Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight. -Marcus Aurelius

5 years.

Half a decade.

1825 days. 

It's a long time, but in the grand scheme of "forever" it doesn't seem like much.

When my mom first died my counselor asked me to write out an allegory of what                 my grief was like.  This is what I wrote: 

"My grief is like trying to live with Vancouver’s weather.  

I’d like to think it’s predictable because that would make my life easier but most of the time it’s shockingly sporadic and the more I try to make sense of it or to find an obvious pattern the more I realize there is no point. It’s beyond my control. 

Most of the time it’s dull and gray, which doesn’t inspire much desire to venture out, but I do because its just a little gray out, and I don’t want to miss everything just because of a few clouds.  Sometimes I’ve underestimated the clouds and while I’m out a shower starts, but I open an umbrella and I try to trudge on.  In Vancouver almost every day is rainy and grey and I’ve had to learn to accept this, it’s just the way it is living here and I’ve tried to adapt my life to it.

 But sometimes, every now and then, there is an amazing day, or even just a few hours where the sun is shining and the clouds are far away from me and they are the last thing on my mind and nothing can keep me from smiling and because it’s so sunny out, it’s so warm and so dry and it’s so easy to go out and have fun and the blues seem bluer and the greens seem greener. Everything seems so easy when the sun is shining.

 But this is all short lived.  I do live in Vancouver after all.

 The heavy gray clouds roll in, they’re darker than before, and the rain falls and it’s harder than before, and it’s difficult for me to accept this rainy day because just yesterday it was so sunny.   The sun felt so nice, I wanted it to last. But I can’t control the weather and now the warm dry days seem so far away. 

Now it feels like there is no point in going outside, and I start to think that maybe the rain won’t ever stop.  It’s too wet, it’s too dark, it’s too cold, it’s too pointless.  I stay inside, but instead of going on with my day I am hopelessly preoccupied with the weather, with watching how hard the rain falls, how hard the wind blows, how dark the new clouds rolling in are.  I just sit at the window wallowing in the dark cold wet weather. The storm consumes my day and all my energy and it almost seems like the more attention I pay to the rain, the harder it falls. 

 But the heavy, heavy, rain rarely lasts for more than a day at a time. Eventually the rain lightens up and even though it’s still gray and wet and dreary and I don’t really want to go out in it,  I bundle up and venture out again anyway. 

Because I have to. 

Because it’s Vancouver and I know if I hide from the rain I’ll never go outside again.  And sometimes while I’m out the rain lets up and a few clouds clear up and a bit of relief comes in the form of blue sky poking through the clouds and I smile and remember why I live in Vancouver at all.

 But sometimes instead, the clouds get darker again and the rain starts falling harder, and since I’ve already left the house I cant just sit inside and wait for this storm to pass. It’s difficult, through all this cold wet rain that’s soaked me down to the core of my being, to remember what feeling warm and dry even feels like. It starts to feel like the sun doesn’t even exist.  Then I look around and I see that life is going on around me, regardless of the rain. Everyone else seems to be so dry compared to me, I feel like I am the only one who got caught in the storm.  Everyone tries to be sympathetic of the fact that I got soaked in this rain storm but they can’t understand exactly how I feel and I don’t fault them for that. I try not to get frustrated with them as they stand there, all dry, trying to tell me how to dry off, or deal with being drenched.  Maybe they’ve all been soaked by rain storms too, just maybe on a different day, in a different storm, I don’t know.  I try to add another layer so can I drag myself through my errands, or whatever it is that has forced me to stay out in the rain, until I can go home and strip off all the layers that I put on to try protect me, that were supposed to keep me warm and dry but couldn’t no matter how much I wanted them to.  I crawl into bed and let the repetitive sound of the rain consume the last bit of energy that I have for that day. 

 But through all the rain, and cold and dark clouds I know I’ll stick it out, that living through all the rainy days, through what seems like never ending gray days, will be worth it because eventually it will be summer and it will be sunny and beautiful and warm for days on end. And sometimes in the summer when the rain comes it’s actually a relief, something to smile about and to be grateful for, something I like to venture out into and feel on my skin. 

But right now it’s still winter and the rain seems never ending."

So what does my grief look like now that 5 years has passed?

Now, my grief is like being reluctantly forced into learning to garden.

I don't want to learn to garden.  I have never gardened before. I have no interest in gardening but here I am standing in the middle of a pile of dirt with no choice but to dig in.  I grab some tools and poke around a little bit.  I'm uninterested and it's hard and dirty and I don't want anything to do with it.

Someone who knows about gardening comes along and tells me it needs manure.  It will help if I stir some in.

