Tag Archives: grief

Why We Hug

clouds

Six years ago, a tragic car accident after his high school graduation took the life of my sister’s nephew.   Her own kids were all teens themselves when they lost their cousin, and the aftermath was unlike anything I had ever seen.  Saying the entire family suffered immeasurably doesn’t fully encapsulate the deepness of their grief or their struggle to move forward without Johnny.

I wrote the following piece six years ago. 

Today, my sister’s children, all young adults now, will say goodbye to Johnny’s brother, Jake, 22, who never fully regained his footing following the loss of his brother.

I just can’t bring myself to write again. 

 Losing a child is unimaginable for most of us..

Losing two is unfathomable.

*      *     *     *     *

 

 

 

We weave and bob through tragedy with every headline of every day.

What a shame…

How sad…

That poor family…

Isn’t that awful?

 

But eventually we move on to the circulars.  Or the crosswords.  Or (like me) the fake news, the drivel, the celebrity scoops.  Why not – along with sudoku it’s so much more enjoyable than all that heavy stuff of strangers.

One day, though, unspeakable tragedy pinpricks into our own little life bubble and everything halts.

I’d always believed that if anything ever happened to any of my children all one would need is a dustpan to come and collect me.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.  Game over.  Yet having just witnessed the most unfathomable display of parental strength imaginable, I realize just how wrong I’ve been in my selfish imaginings.

 

 

My sister’s nephew died in a tragic car accident this past weekend.  He was heading off to college in a few weeks.  One minute he was calling his mom telling her he was heading home after a slice of pizza and a few minutes later he was gone in an instant.  To list his accomplishments would appear trite — there were far too many.  To remark how genuinely beloved he and his family are would seem cliché —  one need only to have witnessed the hundreds of people who gathered for him, standing in line for hours – most snaking around the building in direct sun.  Or the two thousand people who sat at his mass.

 

It wasn’t very logistical for me to attend his services.  Kids everywhere…husband traveling…700 miles of driving…3 or 4 states to travel through…  But I couldn’t not go.

 

I’ve known this young man for longer than I’ve known my own children. He and his 3 brothers were as close to my sister’s 4 kids as any cousins could be.  Like siblings.  All born within months of each other.

 

Here’s what I have become mindful of:

 

…. If you’ve never experienced a mother’s tortured wails as she collapses over her child’s coffin, pray to God you never will.  It is an image you will not soon (perhaps ever) fully erase from your memory.  It will stay with you and rear its gripping visual when you least expect it.  In quiet moments.  While driving.  Scrubbing stains out of the rug.  Glancing at a photo of your own kids with their cousins, a photo you’ve passed by countless times. It is the most wrenching thing I have ever seen or experienced ever.  Ever.

 

….Grandparents having to live through this will ask why they weren’t taken instead. They will repeat this to every person they greet.  They truly, deeply, do not understand why they were not.

 

….Nieces and nephews, usually so full of light and mischievous sarcasm, will not be.  At all. And it will frighten you.  And worry you.  Teen brains are a fragile piece of equipment to begin with.  Shouldering such a dreadful experience can be dangerous to a skewed processing system.  You know they’ll pull through this but you’ll wonder how.  And when.  And what the residual effect will be. And when the light might return to their eyes.

 

….There is always going to be one person who steps up to perform the most horrific and life-altering tasks during the situation.  My brother-in-law was this person.  Identifying the body.  Making funeral arrangements.  Turning away throngs of people because his sister refused to sit down.  This man has been on the receiving end of many (MANY) an eye roll from me, my standard jab for decades being, “Dude, you sooo chose the right sister because I’d whoop yo ass….”  But as his shoulders shook under my hug I could only squeeze tighter.  I worry most about him.

 

And so after grinding to a heinous halt, life – inexplicably — starts to slowly roll along again.

 

My sadness comes in waves.  Sometimes it’s a mere blip.  Other times overwhelming.  Things like this simply bring a focus into our own lives.  We try to picture ourselves attempting to survive such insurmountable grief and really, it’s unimaginable.

 

My kids plant wordless kisses on my face.  They get it.  Mom’s not quite herself.

