How to Cope with the Cycle, Not Stages, of Grief

I was invited to write about grief for a popular website, so I have been thinking about it, and what I might write. So many have written and sung and drawn their experiences of grief and loss. What could I add to that canon?

I found myself thinking of something my friend Reuben mentioned so many years ago after his dad died–that the sight of a dapper older man walking down the street with a hat tipped a certain way could start his  grief all over again.

For me today, it is this blizzard. In February 1994, I was a single mom of three under the age of 5. My granny, who had bought the house next door to mine so that she could stay near to help with Conor, my first baby, had fallen and broken a hip.

That summer, my uncle had built a back step to the deck off my kitchen–low rise, long run– so that she could come straight across the yard and in the backdoor, bypassing the steep stairs out front.

When she came home to recuperate from the broken hip, my job was to get over in the morning, to check on her and get her set up for the day.  Alyson, my youngest daughter, was a month old, so I would strap her in a Snugglie under my maternity coat, and bundle up Conor and Meredith, ages 4 and 2, in snow clothes.

Someone would inevitably need to go potty the minute I had them all dressed. But eventually, we would tromp across the ice and snow to my Grandmother’s house. I would pray not to fall with the baby strapped on.

The deep snow today reminds me of that winter, and a year in which I lost my marriage and my grandmother. I was  thinking about how much I still miss her, and also how I did not know to appreciate her more. I expected her to live forever, even though I was old enough to know better.

When Conor was a newborn, I would get  irritated with my two grandmothers–who only ever loved and helped me–because they had so much advice for me about what to do with that colicky baby.

They wanted to hold him all the time, take him from me and urge me to rest, or shower, or work on a freelance job. My Grandmom Hourihan (Graom) would arrive every weekday morning around 8 to take him to the living room so that I could get some sleep. My Grandmom Lynch (Meme) would come every Tuesday and sit in a chair with me and sing The Tennessee Waltz.

Before our move to the exurbs, my mother, Mary, and my great aunt, Anna, who both worked nearby, would come by for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I was lucky to be surrounded by their decades of experience, but too foolish to know it.

Now that I am a grandmother, too, I know it. I understand what my grannies were about, beyond helping me with adjust to motherhood.

Holding a baby is a brief touch on the future; the old know that our time for holding babies is limited, and that we will become invisible before we become nothing. I know that my times of holding babies is long gone, save the few times a week that my grandbaby allows me to carry her.

An artist friend died earlier this month–alone and unexpectedly at the age of 73. Luckily he was a writer, so I am able to hear his voice through his blog, Waterfall Road. A friend of his posted this from TJ’s blog, 2014:

I don’t believe this is the path of my enlightenment in one lifetime. I see it a cycle through this lifetime in self-awareness, saying in signs I’ve done well not to get side-tracked, passing through opportunities for distraction, indulging some and letting them go, returning to the flow, allowing the flow, trusting the flow that just keeps rolling along. 

More than ever, I feel myself in that flow, as TJ said. It will just keep flowing along, always forward, never back. How I wish I could flow back to 1994–not the bad times–so my grannies could once again give me their accumulated love and wisdom and heart. I would make a pot of coffee with plenty of cream, and we would admire my beautiful babies.

“Doll,” my Grandmom Hourihan would say, as I fretted over some milestone or misbehavior or worry, “Slow down. It’s over before you know it.”

Or as Iman posted  on Instagram about  David Bowie  dying, “sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

 

Keywords: grieving process, grieving loss of relationship, grieving for celebrities, grieving process for friends

Bowie Tribute on The Health Care Blog

Thanks to the editors at www.thcb.org for featuring my tribute to David Bowie and one of my favorite songs, Ground Control to Major Tom.  I’ve contributed to THCB in the past, but always about health policy. I’m glad to have found a kindred spirit there, who can appreciate that we do, in fact, mourn our icons and celebrities and public figures, who come to represent and even become a part of a time and space in our own lives.

I have since colored the image and hope others will find it mysterious, joyful, with a bit of longing for a time when life seemed that it truly might last forever.

Bowie in the stars

And just in case you’d like a clean copy of your own to color, feel free to try this version–but be sure to share what you come up with!

The stars look very different today

The stars look very different today

Orders

what did I mean to save
that day I stood pounding
your chest, fired by urgency
that was not love
but habit
a current that ran once?
I felt it for years
even after it had stopped
and you could not deliver

what did I hope would return
to life that night
with my desperate pleas
my counted breaths
my lips pressed hard
to yours, together

what was left
in the cold spaces
between us, the disruption
like Arctic air pushed south
to Tampa. We were tangled
up in wires

if only I had shut off
that device, the one that jolts
me awake lonely nights
when I reach across a smooth sheet
for your rough hand
closed into a fist
you will never open

key words: DNR, love, grief, poetry, Janice Lynch Schusterleaves on fire

What Fire Was Like

 

 

leaves on fire

What we needed, we did not want.
What we wanted, we did not need.
Whatever safety I sought in you
Did not exist there.

We were in a cold room, two sticks
for hearts. When they rubbed
together, some kind of furious dance,
a spark, ignited the bed,
set the house on fire.

There is no joy in melting
into the other. No self in the end,
no sense of what made
us whole—or what we made.

The skeleton frame of the house
stood still, smoldering and terrible,
while we watched, our hands seared
by nothing we could touch.

key words: Janice Lynch Schuster, poetry, divorce

January Drifts

image

We will not gather here again.
You slip through time, I stand
On a vacant shore. Your small boat
Catches waves, drifts, swells,
Whitecaps and breakers. We might once
Have toyed with these, or, toppled, righted.
Anymore, we are stranded. I haven’t arms
To keep you afloat. All our terrors,
Our worried minds, our loves–
We kick them off, like heavy shoes.
We tread, we huddle, we drift
So long we feel like creatures
Of the sea, hardly able to breathe.
The currents move so quick,
The horizon always shifts.

That Would Be Singing

We had gone as far as the road
Could take us. We’d come to other forks
And made up our minds, or made do.
Here, though, we gave up our fancy machines
And stumbled on, by foot.

 Sometimes, we had stopped to laugh
Or catch our breath at wonders
That came our way. When we had to,
We raised angry voices to the wind,
As if it might change direction.

We had the latest gadgets,
Which told us where we were,
Thirty-feet, more or less.

Since we had each other, we claimed
We were never lost. Sometimes night
Took us by surprise,
And when we faltered,
We held each other tight.

Here at this stopping point
The path is only wide enough
For one to go, and one to follow.
You take the light, I say,
Since you insist on clearing a way
And leading me with that one good hand.

For a bit, I hear you sing
A little tune, and I hum along.
Then you see something ahead,
And you hurry. I don’t.

Wait here, you say. I’ll check this out.
And though the unknown
Has long worried me,
You are fearless.

I wait.

I kiss your dry cheek
And watch you fade
Through an opening.

Cry though I might,
I cannot get you back.
Nor can I turn around.

I’ll stand a while,
Perplexed,
Before I move along.

4,-A-path-in-the-shade-of-trees-site

Oil painting by Ryutaro Ikeda.

key words: dying, loss, grief