09 May 2012
Before and After
I recently saw a picture of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter who is now 5 years old. Remember Anna Nicole? She was a bit of a train wreck and yet there was something really likeable about her. I remember being really upset about her death. One, because she left a motherless baby and two, because her son had died less than 5 months before she did. No matter what the media said about her, they couldn’t dispute the fact that she loved her son as the closest person to her in her life. The whole ending of their story made me really sad.
I know the grief that you feel when you lose a loved one in the parent/ child category of deaths. That first year of grieving is a kind of brutal that is so raw and filled with emotional triggers. You have to go through everything for the first time, your first Christmas without your mom, your first birthday etc. It’s any wonder that Anna Nicole didn’t make it through that first year, or if anything were to happen, that was the time. The years after the first year are hard too but they are a different hard.
Some how when my Mom passed away, not having anyone to provide me with any concrete guidance on how to deal with the grieving process, I decided to keep a journal for that entire first year. I started the journal going back to how I was informed that my mom had died, through the week I spent in Montreal getting her affairs in order. And continued through the milestones of my first Christmas, my first birthday, her birthday and Mother’s day...
I wrote in my journal when I woke up out of nowhere at 4 o’clock in the morning to cry. I wrote letters to my mother. I wrote anything pertaining to coping. How funny friends become in your grief.
We are a society who doesn’t know how to grieve or how to handle others in their grief. I felt like some of my friends disappeared because they were scared that what I had was contagious and they would lose a parent too. Most likely, they didn’t want to think of the mortality of their own parents. Some friends couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do all the same things I’d always been available to do. I couldn’t go to movies in that first year. I couldn’t sit still in a movie seat. I needed to pace, to be in motion, my concentration was out of whack. I liked going to parties though. I liked parties because I could be around other people and not feel the pressure of one on one interactions. (One on one interactions were fraught with expectations, it seemed, and I didn’t have it to give.)
I have a friend “Bee” who used to have these all night parties where all the apartments on his floor were open. You could walk in and out of everyone’s apartments. There were musical instruments set up in one apartment, a projection screen with movies and images set up in another apartment, weed smokers in another apartment... I was a regular at those parties and would get there around 10 at night and wouldn’t leave until 8 or 9 the next morning. Between the all night jam sessions of these crazy talented musicians, the dancing and the quality of recorded music being played, the people, you could drink or not drink, smoke weed or not smoke weed. These were authentic “grown folks” parties. There were no brawls or thefts or weapons or cops breaking up anything. There was no drunken or stoned out behaviour. These were grown folks who showed up for a nice time and had one without any of the pressures or drama.
After my mom died everything in my life had the division of what happened before she died and what happened since she died. Obviously “the Before Mom’s death” Shelley was different from “the After Mom’s death” Shelley. I spent many painful mother’s days and mom’s birthdays not knowing during the build up to those days how I was going to feel. I have a girlfriend, “Vannie”, who for years, spent every St Patrick’s day with me because it was the day before my mother’s birthday. We partied like it was St Patrick’s day but we had the unspoken knowledge that it was more than that. To this day, I send her an email every St Patrick’s day to tell her I love her and I remember what she did for me.
To help someone through their grief, we don’t have to be available every single day. We can pick a day and be consistent with that day. That’s what I learned from Vannie.
It has taken me a good ten years to get out of the fog of the pain. Better yet, it’s taken me ten years before I was ready to look at my mother’s life and death from a different angle. The not knowing how I’m going to feel on her birthday, each year is a bit much. The overwhelm of not having a mother to gift on Mother’s day is, ack, it sucks!
I don’t remember where I heard it, probably an Oprah episode. Didn’t Oprah tell us mostly everything? :) Someone was talking about the values and rituals we carry forward in our lives and how we do them because they are learned and we don’t necessarily notice if they actually work for us or where they came from.
There was an anecdote about the three generations of women who when they made a roast beef they would cut off the edges before they put them in the oven. The daughter asked her mother, “why do you cut off the edges? Does it change the flavour?”
The mother answered, “I don’t know, my mother always did that so that’s what I do”
And she asked her mother and her mother asked her mother and the answer was, “I never had a casserole dish big enough to fit the entire roast so I had to cut off the edges before I roasted it”
That anecdote made me really think about changing my rituals and what I wanted my rituals to be and made me think about how I could take more control over mother’s day. I took control by adopting a mother for mothers’ day. For several years, I bought a gorgeous expensive plant with beautiful flowers for a woman who has all sons and doesn’t know what it’s like to have a daughter. The hug? The hug!
This year I’m choosing a single mother, friend of mine. Her two children aren’t teenagers yet and all of her money is used for practical purposes. She works hard and tries to give her kids as many opportunities as her salary can allow. I’m going to get her a gift card for a massage at a well known spa in Toronto. It makes me feel good to make a mother feel good in honour of my mother. I also know that my mother wouldn’t want me to be living in pain