Archive for loss

Blackberry Summer

29720184Kenny was just five years old, his brother, Jack, was 8.  Most of Kenny’s life had been spent on tenant farms in upper South Carolina. It was a hard life.  Momma had been sick most of his life with something called Pellegra.   It made her act funny and her skin break out in summer. Her name was Mattie and her family lived a good distance away. She had gone to the hospital in Spartanburg this time because she was so sick.  Kenny missed his mamma, but he was beginning to have a hard time even remembering what her voice sounded like or the touch of her lips as they puckered and kissed him good  night.

They had lived in a different house every year of his life. Which ever farm owner would offer papa the best deal  for working his crops, papa would load  up their sparse possessions and move his little family a few miles down the road.  The house they lived in now, Kenny and Jack had nicknamed ” the smoky house” because the flue in the fireplace didn’t work right and the house always had a smoky odor and in the dead of winter, there was almost a blur to the air  from the smoke.  It was warm, though, so they didn’t complain. On one occasion, Kenny remembered he and Jack playing with corncobs out in the yard, pretending they were cars. Mama had been sitting on the porch with her two sisters, Bettie and Jettie and they laughed at the boys as they played. The sound of her laughter was all he really had now.

When papa took the boys to town on rare occasions, they hitched a ride because Papa didn’t have a car. The boys loved the bumping and puttering of the car as they drove the ten or fifteen miles to where the big supply store was. They were amazed at the electric lights inside the shops and the fancy furniture in the two story houses on Main Street. Sometimes, Jack and Kenny  were  invited in to a lady’s  house for cookies and milk  while Papa was at the farm supply store.

Kenny had been squirming for ten minutes at the table with the red checked table cloth. Jack finally looked at the  lady who had told them to call her Mrs. Salter and said, “M’am, I hate to bother you, but I think my little brother needs to use yer , um, facilities.

Mrs. Salter smiled and led Kenny by the hand to a room by the bedrooms that had an indoor toilet  and a sink inside. Kenny’s eyes lit up. Indoor plumbing! He’d seen it before but never used it.  He turned to see that Mrs. Salter had cracked the door and stepped away.

At first, Kenny just ran his hands over the smooth white porcelain on the sink, his green eyes wide and his mouth agape.  He turned to the toilet filled with water and proceeded to relieve himself. remembered that the handle had to be pushed down for the  contraption to run clean water in it.

Soon, Kenny was back at the table where Jack was finishing up his last sip of milk.

“I bet you boys know where some ripe blackberries are growing.” smiled Mrs. Salter.

“Yes’m” grinned Jack, “we sure do!”

“Well, you two look like good workers,” Mrs. Salter said with her hands propped  on her thin waist.  “I’ll tell you what, If you bring me a gallon of the best ones you can find tomorrow, I will pay you a quarter for them.”

The boys faces light up with a smile. “Yes’m, Mrs. Salter, ”  Jack called out, “we will have them here by lunch time, , the best you’ve ever seen!

The boys, thanked Mrs. Salter for the cookies and milk and headed for the door. They saw Papa coming out of the supply store and hurried to him. Kenny turned to Jack and whispered, ” She’s got one of them indoor toilets!”  Jack had time only for a look of surprise before they met up with Papa.

“Papa, Papa, Kenny called out, “Mrs. Salter said if we’d pick her a gallon of blackberries tomorrow, she would give us a quarter!”

Papa chuckled and said, “Well thats right good wages, boys. Those lowlanders don’t much like to work when they come up here in the summer, do they?”

“No, sir” Kenny replied, ” and she’s got an indoor toilet!”

“Now how do you know about that, young man,” Papa looked sternly at his younger son.

Jack came to the rescue and told Papa that he had VERY POLITELY told Mrs. Salter that Kenny needed to use the facilities when she had offered them a snack.

“Well, I guess you two have got yourselves a job!” Papa laughed as they walked back down the dusty gravel road toward their driveway.

And they surely did. Mrs. Salter and her sister, had cometo the “thermal belt” as Papa called the area between the sweltering heat of the lowlands and the cool foggy  mountains to the north for relief from the heat. q For weeks, the boys went out in their oldest clothes and gathered blackberries for the ladies.

One time, Papa’s sister had come down to stay a while and fixed the most delicious dinners they had ever had. Fried chicken, biscuits, ripe tomatoes! It was heaven!

The boys had been picking blackberries one morning and after delivering them, they saw the postman talking to Aunt Lena. Curious, they stepped up their walking time to hear the man  try to whisper to Aunt Lena.  He couldn’t whisper very well.

