My parents have been dead a long time. Or not so long. It depends on my mood, how long it seems. My mom died in April 2007, my dad in January 1993. I often wonder what advice they would give me now, about being childless, being disabled and in chronic pain and often frustrated and depressed. Then, by chance, today I came across a quote that spells out what I know in my heart they would both say to me so perfectly, it gave me chills. In fact, I can hear my mom’s voice…
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
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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.
Goodbye May…you’ve been simply lovely, despite the twin evils of fibromyalgia and depression. Tulips, crabapple blossoms, lilacs, lilies of the valley, and peonies galore. Of course Catholics celebrate May as Mary’s month, and for me, May has always been my mom’s month, bittersweet now that she’s gone, since her birthday and Mother’s Day fall so close together. So goodbye to May…and hello June! I’m looking forward to summer flowers (my salvias and lupines are blooming already) and hopefully a photography trip up to the North Shore (of Lake Superior, for all of you non-Minnesotans out there).
I am so incredibly, amazingly, crabby at the moment. I overdid it with my physical therapy exercises yesterday and am paying the price today. I also, I admit, was (to my surprise) completely emotionally overwhelmed yesterday by the election of Pope Francis. Pope Francis. But I am experiencing a tough letdown today after my elation and tears, which is making me headachy and grumpy.
It’s so easy to find grace in the beautiful moments, the happy times, when it seems as though God’s love is in the very air we breathe. Which it is, of course. But now? As I sit here in our cluttered bedroom, staring at the immense pile of dirty laundry that is refusing to wash itself, not to mention the many books which I swear mate while we sleep that have no home at the moment, and I could really use a shower, if I could work up the energy to turn on the water, get some towels (any clean ones?) and dig out some shower gel and shampoo which I know we have, somewhere or other.
Yet…I look at the face of my sleeping cocker spaniel, faithfully dozing next to me on the bed. I look across the room and see our wedding portrait, and I remember that I have a husband who takes me to all of my doctor and physical therapy appointments–and they are legion–and never complains. I remember my mother, and how thrilled she would be to see Pope Francis, and I smile, and say a quick prayer to her. And I think to myself, wow, am I blessed. Even if I do suspect my physical therapist of trying to kill me.
This week’s Friday five, a tradition over at one of my all-time favorite blogs, RevGalBlogPals. Every Friday, one of the women posts a meme and invites other members to play. So this week, I’m playing!!! Here goes:
N.B. The narrative voice here asking the questions, etc., is from the original author, not me! My answers are in red.
One of the things to which this refers is clearing away clutter.
One of the best ways I have found to do this is to give everything that comes into my house a HOME. And I can easily tell that I have too many things when there are not enough homes for them all!
I gleaned the idea of items having homes from my younger sister who used to say to her toddlers, “See that book on the floor there? Is that its home? No? Please put the book into its home.” Often, I am saying the same words to myself that she said to her little ones.
In my mother’s house, the Marks-A-Lot marker always went in the cupboard next to the sink. I don’t know why, I just know that’s where the Marks-A-Lot goes, still and forever, in my house many miles away.
So: Tell us your favorite homes for five things, the places that you can always and reliably find them.
1. This one is easy. Books I’m currently reading, not including books for classes (who wants to see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night?) is my nightstand. Of course, other books frequently migrate there as well. And my Kindle is in my nightstand drawer when I’m not carrying it around the house with me like child with a blankie.
2. My dad’s things (his old missal, cards he saved from my mom and me, his photos from WWII, etc.) are in a special box kept on the first shelf in the study closet. Easy access, but out of the way enough so that, hopefully, nothing will get spilled on or chewed on (by the dog, not me, honest).
3. Old family photos that have not yet been put into albums–one of my future projects–are kept in the top left-hand drawer of my old rolltop desk that my dad made for me. Most of them are from my mom’s side (not all), and I’m still trying to figure out who some of the people in them are, and what year, approximately anyway, they were taken. The most interesting photo isn’t a photo at all, at least not in the ordinary sense; it’s a daguerrotype that must date back to at least 1860 if not earlier, of my Cherokee great-great-many greats-grandmother. (Although this is my adoptive family, so there is no blood relation.)
4. The Children’s Bible my godparents gave me for my First Communion resides in the Governor Winthrop in our living room. The Governor Winthrop is a combination secretary desk with a bookcase on top that I inherited from my Great-Aunt Millie, and it’s the perfect place for some of my most treasured old books, like my old bible. It’s dog-eared and falling apart, but just looking at it brings back the many hours I spent poring over the stories of David and Goliath, the First Christmas, and the fascinating pictures in the back of the places in the Holy Land where these exciting stories actually happened!
5. Fiona’s toys hang out on the living room floor. During the day, that is. At night she brings most of them to bed with her (us, I should say, much to the dismay of my allergist). She used to have fluffy stuffed toys, until she began destroying them, tearing them apart with great joy. So her toys now consist of chewsticks, rope toys, and Kongs, although she also considers my socks and bras toys as well. (She loves to trot out into the living room dragging one of my bras by the strap. Oh, the look of glee on her face!) Since I’m home most of the day, we usually play with each of her rope toys in turn; and I should note that part of our play consists of fishing her toys out from under the couch or the bed, which she finds great fun. I don’t, especially since I’m currently recovering from neck surgery, Sigh.
So what does it say about me, I wonder, that my longest answer is about…my dog’s toys?
Readers, I invite you to play along too! Leave your answers in the comment box, and we’ll comapre notes!
ps: the prevailing wisdom that one should never have a “junk drawer”? I don’t buy that. Because, where else do you put your birthday candles, tiny measuring tape, kite string, eyeglasses repair kits, etc.? “