 

We try to bring tragedy into our lives as life lessons.

 

“Mom, don’t wait up.  You’re tired, just go to bed, I’ll be home soon and lock up.”

Ummmm…..No.

 

“But it’s a party – can’t I stay out later?”

Sure.  But we’ll pick you up.

 

“Don’t you trust me?”

Yep.  Just not everyone else out there.

 

 

My mother-in-law died on the afternoon my youngest child was born.  The circle of life.  Upon returning back home I’ve gotten word that a local friend is in labor with her fourth child.  She’s already got three boys and everyone’s excited to see if she’ll finally get herself a little pink bundle or another beautiful bottomless pit of a boy who will single-handedly increase her grocery bill by a third.  Either way, the circle of life again.  A good thing.  A great thing.

 

We hug our kids tighter.

And wish and hope and pray that their time with us is not temporary.

 

 

 

Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was featured in the 2014 Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements.  (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore).   A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook. and@Eyerollingmom on Instagram. 

 

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Daughter Strong: Four Years of Reflection

nanny

Mom doing what she loved best

My mom died four years ago today.

I no longer spontaneously cry – making beds, walking down the produce aisle, seeing commercials for cancer centers when I least expect it —

But I still catch myself absent mindedly reaching for the phone when something funny happens.   You know, the house phone.  I can’t really name too many people I still talk to on my house phone anymore.  Even now, 1460 days later, I’m not ready to get rid of it.

I’ve honored her memory every passing year by putting into words the changes that have crept into my life in the time without her and have usually marked its passage by focusing on my kids;  their size, their maturity (or, hello, teenagers: lack thereof), and their role as unknowing anchors in my unsteady journey through middle age.  It’s funny;  I often wonder how they’d take knowing the true strength of their super powers.

What’s heaviest on my mind on this anniversary, though, is the profound change of my emotional core.  My emotions – and the things that affect me — have veered tremendously from what once was.

You know what angers me most now?   When friends roll their eyes over their mothers’ forgetfulness.  Or annoying habits.  Or intrusiveness.  Or anything, really.  I find myself irritated when they complain about perfunctory – and quick – visits with their moms and I often suppress the need to scream when hearing they  dutifully “have to” go see their moms for dinner, or doctor’s appointment, or — again — anything, really.  It infuriates me that they just don’t get it.  Or understand what others would give for one more day.

Know what makes me happy now?  That my mom died so young.  And quick.   It’s actually a rather ironic personal admission I’ve made peace with.  She was only 69 when she passed and the toxins in her body were vicious and speedy, taking her within six months from start to end.  The thing is, prior to her diagnosis, she was beautiful, hipper than most her age, and stylish.  Extremely stylish.  She was envied for her magnetic humor, was incredibly charismatic and if I may be cliché, a treasured friend.  Really and truly treasured.  She was also quite the hot ticket:  In sickness, when she was too weak to get to Kohl’s, she circled items out of their circular and sent me out to buy them.  Shoes and bags she never did muster up the energy to use.  But she had to have them.

She was immeasurably vibrant and if I’m being totally honest, I find comfort in that image being my final remembrance of her.  I will never, EVER know her as a frail, feeble old lady, with white hair and stooped shoulders.  I will never feel pointed sadness helping her up a flight of stairs.  I won’t ever have to visit her in a nursing home and spoon feed her.  And I will never know the unfathomable despair of watching her recollection of me and other loved ones fade from her memory right before my eyes.  She will forever be my great-shoe-wearing, never-leave-the-house-without-makeup-wearing, always-with-awesome-accessories-wearing 69-year-old mom.  And that is my beautiful image.  And that makes me happy.  I imagine I’m not the first person who’s lost someone too early in life to cling to this shred of positivity, so I’m not sorry for it.