They turned their heads toward the Mailman and Aunt Lena, who had failed to notice them walking  up. The mailman motioned Aunt Lena over to his opened door. Naturally, the two curious little boys were right behind her.

“Mattie died today,” he said, his effort to whisper lost on his effort to speak loudly over then engine. Then boys both gasped, and suddenlyAunt Lena turned around and saw them. She took a deep breath as if she was going to fuss, but turned her head back towards the mailman, wiping a tear from her cheek.

“What happened,” Aunt Lena asked the mailman. “I though she was doing better!”

Well, I can’t say for sure, Lena, ” the mailman replied. “She took a turn for the worse last night and when the nurse checked on her this morning, she was gone.”

Aunt Lena turned to Kenny and Jack and put her arms around them, scowling at the mailman for letting them hear his news. Jack and Kenny looked at each other and then at Aunt Lena.

“Did he say our mama was gone? ” Jack said. Kenny was silent, acting a bit confused.

“Yes, honey, thats what he said, your Mama went to live with the angels.” Aunt Lena spoke softly as she brushed a tear from her cheek.

“Live with the angels?” Kenny yelled. “My Mama wouldn’t  go live somewhere else!”

Jack looked at Kenny and  took his hand. “No, Kenny, that means Mama died. She ain’t coming back.”

“No!” cried Kenny. “She ain’t gone to live with no angels! Thats what they do in the Bible!”

Aunt Lena waved the mailman to go on about his duties and she knelt down beside them.

“You know your Mama’s been sick a long time. She was suffering. God didn’t want her to suffer, so he took her up to live with Him in Heaven, just like in the Bible.” Aunt Lena said softly.

Jack just stood there frozen, then grabbed Aunt Lena’s hand. Kenny was running down the driveway screaming, “Papa, Papa! Mama died, she went to heaven, like in the Bible!” he shouted through salty tears.

Aunt Lena heard the screen door squeak open just as they reached the wooden porch.

Papa just looked up at his sister. Aunt Lena nodded her head to say it was true. The four of them formed a knot of tearing, weeping family.

“Well, That’s it. mumbled Jack. We ain’t go no Mama.”  He slung his hands away from the others and ran up the steps to the porch.

Kenny gently let his hand slip from his Papa’s. He walked up on the porch where Jack was rocking back and forth in one of the wooden chairs. He looked up at his father and Aunt as they walked up the steps behind them. Nobody said a word. Papa walked quietly into the house, followed by Aunt Lena.

“What are you going to do, Furman?” Aunt Lena said to her brother. “You think Aunt Annie will take them?”

“Oh, no!” growled Furman, their daddy. “Ain’t nobody takin’ my boys! I will carry them on my back till moss grows on theirs before I give  them away!”

…………………………..

And he did.

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Can I get there from here?

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The night, darkness again though I just awoke
the relief of an afternoon nap -escape from pain
my eyes burning, from tear, exhaustion, sorrow
i cannot stop thinking of you, my pain is forever.

You, a handsome teen, amidst growing tall
already muscular and nearly 6 feet
Damn ball, damn those who begged you to play-
my mind hd screamed “dont” for months…

No one knows how I feel, how I hurt -inside and out-
struggling to recall your voice, your words, our smile
How could God do this to us-take you away
leave me the barely waling dead forever…

There is no pain,that will not heal, they say
but I don’t see a seeping wound, a jagged scar
as healing. Simply a reminder of what I couldn’t
allow myself to imagine- loosing a child…

Everyone says Ive changed, demands the impossible
just let it go for a while, enjoy what you have
look at all you have, so much more than most
-kids-grandkids but not you only a gaping hole.

You are my heart, my soul, I have both died with you
and “lived” with you in my broken body
for over a decade. How much more? Am I living for revenge?
for what? Pain, grief, anxiety, it serves no purpose.

My love for you only grows, beautiful you, soft
sweet, cuddly, yet brave, strong, tough-my son
When people say I will see you in heaven,
i dont know whether to laugh or cry-i want you now!

