Category Archives: death

Thanksgiving Leftovers / Wrap-Up and What’s to Come: 30 Days of Brené Brown

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Hello! I hope everyone in the U.S. enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday.

It has been a while since I’ve written anything regularly. The last series I wrote with any daily dedication was the 30 Days of Jung where I took a quote of his and did my lay-person best to make sense of it while sitting in my cheap seats. I had a great time with that series and considered myself developing somewhat of a niche: the self-effacing, occasionally humorous psychology nut.

I fancy myself a writer and I love to do what all great writers say to do in order to become a great writer: read great writers. I love reading other writers, I love writing about them, I love imagining how they decided to come up with that phrasing and how I feel so merely mortal when I read it.

Because my life radically changed on Labor Day when my mom died, I fell off the writing horse, so to speak, in terms of being my old self; partly because I felt my old self was gone. One of the ballasts of my old self had died. In short: I was exquisitely lost, but I knew I needed to write about it. So I did.

Then I started to feel self conscious, as though all I was writing about was grief, and Mom and me and grief. I didn’t want to be a downer. So I changed my tune, perhaps a little too early or perhaps even announcing that I was changing my tune was something I shouldn’t have done. (More about my penchant / need for intention / purpose soon.) I regretted it almost immediately: that I shared my decision to stop writing about my grief, but I also knew that I needed to shift gears. I didn’t want to ignore it but I also didn’t want to focus on it.

It was all so hard. Is so hard.

Which brings me to right now.

I loved the Jung series. I feel it prepared me for the yoga retreat which ultimately prepared me for Mom’s death (I’ve written about that dovetailing in a post called “Wahe Guru“). The Jung series was regular, predictable, something I could count on being there, so I find myself needing and wanting that anchor again. So now, I’m going to start 30 Days of Brené Brown, whom is a modern-day philosopher of sorts. She is my “if you could have dinner / evening out with anyone you don’t know who would it be…” -person.

As with Jung, I selected the quotes as ranked on Goodreads by readers whom I believe highlighted the quotes in the books on their ereaders which were then uploaded onto Goodreads because Amazon owns Goodreads and everything between Uranus and the Degobah system (apologies to George Lucas). Each per-quote write-up will be in the neighborhood of 1,200 words (don’t ask why 1,200; it seems to be the point at which I start to run out of gas and I think you do too). I am picking 30 Days because well, why not?

This is “Day 0” — where I’m letting you know. It’s almost 10:00 pm where I live so I don’t plan on writing via Brené tonight although I can’t wait to get started. I also don’t want to jump right into this without sharing a little about my Thanksgiving, as I’m guessing both of you are curious about how it went this first time without Mom. It went well. It was momentarily bittersweet and graciously easy. We seem, as a tribe, to be navigating these waters with relative steadiness and patience for one another.

My brothers and I all recognize that we all had different “versions” of Mom, just as how my sons will have different versions of me based on our chemistry and relationships (although my relative health and awareness is vastly different from Mom’s to my brothers and myself).

In the early stages of our grief it felt to me that we clung to our various versions of her as though they were buoys. I am the middle child and I’ve got four years between my brothers and myself, so even those four years create quite a crevasse in her own personal development, any major challenges notwithstanding. Everything I have read about birth order and timing of children suggests that a span of four years or more between the children creates a space where each child is virtually an only child in terms of parenting attitude, fatigue and sibling relations. That theory was both myth and truth in those first posthumous days. I’d never felt closer to my brothers in those first days while at the same time I felt very separate.

While I was fiercely drawn to them both, I was reluctant, to tolerate either of their versions of her. I accepted the notion that there could be different versions, but I didn’t want to debate them or hear about them. I felt it was essential that everyone see her as I saw her, which (especially in those first days) was completely as the flawed saint and alternately undefinable. As time wore on, and we shared with each other more, the different versions became as real as the differences in our own persons. Mom occupied the same body, but she was in different places with us energetically.

