Weathering Grief

by Cheryl Jones

Archive for the tag “mother”

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.

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Running but not Hiding

10381673_10203106224550085_843545988232127550_oWhen my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few months ago, I did what many of us do; searched the internet. First, I looked up the doctor my son-in-law recommended. I knew enough about pancreatic cancer to hold off on getting any more details, at least for awhile.

On Dr. Tempero’s website, I was happy to see videos of her. She was obviously smart and informed and confident in her expertise. But that wasn’t the part I liked best. She had participated in a film by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PCAN), a patient advocacy group. Many cancer docs (and I’ve known dozens) don’t interact with those groups, maybe even feeling a subtle criticism if patients want to advocate for themselves. She was not cut of this cloth. She seemed to want to share information and include patients in their own care. This gave me some comfort heading into the experience of cancer with my mom.

I called PCAN and they  sent me a packet of materials about research, diet, living with pancreatic cancer, even a purple bracelet. My mother found it very comforting to have a sense of direction in the shifting sand of her new life. I signed up for their mailing list, knowing that I’d need to decide which information would help her and which would be overload. So it was my email box that received the invitation to run in Purple Stride, a run/walk to benefit PCAN which takes place all over the country.

“Perfect,” I thought, “A convenient antidote to helplessness.”

I’ve learned over the years that even in helpless situations, there’s always something I can do and it helps to do it. Maybe I can imagine whoever is suffering (even myself) in the arms of a great warm protector. Maybe it’s doing laundry or taking a walk. Maybe it’s listening. And perhaps, it’s a run through the San Francisco Presidio.

I didn’t have much time to train. Keeping my own life going and managing my mom’s health was enough! So I set my goal low. Show up. Run the whole 5 K. Don’t stop. Don’t come in last. (My family will tell you I’m allergic to competition, but I’ve been trying to work on that).

I was out of town for many of the last weeks before the run. I even considered not doing it. But then I’d remember my goals. Could I still meet them? I thought I had a chance. I finally went for an actual training run, my wife riding her bike next to me. I got around Lake Merritt, a perfect 5K, and I did walk part of the way, but I made it. (Let’s not talk about two days later, when I could hardly get up from our very low couch).

Anyway, the day arrived. My youngest daughter and my wife drove me to Crissy Field, the beautiful start to the run. We were super early (this is not unusual) and that meant we got a parking place and got a chance to people watch. This was one diverse crowd! There was no real pattern of ages, genders, backgrounds or ethnicities. That made me think there is no true pattern to who gets this terrible illness.

I estimated the crowd at about 1000. The runners and walkers were enthusiastic, laughter and clapping and chatter dominating the tents and grasses, and the tables set up for those who needed to sit down. There was a band playing covers from when I was young, rock and roll and blues, which helped wake me all the way up. There was a zumba class; I was terrible at it, but that was part of the fun. Finally, there were the speakers; encouraging words to send us on our way. Towards the end, the MC called for every pancreatic cancer survivor to come up front. 5. That’s how many there were. 5. I am not ashamed to say I started crying, and I was thinking, “I’m in a crowd of grievers.”

There were strollers with memorial messages on the back, t-shirts with pictures of loved ones who had died, a bulletin board with the pictures and names of so many. The ache in my heart nearly tore me up.

Then it was time to run, and somehow, the biggest impetus was those 5 people, and all the ones who weren’t there that day and, of course, my own mother.  Somehow I was strong that day. I showed up. I ran the whole 5 K. I didn’t stop. I didn’t come in last. And I did leave feeling I had been able to take at least a small step towards something better. The small amount of money I had been able to raise would be put to good use. Yes, taking action, whatever it is, however big or small, helps me. Usually, my actions are much more private; bringing my mom some groceries or calling to see how she is. Emailing someone I know is going through cancer treatment to see how they are, even writing this blog. But always, small actions help me to feel I’m responding, not reacting. Always, if I remember that the actions are a way of perceiving myself as an actor in this world of things beyond my control, I feel more hopeful whether anything has changed or not.

So as I left the city, headed for a full carb breakfast (I’d earned it, right?) I felt good. Bad things were noticed and talked about and experienced, but I felt good. Strong and capable. A little proud of myself (even though I was raised not to brag). And most of all, I felt inspired. People have some pretty terrible experiences in this world, but together, we can do a lot. And what we can’t do, we can see each other through! That’s something to celebrate.

 

 

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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.

 

Care for the Caregiver

I’ve been caring for myPrimary-Caregiver mother, who was diagnosed in January with pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal cancers I know of. Even so, it wasn’t until the other day that I was struck by the thought, “I’m a caregiver again, to someone with a terminal diagnosis.”

I was flooded with memories of the decade I spent caring for my first wife, including all the beauty and wonder, the struggle and the learning. I’ve been remembering how I learned the importance of taking care of myself in a way I had never known before.

