There’s so much to love about January! I’ve already experienced some of its magic. Maybe you have too.
As soon as I hung my new calendar and looked at January, I felt expansive. Staring out the window from my writing table I could clearly see in my mind’s eye the fruition of projects I’d started last year. I lost sight of them somewhere in April, August, or November. When I look at them again through January’s eyes, I don’t see a single hangup. I’m as confident about them blooming as I am about the baby daffodils in my front yard getting ready to pop open.
I’m full of can-do attitude. Those dream projects are talking to me with enthusiasm and glee. They say, “Hey! Let’s do this! This won’t be hard, it’ll be a breeze.” I’m swept up into the abundance of it all. Yes, yes, yes!
More greatness in January
Russ and I celebrate our chance meeting which happened on January 1st. We did the math, and that was 17-years ago already. Oh my gosh.
Then there’s Caitlin’s birthday. My baby girl arrived on her January due date thirty-six years ago. I can still remember how it felt to bring her home and introduce her to her sister, brother, and uncle waiting there for her. Some things you just never forget.
But there’s another undeniable force in January
A few days later, that exuberance I was feeling came crashing to the floor. I had childlike excitement one week, and the next week I was feeling crushed and blue.
It happened the night of the Golden Globes. I knew I was sitting there watching the award show and all the fashion, but I was somewhere else. The Globes will be forever linked to my mother’s traumatic accident, the accident that would cut her vibrant life short. I always call Mom the Monday after the Golden Globes, and we chat about who wore what and which gowns we loved the most. When I called to chat, Dad said, “Something’s wrong. She’s not making sense.” She’d had a fall four hours earlier. Paramedics came to the house, checked her out and left feeling confident she was just fine. I called my brother Kirk who lives nearby and he picked them both up and headed for the hospital.
In less than 24-hours, a small bleed in her brain—nothing to worry about said the nurse at Perham hospital that afternoon—turned into a massive one overnight. There’d be no talk about pretty dresses. My twin brother Brent and I rushed to the San Francisco International Airport and arrived Tuesday night. We went to Mother’s room in intensive care where she was hooked up to machines, couldn’t talk, swallow or recognize us. She passed a few weeks later.
After four years I’m getting used to her absence. When I think how wonderful it would be to talk to her, I’m not shocked to realize she’s not here. I speak to her in my mind and see her in my dreams. It’s fairly satisfying. I manage.
This year I threw a fit
These memories were activated by the Golden Globes. Feeling sad is to be expected, but this year I felt fury.
Here’s what irked me. We had a plan that January of 2015. Mom and Dad and me, we had a plan. They were coming out here for a visit. We’d be visiting the Hog Island Oyster Farm, owned by our friends John and Debra. Dad was interested in the farming part, and Mom was interested in the eating part. We’d celebrate Dad’s 89th birthday in Sonoma with my kids and brother.
This started as Mom’s idea. After the sudden death of my youngest brother four months earlier, she wanted a change of scenery. It would be good for them to get out of Minnesota in January and enjoy milder winter days with us.
The thing I was counting on the most was spending time alone with Mother. She was consumed with grief and didn’t talk much about it with her friends. We spoke on the phone often, but I couldn’t wait to be with her in person. I knew our conversations away from everyone else would be comforting, maybe healing. And I had questions about Todd that I hoped she could answer.
Stomping my feet
This year when I think about that January spent in the hospital with Mother in Fargo, I don’t spend much time going over the details. No, I’m fixated on that plan. She was supposed to be in Sonoma. We were supposed to be having fun, eating oysters, celebrating Dad’s birthday on the 29th with cake and candles and kids.
I confided in a friend. As a woman, it’s easy to express sadness but to be spitting mad is more foreign. She said, “It’s hard to stomach.” And then I remembered grief nausea. It’s a physical manifestation of loss, and I was feeling it all over again, just like after Todd died.
A nurse introduced me to that term over four years ago. I’d describe it as waves of floating anxiety in your gut that feels sort of like nausea but not really. When I told Mother about grief nausea, she related to it immediately. “That’s what I feel,” she told me. “Over and over and over again.”
Once I realized that’s what was going on again, I stopped thinking I had stomach cancer. It didn’t make the anxiety go away, but I trusted that it would pass.
I went online to see what was written about grief nausea. I came across this article about the physical expressions of grief. Again, it’s comforting just to get familiar with the terrain of grief. That led me to another article about self-care. It’s called 64 Self-Care Ideas for Grievers. You totally do not need to be grieving to benefit from these self-care tips. Just being in the world is enough to qualify for this help.
