Tag Archives: grief

Mine.

This pain is mine
-and mine alone.

This exquisite agony
Is everything,

And nothing.

Joy is shared,
But this pain-

This exquisite agony
Is mine.

And mine alone.

It is my badge
And I clutch it to my heart

Where it rips
And tears

And bleeds.

Joy is shared
This pain is mine.

Hiding, returning,
Never fully
Out
Of
Sight…

This pain

This exquisite agony,
Is mine alone,

And I treasure it,
Like a dark light

Writhing, curling.

I treasure it,
This perfect pain

Because it carved and cut and molded
-it made me

Who I am.


This one was written several years ago, when it struck me how pain can shape the people we become and that sometimes, those people are stronger than they ever were before.

Writing it all down.

“I have written you down now/You will live forever” -Bastille, “Poet”

Can I call myself a writer now?….how about now?   

I’ve always envied people who, even from childhood, knew what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Those people who have that one great passion-one calling:  to be a doctor, an actor, a musician, a writer, a teacher.  I suppose for them it can be both a blessing and a curse.  I suppose they also suffer crises of confidence-perhaps they too doubt themselves, but at least for them, at the end of the day, their one great passion is also their refuge, the thing that they can pour themselves into and for that moment, be fulfilled.  It gives their life meaning.

My passion has always been pretty much everything.  I am that most unfortunate of creatures. The jack-of-all-trades, master of none.  And the older I get, the more frustrating it becomes, the less content I am with not really knowing my place in the world.  And I ask myself “who am I?”  Then, “does it matter?”  Should it matter?  Should I be content to simply exist?   

But something strange and wonderful happened when my mother died.  As the grief became more manageable and I started putting the bits and pieces of myself back together, my search for meaning became clearer.  There came a day when I decided it was time to sort through her photographs and 8mm films.  No small task, considering she had once been a photographer by profession and her love of photographs meant that her collection spanned nearly 100 years of family history.  As I sorted through a massive plastic tote bin of loose photos, I began to realise that life itself is meaning.  I began to realise that finding meaning in life is about preserving who we are so that we will live forever in what we leave behind.  I knew in that moment that I had to preserve the person my mother was so that she would live forever-for my children, their children.  So that like the photographs, someone could one day look back and see who we were.  I had to write it down.

I’d like to say a writer was born that day.  But I soon discovered that that’s not quite how it works.  

Being of a logical sort, I decided that in order to write anything I had to first buy myself a nice notebook.  Pen in hand, I sat and stared at the lovely off-white page for what seemed like forever before I started with the brilliant first line “My mother was born in…”

After numerous awful iterations in a similar vein, I decided I needed some help.   I bought scads of writing books by the likes of Steven King, Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg.  But still, every attempt I made reeked.  I decided I should take a course on memoir writing.  New notebook in hand, pencils sharpened, I was the first student to arrive and the teacher and I introduced ourselves.   She asked me to tell her why I was taking the course and I proudly announced “I want to write a memoir about my mother’s life.”  She replied “No one wants to read about your mother’s life.”

Thud.

There were several possibilities for what would happen next:  I’d burst into tears or I’d leave the class.  Maybe both.  But then she added “You have to write your own story.”  Hmm…I decided to stay.  Over the next few weeks, we learned about runways (yes, that’s one right at the beginning of this piece…Hmph), we struggled to find our inner voice, to avoid adverbs, to “show don’t tell”, to write from scars not wounds.  And as I listened to my companions read their work out loud-pieces that touched on massive, extremely personal life changing events, struggles and challenges, all I could think was how lame my story was.  I had a mother, she had an interesting life and she died, it was sad, the end.  I felt like an impostor with nothing important or interesting to say.  Certainly nothing of the calibre that would warrant writing about it.

We were told that the two things all good writers have in common is that they’ve been writing from an early age and they love to read.  Well, I wanted to be a good writer, so I took stock:  I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I wrote stories when they were assigned at school, papers in university, business proposals, the odd letter to a friend and an occasionally witty facebook post, but writing stories as a vocation?  Journaling?  Nope.  Was I too old?  Did I need a degree in English?  A love of classics?

I began to wonder if my epiphany about becoming a writer had been akin to Ebeneezer Scrooge’s “..bit of underdone potato.”

But as time passed, I knew I couldn’t give up.  Despite all my self doubt, I’d tasted that moment-that shining moment when the words work and you look at what you’ve written and it is good and it is right and while your mind says “where the hell did that come from?” your heart is giving itself high fives.  And so I struggled on.

Until I eventually did give up.  Who was I kidding?   I’m a 43 year old housewife.  Somewhere along the way, I had turned my idea of writing my mother’s life story for my children into a mountain of insecurity and doubt.  I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter who read it, it was for my kids, but it wasn’t happening.  It would never be good enough.  I couldn’t scale the mountain.

One night as I got into bed and turned off the light, a character appeared in my head, and like me, she had a story that needed telling.  But her voice was easier to hear than my own, so I got out of bed, found a scrap of paper and a pen, and I started writing it down.

Not long after that night, I now had some more characters and a plot outline but I also had children and a busy life-it was tough to get into a writing habit and the type A personality I have been harbouring all my life, the one never content to just “be”, wanted carrot and stick.  So I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge.  I vowed to give it the best shot I could, and to just write.  To not look back, to not edit until I was done, to always finish the day’s writing on a cliffhanger and to write every day.  Thirty days and 56,000 words later I had two thirds of a story that wasn’t half bad-a work of fiction into which I had lovingly tucked my own life and the lives of the people I have both loved and hated.  Printing off those pages, looking at the words, I understood that I could do it.  I just had to keep at it.