Is there a forever place? Is this hell where we are now?
If there was good anywhere-in any realm,
you would be here with me and I wouldn’t be
forever disabled because you aren’t…

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Still Unbroken by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Words to song:

Broken bones, broken hearts
Stripped down and torn apart
A little bit of rust
I’m still runnin’
Countin’ miles, countin’ tears
Twistin’ roads, shiftin’ gears
Year after year
It’s all or nothin’
But I’m not home
I’m not lost
Still holding on to what I got
Ain’t much left
Lord there’s so much that’s been stolen
Guess I’ve lost everything I’ve had
But I’m not dead, at least not yet
Still alone, still alive, still unbroken
I’m still alone, still alive, I’m still unbroken
Never captured, never tamed
Wild horses on the plains
You can call me lost, I call it freedom
I feel a spirit in my soul
It’s somethin’ Lord I can’t control
I’m never giving up while I’m still breathin’
I’m not home
I’m not lost
Still holding on to what I got
Ain’t much left
Though there’s…

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The Chance to Remember

 

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This week, I celebrated two events that I wasn’t, sure I would see.  My granddaughter turned two a few days ago. That seems like such a simple statement. I have quite a group of grandkids, but enjoying them has not always been easy. My youngest son graduated from high school, and it was as sweet and crazy as the other childrens were.

Why then were these events so memorable?  First, let me tell you about them.  After the ice cream and presents, I saw my older grandkids splashing in the creek trying to catch minnows, crayfish and salamanders. I didn’t give it a thought before I had grabbed two cups and headed for the creek. Because. Of my disabilities, I had to find an easy way in. My grandkids all know that I’m the nature lady- nothing makes me smile quicker than a chance to teach them a nature lesson, whether it is ” how to catch creek creatures”or “what are the different kinds of life cycles among insects?” Today, it was time for creek creature catching!   My oldest daughter loves these nature studies as much as I do and was already at the creek when I arrived. Among the happy shouts of ” I got one!” One of my grands would quietly ask me to catch one for them and let them have the cup to show off their prize.  I was in grandkids heaven as we lifted rocks and I tried o teach children the importance of patience and still waters if you want to catch your prize creatures. I am not sure a tassel of kids between 6 and nine really gets the meaning of patience.  Oh, well, having had six kids of my own, I could work around it. Soon, I was sharing cups with several little salamanders with them, the giggled and splashed and ‘dirtied’ the water as they ran to show them off to the others.

After a lot of hunting, we finally began to find some medium sized crayfish and put them in a bucket. My daughter and I explained how happy we were to see them because the ‘ nutrient rich’ water had killed off a lot of the creek life.  Yes, we had to explain that the ‘nutrients’ were fertilizers that he big houses that had been built used to make their perfect lawns , thus polluting the creeks and killing the creatures that lived there.)

As we worked to collect the creatures, I told my daughter and grands about the days when my mom took me and my friends to my grandpa’s pasture to catch creek creatures, much larger than these because the big houses had yet to overtake the farms. They were sweet memories. My mom, like me was a lover if nature. Rather than having instilled a fear of wildlife in me, she taught me to respect them.  From Black Widows to Black Snakes to water creatures and wild plants, my mom taught me to love them, catch and observe them, then let then go, so we could catch and observe them again. The memories of my mom and I, along with the privilege of sharing such a day with my daughters, sons and grandkids formed a mist in my eyes. You see, I never thought I would be able to do those things again.

Nearly ten years ago, as my 15 year old son was playing baseball, an unbelievable tragedy took him and “life” would never be the same. After a great double and a steal to third base, my lungs were sore from screaming my praises to him. The next kid struck out and soon the teams were practicing for the last half of the last inning. Suddenly someone called out, “What’s wrong with Andrew? ” I looked up to where he was practicing in the outfield and saw he begin to ru towRds me. Instinctively, I began to run to him, meeting close to the pitchers mound as he started to fall, hitting the ground in a swirl of dust. I was in shock. He had not even been sick, to my knowledge. I started screaming, ” Call 911, Call 911, and saw that the father of one of my sons team mates was calling. There was a fire station at the top of the hill and I expected an immediate response, but none came. After coaches and parents rushed up, one person ran up, said they were a nurse and looked at my unconscious son as he asked me questions. My heart, my mind was in a blur- why were there no sirens? Where were the EMT’s who could have walked there by now. Someone asked me his name and gently shook his shoulders, calling his name. No response- no siren or ambulance. I was screaming for the nurse to ‘ do something’ as the clock moved on and my son’s breathing became raspy. Between ten and twelve minutes passed before an ambulance finally came in a back gate- the opposite of the way an ambulance from the close-by fire Department would have come. The EMT’s first words were, ” bag him” ( give him oxygen).

I rode in the front of the ambulance to the hospital. I saw the attendants using a defibrillator on him. My mind was screaming, ” No, no!” I was met by a hospital cleric who lead me away as the ambulance attendants rushed my son in. After working on him for an hour a doctor came out and called our family in to a private room to tell us, ” They did everything they could.”

