I’m not sure what happened to September. One day it was September 5th and I was hanging out in Sonoma on Labor Day and then it was September 30th and I was reflecting on all the outfits I’d made for clients that month. And now, poof, no more September.
No problem. I love October. I love Halloween and dressing up the house in decorations. And I could have and would have done that this weekend but I just didn’t have it in me.
I don’t know why but I feel troubled when something I love is no longer appealing. What changed? I’m clear on where the decorations are. I know the treasures that are in the boxes. Maybe I’ll get an inkling to put them up later in the month, but right now, that idea is cold.
When changes happen
It’s kind of like when I came home from Minnesota in August and looked at my refrigerator door which was filled with family photos with Mother in them and knew I had to take them down. I’d gazed upon those photos every single day for months and months. They’d brought me great comfort.
But after that August trip back to their home, those pictures almost hurt my eyes when I looked at them. They are now stored in a fabric handbag that hangs on the doorknob of my home office. They’re close by but I’m not looking at them, at least not now.
I still have a table top altar dedicated to her and I buy fresh flowers for it (for her) every week. That doesn’t hurt; it nourishes.
Anniversaries revive grief
The anniversary of the death of my youngest brother Todd was on August 29th. August 31st was my mother’s birthday. Those were some really tough days this year. They kicked up a storm of memories and aches and longing for both of them.
Thinking back to October two years ago
I know what I was doing a lot of two years ago in October. I was talking to Mom on the phone nearly every day. She was overcome with grief. I worried that she wasn’t eating.
One day, I was explaining this physical feeling I’d get: It was sort of like a stomach ache but not really. It was kind of like anxiety but not really. I had brought this up to a nurse friend, wondering if something was wrong with me, and she said, “Oh, I know exactly what that is. It’s grief nausea.”
That totally resonated with me. I told Mother what my friend had said and I could hear her sigh of relief on the other end of the phone. It resonated with her too. She said, “That’s exactly what happens. It just comes in like a wave and then goes away and then comes again.”
When Mother died six months later, I didn’t have grief nausea, not once. Grief didn’t come and go; it moved in, took up residence and never left my side. I guess I’ve been living with it ever since. Oh, it’s changed, but it’s never gone. Lately it seems to have come forward more than it’s receded.
An image of my brother, being there in my time of need
My younger brother, Kirk, is in Scotland with his wife, Wendy. They return this week to their home in Minnesota.
Let me tell you a story about him. He and I did most of the planning for Todd’s funeral. We were with the minister discussing some readings and sharing some stories about Todd.
Kirk was clear about some passages from the Bible that he wanted to read. He thought I should do a reading too. At first I said no. But then he mentioned the Twenty-Third Psalm and I thought, okay, I can do that. I love that Psalm.
The day of the funeral Kirk ended up at one end of the church and I was at the other end sitting next to Mom and Dad. The church was overflowing with people. There weren’t enough seats for them. They were standing at the back.
When it was time for the readings, Kirk got up and graciously welcomed everybody on behalf of the family. I was so proud of him. He read his piece and then sat down with his wife and kids and grandkids.
It was my turn.
I walked across the front of the church and approached the lectern. The Twenty-Third Psalm was printed on a card that had been sent to my family in sympathy. I held it in my hand. I couldn’t look out at the people. I looked down and started with the first few words: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not…
I couldn’t go on. I stopped, tried to compose myself but was failing. I looked out in front of me and saw Kirk in his crisp white shirt. He wasn’t smiling but he was radiant. He leaned forward onto the back of the front pew and he spoke to me through his eyes. He said, “Do you need me?” And I spoke back with my eyes: Yes.
He made his way out of the pew and came up and stood beside me. He leaned his hand on the lectern close to my reading.
Here’s what he didn’t do: He didn’t take over. He didn’t read the words for me. He didn’t whisper in my ear. He just stood there. It was as if he said, “Take your time, Brenda. I’m here. It’s okay.”
I took the time it took to read the Twenty-Third Psalm. I didn’t get through it without crying. When I was done we headed back in opposite directions to our seats. The service continued with a hymn Mother had chosen.
Emotionally I’m taking it slow this October
I suspect we have inside ourselves a wisdom that can teach us how to live with grief. I imagine it’s a matter of being quiet and asking for guidance. I imagine a presence standing close and saying without saying, “Take your time, don’t rush, it’s okay. You’re not alone. I’m here.”