A view of grief from Tarell Alvin McCraney
This Sunday I was reading the New York Times Magazine cover story called How Tarell Alvin McCraney Moved from ‘Moonlight’ to Broadway—and Beyond. The feature article is titled Connoisseur Grief. Remember how Moonlight won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2017? Well, he co-wrote it and lived the story. In real life, his mother dies of a drug overdose when he was 22.
Here are some sentences I pulled from Carvell Wallace’s article. Mr. Wallace is writing about witnessing an interaction with McCraney and the actors in rehearsal for a play McCraney wrote.
But when McCraney talked, he didn’t talk about the play or the dialogue. Instead, he talked about grief. Casually, as though it were something that just came to his mind. He explained what it felt like to lose his mother at 22. He did not talk about how she died, and he hinted only a little at the complexity of their relationship; this address was not autobiographical. It was to do with emotions. McCraney described how grief lives in a person’s body, how it settles there. He explained its half-life, the unreliable nature of its decay…how grief catches you unawares, taking over your body when you least expect it. It sits in a small reservoir beneath your heart. It whispers to you at odd hours and yells at you in quiet ones.
I’ve learned not to judge grief. It’s not something you get over. It’s something you learn to live with just like other hard feelings.
Last year at this time I was visiting Dad in Minnesota. We both cried as we hugged goodbye. We couldn’t let go. I felt like my heart was ripping apart. I didn’t know how I was going to walk out the door and into the car to head to Hector Airport in Fargo.
What came next was Dad speaking softly in my ear. He said, “We’ll get through this; we’ve gotten through worse,” he said.
Many of you have known grief. I want to hear your stories.
SandiJanuary 24, 2019 at 4:43 am
My eyes are tearing up reading your post. I feel so many emotions for you & so happy you have Russ, your Dad, Brent & your children to share your life. I did my Hope Hospice training yesterday and we spent a lot of time on grieving. I am so grateful I have you as my friend.
LaurelJanuary 24, 2019 at 6:50 am
Such a profound and touching post, Brenda. We lost my sister to cancer at 33, and I know my parents have never gotten over it. You do just learn to live with it. When my dad died a few years later (both on the same day in January…such a hard month in our family), it felt almost too hard to bear. You are so right – you don’t really get over it, you just learn to live with it and the pain becomes less intense. My mom is still with us. I dread the day she isn’t. But, more than anything, I hope none of the rest of us die before her. She just doesn’t need anymore grief in her life. After my sister and my dad died, she lost her baby brother and her mom within a few years. The down side of aging, as she says, is losing people one by one. Luckily, she has always been an optimist and soldiers on. I can’t imagine how hard it was to lose your mom. Hugs.
Ann KolbJanuary 24, 2019 at 6:54 am
Thank you for sharing your story. It touched my heart. I lost my parents on the same day in January 11 years apart. I have missed them so and wish they could see my grandchildren and know we are doing well. The one thing I know for sure is that they are with me everyday.
RobinJanuary 24, 2019 at 7:11 am
The thing about grief is how individual it is, therefore, the loneliest emotion. When I cry from grief now, I try to remember it is just liquid love washing over me and I’m glad to have know the love it comes from.
ChristineJanuary 24, 2019 at 7:48 am
So true, we don’t get over grief, we learn to live with it. I had a medical check up this week, and ended up telling my doc that my brother Harry had passed this year and that it was hard on me. She asked what was the hardest. Of course it’s that I’d always expected him to be with me throughout my life. I barely accept that I’m “middle aged,” so what the heck happened to our old age together?! Then she commented that it was obviously “still upsetting for me.” It was “understandable” to be struggling with grief for the first year and would I like some medication to help with depression….
It took me a day to realize why I was annoyed about that conversation. The reason I’d brought up my brother’s death is that I haven’t been as active as normal and my diet hasn’t been as self-care oriented as is normal for me, and I didn’t want to be judged for it. I’ve done pretty well, considering.
I ended up feeling like she was trying to fix me, when all I wanted was to be heard and accepted for going through a normal tough phase of life. It annoyed me that she suggested medicating me. I suppose if I’d wanted Zoloft, I’d be relieved by the suggestion.
Sigh. It’s always so challenging to know what’s the “right” thing to say.
Genevieve PetersonJanuary 24, 2019 at 8:32 am
Your story touched my heart, Brenda! I remember the last time I saw your parents. Your Mom always radiated joy! I too, have a difficult time with the loss of my parents, just the thought of both of them being gone keeps emotions right below the surface & peek very easily.