“You mean he’s dead?” I cried as we all sat in silent stares- our world crashing around us. I walked out the door with an apparently healthy 15 year old son and would walk, completely stunned back in that door without him.

Within a few months, I was having symptoms of what was later to be found to be a pituitary tumor, caused, mostly likely by the stress from loosening my son. This story is not about me, so I will suffice to say that neglect  nearly cost me my life just as someone giving the 911 operator the wrong directions to the ball park had cost my son his life.  By the time I had surgery to remove the tumor, I was told  that without the surgery, I would have had about three weeks to live.

Now, we come to the second part of this week just passed.  I saw my youngest child graduate from high school. He had been barely eight when his brother had died. Graduation is a crowded, long, yet joyous occasion. When the ceremony was over, my son’s girlfriend and I caught up with him and he gave me a ride back to my car when I would meet my husband and two other sons.  I was tired, in pain, yet thrilled for my son.   One more ordinary occasion that I got to witness.

It wasn’t until my son came home late that night that we talked about his graduation that he told me something that I guess I had never realized.  ” Mom, he said, as we sat on his bed, “years ago when you were so sick after we lost Andrew, I had the thought that you would not live to see me graduate. It has haunted me ever since.”

“But I did it.” I smiled as I hugged him. ” Yeah,  you did.” He smiled, holding my hand.

Tonight, as I sat in my room thinking, both of these simple events that I had enjoyed this weekend suddenly hit me. No one, most of all me, ever thought I would play in the creek with my grandkids and even my son had not believed that I would live to see him graduate.  I have suffered so much, so long, it just seemed endless. I still suffer everyday.  Somehow, this past year, I have found a way to bring joy back into my life, if even for a short time.  I told my son that it was his holding me close, willing me to live that had helped me  ” make it” this far. I thought of the song that I had heard on my Facebook page that some kids sang to their teacher who had cancer. it was called, “I’m Gonna Love you Throught It”.

That is just what my son, my kids and grandkids and my family had done for me. Through all the loss I had endured, the disability, the never- ending pain, I would feel their love and know that somehow, they still needed me.

As I found myself scratching the poision ivy on my arm tonight, I thought that even being able to work in my garden again was a blessing.  Maybe, I was still here ‘ for a reason’. The sweat running down my itchy face felt amazingly good somehow. I new life would never hold the same joy that it had when my son was alive and I was well, but I was still here, and I was determined, at last to be thankful for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections of Life’s Passages (click song at end to listen while you read)

        DSCN2720     The mirror reflects back a “me” that I no longer know.  She isn’t young, My health was decimated by the loss of a child. Even my youngest child has a car, a job and a girlfriend now.  The years since I lost my son and health have completely changed me. I have known this for a long time, but held out hope that time would at least partially repair the wounds .Allow me to explain the crisis that lead to these reflections.

I have come to a point where I do not see that happening.  I raised six children. Raising them, loving them, teaching them was not only my dream, it was my life. I home-schooled them on vacations, Saturdays and in summer. The youngest one was home-schooled full time for several years. With a large family, there is little time to worry about what “you” want or even need. I lost my best friend to cancer when we were 48-two years before I lost my son.

I worked in the children’s schools as they grew up, as an assistant, a volunteer, and a substitute.  My life was filled with ball games, dance lessons, band and activities that revolved around them. Since i was a stay-at home mom in summer, I would have up to 14 kids at my house in one day.  I admit it was hectic. I suffer from migraines and it often took everything I had to be the kid of mom I strived to be,

Even today, my kids say that I was a terrific mom, that now as parents themselves, they don’t see how I did it.  I worked my way through a university while raising two kids as a single parent.  It seems I found endless energy and patience somewhere.  I only wish I could find that place today.

When I lost my health from Cushing’s Disease, it was determined to be from the trauma of my loosing my son.  Being a mother WAS my life.  Loosing him was unthinkable, unbearable.  It was at a time when my older kids were going to school, getting married, having their first child, and I was at that age a woman faces when she realizes that “youth” is no longer with her.  My grief, my problems were not recognized by anyone but me.  I would hear, “It’s natural that you are greived over your son, that your children moving away is difficult, but you will, in time adjust.”  I didn’t believe it then, and when I had heart failure eight months after my childs death, I knew that I had been right all along. I really was sick. The heart doctor started doing tests and wrote a report to my regular doctor that month, saying that I had the classic symptoms of Cushing’s and should see an endocrinologist.  Evidently, my regular doctor never read it.  When I went to my cardiologist in January and he asked me what the endocrinologist had  said, I told him that I had never been referred to one. He was astounded. I ordered a copy of my medical records from my regular doctor, and there, right on top was the letter from my cardiologist. Apparently, it had never even been read, just stuck in my file.