Now I am standing in a pile of shit.  How can anything good ever come from this pile of shit?

I toss some seeds in, I try to tend to what grows.  It rains a lot.   I struggle because I still hate gardening but there are some plants trying to grow.  Some turn to flowers and bloom, some die.  I try to take care of what is growing and I try to focus on them but I still resent being forced to garden in the first place.  Sometimes I knowingly let the plants die.

And then one day I take a step back and take a look at my garden from a distance, and I notice that a tree has grown in my garden.

A big strong tree with its roots buried deep in the shit filled dirt drawing all it's strength and life from this garden I was forced to tend. It has a stronger trunk than I could have ever imagined could grow in my garden. It has lots branches with beautiful leaves.  There are buds on the branches with the promise of new life and more growth.  

The flowers around the tree are easier to tend to now that they have some shade and birds come to the garden and now I can come to my garden and smile.  

Sunday, 14 October 2012

"Living with grief, I came to think, is like being a tree confronted with an obstacle. You have to grow around it; your path is shaped by it."- Meghan O'Rourke

Two weeks.
When my mom first died I gave myself two weeks. I thought that would be sufficient enough time to get over what had happened, grieve a little and then move on.

Two years.
It's now been two years. I am only now starting to have some sort of understanding of the immensity of what I am dealing with. 

I have spent a lot of time lately reflecting, thinking about the differences between two years ago and now.  

Two years ago I saw my grief as this outside source of pain, it was something that was happening to me not something that was part of me. It was an interloper. I thought if I was patient enough, if I followed all the right steps it would run its course and go away.

I sat at the kitchen table at the six month marker and decided enough was enough. I had been allowing myself to live with this grief, this intruder, for six months and it was time I took my life back. I marched over to my counsellor's office and told her I was finished with my grief. I was resentful that it had taken over my life and that I had decided to let it go and take my life back.  

That lasted about a day. 

I have now learned that my grief is not something that is happening TO me, it is something that is PART of me. I can't simply get over it and go back to life before, because the life I had before no longer exists and neither does the person I used to be.

I read that grief, the physical pain you feel in your heart, in your chest, in your soul, is all the love you have for that person with no where to go. I find that comforting.

If I am to live with this ache in my heart forever it's nice to think of it as my heart bursting with love for my Mom.  

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

"Only by acceptance of the past, can you alter it"- T.S Eliot

It finally hit me yesterday morning, at 6 am while I was getting ready for work, that nothing I did that summer would have made it end any differently.
I could have moved in with Mom, I could have spent every ounce of energy I had taking care of her.  We would have driven each other crazy.  I would be in even worse shape than I am now.

I wouldn't have been able to save her.

Maybe she wouldn't have fallen on the floor that day. Maybe I wouldn't have found her calling for help, maybe that scar and that sound, that pleading for help, wouldn't be burned into me forever, but I wouldn't have been able to change anything.

Maybe there would have been more good times, I would like to think that it would have been possible, but I dont think it would have been like that.  It would have been the same power struggle, the same arguments, the same anger-but intensified because we would have had no space from each other.

I am mad at myself for so many things over that last year.

Of course the one year I decide to be moody and selfish and wrapped up in my own crap at Christmas and not sing Christmas carols with her would be my last chance ever.  I wish we had sang out Christmas carols together.  I will forever wish I hadn't given up that last chance.

I am so mad at myself for rushing through my last birthday dinner with my mom.  I was uncomfortable. I was impatient. I rushed. I always rushed her. Sometimes I feel like the worst daughter in the world. All she wanted to do was be around me and all I did was rush and now she is gone, forever.

Forever is such an unfathomably long time. I still can't understand it.

But I would not have been able to change the outcome of it all.  I could have hounded her to take every pill right on time. I could have watched her every minute, followed her around and done it all, and it would not have changed a thing. That realization is huge.

Monday, 25 June 2012

“Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.” ― Mitch Albom, For One More Day

772 days.

How can it have been that long since I was able to have a normal conversation with my mom?  That is a very long time.

The worst part is the split seconds where I forget any of it happened, when I think "oh I'll ask mom" or "oh I cant wait to tell mom".  Or if I wake from a dream where something has happened to someone and she was there, there is a second where I feel the relief that nothing happened to that person, that it was all a dream, but then I realize that though the other person is fine, that my mom is in fact, gone. It's like losing her all over again.

I miss the way she would always answer the phone.
I miss the smell of her jacket, a strange combination of buckskin, cinnamon gum and cigarettes.
I miss being able to call her and talk about nothing at all.

