Weathering Grief

by Cheryl Jones

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

First Christmas Without Mom

December 10, 2014

I’m searching the internet for ways to get through this first festival of lights season without my mother. The articles I read about loss and the holidays offer helpful tips for getting through it. So many helpful suggestions: find meaning in your traditions, ask for help, plan ahead, discover what has most value to you, change it up, keep it the same, leave an empty chair at the table, feel the absence.

This small list hardly scratches the surface. And what I keep thinking is, skip to January!

This is not an option I would actually take, because in some other corner of my being, I want to be with the people I love, I want to watch my grandkids with their eyes lighting up, I want not to lose all the other things I enjoy about celebrating just because I have lost her. I even wish it could be the same as usual, minus my mother, but even in this way, life is not cooperating (and neither is my family). It will be utterly, remarkably and painfully different. There will be no attempt or even option to pretend or assimilate as if she has not died.

How did I manage it when my wife died so many years ago, at almost exactly the same time? I can’t even remember.

So, not knowing exactly what taking care of myself would look like in this moment, I prepare. I ask for everyone’s wish list. I make the house ready and pull the boxes down from the attic (actually, I haven’t done that yet). I try to figure out where we will actually be when. I make lists. And I cry…

Today I pulled up the list from last year, happy for something I don’t have to reinvent, and there, second name from the top, there it was. “Mom.” As it turns out, last year was the last year she will be on my list.

Last year, before her diagnosis, when all she wanted was a family picture. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I drove everyone crazy and begged them to make it happen. There we all are, under the arches at Lake Merritt in our town, Oakland, smiling and happily unaware what the next year would bring.

There are so many things I’m grateful for and I remember them each day. I’m grateful to have a mother I can sincerely mourn. I’m grateful for all the love and support I have in my life, for a wonderful wife, and children, and friends and work I love. But just for today, I’m saying to myself, “Let it stink that your mom died. Don’t make it better. Be grumpy. For one day, don’t try to see the bright side.” Complain a little.

How am I doing?

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cjones2 pic onlyCheryl Jones has been working with people facing loss in their lives for thirty years. She is the host of Good Grief, a weekly radio show on the VoiceAmerica Health and Wellness Channel, about the transformative potential of our losses. You can learn more about her at her website,http://www.weatheringgrief.com.

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MOURNING MOTHER

November 25, 2014

Exactly a month after my mother’s death, I’ve boarded a plane for Toronto, Canada to train with the cancer center there in their protocol, CALM (Managing Cancer and Living Meaningfully).

It’s hard to leave home right now. I stick close to my wife and become easily overcome by the many details of living. On the other hand, I’m going somewhere that my grief will be, I assume, accepted, and where I will have space to appreciate that my mother died prepared, facing death squarely with her eyes open, just as this program teaches us to facilitate.

What a gift she gave me. I have no worries that she regretted her death or thought I, or anyone including herself, should have done anything different. There was just the simple fact that the end of her life had come. Maybe there was a strange blessing in such a clear diagnosis, pancreatic cancer, and the 9 months we had together after that. So I’m not really struggling with her death.

Grieving a parent, however, has brought me up short, affected me in ways I couldn’t have predicted. When my father died, I devoted myself to caring for my mother and so, in this time of mourning, they are both sitting on my shoulders, ripping apart the seams of my usual calm. I search for words to describe my new orphan identity which, even at 61 years old, feels profoundly new.

There are the ways my parents enveloped me, sometimes in my awareness and sometimes not. But I find it is the parts of me that pushed against them that suddenly make me feel the ground has been removed. It has been in defining my difference from them that I became myself, my own person. It is in coming to an understanding of each other as whole human beings that I discovered my unique gifts and talents. For all the agreement between us, it is in our disagreements that my life took shape.

I see that this was also true of them with their own parents. They ended up miles form where they began, spiritually, politically, personally, in nearly every way. Their faith remained but what defined that faith changed completely. This is the job of each new generation; to define themselves as “other than” their parents, and ultimately, hopefully, to strengthen the parent-child bond through that exploration. This has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, that my parents were willing to transform themselves to meet the person I became.

But now, that is all over. From here on out, I define myself, I change not in relation to them but in relation to my chosen life. I had no idea that I still referenced them until they were both gone. I now take what they gave me, to make what I will of it.

One of my mother’s caregivers dreamt of her, a week after she died. They were sitting together as they used to, with arms reaching out to each other and one caring for the other. My mother, a look of peace on her face, said, “I am so happy, so very happy,” and they shared together a beautiful moment of connection and contentment. The cares of the world are over for my mother. Now, I feel her as a steady, loving force just out of reach, murmuring to me, “go forward, keep going, continue to follow your own dreams.”! !!

It’s up to me to do that, not for her (or against her) but in her honor.

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cjones2 pic onlyCheryl Jones has been working with people facing loss in their lives for thirty years. She is the host ofGood Grief, a weekly radio show on the VoiceAmerica Health and Wellness Channel, about the transformative potential of our losses. You can learn more about her at her website,http://www.weatheringgrief.com.

Wildest Dreams: How We can Learn to Grieve

 September 8, 2014

On the day my wife died, the house was overflowing. In the room with me were our kids, 2 1/2 and 14, and a few friends who had pretty much moved in with us those weeks when we knew it was the end. Out in the living room were people who had supported us through her illness, really supported us! They fed us, took care of our baby and helped our teenager navigate having a parent with life-limiting cancer. They had been there when we cried, and laughed, and napped; even for our difficult conversations. We all learned together to live at death’s door, claiming the word live. My mother would later say that although she had belonged to loving churches all her life, she had never experienced the kind of love she felt in our community of friends.