KathyJanuary 24, 2019 at 10:39 am
Mom died at Thanksgiving. Two months ago. I felt set adrift, moorless, an orphan at 62. No home to return to. I was crushed, deflated but glad she wasn’t suffering anymore. Alzheimer’s robs you slowly. It’s not a gun shot but a slow bleed in terms of parting. Alzheimer’s had changed our lives for the last 10 years so with out my mom and her uninvited guest in my life I was lost. What’s the new routine? I stumbled through December and a week ago I was blessed with the birth of my first grandchild arriving on her due date. I rejoice in the beauty of this child and thank God for his grace in giving my family and I the joy we need to begin to move on. Grief is twisted journey through a dense forest. You walk through grief..slowly two steps forward and five steps back. I’m still stumbling but received a life jacket to hold onto. I’m grateful.
StephanieJanuary 24, 2019 at 2:06 pm
Sometimes it helps to name it. Grief nausea makes total sense.
There’s another expression I learned during a tough time that has stuck with me. Kummerspeck is German for “grief bacon” or “sorrow fat.” You know that weight you gain when you just don’t care anymore so you eat your favorite comfort foods and gain 10 pounds? That’s grief bacon.
Thanks for sharing your story.
NancyJanuary 24, 2019 at 2:36 pm
Thank you for this, Brenda. I was very close to my mother, who passed away in 2011. I think my brain went haywire for several years afterward. Thank goodness my sister coped better than I did; she was a pro at handling the details that come with a death in the family. I wasn’t much help; I felt numb and was having trouble thinking clearly. Seven years later, I feel like I am back to my “normal” – able to organize and to run my life efficiently, but at the same time I have been tearful and missing Mom more than ever this winter. Grief is an ongoing process, and as you said, it’s something you learn to live with.
Sally T AlexanderJanuary 24, 2019 at 3:23 pm
Is it possible that some of these feelings in the middle of winter have more to do with the lack of light–seasonal affective disorder–rather than grief in particular? Or that SADD makes the grief re-surface? Even before having lost both parents while in my forties, both in-laws and my husband in my fifties, and recently a brother, I was challenged in mid-winter; a dear friend recommended full-spectrum light bulbs in my reading lamps, which really helped. Now, I’m especially careful to exercise, get outside, and watch my diet through the darkest days. And when SADD and/or grief symptoms begin to bother me, I do what has always helped me the most: look for ways to help other people. This can be as simple as sweeping a neighbor’s sidewalk after sweeping my own, helping someone get rid of recycling, or exchanging a few words and a smile with a grocery cashier–anything that focuses my thoughts outward instead of inward. Each moment is precious and an opportunity to create positive thoughts.
julieJanuary 25, 2019 at 12:22 am
I lost my lovely mum 14 years ago – she was only 61 but had been sick for a decade, so her death came with both grief and relief. I think because we have lost being familiar with the dying process, for most of us the dying and death is traumatic, and while we grieve them I think we also suffer from PTSD. I was lucky though and got to sit with her and hold her hand and kiss her as she passed – for that I am grateful and thanked her for bringing me into the world, as she left hers.
My dad got diagnosed with a terminal cancer four years ago, and although he got told he might have a year to live he deteriorated rapidly and died within 6 weeks. I think though he was happy to not have the process prolonged, and luckily again I got to sit at his side and hold his hand as well. I thanked him for loving us our whole lives and told him that his job here was done, he was free to go.
Although I miss them both – I just feel lucky to have had my parents my whole life and to have shared so much with them. I think for me simple things could stop me in my tracks and make me cry thinking of them. As some time passed though the crying stopped, and it was easy to think of them and smile for all the happiness they brought to my life.
I love these words from Nick Cave on grief – “It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal,” Cave wrote. “Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and it extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe.”
HeidiJanuary 25, 2019 at 11:29 am
My heart feels for you and your sadness. I relate to feeling grief nausea, putting a name to that feeling is so helpful to me. My parents died three years apart, first my lovely and spirited, funny, exasperating mom, then my loving and generous, wonderful story teller Dad. After my Dad died our family splintered. So, not only did we loose our parents but we lost each other, too. I think I’ve handled things pretty well for the last 11/8 years, but every now and then something will just make everything come to the surface again. That grief that lives in your heart and stomach. Yuck I hate it. I miss them both so much. I think talking to them, and remembering them with my daughters and people who knew them (they were popular with my friends!) really helps, it keeps them alive and makes me laugh a lot of the time.
This is a difficult time of the year, so many expectations for change and renewal and a fresh start and all that – it can be a bit much to process. Just taking a step at a time, doing things that make your heart sing is the best way to proceed, in my opinion.
I spend a lot of time painting in my studio, and recently started teaching classes, which gets me out of my sadness in a hurry! I hope you will find your way back to happiness soon!
