Again

My grandmother—my mother’s mother—passed away in the early hours of Monday, August 7th. Her name was Grace, and it suited her. She was a special lady who I admired very much.

As someone fairly in touch with my emotions, I am finding it quite difficult to articulate my feelings on this.

She became the third person who I watched decline and fade away…who suffered until the end finally came. I imagine it would leave a mark on anyone, but I feel stained, stained by death, and I am beginning to realize that it has affected me more than I know.

I don’t get close to people anymore. The stain isn’t the only reason, but it makes me feel somehow damaged. Shut is the openness I once had. I mourn the loss of my younger self and the courage she had to wear her heart for all to see.

But then, she didn’t know how easily the heart could shatter or how much it would hurt. Courage comes easy when you don’t understand the danger ahead. My mother’s illness and subsequent death hurt me in a way that doesn’t heal. Whatever part of me that survived the emotional fallout fell victim to the strain of chronic physical pain.

I come from a line of women who never show their pain. I may write about it prolifically, but you would never suspect what lies beneath vis-à-vis. Like my grandmother and mother before me, I wear a mask, and it grows heavy. Frequently, isolation is easier to bear than the weight of the façade.

“So don’t wear it,” you say. It isn’t that simple. I don’t know how to leave the disguise at home; it isn’t what my family does. In its own way, the pain stains too.

With my baggage firmly anchored to my ankle, my last grandparent descended into the hell of terminal illness. She was the comeback kid. So many times in the last decade, Grandma had fallen ill only to recover. In the end, it wasn’t congestive heart failure, diabetes, or a stroke, but a fall that sapped the last of her reserves.

Not that she ever let it show, but I knew she suffered. I knew life had become a strain. There was a tightness in my last visits with her: two people trying very hard to pretend that nothing was wrong…and then she was gone. I’ve prepared for this so many times over the last decade, only to have her bounce back. I think a part of me believed that she was a force that could not be stopped.

My aunts were tireless in the care they gave her in the end. Your terminal loved ones can become someone else. They can thrash about in their delirium, call out, or say terrible, abusive things that are completely out of character…and while all logic tells you that this aggression isn’t truly aimed at you, how can you not take it personally? I was spared the last one with Mom because she fell into a coma, but my aunts have to remember those mean words for the rest of their lives.

Her funeral was last Thursday. I spent Wednesday night watching tearjerkers and scribbling out the first part of this entry, all in preparation to don the mask again for another public viewing. I was so, so proud of myself for staying dry-eyed through the service. I would NEVER expect anyone else to abstain from crying during a funeral, so why was it so important for me?

The burial ceremony was held at the cemetery this morning. I hate the cemetery. I hate seeing Mom’s name on a stone…I don’t want to look for her there, and it just so happens that my parents’ plot is adjacent to my grandparents’ plot. Nonetheless, I attended…on what would have been Mom’s 60th birthday. I left flowers on her grave before the ceremony started and struggled to keep the tears inside. My sweet husband came armed with tissues and a blanket should I want to kneel at Mom’s grave…sweetness has a way of unravelling me.

Mom's 48th Birthday Party
 
I don’t want to look for either of them there.

22 for a Moment

Nick found some old photos of Mom last weekend, and one of them has flit about my thoughts throughout the week…my mother at 22 years old:


 

I first saw this photo when sorting through albums to create photo boards for the visitation after she died in January 2006. The actual day she passed away, I was lost in my grief…but after that I put on my “outside face” and buried it all because there was work to do. Then I remember coming to that picture and feeling lost all over again.

I’ve had plenty of time to analyze and understand my reaction. I’m having trouble finding the right words, but I am guessing that anyone who has cared for a loved one with a terminal disease will understand my stuttering attempt. I was able to keep a grasp on my sorrow on the promise in my heart that she wasn’t suffering anymore. It was a relief to have her agony be over. There was peace in that.

That photo showed me a part of her that I had forgotten during the last two years of her life…the vibrant, funny, silly, willfully carefree side of her that took a piece of me with her when she got sick. No strain in her eyes, no shadows of fatigue or sallow skin. Youth really is wasted on the young…you don’t appreciate the simplicity of expecting to reach an old age until you’re slapped with mortality decades too soon.

My more recent reaction to the photo was a similar taste of bittersweet, but the bitter died the longer I looked. Time is both a thief and salve.

Because it’s fun to compare (and since apparently Nick was a photo archeologist last weekend), here is a digital image he also uncovered from an old external hard drive where I used to store photos. Me at 22…life was a little lighter then for me too.


 

I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale

I know, I know…more song lyrics in the title. I can’t promise that won’t happen A LOT. I was not blessed with the ability to create music, but I appreciate it all the more because of that.

Memphis before dawn
Not quite ten feet off of Beale in this photo…
 

I look forward to our anniversary trip every year…the rest of January is pretty painful for me, but I have a handful of days at the beginning of year that I can celebrate love without hurting. The sweet without the bitter, if you will. Nick and I spent our anniversary (11 years since our first date, 6 since our I Dos) in Memphis, TN. Walking in Memphis has new meaning for me.

In the six years since we married, we’ve only spent one year at home, but it was at our NEW, just-built home, so that was a pretty wild trip in and of itself.

The Rundown
Married in a butterfly conservatory in Key West, then…

  1. Pasadena
  2. Chicago
  3. Bayfield
  4. NEW HOME!
  5. Back to Chicago
  6. Memphis

But back on topic: Memphis.