Most of the time I can't really fathom that she is no longer here.  I think she is still in her little purple and green house tucked away in Nelson.  The reality is so different.  Her spirit is somewhere else and her body is in a tiny black box on a book shelf at my dad's. I was shocked at how small the box is that holds her remains.  At least that's what I'm assuming was in the little, no descript black box, surrounded by pictures of her that I happened to notice one day last summer.  It's such a small box.  How can the immensity of everything that was my mom's body be in such a tiny little box?

I wish I believed in Heaven.  I wish I knew where she was.  I know people say she is "with me wherever I go" and I know what they mean, but I don't know if that's how I feel about it.  I wish I knew what she believed, I feel like whatever she believed is where she is now.

I think about her everyday. It feels like there is a black hole in my chest, in my heart, that can never be filled. I just want my mom to take care of me.  I want her to tell me it will all be ok. I want her to come back.

That's all I want, I just want her to come back.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."- Mark Twain

How do you take your mom to the doctor so that someone can tell her she's dying? How do you face that?
How do you get up in the morning knowing you are taking your mom to the doctor to be handed a death sentence?

My brother decides we shouldn't let a doctor tell her the diagnosis.  It doesn't seem right to take her to the doctor knowing what we know without telling her everything ourselves.  I hate the idea of a doctor telling my mom she is dying in a small room in the walk in clinic at the mall.  I am glad my brother has the guts to step up and tell her.  I could never have made the words leave my mouth.

I don't remember if I am in her room when he tells her.  I must be because I remember her reaction, but not his words.


My mom is calm.  I don't know what reaction I expected but I am struck by her lack of reaction to this news.  She just nods in acceptance.  There is no discussion.  We get in the car and head to the mall.  It feels awful.

Why does my mom's doctor have to have her office in the mall? It is ridiculous to be standing outside Walmart and KFC trying to deal with the worst news we could have received. The contrast between my surroundings and my feelings could not be any more different. It all seems wrong.

 The little examination room feels small with all of us in it. I realize that the only painting hanging on the wall is of Peggy's Cove and it makes me smile.  But this is not the time for smiles.  But I am always looking for a distraction now.  Why don't they have more things on the walls?

There are so many tumours in my mom's brain I think I hear shock in her doctors voice when she talks about them.

My mom reacts in her typical way.  Calm.  Denial. and then the blame begins.  I struggle most with the blame.  She blames other people, she blames her boss. I try to remember that the tumours are making it so she cannot think logically, but there is part of me that is so used to her "blame game" that I think she would blame this on something other than her cigarettes even if she was able to think clearly.  The blame frustrates me.  The blame has always frustrated me.

But, now I look back and wonder, what difference would it have made? Would I really have wanted her to accept the fact that she smoked cigarettes her whole life and therefore had lung cancer? How do you take credit for your own illness?

Monday, 19 March 2012

"Between Thought and Expression Lies a Lifetime".- Lou Reed

Cipralex, Round One.

29 days into the worst case scenario pills.

I can get up in the morning.  I get dressed in the morning.  Sometimes I even leave the house.  Mostly I shower, get dressed like I'm actually going out, but then head to the couch. The day passes and it's lather, rinse, repeat the next day, and the day after that and then a week has gone by and I still haven't gone to class.

Double dosage starts tomorrow

Apparently I should be feeling better than I am by now.  I should no longer be standing in my own way.  But I am.

This shakes my idea that I was only "mildly depressed".  Mildly depressed people function on 5-10mg.  I am starting 20mg.

I still hate that it has come to this.  I still hate that they help.  I still hate things.

The first two weeks were bad.  Day one I was almost manic.  I described an entire movie in 3 minutes, quite possibly without breathing in between thoughts.  I calmed down quickly, but no longer needed sleep.  I would wake up at all hours of the night like I had been given adrenaline shots. This went on for a while.

 Day two I was on some sort of high, everything was amazing and I could not stop being in the best mood ever. Everything was giggle worthy.  I thought that if THIS was what anti-depressants were all about I should have done this long ago.  I was hoping that would last but it didn't.  That only lasted a day.

 For a few days I couldn't eat.

  And then when that all calmed down the anxiety started.

The worst anxiety I have ever experienced, the kind of anxiety that made it hard to swallow.  Sitting through class was torturous. I would have to get up and go walk around every 15 minutes to keep myself from absolutely losing my mind. That lasted for longer than I would have liked.  This has mostly calmed down but some days the anxiety comes creeping back.

Now my doctor has doubled my dose and as of tomorrow I start taking more.  I dread the idea that the side effects will come back.

