13 Sep October: Update and Hello again, it’s been a year
The truth about pain
This is story about pain. More pain than I ever thought I could endure. Pain that woke me up in the night, pain that followed me from room to room, house to house, city to city and finally, from midland prairie to west coast island.
On August 8th 2021 my beautiful and beloved mother died from complications due to lung cancer. When she was diagnosed in January of that year, my otherwise healthy, non-smoking, gym going mom was given the unthinkable stage 4 diagnosis. When asked how much time she had we were given the answer until Christmas. She died eight months later.
Eight has always held mythos in our family as it is said that my grandfather, who died before I was born had seen a black 8 in the windscreen of his truck before he died eight days later. Astrologists call the eighth of the eighth the lions gate portal. It also happened to be a new moon when she drowned from the fluid in her lungs. It was all and all a “magical” time to die. There was even a rainbow, like somehow, this was suppose to ease the violence of the last day of her life, the last day of mine as I knew it.
To add to the annihilation, I was in the middle of a move from Vancouver to a small town on Vancouver Island. My family and I had made the decision to move in the before times before cancer and were hoping to have my mom live with us when we settled into our new home. It was a long time dream for my mom and I to live close to each other again. I added these future plans to the burn pile along with the dear friends who evaporated into the air when she died.
As a writer, I naturally turned to books, and have been reading long and hard about grief, looking for pilgrims who have travelled the blackened path of acute loss, and found comfort in their words especially the ones that said, dear one, this is exactly as bad as you think it is. I couldn’t abide the words, “at least…” or “everything happens for a reason!” I couldn’t stomach any cliche notions of what was happening to me and what had happened to her. Nothing made sense anymore, not the teachings about Shakti from one of my cherished spiritual teachers, not meditation or energy work, not reading the stars, or journaling or exercise. All I could do in the fire of loss was burn, so that is what I did.
I burned and shuffled down the beaches of my new home. Grief is a physical blow and I felt ancient. I burned and watched TV, (downtown abby marathon anyone?) I burned and slept through the day wearing the same comforting rose pink sweatpants that became a uniform of sorts. I burned and drove my kids to and from their new schools in the afternoon and evening, I burned when I finally got the energy to cook again. I burned while with friends, I burned lying alone, tears sliding down my face unable to look into the future or to reflect on my past. This lasted for months.
I stopped doing a lot of things like showering regularly, cutting my hair, exercising or listening to music from before she died. 90’s songs especially as reminded me of a time when I had a mother and felt so sure I would have her for a lifetime. Surprisingly, I was wildly jealous of my younger self, I hated her, I longed to be her again, to be in a world where my mother was alive.
“There are losses that rearrange the world. Deaths that change the way you see everything, grief that tears everything down. Pain that transports you to an entirely different universe, even while everyone else thinks nothing has really changed.”
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found is to be patient with the fires of grief, to let them burn as long and as brightly as they need to, to trust that this is the way back to life. Loss of any kind, is a descent into the underworld, and the underworld can be a tempting place to remain in without help. Enter the stages of grief like depression, apathy, anger, numbness, denial, bargaining, guilt, shock, shame, disassociation to name a few. It became clear to me that grieving people need others, we need love and understanding, we need a safe place to lay our broken hearts, we need to be seen and believed, we need to not do it completely alone. Some of the first things I did after losing mom was to connect with a grief therapist, seek out others who were also in the first stages of grief and accept the love of supportive family and friends, which was one the best choices I could have made. With this extraordinary support beside me. I have been taking steps to enter back into the land of the living.
In the new year, we got a puppy. I was sick with puppy fever, after years and years of wanting to add a dog to the family, it was the only thing I could think about. Enter Yuki, our beloved deaf boxer. The sweetness of her presence in our lives has been a balm. The bounce of her tail as we walk the wooded paths behind our house always, in spite of myself, brings me joy.
I gave- and am giving myself the time and space to be, leaning into the pain when I can, taking breaks when I can not. I tend to my nervous system. I lean on my loving compassionate husband. When my cognition took a hit (this is still not all the way back) he was able to do the details of everyday living, which are many. I will always be grateful he was able to rise up and care for our kids the way he did. I fell and still fall apart, he holds me. This is the greatest gift.
I’ve been coming back on line as a mother myself, somehow by losing mine I shut down my ability to connect the way I did before, I had always been a very conscious and dedicated parent but I had to turn towards my self in order to come back to them. My kids are surprising me with their ability to flow with all of the chaotic changes that have been uprooting their lives. I hear their laughter and it moves the sadness around and there is an upswell of gratitude.
Gratitude is the thing I never thought to feel again, yet, in spite of myself it is there, rising out of the ashes like a grinning bird. I walk through the forest surrounded by sword ferns and thimble berry bushes and am grateful. I swim in the clean running river with my family and am grateful, I look at the smushy face of my sleeping dog and am grateful. I didn’t do anything to deserve this, I could barely dress myself a few months ago, but here we are.
My moods are stabilizing, my body is getting stronger, I have more energy and when joy comes I throw my arms open and welcome it unapologetically for the gift it is. Somehow, I am being rewoven and the threads are brighter than I could have imagined because I am doing the impossible, I am living without my mother. I am living with out of my mother and my love for her and hers for me is the truest thing I can build on. It is the only thing that is pulling me forward, out of the fire, out of the sea of depression and apathy, out of rage. The pain remains, right there, snuggled beside the love. But the threads are tight and integral, they strengthen each other.
“There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can’t hope. The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.” -Rumi
The truth about pain is this; do not be afraid of pain, pain does not mean you are flawed or broken or bad, or that you did something wrong. Pain is a part of this life. It is as natural and inevitable as love. Don’t be afraid to burn, drink deep the despair of loss. Love is at the bottom, love is in the dregs, love is in the fire.
One year is not a long time into grief. I have not “made it” through, I am still rising each morning with out her. It still hurts, but I am here, feeling other things as well. Walking beside my obliterated self working hard to be kind and patient with her. Life continues, relentlessly. Dentist appointments are made, floors are swept, gardens are planted and tended. Somehow, I don’t die. It’s a miracle.
There is no happily ever after, not when death is in every body. I don’t think that is the point anyway, things can get worse, and then a lot worse. It doesn’t really matter in the end. Its no ones fault my mom got cancer and died. If life made the sort of sense where goodness is rewarded and and badness punished this would be a very different world. This is not our world, and it’s ok. Really. This what we have, and it’s beautiful in its ugly way. The pain and love all twisted up together creating new ways to express what it means to be a person alive now.