wisdom

No Goodbye: Bearing Grief.

{Photo credit: Terri DeMontrond}

{Photo credit: Terri DeMontrond}

Being human and mortal, we all live, love and experience loss… no exceptions.

Are there redemptive qualities for the deepest of losses? This is the story of me and my daughter Misty, and how I didn’t get to say goodbye before she died. Today I try to live my life as if there may be no time for goodbyes.

“Bye honey, I love you!”

“Bye Momma, I love you more!!”

For many years this was our parting routine after a visit, or signing off from a phone call, text, or Facebook message — sometimes multiple times a day. It was Misty’s favorite way to end our conversations, and I adored that even at 35 years old, she still called me Momma with a loving, slightly southern lilt.

On August 1, 2012, my big-hearted, beloved, 35-year-old daughter ended her life.
On that day, and for days, weeks, months after… I didn’t know if I would survive without her. Some moments I still wonder. At first I felt a numbing shock, a despair and trauma washing over me. Later came awful guilt and regret.

What more could I have done? What should I have done? Most of all, I missed her. I still miss her. Every day.

Grief is my own personal spiritual war, raging inside my soul. Grief numbs me into accepting that the loss is absolute. Grief crushes my heart and implodes my spirit. Grief closes my eyes and bows my head. Grief collapses my limbs and dulls my senses.

Nothing looks, sounds, tastes or smells the same. Grief pauses, paralyzes, and sedates me. Mothers are supposed to protect their children at all costs, no task too difficult, no hesitation, no exceptions. I felt the deepest of shame for not taking better care of her.

In a strange and surreal way, the unexpected and traumatic loss of my child by suicide disintegrated my core sense of who I thought I was. The hope that I held was ripped away forever. Quietly and insidiously, trauma explodes the mind and greatly intensifies emotions.

Trauma stimulates, irritates, and calls us to action. Trauma brings hurried, fractional racing thoughts.

A very empty and dark space is left behind. There are so many nooks and crannies where all the details of each and every moment I shared with her lurks.

There are many trapdoors that sweep me right down into the memories of all the times I now second-guess — wondering what I might have done differently. If I’d chosen a different doctor, a different medication, a different way of dealing with a crisis.

It’s endless, the wondering, the regretting… the awful Missing. And yet, there are respites, moments of peaceful, loving thoughts… and my heart aches in a good way.

Somewhere I read: “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different.” And that healing is going from what if to what now. So… what now?

I am learning a lot about forgiveness. Unlike many choices and decisions I make easily about my feelings regarding the actions of others, the feelings and very deliberate act of self-forgiveness is an ongoing process for me.

As memories come up and my self-doubt takes over about a choice I made, I notice and stop.

I make an intentional effort to explore those thoughts and remind myself that, while I can’t quite embrace that I always did my best (sometimes I was lazy, imperfect, neglectful, angry, hurting, and selfish), I tried. I tried really hard.

And with the same compassion I extend to the other grieving mother that I mentor, I offer love to myself. Consciously forgiving myself again and again, remembering my unquestionable love for Misty.

My close circle of community has become very small. I talk to trusted loved ones. I learned quickly to be cautious of who I trusted my grief with. The most well-meaning, loving people will say deeply hurtful things, ignorant to how painful their words of wisdom and solutions can be.

The pain of my grief made them so uncomfortable, and they just wanted to relieve me of that pain… they wanted the old me back, and that person was forever gone. I’ve made peace with that, and I ask my loved ones to try and do the same. My child died and I will be forever changed.

I’m sorry it makes them uncomfortable, and ask that they accept me and my tears, allowing me to be true to my own feelings as I adjust to a different way of being in my life.

As this shift took place, I noticed that I was also making some peace with aspects of my grieving. Grief has claimed a part of my heart, one of the containers for the intensity of love I feel for Misty.

One afternoon I was watching a TV special on grizzly bears and was fascinated at how their behavior in the wild of nature resembled my inner grieving beast at its most savage. In their natural habitat, they are the most feared, brutish, gluttonous creatures to both man and animal.

From the insatiable appetite to the habit of hibernation, there seemed to be connections.

Additionally, I had recently re-read The Tao of Pooh, which is a lovely book about the simple way of Winnie-the-Pooh learning and living the Tao Te Ching.

