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.