This Thanksgiving holiday was the first time we were all together again since Mom’s funeral. For me, it had an almost challenge-like vibe: “We Will Get Through This 2013” — I should have made t-shirts. I was girded for anything and that girding was unnecessary. Having an adorable drunken-sailor -esque toddler bounce about the house wielding my sons’ various light sabers and make his own sound effects on top of the ones the sabers already make was a definite spirit lifter.

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For me, it was nice, especially to have everyone in my house. Even though we have the world’s smallest kitchen, I loved it. Coming from a place of mental preparation helped too because I was ready for the “break” from the confusing drama and the heavy emotions that so often accompanied major holidays in my family: for so many years, the attention and energy were sucked away by fear and confusion over Mom’s condition. This year, we could focus and  share and enjoy each other equally throughout the long weekend — that was a first and at times it was for me a little disorienting, but welcome nonetheless. We are all a little crazy, as both of my brothers have said to me and each other since Mom died. We have our quirks and unmet needs and we will always do our dances around each other; that’s natural — dysfunction or not — but there was no heaviness or fear.

As I pulled away from my brother and his team at the airport today, I caught a glimpse of my beautiful niece looking back at me in my car and we smiled and I waved hesitantly, I wasn’t sure she saw me so my hand went down as soon as it went up. A lump formed in my throat for her because I realized what was happening: they were going home and I already missed her, I missed them all.

In the final analysis: Mom gave us to each other as siblings and we figured it out somehow. The next thing we did was find impeccable mates, some of the strongest people in the world for our weirdnesses individually and collectively — they loved us enough to marry us, knowing where we came from. No one is perfect, but we’re good with that.

So the first Brené Brown entry will start tomorrow, December 2. I hope I will hear from some of you in the comments section. I often say that the comments areas to me are where some really great conversations can be had. It’s a real treat for me to be able to exchange ideas with you.

Thank you.

Grief: Responsibilities

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The death of my mother has created a convection, a vortex of distracted activity. A flurry of events that need attending.

‘The death of my mother.’ This is a phrase I don’t think anyone is ever truly prepared to deal with saying, thinking, or typing. It’s like the phrase, “my husband” or “my wife” when first married; or “my child” when newly parented. Maybe in time I will be accustomed to saying such a phrase. My loved ones and casual acquaintances (and that lovely woman on the plane yesterday who clearly didn’t know what was coming when she asked me, “What brings you to Buffalo?”) assure me however, that it is a situation, a fact of life that never truly settles. The irony being of course, is that the matter is quite settled. Any mortal discrepancy boils down to ego: acceptance and management.

Being almost 400 miles from my own tribe has put a lot on my heart; being separated from them on the heels of losing Mom has doubled it. Yesterday, I helped write and finesse her death notice. Today, I select her gravesite and secure the location of my father’s and their wee son, my brother John.

Nothing is ever perfect. The obituary cited her birthday incorrectly, but that’s my dad’s fault. It’s been fixed, so it’s ok online now. I felt the use of the term “evangelist” was loaded, especially these days, but I understand it’s not how it was intended. My mother was complicated, but most geniuses are. I am grateful I posses average intelligence to assure I will not ever be so depicted.

Being in Buffalo, at 45 yet feeling keenly like 16, has created a swath of ownership for her; this is her turf. Being with my cousins keeps me at 16. As I posted most recently, my fight in her life for her relevance and health amidst my yearning for normalcy, predictability was arduous, chronic. It was, and often it went unanswered. But when it was answered, when Mom was in her element and her health, she was ON.

Like a halogen light bulb. Showing you yourself, the truth in art, the grace in literature and music. She would be in her Zone and if the timing was right, I was lucky to join her.

Being here, attending to her corporeal dignity, addressing her final — truly final — needs has been liberating. I have become at times, a microMimi — I have lost it, emotionally within a single breath. I have mused about things on the fly, I have composed myself only later to be discovered in a corner perpetrating ugly crying. That is grief. That is mourning. I have no regrets for this behavior. My mother lived on her hinge that way a lot. She has shown me that it’s life — no one can predict anything, really. It’s just a compilation of lucky guesses.