Know what I care about now?  Hmmmm.  Not so much.  I keep a firm grasp on my family, of course, and make sure we stay intact because it’s all we have and all we need.  It is the good stuff for sure.  But all the other stuff?  Meh.   See ya.  Grudges, weight-gain, the-sky-is-falling hysteria of every day that screams BREAKING NEWS?  I let all go.   I learned how to surround myself with drama-free friends.  I ask myself, What’s the worst thing that can happen?  And I realize it’s not the end of the world if (pick one) a kid doesn’t go to college or a spouse loses a job or a kid drops OUT of college or the bills are piling up or the kid doesn’t play Varsity or someone snubbed someone on Facebook.  Ah, what the hell, pick ‘em all.  None truly matter.

Not in the least.

So I really don’t care about all that much these days.  Just the good stuff.

I wish she could see how fantastic her grandkids are turning out.

I wish she could see the living room chairs I just spray painted.

I wish she could see how long my hair’s gotten.

I just miss her like mad.

And when my youngest, sitting in my passenger seat, innocently blurts out, “This song reminds me of Nanny…

I know we all do.

Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was featured in the 2014 Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements.  (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore).   A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook. and@Eyerollingmom on Instagram.

How Long is 3 Years? Any Mom Can Tell You

time

I lost my mom three years ago today and began marking the anniversary of her passing with some reflections about passing – time passing, that is.  Most people don’t notice time passing in any given day but Moms certainly do.

 

Moms get it.  We get it when we look down at our 8th graders and see hairy man legs.  Even though we’ve seen that gangly leg a zillion times it still halts our heartbeat for a second when we, you know, really see it.

 

We notice time passing when our 10th graders start sporting sideburns and facial hair and we realize we never even saw it coming.  One day it’s just, well, there.  When did that start? we wonder.  Geeze, we’d focused so intently on the deepening voice …

 

When the summer days start getting shorter moms become aware of time when our college coeds start gathering their things again.  Already?  Really?    We watched them whizzing around for a few weeks, burning the candle at both ends (a mirror image of ourselves so many years ago) and then poof, they’re gone again.

 

We moms also give a knowing nod to the slow passage of time when our oldest children – kinda sorta adults in the making — start paving their own paths through life with or without our gentle suggestions. Having to watch mistakes being made — then figured out — oddly enough causes time to stall a bit (insert nervous laughter from parents living with young adults).

 

It’s pretty easy to see how moms become acutely aware of time.

 

This past weekend a big group of friends and I took a ferry over to Provincetown and spent a spectacular summer day carousing in the sunshine (and, okay, perhaps a few bars, too).  It was a stunning day yet I had tiny moments of sadness throughout it because it dawned on me: the last time we all did this together was exactly three years ago.  I know this so well because it was the one lone day of fun I experienced that summer before spiraling down the heinous rabbit hole that was my mom’s cancer.

 

I used to phone her on the weekends to catch up, telling her all about the kids’ games or what I bought on sale that afternoon or any frolicking I’d done with my zany friends.  Sometimes I’d just pour a glass of wine and shoot the shit with her. She’d always turn down the volume on the Law and Order episode in the background and listen happily as I went on and on, blissfully content in the animated updates of my life with her beloved grandkids

 

That last ferry outing is seared into my memory because when I phoned her that evening to tell her all about it, for the very first time she was unable to keep up her end of our conversation.  She was frail and whispering and I remember hanging up and sobbing.  I knew:  she was fading away from me. Our special phone thing was never going to happen again. Within days I was back with her in New York, where I didn’t leave until her horrific ordeal was over, just weeks later.

 

I remember every moment of our final phone conversation.

 

156 weeks have flashed by and still my maternal awareness of time flares at the most unexpected times.

 

Today, the dynamic of my family is dramatically different than it used to be three years ago.  Now a household of teenagers and young adults, it is, if I’m being honest, a much lonelier place for me.  Mind you, it’s not a sad place – quite the contrary – it’s busier than ever and full of laughs (ahem, hilarious at times) and as chaotic as any other family of six usually is.  But as Dorothy Gale once said, “People come and go so quickly around here.”   That tends to happen in a household of primarily self-sufficient bodies.  Work schedules, college distance, school events, social commitments, you name it.  Family dinners are a rare occurrence now and more often than not there are nowhere near six people under the roof at any given time.

 

Everyone’s so busy they’re hardly ever here anymore.