The cardiologist immediately sent me to an endocrinologist and after many test, Cushing’s Disease (sometimes called Cushing’s Syndrome) was confirmed.  She told me the only way to get well was pituitary surgery, which meant going into my head through my sinuses, and into the area right below my brain, where the pituitary  gland sits.  I was terrified. Why was all his happening to me -loosing my son and then my health  as well?

When I was finally accepted at an out of state facility for pituitary surgery, I was told that the tumor was wrapping around my carotid artery and I would have probably had less than 3 weeks to live.  It had now been a year and a half since my son died.  Not long after he died, I started a slow process of gaining weigh, although I couldn’t eat and watching my long hair thinning out, I was nauseous all the time. I could hardly walk, using a cane  to steady myself. It took months after the surgery to even begin to recover.  The joyful events I should have been enjoying had been taken from me, yet I felt that no one could really comprehend what I was going through.

As I mentioned, my youngest child was only eight years old when his brother died, He was my rock. He needed me, he didn’t care if I didn’t have a lot of energy, he played with friends, with siblings, and most of all supported me.  Now, he, too has grown up. I wonder, tearfully , how much he remembers about his brother. They were so close. His brother and I were so close. When the time came for my son to get his drivers license, he was going to college in the afternoons and high school in the morning. He started dating, and, like all children growing further away from needing mom.

I continued to try to make a small garden. I had been taught the love of gardening as a child and loved sharing the study of nature, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles and even arachnids with my children. Even  when pregnant, working and  and tired, I would find time to have a large garden. It soothed my soul. I could enjoy the bounty of anything from spring strawberries to autumn pumpkins. Now,  I was so weak, I could hardly make it to my garden. I was not able to work in it long at a time.  I watched as my beautiful garden got less and less attention.

Cushing’s affects your whole body, especially if left untreated as long as mine was. My endocrinologist described my bones as like “chicken bones”-terribly fragile. I broke my hip in a simple fall simply because I went down at an odd angle on my fragile leg. My digestive system has continued to be a problem. I feel sick when I eat, I have severs scoliosis and and in constant pain. from my neck and back to my hips. My feet are numb, my face is numb from the pituitary surgery, my hip has cramps so bad, i can only compare it to natural childbirth-without the joy of your baby at the end of the immense pain. Even though I have made some improvements in my strength, I know I will always have the symptoms of Cushings knocking at the door. For a time, It took small steps and a cane or holding on to something to navigate a room, My goal was to reach my son’s grave, on a hillside, without help.  I felt like I was climbing a mountain, but one day, I made it and it became a place of solace for me. I find letters and mementoes there from others-his many friends, even now, after eight years,a wedding invitation, a Carolina memento, a black rose. I put Victorian statuettes of a mom and son watching younger children sleigh ride, or laid a baseball there, maybe holiday rememberances. Even though I never liked baseball, he died between innings in a game he didn’t want to play, so I had “Safe at Home” carved on his black obsidian stone to help us remember that his last hit was one of the best he ever made.  Many years ago, I put a heavy chain with eight links on it around the flower pot-to symbolize that there would always be eight people in our family. I find messages from him there, I have written about them in other blogs-things only he and I would understand. Black widow spiders that we studied, dimes,(that one is secret), feathers from a bird killed by predators.

Every day is a struggle. I feel like I was cheated out of enjoying the years of my other children’s lives when they were maturing, going to college, marrying, having their own children, living, laughing, just regular things. I am having a difficult time accepting that my youngest child is not now, that youngster who helped me so much and needed me-no matter how poor my health is.  Now tthat he is older, I depend on him for other things.  He is just doing what young people do-grow up, just as my older kids were doing when their brother was so wrongly taken.  I know that, but it still hurts.  I have to find the strength to do things with him that I am often not really able to do. I have had to learn not to expect to be “mommy” after 40 years. It is more difficult than I can describe.

Looking into the mirror of my life’s struggles has affected me in many ways. I think of my friend who died at 48, after struggling with cancer for 15 years and I am thankful that I was a least here to witness the maturing of my family. I fight the anxiety and stress of not being able to do for my family what my heart longs to do. I smile when my older children sing the songs to their kids that I sang to them, or one of them remembers a book we read together. I walk in the park with them as they tell them the names of insects and flowers we studied so many years ago.

