Oct 17, 2022, one month exactly before my mom died a year ago
Has the approach of a death anniversary ever freaked you out? Did you figure out a way to deal with it?
I'm always encouraging journaling and writing as therapy, but notice how I don't mention poetry.
Here is a secret: I fear poetry. I know this is wrong. I haven't always felt this way. In high school I wrote loads of poems.
Right now, poetry is a little too close to the heart and I need to be careful. I'm grieving hard and it is normal and good and it hurts.
I just enjoyed my first ever literary festival. It was run through Door County Write On and it made me do poetry.
I don't know what writing festivals are supposed to be like, but this one felt perfect. Just the right level of stimulus and interesting people and introspection on beautifully rural Washington Island, WI. Just a ferry ride from my home on the mainland of Door County. My husband and I joked we could take the ferry back to retrieve our toothbrushes if we forgot them.
It was delightful to meet humans whose books I had read and admired. Seeing these writers alive and talking felt like some sort of magic trick.
I got to meet all sorts of writers. Memoir, nature, fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Oh, poetry. No no no no no.
This time last year, I was in a panic, wheeling my mom outside her nursing home as often as I could so she could enjoy nature before it got too cold for the facility to allow me to take her out.
I spent hours with my mom every day just blissfully sitting outside with these golden colors around us.
Right now, autumn's colors bring this period of my life back intensely. This time last year my mom was alive. I did not know she would die in November. I do not want to pass the boundary of the Anniversary of her death in November, because what that means is that the world keeps racing on without my mom, and this is WRONG.
I want to shake everyone up and say stop, you can not go on, it is disrespectful for time to continue like this without my mom alive. But I am also grateful that this autumn the colors brings me so strongly back to being with her, this time last year. It is not quite like being with her. It is the best that I have though.
I've had grief anniversary panic before. So I know this will pass. My mom's partner of 30 years fell down concrete steps after visiting her in her Colorado nursing home and he died instantly on Christmas eve, 2018. Shortly after this, my husband and I scrambled to move my mom from Colorado to Wisconsin, to another nursing home in my neighborhood so I could care for her. And the following three years I had with her were some of the best ever. Such a gift. I would do it all again, all the worry about money (It costs 10K per month to live in a nursing home, and I SINCERELY THANK YOU MEDICAID) and care and medicines and everything, in a heartbeat if I could. If only I could.
But the following 2019 Christmas eve as my stepfather's first death anniversary loomed, I could not bear to be anywhere near where I got the CORONER PHONE CALL from Colorado asking to speak to next of kin. I, who hate traveling, begged my husband for us to go anywhere, anywhere, just to get away from the same place, same time when I got that shocking call that changed all our lives. It did help for us to fly to Florida that Christmas. The year after that was not as bad, but I still had some of the same dread going on.
I don't know what to expect this time around with mom Mom Death Day (Nov 17th). I will be with friends and hope I don't bore their heads off talking about my mom and this time last year and all that.
It is impossible for me to see the fall beauty without my old reflex of wanting to share it with mom somehow, this poor woman who loved nature and beauty and stuck with dementia in a nursing home unable to even move her hands in a way she would like, let alone her body. A prisoner. That panicky feeling that only I can free her from her prison. Only I can help her see these colors before it is too late. I will never see fall colors the same way again.
I did succeed last year, as much as I could. I drove at least every other day to her nursing home, bundled her up in blankets, and just sat and sat and sat outside with her. Both of us taking in the beauty. I knew she loved it, I could tell she did.
Back to literary festival. A good literary festival ought to challenge one, gently, though, and this one did. At the opening reception a small group of us participants were challenged to discuss the theme of this year's festival: Crossroads. And even, perhaps, to write poetry about crossroads.
Challenged with this instruction, the first thing that occurred to me was how my mom loved symbols. Mom especially loved the writings of the late Angeles Arrien. Arrien had a gift for explaining symbols in fresh, eye-opening ways. It was Arrien's Signs of Life book that challenged me to understand the cross symbol anew.
Arrien wrote that the cross is not just a Christian symbol, but an obvious symbol--when you look at it--that links heaven and earth (the vertical line) with the plane of humankind (the horizontal line). No wonder this symbol grabs your attention in a primal way.
In my mom's journals--I inherited many dozens of these precious notes, thousands of pages which I have digitized--she drew crosses on top of triangles over and over, many dozens of times. She mused in her journals why she was so attracted to this symbol of a cross on top of a triangle, and even asked a counselor about this, also asking why it appeared in her dreams. Arrien wrote that the triangle represented goals, aspiration, hierarchy. I sometimes showed mom her own sketches when we sat outside the nursing home. "Do you remember this?" I would ask gently.
She could only smile, not able to talk coherently. She did seem mostly very very happy, which was extraordinary to me given she had no control over her body at all. She was like a big, happy baby. I had to spoon feed her. "I'm a baby!" she once exclaimed while I was feeding her, and she laughed very hard at this private joke.
I marveled that she could be so happy with so little control over anything in her life.
I thought of mom's interpretation of the cross when coaxed to write about crossroads at the lit fest. To my surprise I made myself stand up and recite my final effort. I was gratified that the nice people around me acted like they were moved by it. Here is is:
I am writing to the mom who didn’t lose her mind
I am writing to the mom who didn’t become my big lovely baby for three years
I am writing to the mom who is not dead.
You once told me
With the excitement of a child that you always had
that the cross symbol, which I was proudly ambivalent to (because I must be a rebel and different)
Is a natural symbol of union of the divine with humanity. Even before Christianity. Because look at it.
You have the up down thingy
Which means heavens and depths,
You got the back and forth thingy,
Which is the horizon of humanity.
And the link in the center part. Anyone can figure that out, you say, pointing, your eyes gleaming.
I am at a crossroads. But your cross has fallen on the ground. Now it is an X. I am trying to see the message in the X
I might have once taught thermodynamics but I don’t understand if your now randomly wiggling particles contain a message for me
I don’t know how to read them.
I had a revelation that complete order is sterility and perhaps thus randomness contains messages
I want your wiggling atoms to have a message still. I miss your voice. I don’t know whether to go
Left Right Back forward
To hear it
Or do I stay still and wait for you in the center?