Monday, November 18, 2013

Thoughts on Grief

“If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease. We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.”
--Cheryl Strayed

The loss of my mother has caused extreme upheaval to my life. It is very difficult to me to take this intensely personal and private loss and have to grieve publicly. I don't like crying. I don't like crying in private but I really hate crying in public. And this of course is such a strong reminder of my mother--who cried a lot. She was unafraid to show her emotions to anyone, from the grocery store clerk to a church member, which I honestly always found embarrassing.

I analyze my relationship with my mother too much these days. Though I absolutely was at peace with our relationship by the time of her death, I still think of how it could have been better, or wish that we'd had a stronger relationship earlier. Like many other teenagers, I didn't get along that well with my mom during middle and high school. I was fiercely independent and frustrated with rules that my parents had, and wanted nothing more than to escape. And I took that out on my mom. Mama and I are so much alike in terms of personality. And I take pride in that. But it is also why our relationship at times struggled. (We were both always right).

I hardly talk on the phone to anyone these days--partially because I have really bad service in my apartment, but also because it was my mom I talked to on the phone most--a few times a week. My relationship with some other friends and relatives are growing in response to Mama being gone--but I will never have a relationship with another person like the one I had with my mom.

I haven't been able to write much either. Not here on this blog, not on facebook, not even in my personal diary. It seems I have no words. But then, as you can see, once I actually start writing--I have so many words. I am just so wary of saying them sometimes, because I can't stand the pity--I can't stand the sympathetic faces. Grief is a fact of my life right now, and will always be, honestly, though I know things will also be less difficult than they are right now. I don't know how to speed up the process, or whether I should, though this dark night of the soul seems neverending.

One of the most difficult things about these last four months is that I have really lost my faith. I feel abandoned by God, and most days am not sure I believe in its existence. I hardly dance. It's too painful without Mama. Which I hate, because it was one of the things she has been incredibly supportive of in me my entire life. I feel lost and empty. As someone who has dealt with mood disorders in much of my teenage and adult life, it's not a new feeling. But I don't have Mama to talk to about it anymore. 

It seems impossible to imagine going forward each day, but somehow, someway, inexplicably, I do.

One of my students told me she would like to be a math teacher, and immediately my thought was, oh man, I gotta tell Mom! She'll love that! And a split second later I realized, I couldn't.

People ask "how are you?" even with the best intentions and I think how the fuck am I supposed to be? And I always say something like--"just one day at a time."

And I love teaching and every day all I want to do is share that joy with my mother and ask her advice from her vast experience teaching many different levels of learners.

Live life with no regrets? How is that possible? You can make your peace with the past and face forward in your life, but we cannot avoid making mistakes--we are human--and though it is important to learn from those mistakes and carry those lessons with us, I think it's impossible to live without some twinge of regret--maybe wishing we didn't have to make those mistakes in the first place--especially the big ones.

And though I was a teenager and though it was 6+ years before my mom would be diagnosed with terminal cancer--when I look back on some of the arguments we had and some of my strongest memories of that time of my mother was just a lot of yelling--I feel regret. I do. I couldn't have possibly known that I wouldn't have 30+ more years to fight with her but when I look back, I wish there had been less of it. I wish we'd been able to have a better relationship before I moved so far away. Before it turned to phone calls.

But then, I cherish the time when Mama moved back to Texas my junior year--and before the rest of the family followed, she and I were able to spend so much more time together. She was very lonely, and I was just so happy to have my mom nearby. We went out to eat, we went shopping, she came and watched me at dance practice, she came to my dance shows, and I loved it. And because this blessing for me was at the expense of my father and sister (it was the longest my parents spent apart in their 30 year marriage, and it was Lydia's senior year of high school), it was even more wonderful when the rest of the family moved to Texas and we were all able to spend much more time all together.

So this is what grief is like. This is what the loss of a mother is like (for me--I cannot speak to anyone else's experience). There is depression, emptiness, memories of joy, wishing for that conversation and word of advice, hoping someday it won't hurt so much, and praying that I'll never forget all the good things of my mother. Or even the bad things. It's hoping I'll have more dreams where we meet at Schlotzsky's and split a smoked turkey sandwich (that is the most vivid dream I've had of my mom in the last few months). This grief is present with me every day, and it is so difficult to grieve publicly, but I truly believe in our interconnectedness and community, so here is a glimpse as to what the last four months have been like.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Because She Existed//In Memory of My Mother

I want to write, but it's hard to find words to say. I'm a jumble of thoughts right now. I want to write eloquently of how much my mother meant to me, what the last month has been like wrapped in grief. But I don't even know where to start. I read the posts my dad has made on the caringbridge site--so profoundly beautiful, and I wish I could find those words right now.

Everly Jean Estes Broadway
October 3, 1958-July 18, 2013

On July 10, I turned 24 years old. That same day, our family had to make the decision to put my incredible mother into hospice care.

Not exactly how I imagined my birthday. In fact, we had planned a family dinner at one of my favorite restaurants and my boyfriend was going to meet my parents finally. Instead, we all sat in Mama's hospital room and cried a lot. The boyfriend came to see me and I cried in his arms for half an hour in the hospital cafeteria that I have spent too much time in for the last fifteen months.

Mama was able to spend six days at home in hospice care. We took shifts being present with her. My shifts for those six days were mostly spent singing for hours at a time--I went through the whole hymn book singing every song I knew--and folding paper cranes. It was all I could do. And every time she'd stir a little, I'd say "I love you, Mama." She couldn't respond. But I wanted her to hear those words intimately as long as she lived. Day 2 of hospice she asked me how long it was going to take for her to die. I told her it wasn't up to us, it was up to God.

When Mama was first diagnosed in April 2012, when I would talk to people about how scared and sad I was, I would also be sure to tell them I was hopeful. And that I had no doubt that she'd be dancing at my wedding.

I didn't know she'd only live 15 more months after I said those words. If I had known, maybe I'd have gotten a move on the whole marriage thing. Not really. I would've gotten a lot of long speeches about not rushing things. Which I actually got anyway, even though I was definitely not actually trying to get married so soon, despite the fact that it was breaking my heart to realize how unlikely it would be for her to be there.

My best friend is getting married next summer. She and her mom came to visit me a few days after Mama died and we talked about wedding planning and went bridesmaid dress shopping. And though we enjoyed ourselves, and I am so enjoying wedding planning with my beautiful best friend, the thought came to me that I would never do this with my mom, and I just had to walk out of the shop and cry outside in the 95 degree heat.

There will be many future days like that one. I hear a song that reminds me of her and smile or burst into tears. I don't have her to talk to about the boy problems or the work problems anymore. Mama was a giver of good advice and insight, or even just a listening ear if that's all I needed. One day, I may get married, and my mom won't be there. She won't be there to meet her future grandchildren. She won't be there for the future graduations, birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters...

And yet, she will be. She permeates my entire being, and she has given so much to so many. She lived such a full life, despite how short it was and I will strive to live in her example. Through genetics and the fact she raised me, I am very much like my mother and I embrace that fact. I am independent, stubborn, perseverant, organized, determined and strong. And fiesty. 

A Maya Angelou poem read at Mama's funeral and her memorial service ends this way:

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

I am who I am and will continue to become who I become, because she existed. I am better, and we are all better, for having had her in our lives. 

Love you, Mama.