I have given up on having even the people who love me, and that I love, truly understand what I have been through and why I am less patient, more emotional, not as strong as I once was. I can only hope that one day, when they remember “me”, they remember the “me” that I was when I had all of my children, when I was young, healthy and strong. I hope that as all of us grow older and struggle to keep up with the things that made us who we are, that our children, our loved ones, realize that those thing are still there, inside of us. Our hearts have not changed, our love is just as strong, even when our bodies have failed us.  

Once in a while, I have a good day, and can almost do the things I once did. What a joy to be “me”, if only for a while.  I still listen to my Lynyrd Skynyrd and other Southern Rock music.  I still love long hair and blue jeans.  I am still me. Those who know me, please, remember that. Inside, I am strong, proud, loving. Outside, I still manage an incredible amount of accompishments, difficult, though they may be.  If the sun is covered by clouds, it is still there. I am still there. Remember that.

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MUSCADINE MEMORIES

DSCN2817One day last week when I was at your house-okay cleaning out your now empty house, I noticed the most wonderful vine of the old fashioned Muscadine grapes growing up a tree at the edge of your yard.

I have never seen anything like it! Oh, Dad, how I wanted to run in and get you and show you the redbud tree hanging full of Muscadine grapes. You and mom grew up very differently, but I lost you both in your 87th year. Mom was a few years older, so I had to watch you drown in the misery of waking up without her after 62 years together.

l I haven’t been able to write for the past few months, since I lost you. There is so much inside me, I know I will never remember the feelings as I did when they were fresh, and I will always resent it. What kept me from writing was not because of you passing, but the pain was nearly as bad. A violation by someone, of my deepest thoughts, written in my journal, had made me feel as though I had been robbed of my most precious gift-the truths, good or bad that I written in a journal to the son I lost when he was 15 years old nearly every day.

When I saw the Muscadines, I knew the only reason they had survived was because they were wound around the branches so high in the redbud tree. Your neighborhood is full of bears, and my son who lives next door has seen many walking through your yards. My aunt on the hill above you had lost her grapes to the bears, as had neighbors and friends, I couldn’t think of anyone who hadn’t lost their grapes to the bears. A surprise for you, dad, but a couple of months too late.

All this time that I have been unable to write, I have though of you and mom, of my Andrew, all the loss, the sickness and pain I have endured, all the court stuff I had to endure in order to settle your estate. Hell has been my constant companion. Maybe that’s why the wild grapes were so special-a moment of joy and beauty amidst all the pain.

I can write now, the anger over having been put through a completely unnecessary hell during the weeks proceeding your loss have dissipated to the point where not writing would let the evil win-and I damn well wouldn’t do that. So I will write a few of the memories that the Muscadines brought to me. Perhaps, in some small way, they will help me heal.

Dad, I had seen your health failing for a long time, your memory and rationality fading as well, and I had been working to get things in order. I felt a lot of guilt, many of the decisions I had to make were hard. I knew without a doubt that I was doing what you wanted me to do, but there was still a ring of guilt to suddenly be the ‘one who held the gold’.My kids and I will never forget your slightly evil (but loving) smile, when we would want something that your conservative mind could not quite go along with and we would see you smile, as you looked at us and said, “You know the ‘Golden Rule?” And we did know it. Your “Golden Rule” had always been, “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”(possibly first used by Confucius) -and it had always before meant YOU. Suddenly it was ME.

Part of me anxiously awaited my turn at “holding the gold”, and part of me had always feared the responsibility that came with it. Now, that I did “hold the gold”, even though you were still here in a weakened condition, I found the responsibility both humbling and empowering. Every decision that was made was MY responsibility, every mistake made was my fault. Suddenly, I wondered how you could have held that responsibility all those years and smiled as you reminded us of it. It was completely terrifying.

Thinking back, again, (and not having allowed myself to write it), I remembered the little gift your grandchildren and I received within moments of your death. My son’s friend, who had been with us when you died and had loving called me “Mah-mah” since his childhood, had called my son on his cell phone and told him to look at a photo he had made with his phone. In his picture, directly over the spot where my mom (and soon you) would be buried, there had suddenly appeared a beautiful rainbow, so perfectly centered above your graves that it had seemed like a message from God.