There is how I think I'm doing, how I want to be doing, and how I'm actually doing and right now none of them line up.  I thought I was doing great, until I realized it was simply that I was doing better, and that I wanted so much to be doing great I had convinced myself I was.  Until my doctor asked me to rate how I am on a scale.  I should be around a ten, but I'm around a 6, and I realized I hadn't gone to class for over a week.

So double dose of the worst case scenario pills it is.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

"There is a comfort in the strength of love: 'Twill make a thing endurable, which else would overset the brain, or break the heart." -William Wordsworth

What happened next:

I get home and go to see my mom.  I am not sure what to expect.  I find my mom to be in high spirits but her words are all coming out wrong.  It's frightening.   She wants to take me for lunch. I try to suggest that we can stay home and eat, but that won't do. I still let her call the shots, she's my mom and that hasn't changed, she is still in charge. She's excited I am here and wants to take me for lunch.  She wants to walk down town.  I am curious to see what she is capable of because I know these are all things she will try to do alone anyway, might as well see if she can do all these things.

This is a mistake.  She cannot walk properly.  She almost falls down the hill, but we keep going.  She refuses to turn around.  She refuses to do anything but keep going.  She wants to take me for lunch, and who am I to say any different.  We make it about half way before we have to sit down, not becuase she wants to, but because I need a break.  I have had to walk behind her, essentially hugging her from behind to hold her up the whole time. This makes her angry with me, but if I let go she falls over.  She refuses to admit this is the truth, according to her she is off balance because I won't let go.  When I let go she crumples to the ground.

The whole time all I can think is "what have I done, we shouldn't have left the house, what have I done, we shouldn't have left the house" Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

We make it. We get to the restaurant but she can't talk properly to order her lunch.  I try to help.  Suddenly I can't remember if it's the mushrooms she always likes on her burger with no cheese, or is it cheese and no mushrooms. How can I have forgotten this? It's always been the same.  She can't tell me. The waiter is being patient.  How can I not remember?  Something so simple. I order some combination and hope that it's right.  We eat and I call a friend to give us a ride home.  I make sure she's safe in the house and I head to my temporary home to try to understand what just happened.

What just happened?

My brother gets to town the next day.  I feel relief that he is here now too.

Two days later we take mom for a CAT scan.  She cant talk today.  She is not happy about any of this and the lack of communication makes it even worse.  We get into a fight with her outside the hospital about being able to smoke on hopital grounds. It feels like fighting with a child.  She has lost her ability to communicate with words and it's a long day that ends in the worst way possible.

I dont remember much about the day, about the hospital, about any of that part.  I don't remember if the scan was quick, if my brother and I sat outside the room the whole time, if we wandered around, if we left the hospital, if it was only 5 min and then it was over.  I can't remember any of it.

I remember seeing my mom on the scan table, and how little she seemed, how scared she looked.  I remember how good my brother was at holding her hand and reassuring her about what was going to happen and that it would be ok. I couldn't even look at her.  Seeing her look small and helpless was too scary.  I could not face it.  I could not hold her hand.  I could not reassure her.  I got uncomfortable. I looked at the ground. I got out of that room as fast as I could.

I remember being amazed at how patient, calm and positive my brother could be while I couldn't even look at her.

We get my mom back home and all go our own ways for a few hours.  After dinner I feel this need to go up the road to just check in on her.  I find everyone there. I smile at the fact that we all seemed to have the same thought.  It's a small house and it feels crowded with us all in it, hanging out in the kitchen.  My dad asks to talk to me outside for a minute.

My dad tells me the Dr called with results from the CAT scan.  I am shocked we got results so quickly.  He says it wasn't a stroke.  I'm confused.  He says it's lung cancer.  It's spread to her brain.  She has many tumours.  Time slows down.  I understand the words he's saying but I cant quite figure out what he means, or what it all means.  The tears stream and all I seem to be able to do is twirl my hair in my fingers.

My mom doesn't know.  We are going to take her to the doctor tomorrow to tell her.

I have to go back into the house and pretend I dont know this horrible secret.  How can I look at my mom in the eye knowing this horrible secret.  She is so thrilled to have everyone around.  She is enjoying having her family back.

I don't remember how long I stayed at the house but I do remember getting back to where I was staying and sitting on the front step for an hour crying uncontrolably.  It was dark out so I guess I must have been at mom's for a while

What will I do without my mom?  That is the only thing I can think. On repeat.

Fear of the unknown is a terrible thing.  I have never truly lost anyone.  This is new, horrific territory and I do not want anything to do with it.  I wish life had a pause button, a chance for me to catch my breath and assess what's actually going on.  A chance to catch my brain up with reality.  This is something I still wish.  That I could just take a break and get things figured out without losing time.