Her favorite phrase of admonishment of my insistent regularity and rushing (and it really wasn’t rushing, it was just trying to be on time) from Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” was, “Cool it, Mimsy!” (The joke being on me, for she knew more about Neil Simon than perhaps Neil Simon, that Mimsy is being chided by her bridegroom about her bemoaning fears of turning into her parents.)

The weather here in Buffalo is chilly today. The sun is cresting the rooftop beside my cousin’s home. The sky is clear. My eyes are tired, but I will rally today.

This is where I spent a great deal of time yesterday afternoon:

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The irony in the name of this place is not lost on me, nor on anyone for that matter. I remember joking with Mom about it years ago. In deference to her and her love of the arts and theater, I have begun pronouncing it “Am-ih-gon-e” like the play in which she starred, “Antigone.” She would like that.

Yesterday, between phone calls to my brother who had no business being at work, and after finalizing her death notice and as her niece and I were selecting things like Mass cards and floral arrangements, and asking the funeral director to please print one more picture for her casket and we added a clean but crumpled kleenex to her suit pocket and a tube of lipstick, “pink shimmer,” and to remember her rosary, and when I went looking for a pony tail holder for her hair (which she always had around her wrist, but it was usually a rubber band, so I wanted something softer for her), I was tasked with selecting a poem to print on the reverse of the card.

This section of the death packages binder was full of Irish poems, Christian poems. Schmaltzy drippy poems. I knew Mom would groan and openly “tiff!” or say “piffle!” at some of them. She had brilliant taste in literature. I didn’t like any of them. None of them were worthy. None of them. Not one single offered collection of verbs and nouns and modifiers would suit her. She was above all of it.

“Is this all you have?” I asked, wincing.

“Can we do our own?” My cousin asked.

I looked at her, in the way I do when I’ve eaten a canary. She knows this look quite well.

“Shakespeare. Do you have any Shakespeare?” I asked.

“No. I don’t,” said the man from behind his desk, the man whose daughter is in college. The man with questionably perfect hair. Hair that was later asserted by the funeral home owner, a friend of my father’s (as fate would have it they share the same birthday) to be real because the boys downstairs have tugged at it, they know… (Eww.)

“But you may select your own,” he added.

Then a bolt of lightning halogen.

My father shared with me two nights prior that my mother requested of him on I believe the night before she died that he read to her just one part of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.” Just one. I told my cousin which one, and she knew, instinctively the one. She used to read with my mother. I would not ever read with my mother if I didn’t have to as a child or in high school or in college or as a mother. It was uncool. I am too self-conscious. It sucks.

My cousin and I scrambled on our smartphones and I found it. Mom played this brilliantly. I was tired when Dad came over that night, I wanted rest, but he told me that story. Somehow I banked it. Then my cousin. The one who read with Mom, she knew the poem when I mentioned it immediately. We just had to find it.

It is Puck’s final monologue and it is perfect:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

I cry when I read it. She’s talking to me, to us. To her huge family. All she wanted was to have a “normal” relationship with me. Go to the mall, go to movies, shit like that. That’s not us though. I hate the mall and we talk during movies. We aren’t and would never would be people like that. I think we would both feel its disingenuousness. But this… this is good. This is right. This is family.

In sharing it with both of you, I feel like I’m stealing the show. Like I’m releasing embargoed copy, but I’m not. But what I’m doing, for me, is steeling my show. The experiences I have endured the last few days and what lies before me in a couple hours and then tomorrow are inSANEly challenging, so if you disagree with my decision to share what I just did, I permit you to be woefully ignorant. In the meantime, please pray for my strength. I will take it from all faiths.

My mother was brilliant, layered, deep, flawed, conflicted, talented, shrewd, tender, loud, quiet, soft, harsh, wise, goofy. She wanted things that made no sense much of the time. But when it came to art, literature… Shakespeare… I shut my mouth and defer. Mom was never, ever wrong when it came to Shakespeare. She knows this is about healing.

Robin is restoring amends.

Thank you.