Basic Taoism holds that there is a gentle way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life. That allowing and accepting the natural way of things brings calm, order, and peace. That the more forcing, the more trouble and resistance are fomented.

“From caring comes courage. Those who have no compassion have no wisdom. Knowledge, yes; cleverness, maybe; wisdom, no.”

All of this came together one weekend, and I was inspired to compose a metaphor about how these two bears depicted how my grieving was changing. It’s called Bearing Grief. It is about unwittingly surviving something that is so painful it tears the very fiber of one’s soul.

And yet, in surrender and by allowing what is, we survive. The human spirit is amazing, truly amazingly resilient. I’d like to share that metaphor here.

*****

Bearing Grief: my metaphor for loss

Grizzly Grief comes lumbering in fiercely growling, baring his teeth. His big paws swiping aggressively, greedily, tearing at my heart and mind. His hulking frame towers over me as he rips at my flesh, down into the core of my being.

No words, just a vast and intense entitlement to devour all there is of me. I don’t resist or struggle, experience has taught me there is no escape. To within a breath of life, Grizzly leaves me bleeding, soul bared — lying open to all the earthly elements.

I collapse. I cry. I scream and wail. Until I’m exhausted, totally spent, mortally wounded. Hopelessly defeated, again.

Some time later Winnie-the-Pooh arrives. Gently he snuggles up next to me and quietly whispers that I will not die in this moment. That all creatures suffer, heal, and sometimes we even learn and grow. That we repeat that cycle… until we don’t anymore.

He says to me, “The very best part of us — our heart — can be cracked wide open and become even bigger and better. You see… in this deep hole of missing is the remembering. And in the remembering lives the pieces of your love for what you’ve lost.”

He reminds me there is nothing to do, that the doing is happening without my doing.

Pooh’s message could be maddening to the cracked parts of me that grip too tightly, judge, withhold love and forgiveness, and wants to fix things Now! However, somehow his matter-of-fact monotone words of simple wisdom finds that knowing place in me and resonates, soothes and calms.

The gaping wounds begin to close again slowly… then rather quickly… leaving scars visible only to me and him.

We lie quietly for what seems like a long while, but isn’t. Nothing more to say about  Grizzly — knowing he will return again and there will be more carnage and suffering. Nothing to be done about it, no way to avoid the attack.

I often forget that Grizzly’s visits are survivable, and next time he comes — and he will most certainly return — I may believe I am dying again. But I don’t think I will. What I will remember is the longing inside the sadness, the love inside the missing.

And thanks to Pooh, I’ll do my best to also remember that love is much, much bigger than the biggest and strongest of Grizzly bears.

*****

As long as my life continues my love continues and Misty’s life and story will continue with me in my heart and soul.

After many months and years of having the concern and responsibility for maintaining her well-being, and then the darkness of her passing, as the first thought each morning, I am noticing every now and then it’s the second.

That tells me my mind is reorganizing… but I will never forget her love, her laugh, and the gifts of the legacy of her life and existence. I have been forever blessed to be her mother.

Mortality is the state of being mortal, or susceptible to death. We live, we love, we experience loss… it is the way. Live well and love deeply, being mindful that loss is only a heartbeat away.

Mary Oliver sums it up beautifully in this excerpt from her poem, In Blackwater Woods:

“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

This… this is the journey. How we relate to our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones… how we relate to the vulnerability of loss… directly affects our capacity to Love.

When we hug another and have the awareness I am going to die, and you are going to die, it can change the quality of the connection you are sharing. You may actually fall in love in that moment.

In a love that transcends the fear of mortality and gives an astonishing redemptive quality to being fully capable of living, loving and losing. It gets real…

… as real as mortality.

 

*****

TerriDeMontrondTerri DeMontrond is a lifelong reality-seeker and creator of self-fueled unconditional love. She is insatiably curious, a full-on explorer and life participant. A drive to learn, share, give and receive has delivered a life of rich experiences. A Martha Beck Life Coach, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist, Healing Touch Practitioner and Reiki Master are a part of how she sizzles and supports others on their path. She is a music lover, painter, voracious reader, solo traveler (for the moment), and a sorcerer of all things delicious in the kitchen. Her most recent and deepest journey on the path of living, loving and losing occurred when her daughter chose to end her life August 2012, opening a whole new way of experiencing light, dark and being in and of this world.

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