Loss is an inevitable part of life. The greatest of losses, I believe, is when someone we love dearly, dies.
Grief is a reaction to such loss. Nothing really prepares us for it, even though we seem to be in training for it all our lives. We learn in the early years, that everyone dies....everyone reaches the end, and that we must accept this human condition and move on . Whenever I hear of someone's passing, I have been struck with how the grief expected, becomes a contest. .....well, he/she was old and led a good life (less grief?), how sad it is to lose a child (greatest of grief?), the suffering has ended, they're in a better place....etc. There is only grief, and the degree to which we feel the sorrow and pain becomes personal to us as our fingerprint. And, during times of holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, our grief magnifies, partly because I think we feel guilty if we somehow feel happy without our loved ones near.
My father died seven weeks before my daughter was born, which robbed me of a certain amount of happiness I wanted to feel in preparing for her birth. I was grieving and angry at the same time. To quote Dickens, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Was the fact that because he was a heavy drinker and smoker hastened his death made me feel so angry? Probably so. But, I was so very sad that he would not meet my daughter, because I know he would have been crazy about the charming toddler who possesses some of his qualities....the sense of adventure and fun, and the smiling blue eyes. I think our children are sometimes a "dumping" ground of our parents' spirit -- recognizable only after our parents' are gone.
For me the greatest grief I have experienced was with the passing of my sister Ann. Annie lost her battle some years ago to a rare disease, Wegener's Granulomatosis, which is an autoimmune disease causing inflammation of blood vessels. She had it for about seven years. When we would talk about her having this disease, and search for any causes, she would simply say, it was having bad luck. We always talked about her living with the disease, rather than succumbing to it, and when it seemed like she would lose her battle, I wasn't prepared.
I was in Paris, and as was always the case when I traveled, had an agreement with my sister Marge, to always advise each other where we were, and if we needed to tell each other anything would leave messages on our work voice mail. This trip was no different. I checked my messages, and found one from Marge, advising that Ann had been hospitalized, in California, where she lived. Ann's situation was stable, and when I returned home in a few days, was able to speak with her while she was in the hospital. It was this time of year -- Thanksgiving, and she was out of the hospital and spending the day with family. Because the disease had affected her gastric system, she wasn't able to eat much. I spoke with her a few times, mostly about her recovery and the length of time it would take. A few weeks later, she took a turn for the worse, and lost her battle. My fondest memory of Annie is that of a sparkling, charming person, very artistic...was a fantastic dress maker and crafts woman, a Rolling Stones groupie, Woodstock participant, in every sense, hippie, and later became the quintessential homemaker, ala Martha Stewart. Her son Sean, was only ten (10) and that alone is cause for great heartache, and as her husband, Pete (Mr.Mom), slowly put the pieces of their lives together, we were all left to grieve. There is hardly a day that goes by when I do not think of Annie, and I want to pick up the phone so badly to speak with her, that I find myself not breathing for a few moments.
My mother had Alzheimer's and died having been spared the knowledge that Ann had passed. And, because of the Alzheimer's, the grieving of losing my mother took place for the five years she had this dignity - robbing illness. When she died, it came with both relief and profound sadness. Mothers are our connection to the world; the magic glue that binds our spirits and our souls. A mother's love is instinctual, unconditional and forever.
I know there are several of you reading this blog that have suffered loss, and I want you all to know that my heart reaches out to you today, and everyday, as we all search for the peace which comes beyond the grief.
Perhaps they are not stars,
but openings in the Heaven
where the love of our lost ones
and shines upon us
to let us know
they are happy.
Finally, know that there is no time limit on grieving. Each of us finds the right moment when we place our loved one securely into a pocket in our heart, and imprinted onto our souls, drawing strength from the love they gave us.