Learning that lesson while caregiving often seemed counter-intuitive. No, I needed to take care of her! And of the kids! But it didn’t take long to realize that if I let myself get past a certain point, if I let myself drop, I would be unable to do anything for them.

A particularly stunning example was when I lifted the wheelchair even though my back had been feeling tender, and laid myself up for two weeks. How clear did it have to get? I remember going away for a weekend or two, leaving friends to take care of everything, so I could hit the reset button. I came back ready, willing AND able, renewed for the care I wanted to be giving. I found that my capacity for caregiving was much higher when I attended to my own balance.

So now, I bring all that to the endless appointments, procedures, tests, talks about how my mother wants to die, finances, closet sorting and names on the bottom of furniture, (she’s a planner). I’m also remembering once again how to live with the phrase “terminal diagnosis.” I’m remembering how the constant awareness of death, since I no longer resist it, leads to an appreciation of the love I have for my mother, for this time with her. I was already preparing for the loss of my mother (she’s 84 and I have a low denial quotient) but now I am living that preparation each moment.

I have a friend with ovarian cancer who doesn’t like that term, “terminal diagnosis.” She says, “everyone has one and who made these doctors gods anyway?” But for me, it is not that I now know any more about the time of my mother’s (or anyone’s) death, but that I walk with the awareness of death keeping me awake. I go forward with the knowledge that accepting death makes life more meaningful. For that I’m thankful.

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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.

 

Graduate level grief


IMG_2067I made a commitment to writing regularly in my blog. I really committed. I thought about what I would say each week over the months, how I would say it, what was meaningful to me, what would be meaningful to the people who read my blog. I made lists, plans, created visions. I was all set… except then I didn’t do it.

Yes, I’m very busy with my radio show, Good Grief, with my family and my work as a grief counselor. Yes, I’m still absolutely committed to time when I’m not working; to singing, creating, and just plain goofing off. But I didn’t think any of that explained why I wasn’t writing. All those things have failed to prevent me from doing many other things these past few months that I didn’t seem to have time for.

I lived with the question for a solid week or two. Why am I not writing my blog? What is in the way? Then I ticked off possible explanations. “I’m procrastinating.” Hmmm… Unlike many other periods in my life, procrastination hardly even qualifies as a part of my personality right now. “I’m uninspired.” Definitely not. I’m inspired beyond my wildest dreams by amazing people I get to meet and talk with every day, by the guests on the radio show and the meaningful conversations I get to have, and by my community and family. “I don’t want to write.” Wrong! I love to write and I’m writing other things all the time with great relish.

When the answer hit me over the head, I almost laughed out loud. I was not writing my grief blog because I was experiencing that time after a new loss when I just don’t want to share. I need time to absorb the new reality, to adjust to the changing picture of what I imagined the future to be. I need time to (wait for it) process.

I had not really written since I found out my mother has pancreatic cancer.

When it finally dawned on me that I was simply practicing what I preach and listening to what my own heart told me I needed, I relaxed. And then, respecting that my mother is busy adjusting too, I asked her if she would be ok with me writing about this newest wrinkle in the fabric of my life. “Everyone knows anyway,” she said, bestowing a blessing on whatever I might say about it. (Thanks mom).

So here’s what I want to say. Cancer stinks. I hate the endless doctors appointments and project management, getting all the pieces to work together. I hate waiting in endless waiting rooms with other people who also don’t have the energy to wait for anything. I hate anticipating losing my mother, who I love, in the very foreseeable future. I hate unexpectedly crying in public when there is nothing at all sad going on. I hate that I know how to do all this so well because I’ve done it before for years at a time without a prayer of changing the eventual outcome. I hate that no one has cured cancer yet, including my brilliant son-in-law, a cancer researcher who I honestly think has a chance of it.

But all of this is really so very small. What I love, even now, is so much bigger. I love my mother, who was clear right away that if they offer her 6 months of chemo for 6 months of time, it’s not worth it. I love the conversations we’re having in which we can share our love for one another in a way that is more immediate, and deeper than it was six months ago. I love that the doctors who are caring for my mother ask her about herself as a person before they talk about treatment and, when they run late for her appointment, apologize. (Thank you, Dr. Tempero and her staff). I love that I have all that experience to offer my mother, to ease her burden and help her feel supported and nourished. I love all the hearts on her Caring Bridge page. I love being so deeply in touch, every day, with my love for her and for everyone else in my life, knowing that having them at all is, at best, fleeting. I love pictures of her with my grandsons. I love that there is nothing in me that wants to shy away from the whole experience.

So, I guess we could call this Continuing Education, having taken what sometimes feels like the graduate level course in grief. Lifelong learning for the griever. Showing up for class. Taking notes. Putting one foot in front of the other and stepping into love, because even the hurt tells me how very much I love. How very very much.

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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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