So I am a writer now.  Perhaps not destined for best sellers and awards, but I know now that one day I will scale that mountain and write my mother’s story-my story; for her, for me and for my children.   And I hope that it one day finds its way onto a bookshelf somewhere, and that it gives some meaning to the vagaries of life.  

Now I just have to finish writing it all down.

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”  Karen Blixen under the pen name Isak Dinesen

Grannieland.

When my Mum died I worried about how it would affect my kids. We are a close-knit family and my boys, especially my eldest bunny, were really close to their Grannie.

Grief was hard enough for the grown-ups. How would it affect a 9 and 6 year old?

The night Mum died, I came home from the hospital and broke the news to the boys as gently as I could. My youngest, who reacts strongly to the emotions of the people around him, curled up in my lap and cried with me. My older bunny though, he did not shed a single tear. I watched him and worried. Surely this was not good? I told him it was okay to cry, but still he didn’t. Was holding his feelings in? Walling them off, as I had done in the months leading up to my Mum’s death? Was he trying to be tough? Would his feelings come out in other ways? I wondered: was there a ‘right’ way to grieve?

A few minutes passed and then he turned to me and said “Mummy, where is Granny now?”
We have a policy of always telling our kids the truth. They know that there is no question I won’t answer. Obviously we manage our explanations based on how old the kids are, but overall, as best we can, they always get the truth. This time it was hard, but I did the best I could. “I don’t know, love. She always said she would be looking down on us. I’d like to think that’s what she’s doing now, but I don’t know.”
Not the best answer, but I hoped it would help.
But he shook his head. “No, Mummy, that’s not what I mean. I mean where is she actually? Is she at the hospital? What will they do with her?”
I realised that he wanted to know about her body. For a split second I balked. Surely…surely this was morbid territory for a nine year old. As I tried to figure out how to explain it to him, it occurred to me that perhaps he was trying to process the loss of his beloved Grannie, just as we were. He simply needed to go about it in his own way, by asking questions that would help him understand.
So I took a deep breath and explained as gently as I could that yes, Grannie was still at the hospital and that they would keep her in the morgue and that the next day, she would be cremated. I explained that she wasn’t ‘in’ her body anymore. He thought about that for a while. Then he simply said “Okay.”

In the days that followed, I watched him like a hawk, looking for any sign that he was having difficulty. He had still not shed a tear, but he had asked many, many more questions.
“Where do people go when they die?”
“Why do people get buried?”
“What happens when someone is cremated?”
“Did Grannie want to be cremated?”
“What did Grannie look like when she died?”

The questions were sometimes hard to answer, but we answered them anyway.

People seem to expect tears when someone grieves. But my eldest bunny, with his sharp and curious mind didn’t need the tears. He needed clarity in order to process what had happened. So that’s what we gave him. We talked about Grannie. We laughed at all the crazy antics she would get up to. We told stories of all our favourite things about her. On her birthday, we made her favourite cake. It wasn’t always easy, but we discovered that by helping him to heal, we all began to heal.

Several days after Mum’s death, I spoke with a children’s grief counsellor from the Temmy Latner Palliative Care team at Mount Sinai hospital. I told her all about my older Bunny’s reaction and she confirmed what I had figured out: his reaction was actually just fine. Everyone needs to grieve in his or her own way, and children most of all. There should be no expectation or timeline. If you need to cry that’s okay, but if you don’t, that’s okay too. Giving him answers to all his questions was exactly what he needed in order to deal with the death of his Grannie.

But what about the younger bunny? He had cried the night that his Grannie died, but I knew it was due more to the fact that I was crying than his own grief. After that night, he hadn’t said much about it. I wondered if he understood what had happened. Was he too young? Did it simply not have the impact on him that it did on the rest of us?

I soon discovered that he too had his own special way of dealing with his sadness.

Several months after Mum’s death, the little bunny and I were walking to school. It was a gorgeous spring day, full of buds about to pop and warm breezes. The whole world seemed to hum with things growing.

As we walked along, my little boy happily stopped to look at bugs and flowers, gently touching the new leaves on the hedges. He skipped over cracks in the sidewalk and chattered away about everything and nothing at all. I marvelled at him. His big heart and gentle ways were living proof that as bad as it can be sometimes, life goes on.

Then I noticed the little black bundle of fur in the road. It looked like an unlucky squirrel had been hit and killed by a passing car. As we approached the squashed little body, I tried to shield my little bunny from seeing it. We’d had enough of death, and this poor little creature had met such a painful end. Despite my attempts to distract him, he saw it and went quiet. A few yards further down the sidewalk he said “What do you think happened to him, Mummy?”
“I think he was hit by a car, love. I didn’t want you to see it. I thought it would make you sad.”
He turned his sweet little smile up to me and he said “It is sad, Mummy, but it’s okay. The squirrel is with Grannie now, in Grannieland. There are trees there for him to climb in and he has friends there. And Grannie, of course.”
And there it was. I understood that he had dealt with his grief by creating his own version of heaven.
I leaned down and gave him a hug and a kiss. And as we walked along on that spring morning, I marvelled at how these two little boys had managed in two completely different ways, to understand and cope with tragedy, just by being themselves.