 

So sometimes it just gets a little lonely when I remember about that pesky – and fleeting – time thing.

 

It makes me appreciate car rides.  And conversations.  And calendar pages with few markings on them.

 

And it makes me feel wickedly sneaky frying bacon for the sole purpose of waking teenage boys out of weekend slumbers.

 

And it makes me acutely aware that small moments are very, very good.

 

And  — without question — it makes me vow that forever … if I happen to get a phone call from one of my loves that is afar … I will turn down the volume of Law & Order and listen up.

 

And be very, very happy.

 

Just the way my mom was.

 

 

 

 

 

Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was just featured in the Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements.  (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore).   A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook.

One Year

sunflower

My mom died a year ago today.

 

I’ve written – briefly — about some of that journey but have mostly focused on all the beautiful friends   that buoyed me afloat during that time.  But to write about the experience as it affected my core?  No.  To quote a colleague who went through a similar ordeal just a few years before me, “Nope, can’t even go there yet.  Cannot go there.”  I understood it completely and still do.  There are no words yet.

 

A lot can happen in a year’s time.  Hell, a lot can happen in half a year’s time, as witnessed by the soul splintering timeline of my mom’s final six months.

 

To honor this subdued – yet utterly important and significant – anniversary I can reveal what I’ve learned about calendar years.

 

In one whole year you can witness your 17-year-old son become 18 by making a conscious and physical decision to leave behind the poor choices that saddened his mother so.  You can watch him become a responsible man right before your very eyes and question why you ever doubted him.

 

In a year’s time you can watch your 16-year-old daughter become 17 by navigating relationships (relationships that seem to desperately define adolescence) with the grace and maturity of a woman far beyond her years.  You can think that she couldn’t possibly become any more beautiful with each passing month.  But you would be wrong.

 

In 365 days you would believe it is a devilish trick of the eye that has caused your 12-year-old’s shoe size to surpass that of his father as he reaches 13 years old.  To share this fact with him, you could look up to tell him, for he now leans down to kiss you.  This will make you amused.  And melancholy.

 

In a calendar year you can observe your baby – for he will always be your baby – blossom from 10-years-old into an even more likable, adored, and sought-after pain in the butt 11-year-old (have I mentioned he’s the youngest?).  You will realize that his personality is emblazoned from seeing – and hearing – more than his siblings did at this age.  For this, you will continue to shield him from their merciless taunts, so that forever they will think you are favoring him.

 

Throughout the 52 weeks you can ascertain that life most definitely is NOT fair, nor is it supposed to be.  My sister and I now shoulder the responsibility of caring for our 90-year-old step-father.  That he has survived four strokes, emphysema, open heart surgery, a pig valve AND was 20 years senior to my mom will only bolster this concept.

 

In twelve months you can gain immeasurable wisdom about what is important in life.  You can evaluate friendships with a keen eye:  assess which ones are fulfilling, which are frivolous, and which are insufficient.

 

You can – and will – enjoy simpler things, and quiet moments,

 

You can – and will – laugh (please see above mentioned reference to 90-year-old man).

 

I used to pray.  Now I just speak directly to my mom and I know she hears me.  I am convinced that last month, before my little leaguer hit his very first home run of his life, it was my incessant and silent pleas to her that helped this ball over the fence.  “Come-on-mom, come-on-mom, help-him-out-mom, come-on-mom, help-him-do-this mom …”

 

She did.  And I think she’s done a lot for us this year.  Jobs, health, happiness, you name it.  I’ve named it:  mom.

 

I miss her.

I miss just talking to her.

And she missed some pretty great things this year.

 

Of course she really didn’t miss them.  We just missed her joyful reaction to them.

 

 

So as we’ve gotten through our calendar year of firsts — her birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, her anniversary, and – the worst — her 10 grandchildren’s birthdays, when their customary $25 arrived with only one signature on the card – we’ve always toasted her.

 

And we will today, too.

 

Because no one is laughing more than her right now at the three-ring circus she’s left behind (please see above reference to 90-year-old man).  Without a doubt in my mind, she is laughing her ass off right now.

 

Love you, Mom.