On this beautiful Mother's Day, I reflect on the gift of being a mother and a daughter. I also reflect on the pain and sorrow of grief and loss and the I know to come being my mother's caregiver. Grieving, it's not an easy journey.
One often thinks they've made it through this so-called journey, down the road and over the bumps of the five stages to beyond the tears and pain. Yet the truth is, the five stages of grief were not written for us, those grieving the loss of a loved one. The five stages were defined by Kubler-Ross and Kessler for the terminally ill to better understand and accept their end stages of life.
Yet those of us that have lost a loved one have learned to adopt those as our own healing journey and our path still often becomes muddied as we stumble and trip from one stage to the other and the other, believing if we make it through a stage, we're good to go into another and yet one stage closer to the end. If we make it, say beyond denial then on to anger we may only have three more stages to go. Nope, did you hear the buzzer?
Well, my friends, that's not the way it goes. Unfortunately, yes you may actually wander thru every single stage of Kubler Ross's stages, maybe even twice or more, and still not be at the end of your grief journey. There's no correct order and often we actually find ourselves stepping in and out of stages multiple times on our long and winding road.
What helps more than knowing stages is what to do when we find ourselves having these feelings. Because of losing Chan, a big part of the CHAN Project (www.chanproject.org/grief) is studying grief and implementing that into so much of what we do. Entwining grief and healing work was just as important to me as the healing aspects of substance issues. I recognized that although my son's struggles were with substances, what was left behind was a family in the wreckage of grief.
As a mom and losing my son at his young age of 23, holidays come and go, special days come and go, and rarely is there a day that comes and goes when I don't think of Chandler. I was so longing for his voice the other day, so sad that his voicemail never had his voice on it. So sad I couldn't find anything to just hear that Chandler laugh and hear that Chandler giggle. I finally came upon a couple of his recordings on his Facebook videos. I must have played them each 20 times, lying in the bathtub literally until the water got cold. But I laughed and laughed and laughed and kept hitting that replay button.
Grief is funny, it's not an easy journey. There is a beginning, but there rarely is an ending. It is fluid and everlasting, much like the love you have for the being you are grieving the loss of. As I listened to those recordings, my heart pinged for how much I love both of my children. The first recording of both my kids giggling over my first grandchild playing in the dog's glass water bowl. Both Ashlee and Chandler giggling together, brother and sister having the time of their life. I'm not quite sure if they were laughing more at Ashlee's daughter or at me worried about my granddaughter cutting herself with a glass dog bowl. But then as I got to hear my son's voice do his sigh, his little chuckle of a giggle, and then say, "The Lailah Tornado!" That is when I sighed, I cried, I laughed, I felt pure joy in my heart, and I hit that replay button over and over and over again. Pure bliss.
I often think I've made it thru losing my precious boy, and then just like that I spend a few days missing him so very much again. When your heart is healing from one great loss, and you're caught in emotional space such as caregiving for your elderly parent with dementia, it stirs up a new style of grief in the making. It's like frosting atop your already fragile grief. And yet, so many of us today are in these situations, we may be in the midst of grief from losing one loved one and then turn around and lose a second. Or like me, we may lose a loved one and then become a caregiver. Whatever the situation, many of us find ourselves with grief on top of grief, or challenging situations on top of grief that make healing from grief just that much more challenging. That is when we need the dependability of friends, tools, and supports.
Getting away for more than an afternoon is difficult, and even though I teach my human service students and interns all about self-care for the helper, I've been the worst to set up respite for myself. Isn't that always the way it goes? They say a carpenter's house always needs a carpenter for repairs lol.
These past few days I took a true respite break, longer than two days, for the first time since caring for my mom, which has been almost two years. It was wonderful. I took a road trip and went down to LA; I hung my arm out the window and let the sunshine warmly on my face. I even allowed myself to doze off while Jeff drove, I can't remember the last time I was relaxed enough that do that. I saw fluffy trees, yes Jeff laughed at my comment of fluffy trees, I saw hawks and eagles soar, the most breathtaking bodies of water in Oregon canyons, and the awe of the California colors both in natural and painted beauty.
We stopped off in Sacramento and got to visit with good friends, which was such a fun start to the trip. I can't remember the last time I laughed until 1:00 am. I had previously told Jeff of how my folks met in Sacramento when my father was Air Force, just as our friends had been, and how when mom and dad met, he used to dance mom up and down the streets of Sacramento, leap frogging over parking meters. In fact, on my parents very first date, dad told mom she was going to marry him. Mom laughed...well it wasn't many months later the two wed. We strolled Hollywood Boulevard, and I got to see the smile on my baby's face as he realized his dream as we visited the Rainbow Room, met a Pearl Jam Cover Band "Ten" that I kid you not sounded just like Eddie Vedder, then our whole reason for making the trip, we went to the Pearl Jam concert at the Forum, Jeff's 80th and my 1st time seeing them.
As I boarded my flight at LAX, I was a bit melancholy that my trip had come to an end and seemed like such a whirlwind few days. Jeff was staying on with his kiddos for Disneyland and then continuing on route 66 for his travels. I was returning home and back to reality to caregiving and that never-ending journey of grief. I had realized that on my journey that there can be absolute beautiful and blissful moments of love, self-care and total indulgence that allow the heart, mind, and soul to feel fully taken care of and heal just a bit more. There were so man
y moments when I saw and felt my son on my trip, in the eagles soaring above, walking into Amoeba Records, and thinking how both he and his sissy would have liked sitting at the Gallery Bar with their mama in the Biltmore for a fancy drink. So as I drank that luscious cocktail our last night at the Biltmore, I toasted both of my beautiful children, the beauty of love that only a mother can have for their babies, the beauty of love for friends, the beauty of love for the couple we met seated beside us whose dinner we bought to celebrate their love, and the beauty of new love when you're least expecting it to walk into your life. Thank you Jeff.
On this Mother's Day, for all beautiful mamas out there, who have their kiddos with them here on earth, who have them coming soon or even one day in their tummies, who've lost their beautiful child(ren) along the way back to this universe too soon, may you find peace, happiness and joy in this special day that celebrates you, your womanhood and motherhood. May you recognize the gift you are and always have been. You are special now and always will be.
Love to you now namaste