This was the first remarkable change in me as a result of her cancer and death — after eight years of living next to cancer. I was comfortable conducting my life in front of a crowd. Before cancer, I was shy and, at one point, even agoraphobic. Before cancer I was a one-on-one person, coming to a party when only the host was there and leaving before the guests arrived. Before cancer, I had trouble exposing my deepest feelings. Before cancer, I was anxious and feared abandonment, often fitting myself into what I thought others wanted me to be. Now I was take charge, sure of my own way, telling the truth about myself whether it was popular or not.

That night offers a perfect illustration. About to take a shower when she died, I pulled off my robe afterwards and laid down next to that body that I had loved for so long, holding her in a skin to skin embrace, the first for months that wasn’t inhibited by a fear of hurting her. She was no longer dealing with the pain of broken bones and degenerating nerves and I could bid her farewell with abandon. I realized later I had had no hesitation about nakedness, words of love, songs, whatever I wanted to do to say goodbye to her, disregarding the crush of people in the room, even including (as soon as they could get there) my parents! Where was that shy girl now? Where was my fear of being seen or heard? I had reincarnated somewhere along the way.

This person I had turned into hardly resembled me Before Cancer. I entered grief better able to matter to me. I committed to at least a year of giving myself whatever my grief asked for. Within the boundaries of (now) single parenthood and going back to work, I did that. In the quiet hours when the kids were at school, in between the clients I worked with as a therapist, I played music and dug in the garden and cried and meditated. I ate good food and depended on friends (who were now so much greater in number). Grief, for me, was an extension of the life I had had with her; rich and full and open to possibility. Those eight years of illness had taught me to face, unafraid, whatever I felt in a given moment, to ride the waves of it to my own shore, and to come home to myself in any situation. What could undo that? What could make me truly afraid when I had already lived through her death?

My life today rests on the shoulders of that time. What I discovered then, through deep pain and profound joy, informs everything I do and everything I am. I will never be glad she died, but I will always live in awe of what we learned together; life is a joy, a miracle, and love should not be avoided or wasted. Taking a chance on love is always worth it. I’m grateful for whatever I feel, because emotions remind me, each day, that I am alive.

When I couldn’t imagine how I would live through losing her, I was right. I couldn’t imagine it — not in my wildest dreams.

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cjones2 pic onlyCheryl Jones has been working with people facing loss in their lives for thirty years. She is the host ofGood Grief, a weekly radio show on the VoiceAmerica Health and Wellness Channel, about the transformative potential of our losses. You can learn more about her at her website,http://www.weatheringgrief.com.

Grief season

dr_photo_08I was 42 when my first wife died. It was the end of October, 1995, right before Halloween, right before day of the dead.

My two year old went trick or treating with my parents that year, because I was doing my version of sitting shiva, having been moved by the tradition when Jewish friends of mine introduced me to it. Every night for a week we opened the house, sang, told stories, ate food, appreciated all that Joanne had been to us and all we had shared together. That was during what I would soon begin to call the euphoric period. Instead of feeling her absence, I felt her presence everywhere. I could find nowhere she wasn’t. It would be almost 2 months before I would crash into the simple fact that her body had quit, that I would never see her or touch her in this life again.

For the first few years, I defined the grief season as beginning October 24 and ending January 25, her birthday. Soon enough, though, other deaths would blur the lines, punctuating the entire year, and I stopped thinking of things that way. Every day, there is life and there is death, grief and celebration.

I’ve been noticing all of this in a new way, as I listen each week to the moments of grief which led, immediately or over long, long periods of time to profound changes in the lives of the guests on Good Grief, my radio show. 18 years after my own loss, I realize that the changes which came for me then never really stopped, that they continue to evolve and reshape themselves in each new moment. I discover that I can’t really be sorry for any of it.

I wonder how things might have been different if she died suddenly, if I’d been younger, if I didn’t have children and then I laugh at myself. It is, in truth, impossible for me to imagine a different life once it’s been lived. Too much would be lost. Too much would be different.

So I simply acknowledge the startling fact that when I think of all she was to me, all I lost and all I gained, I am overwhelmed by only one feeling. Profound gratitude.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

By Good Grief | November 23, 2013 at 03:01 AM EST | No Comments

 

JFKTen years old. We were in class and suddenly, all the adults were crying (they never had before) and we were sent home. I may remember it wrong, but I think I walked my seven year old brother to our house, our mother waiting for us there. I believe she was more upset than I’d ever seen her. Before that day, “president” was a vague concept, someone far away and mythic. After that day, the world was a dangerous place, where the guy in charge could be gunned down in a heartbeat.
I lived in Berkeley then, just before the Free Speech movement, which we would miss by months when my father’s work took us to Manhattan.
Manhattan, where we lived mere blocks from where Malcolm X was assassinated. And Martin Luther King, who my father met in prison and admired so much, one of the reasons he went South to march, to make the world a better place, to put his life on the line for justice. And Robert. F. Kennedy, getting back on the horse and losing his life.
When I was twenty or so, I wrote a slew of poems about grief, and I was mystified. Why was I writing about grief? My parents, my brother were alive, I had not lost anyone close to me.
Or had I? In that time, we were personal about our heroes. We got attached in a friend to friend way. Or was that just because I was a child, in my innocence believing those people far from me (and powerful) were good people and that everyone felt the same about them.
It may sound dramatic, but when Jack Kennedy died, my childhood came close to ending. That same year, I learned about the holocaust when a German friend of my parents who had been in the camps came to visit. The horror of it defied my understanding.
And so, today, I review the many changes in me since then, the center of my life being inextricably tied to its losses and gains, and I remember when I still had heroes, and I vow to have them again- imperfect, human, with their triumphs and mistakes, but heroes, all the same.

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