Muscadines…they reminded me of so many of the moments in nature I had shared with my grandparents, parents and children through the years. Those little snips of beauty that stay with you as though your mind was a camera, even though you had no actual photo. I thought of Andrew, three or four years old, staring up at a huge sunflower. I will never forget the look of wonder on his face as he gazed up at that eight-foot high flower, as golden as the sun, above him. I remembered finding the hillside filled with bloodroot flowers whenI took a walk with my children were they were quite young. I showed them how the plant got its name from the Mercurochrome-colored fluid that flowed from the stem when it was injured or broken of. Many years later, I witnessed one of my children, telling the same story to their child.

Once, when I was about ten years old, my grandmother, aunt, my mother and I, went on our daily walk in my grandparents pasture. Suddenly, my grandmother almost stepped on a snake. My mother screamed and my aunt laughed, “Its only a garter snake.” she smiled as she saw my mother look away. My mother was never afraid of snakes or spiders and was quite embarrassed at her own reaction. “I hadn’t looked that close yet”, she mumbled, and we knew it was true. Mother always told me that she was much more afraid of men than of spiders and snakes, “because you knew what a spider or snake was going to do.”

My aunt ran a little country store and to this day, I can see my mother marching in with a black widow spider she had caught in a jar. Even the men stepped back a bit as she told them about catching it on the very steps they had just gone up. I could write a book on “the little store” stories that my cousins and I shared as we enjoyed freedoms modern children no longer have-wandering the neighborhood without supervision. To this day, my favorite “little store” stor is the time mu cousin, Johnny, who was maybe 14, pretended to vomit on the store’s steps as my furious uncle tried to sweep up the fake plastic vomit before someone stepped in it. A crowd of cousins stood at the edge of the store building giggling away. When my uncle realized that he had been duped by a teenager, he was madder than ever.

Sometimes, in this rough and often cruel life, a simple scene like the muscadine grapes will bring us back to all the good memories we have had. For a moment, we smile, we realize how much love surrounded us, even when we were a bit naughty. WE close our eyes and remember those who are gone now and find ourselves smiling rather than shedding ear. Just for a moment, those muscadine memories surround us, comfort us and ring us home. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.

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The Effects and Lessons of Loss-An Anology of Death

 

 

For many years of my young life, I escaped the emotional and physical costs of the death of a loved one who was a part of your daily life. In the past 14 years, it seems to have been nearly continuous, from aunts and uncles, cousins and friend, grandparents and parents to my precious 15 year old son.

I have learned that the deaths of different close friends and family affect us in entirely different ways. To see an older relative who has lived a long life and is now suffering gives us a sense of relief, that they are no longer suffering and are in, what we have been taught and hope, is “a better place. To Christians, and some other religions, that means Heaven.

When my best friend died at 48 after a 15 year battle with cancer, I could not help but feel cheated, for her, for her children and grandchildren, and later, as I faced deaths that were “closer to home”, for myself. I did not have the person I needed to talk to cry with, hug, and find comfort in her compassion.

I had several cousins and neighbors die in their middle-age, usually from cancer. I found myself looking at their lives, the happiness they had with their mates, and children, the love and attention their grandchildren would miss. I felt that they were cheated, they did not smoke, abuse their health or do dangerous things. It was a different grief process than I felt when my elderly relatives died.

I am an only child. I have lost both of my parents within the past 3 ½ years. It has been so difficult to walk into their house, the accept the not-so-good memories and embrace the wonderful support they always gave me, that I have often had to simply put their loss “in a box”, only to be opened at certain times, like birthdays, holidays or even the day they died. I spend a lot of time with my parents, seeing them most every day. When they were sick, I helped care for them, when they were sad, or scared, I listened. I helped them with their financial issues, memorial wishes, and settling estates. I would say it was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it wasn’t.

I lost my beloved son eight years ago at the age of 15. It was very sudden, a regular day, filled with normal activities for a teen-school, buss rides, ball games. On that day, I took him to a ball game and didn’t brink him home. I have written about this many times in my blog, and would love for you to look up the articles and read them and what actions I have taken since, but that is not what this article is about.

There is nothing as painful as loosing a child. There isn’t even a word for a parent who has lost a child. If you loose your parents, you are an orphan, if you loose a mate, you are a widow or widower. What are you when you loose your child? So much of what you are, what you lived for, looked forward to is gone, it is simply indescribable.

In my case, I not only lost my child, I lost my health. Within a few months, I was developing symptoms of Cushings Syndrome, a pituitary disease that has many scopes, causes and outcomes. My doctor kept insisting that what I was suffering from was “just stress”, even though I insisted that it was more than that. First let me point out that stress is not a “Just”. It destroys your health, your ability to function, to deal with work or your family. Never accept this excuse, no matter what you are suffering from.