Our Memphis visit was little more than a whim. We had a new vehicle, so we figuratively threw a dart on a map within a specific radius of our home. Memphis was a manageable driving distance and would seemingly offer a break from Wisconsin winter. I think the emotional connection I felt to Memphis is all the more amazing because so little thought went into the decision to visit that city.

Memphis before dawn
 

We spent a week in the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll, and I was mesmerized nearly every moment of the trip. I will never forget the opening of our first tour, when our guide said he was going to tell us about three kings—the King of the Blues, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, and the King of Civil Rights. Memphis royalty indeed. Of course, the tour guide was referring to B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For whatever reason, I’ve felt a strong connection to the 1960s from a very young age. The music, the politics, the conflicts…my religion tells me that reincarnation is impossible, but there are times I feel like I’ve lived another life…series of dejà vu moments strung together then shrugged off. The mysteries of life, I suppose…but I digress.

There is too much to shove into one post, but consider this a warning that Memphis entries, probably several of them, will be coming in the near future.

Memphis in the morning

I’m Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I have always loved color.

Color soothes my moods and makes brilliant the dull corners in my mind. It comforts me in ways I have not acknowledged until recently. What setting do you create for yourself when you seek respite?—have you ever given it much thought?

As part of this house-building adventure/madness, Nick convinced me that we needed to try a smart light bulb before the house was finished to see if the technology was worth the investment. The prices are slowly becoming more reasonable, but that “trial bulb” was a little ouchy on the budget. Besides integration with mobile devices, these lights can show a full spectrum of color and 1000 shades of white. The color thing seemed silly to me…in the beginning. We had the bulb about an hour when I changed my tune.

Since we moved into the house, that first bulb has lived over our chromatherapy soaker-tub.

Chromatherapy Tub

So, the science on color therapy…look, science was never my thing. I always told anyone who asked me about chromatherapy that it may all be hokey, but it sure is pretty to look at. My favorite combination is to light the water either aqua or royal blue with the overhead bulb a saturated magenta.

In fact, it’s always been magenta overhead. I sometimes experiment with a different color, but I always return to magenta before the end of my bath. There’s just something about that color that makes me feel better, and I’ve never stopped to consider why that is. A visceral contentment and peacefulness washes over me…and the hard day washes away.

Last night, we installed four additional bulbs in the great room and some strip lighting over one set of cabinets in the kitchen. My first response was to set them all to magenta. It was like an autopilot switch was flipped and a voice said, “Doesn’t feel right…must make magenta!”

Again, I fully admit that I have never researched chromatherapy or even what different colors represent. After last night, when nearly the entire first level was bathed in deep magenta, I really started to wonder. It’s not like magenta is my favorite color or even close to it.

Thus, I started digging. Magenta is the magical eighth color that can be observed beyond Newton’s Wave Length Theory—the theory that gave us ROYGBIV, or the following seven colors on the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet (also known as my closet organization index). The color Magenta (no idea why I just made that a proper noun) was observed later as an eighth color comprised of Newton’s first and seventh colors. It’s the color that completes the circle and signifies a marriage of secular and spiritual.

To quote Marty McFly, this is heavy.

Prettying up the kitchen...one set of cabinets down, two to go.

 

Magenta is said to be the link to spirituality, divine love, and letting go of the past. It is the color that supposedly realigns a person to their life’s purpose. A little tongue-in-cheek, I read that people who have a preference for this color have a focus on self-realization but suffer from becoming fixed on certain ideas (you know, like assuming color therapy is hokey).

In an effort to open my mind to possibilities, perhaps my time under those rosy rays is connecting me with my mother, helping me cope with unanswerable questions, and serving as a reminder why I’m still here. If any of that holds merit, given the weightiness of those questions and the prominent themes they play in my life, it’s not so surprising that magenta is my own gateway to bliss.

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high.
There’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby…

Eleven Years an Angel

This year, the anniversary of Mom’s death hit me worse than in years past. I’m not quite sure why…but for the first time in years, I spent a January 26th crying the night away. The last couple weeks have been emotional, really.

Nick was involved in a car accident ten days ago. He was hit from behind by a speeding motorist who was checking his phone. After the collision, he spun out of control across two lanes of traffic, the median, two lanes of oncoming traffic, down an embankment, and finally came to a stop in a field. Just typing that out makes my heart thud and my stomach hurt.

By grace, he was unharmed. I don’t know how that’s possible, considering the damage to the vehicle and all the little variables that could have changed that outcome. How did he avoid hitting any other vehicles during lunchtime on a busy highway? I can only believe that someone was watching over us from the other side.

The enormity of it all didn’t sink in until that evening. We were making dinner, wading into the darkest waters of what-ifs, when he said (trying unsuccessfully to lighten the mood) something like, “Not another one in January!” Dam: broken…poor Nick.

It’s just that I hadn’t felt terror like that in almost a decade—the doubt that life could go on, the feeling that all of the oxygen has left the room, the sharp ache in the center of my chest.

Obviously, life does go on, even when it seems cruel to leave your loved one behind to live only in memory. I am profoundly grateful that I do not need to relearn that hard truth. Thank you to…well, I’m not sure who or what I should credit…but I have my own theories.

Please keep looking out for me, Mom. I love you.

Caledonia Picnic