t then you are maudlin and creepy and just wallowing in negativity. Or, ome people might say to you, hey, you should be happy, your loved one is in heaven with Jesus, so you shouldn’t be so sad. Baloney. Even Jesus cried when Lazarus died; you can be glad your loved one is partying up in heaven, but still miss them dreadfully and feel that you’d give anything for just one more hug. Grief is an incredibly complex, difficult state of being, affects every person differently, and no one has the right to criticize you for it. (The only caveat I’d add is that if if you feel your grief slipping into clinical depression, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.)
The reality is that you will grieve forever. you will not “get over” the loss of a loved one you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to.
For All Souls Day, some flatlay collages and family photos in loving and grateful remembrance of my beloved family and friends now home with God, especially my grandparents, my Uncle Al (who died in January), and my amazing, wonderful parents.
Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace . Amen.
I am feeling horribly fragile today, as I have been on most days these last months. Fibromyalgia pain, worsening back and neck pain from arthritis, migraines, foot pain, and depression, a nasty depression relapse that just goes on and on and on…Are my medications not effective any longer? Are changing hormone levels playing a role? Am I getting worse as I get older? Did breaking my foot so badly throw everything off? Or all of the above?
It’s hard to say. But none of my usual self-care strategies seem to be helping anymore. My gratitude journal, guided meditation, walking, losing myself in a good book…all of my long honored tried-and-true comforts are failing me. I’m also having a tough time reaching out to friends because I don’t know what to say.
And part of this, I know, is the ongoing pain of childlessness. The gaping, supperating wound that never heals. It’s always there, a dull ache that crescendos to a roar at times, like around Father’s Day, which is this coming Sunday.
I don’t quite know what to do with so much pain, both physical and emotional. My husband has been wonderfully, incredibly supportive, I have terrific doctors, but it’s as if my usual coping mechanisms have run dry. So all I can do for the moment is to hold on tight to the love I know heals me. From my family, my husband, my God. And force myself to get out of bed every day, to get dressed, to sit out in the backyard with the sun and the flowers and the dog, and hope that eventually healing grace will start to take hold.
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’
Mary Ann Radmacher
Another Memorial Day & […] still at war, decorating an ever-increasing number of graves. –Eleanor Roosevelt, Memorial Day 1944.
When Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this, my dad was a 24 year-old farm boy from Minnesota living in Selsey, England, training for the great Allied invasion of France that would take place the next week on D-Day, June 6. My dad would hear his first shots fired in anger in the midst of some of the worst carnage of the entire war, on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, later aptly nicknamed “Bloody Omaha”.
The United States had a lot more graves to decorate after D-Day, and in the months to come, until WWII finally came to an end with unconditional surrender of Japan in August of 1945.
My dad has been gone for over twenty years now; his generation, the World War II generation, is almost gone now. The day we buried my father, there were enormous patches of open land at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery; when I went out there yesterday to visit mom and dad’s grave, I noticed that it is almost full. Soon there won’t be any veterans left to tell their stories about Omaha Beach, or The Battle of the Bulge, or the day their unit liberated Buchenwald, or Dachau, or one of the numerous sub-camps that lurked throughout Germany. It will be left to us, their children and grandchildren, to keep their stories alive, to make sure their legacies are passed on to new generations so that their heroism is never forgotten.
But will anyone want to listen? Are people listening now? I’m not entirely sure. And that makes my heart hurt…because I know the price my father paid, not just by giving his country the best years of his life, but in blood, in sweat and tears, in heartache and grief and flashbacks and lifelong nightmares.
What these men did mattered, then and for all time. They saved the world from a terrible, incomprehensible evil. As President Bill Clinton said of the gathered veterans in Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the year after my dad died:
They may be older now, and grayer now,
and their ranks are growing thin.
But when these men were young,
these men saved the world.
They did. They really did. Guys like my dad never have thought of themselves as heroes, but that’s exactly what they were.
Almost a year ago today, I received my Master of Arts in Theology from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Actually, to be precise, my degree is a Master of Arts in Theology with a Concentration in Spirituality and a Certificate in Pastoral Theology. It took me six years to get that darn degree, thanks to fibromyalgia, bouts of chronic migraine, neck surgery after a car accident, and a quite nasty depression relapse.
Several things sustained me during this time: My husband’s unfailing support; the help and support of the incredible staff and faculty at St. Kate’s; and my belief that I was called, called by God, to pastoral care as a chaplain. I’d worked as a chaplain at the V.A. one summer in 1997 and for part of the previous summer in Oncology and General Medical-Surgical at a hospital in St. Paul. I loved it, loved it, even on the toughest, most exhausting days.
My fibromyalgia kept getting worse in my twenties and forced me to drop out of graduate school and give up on my dream of becoming a chaplain. But by my late thirties, new medications were definitely easing the fibromyalgia pain and I remember telling my mom, before she died, that I was planning to go back and get my M.A., and she was so pleased!
And so I did. But in the end my pain defeats me again..not just fibromyalgia, but myofascial pain syndrome, multiple problems in my cervical spine, chronic migraines (yes, my Botox shots help, but I still get about ten a month). I can’t even volunteer, because I don’t know whether or not I’ll be well enough on any given day to appear when I say I will.
I’m angry. And frustrated. I’m not sorry I got my degree, because I love theology, and the knowledge and skills I gained, nothing–not even fibromyalgia–can take away from me. But I want so badly to use my degree to make a difference in the world, to help others to feel God’s love and mercy. It is so painful to mourn the loss of a dream…and to attempt to discern what God has in mind to take its place.
Great list. I think I can handle it. http://themighty.com/2015/12/11-things-people-with-chronic-illnesses-need-to-do/
Hey fibro friends, I found this on a terrific fibro blog I discovered today, called “Fab with Fibro” (which is what we all want to be, right?); the link is from The Mighty, one of my all-time favorite chronic illness (physical and mental) websites. They have a marvelous newsletter I highly recommend.
Anyway, I’ve been struggling with giving up my long-time dream of being a chaplain. Lots of tears, anger, envy toward the entire world of healthy people who can take any job they want without needing to think twice about health limitations…in other words, loads of grief with a big dose of self-pity mixed in. So when I read this list by The Mighty, it felt as though it was written specifically for me. So I thought I’d share this, with many thanks to fabwithfibro, for those of you who are coming bang up against fibro and other health limitations too.
Nine years. It’s been nine years since I last saw my mother’s heartstoppingly beautiful smile. I miss you mom, miss you so much my heart aches and I can’t catch my breath. You were right, of course, I turned out to be stronger than I ever thought I could be–after all, I never thought I could live or ever be happy again without you–but oh, how I miss that warm, generous, beloved smile. And oh, what I’d give for one more hug. Just one more…
The absence of that presence is everywhere. (Patricia Hampl)
My only real comfort today is the same as it was then, that you are at home with the only One who could love you more than me. And that someday, that same One will wipe away all our tears, and we will all be together again, and there will be no more goodbyes, ever.
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