JoJanuary 25, 2019 at 2:50 pm
Thank you for writing so honestly about your anger about losing your Mom, Brenda. This July, it will be four years since my Mom died. My father was a violent man with both her and my brothers and I when we were growing up, I had to protect my son and so didn’t see my parents for 30 years before my mother died. I found out she was sick 24 hours before she died. I couldn’t go and see her because of my father. It’s left me with with a huge amount of complicated grief. People don’t understand that even though I didn’t see her for 30 years, I still really, really loved her and always hoped that we would have a chance to reconnect if my father died before her. I’ll always grieve for what I didn’t have with her – time, connection, the freedom to pick up the phone and say, “Hi Mom, how are you today?” I’m learning to live with grief but I wish I didn’t have to.
Thanks for reading this.
Trinnie QJanuary 28, 2019 at 10:03 pm
Ohh, how beautiful and poignant, your sharing was Brenda, and all who shared above. Thank you. I am new, to this particular episode of grieve, as my Dad passed on less than 10 weeks ago. So I am still very much in the throws of early grieving. I have a few good days in a row, then will be absolutely sideswiped by a welling up of grief,if I hear a song, or smell, or even tv ad, that reminds me of him . The other day I was in the city and wandered into one of those old fashioned lollie shops. I spotted the black and white boiled lollies, known to me as humbugs, and stood in front of them, just sobbing . The last time I saw my Dad, I had taken him some in hospital. Even though he was riddled in pain, he kept reaching out for the jar of lollies like a little boy, and eating one, saying, ‘ oh that is better, yes, these are pretty good ‘. It was so sweet, yet sad at the same time ! So I guess, there will be many more moments like that to come, and as someone else put it so eloquently,, the pain, is certainly the measure of how much I loved him, and for now, the loss just seems, unbelievable and stops you in your tracks . Thanks all, and sending love to each of you, from Oz
cindy hattersleyJanuary 29, 2019 at 5:30 pm
Brenda this was so beautifully written. I did not have such a relationship with my mother. She was a complicated person due to her own upbringing. I did take care of her the last 9 mos of her life (we had caregivers) but I drove down once a week to relieve them and spend time with mom. She was difficult to the end. I also took care of my father. He was always appreciative and thankful for whatever I did for him. I miss them both. Mom because I think she could have had a different life if she had come to grips with her demons. Dad because we had a good relationship. He was a character but we understood and appreciated one another.
SusanJanuary 30, 2019 at 9:04 pm
This is a difficult time of year for me. as well. I lost both of my parents within 6 months and 11 days of each other. Both losses were unexpected, much like your mother’s passing. I have found that the calendar is now a mine field of heart-wrenching memories of loss. Like you, the grief has not lessened, but I’ve grown used to carrying it. Thank you for sharing your story. Let me share two quotes that have helped me try to understand this grieving process – “Grief is love with no where to go” and “Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
BetteFebruary 7, 2019 at 6:45 am
My heart breaks for you. I am so sorry for the loss of both your brother and mother. It is incomprehensible when our loved ones are taken from us in any case but especially when it is sudden. When I was 32 (I am now 60), I came home from a business trip and found my husband of 12 years deceased in our home. It was the worst day of my life. Total devastation; gut wrenching, life changing. As you can imagine, it was difficult for me to comprehend everything that had happened as he had taken his own life. In time, I became an advocate for a suicide prevention organization which aided me in dealing with my loss and grief. You see, you never get over it but learn to live with this horrible act. In 2009, my sister passed away after a brief battle with breast cancer. Fifteen months later, her only son passed away suddenly at the age of 35 again from suicide. In 2011, my father succumbed to COPD and exactly one year later, my mother passed away very suddenly from a heart attack. My entire immediate family have been taken from me. At times, I still have an overwhelming feeling of despair but I have feelings of hope for better days ahead. It is as they say, “the circle of life.” For me the good days outweigh the bad and I have a lot of love and support from my wonderful husband of 25 years. Grief is different for everyone and you are spot on in not making judgement. Thank you for allowing me to share my story on your blog. Peace and love to you.
BrendaFebruary 7, 2019 at 9:00 am
Oh Bette, it is my honor to have your story on my blog. Your loss is incomprehensible, and yet you’ve lived it, live with it, and march forward. You’ve really moved me. Thanks so much for sharing.
susan jonesFebruary 16, 2019 at 12:11 pm
I just subscribed to your blog. I love fashion but am so happy that you write about meaningful subjects as well. I lost my husband 21/2 years ago and your article on grief and the other comments were extremely helpful. I am happy and grateful that I discovered you through the Artful Home Catalog. Thank-you for your caring thoughts. Susan Jones
BrendaFebruary 19, 2019 at 5:47 pm
Susan, I am so happy to found the blog. I have been amazed at the sharing that happens when I speak about grief. That piece got so many great shares. Lots of wise people out there! Thank you for sharing. You are on my mind!