It wasn’t until I had heart failure 8 months after my son’s sudden death, that a heart doctor started really examining me. He immediately wrote my doctor and told him that I had the typical symptoms of Cushings Disease (some types are called “Syndrome”. Evidently, I wasn’t important enough for my doctor to even read the report because 6 months later, when I went to the Cardiolgist, he was astounded that I had received no help and sent me to the Endocrinologist then next day. Again, I will ask that you read my other articles on my son’s death and my illness and return to the topic of grief and the different ways we, as humans respnd to it.

Men, women and children respond to grief in various ways. Men have a difficult time showing outward grief, having been taught during their whole lives that emotions are a sign of weakness. Therefore, they often take it out on others, especially those that they love them most. It is horrible for a woman to be fighting for her life, and not have the person who is supposed to always be there for her, him being emotional abusive, and often reverting to child-like things to get his mind off of his unfathomable sorrow.

Children under about the age of 12 often have a delayed reaction to grief. When they begin to think in a more adult-like manner, the grief that may have happened several years ago suddenly creeps in. The child may not be able to sleep, have irrational fears for their own safety or for the safety of those they love. They may regress somewhat in their behavior, their grades in school may suffer. It is very important that a child who has lost a sibling gets the help they need, and this can vary from child to child. Do not be afraid to explore your child’s needs with his doctor, counselors, siblings, your spouse or minister. I feel like it has been very difficult for me to be the mom I always was and still meet my child’s needs. Even when I felt that I was, I have realized even years later, that I needed to give him the chance to talk to those he felt comfortable with about his feelings.

The death of someone particularly close to you is often almost impossible to overcome. The effects on my health on top of my emotional grief, unfounded self-grief, and my blaming everyone from God to my child’s friends is something I still struggle with daily. Even though I have made some progress, he physical problems caused by the Cushings Disease will be with me forever, always reminding me of why I have to deal with them.

One of the best things we can do to help someone we love who is greiving is simpy to listen. Let them be angry, blame people, feel what they feel. Just getting these things out of their system for a few minutes can be tremendously helpful. Since it is difficult to deal with those who are grieving, especially over a child or a person to whom they were particularly close, we often cut ourselves off from them just when they need us the most. It is not easy to allow a person who is in the midst of grief to express feelings that we may not agree with, but we have to be able to, and, hopefully, over time, we can help lead them back to a better place. Simply learning not to blame themselves is a big step in finding a way back to a better place.

I don’t think I will ever heal from the emotional loss of my child and some of the circumstances around it, but I KNOW I will never get over the physical scars and pain that I have to live with every day of my life. I am sure that living with me is not easy for those I love. They try, and I am very grateful that they put forth this effort.

Eventually, we will all have to deal with loss in some form. Having our family and friends around us is critical in getting back to a place where we can at least function to the best of our ability. Each person’s reaction to grief varies just as their path to healing is different. Try to stand back and see what your loved one needs and be there for them, even if it is difficult for you. You, their support team can make all the difference in the world to someone suffering from loss. Take the time to talk to them, not only right after the death of a loved one, but years later as well. Send a card on the loved ones birthday or mention then on a holiday card. Help them laugh (or even cry) over some of the memories you have of their loved one. Remind them of the joy they had when they were with them and let them know that it is alright to be angry, sad, frustrated or even overcome with emotion.

One thing that has helped me is for someone to take me to dinner, on a walk, read favorite poems, or listen to music near the “anniversary” of their loss, but perhaps not on the exact day. Sometimes, the anniversary of a death, or even the persons birthday may be simply too emotionafor them to profit from your good intentions.

Remember, our day will come, and in that sense, if we have been there for someone else, it will be easier for us to accept the help of friends and benefit from it. Love involves the risk of hurt, whether from loss, breakup, moving away or simply from a child growing up and concentrating on their own life. Stand back and see if you need to “be there” or “give them space” because each of those times will come. I have found that when I lost my son, I often lost my friends as well, not from “meanness” but simply because they didn’t know what to do or say. Do not abandon your loved one in their time of need,no matter how hard it may be. Neither should you smother them, because they are having to learn to live in a completely different way than they did before.

Whether they are able to express it or not, the fact that you care will make a huge difference as the person who has experienced loss begins this new and difficult path. Simply knowing that you are there for them may be the best “medicine” you can give.

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