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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

My dad’s parents lived well up until their last few years and they lived long—both until 92. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have grandparents who were active and independent—even into my late 20s—before old age finally caught up with them. Before that they made annual car trips halfway across the country to visit their relatives while also being able to drive themselves to watch our sporting events or to come stay with us. Granddad didn’t retire for the final (his third) time until he was in his mid-80s.

Although their own family was small—just my dad and our family—they had a large circle of extended family members and old friends who they always made sure to see. Their best times in old age were spent visiting with these people—something I thought was B-O-R-I-N-G. What I didn’t see then was how they got together with those in their circle, even during hard times. They loved to see new babies or talk about good times, but where they shone was visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes and attending funerals.

I have never been one of those people who walks into a nursing home at ease—though it breaks my heart that so many people are living in bodies and minds that are failing them, I am also afraid of approaching and interacting with them—as if somehow it’s all about me and my discomfort and not theirs. This despite the fact my grandparents brought me to visit in a nursing home often in my younger years because one of their (our) relatives lived there much of her long life after an early head injury. Thanks to them I at least understood that old age didn’t always look like the independence Granddad and Grandma maintained—and I witnessed what faithful commitment to loved ones through hard times looked like.

When my grandmother finally ended up in such a place in the final two years of her life, it was hard for me to see her that way in that space. I didn’t have to face my discomfort too often because I lived far away busy raising toddler twins, but in those years while my grandma declined, my father kept up the good visiting example set before him by his parents.

Later as my own mom descended deep into Alzheimer’s, I moved her into memory care. I had to learn to override my discomfort in order to visit her most days, but I did. And when you visit someone in memory care, you visit many other people beside your own loved one. I wouldn’t say I grew relaxed, but I could reach out to the other (mostly) women who I met there—people who I could see as individuals hanging onto who they were by a slim thread and people who needed to know they were not alone in whatever scary lack of understanding their own minds exhibited. Like my grandparents and father before me, I held hands and talked.

Now, four years since my mom has been gone, we are back to visiting my husband’s mother. A fracture of the femur and subsequent hip surgery sent her to a physical rehabilitation center, but it is an inability of her mind to absorb all the instructions that has finally sent her into a skilled nursing center—aka nursing home—to see if she can recover enough to walk back into her home. Once again we are confronting the frightening realities of people whose bodies and/or minds do not work as they should—including hers. But, still, we hold hands and talk.

My grandparents taught me how to do this—I don’t know if they were ever afraid or sad or tired of going when they went to see people, but they just went and visited. That’s what they did. I had no idea how brave they were to do so year after year for so many people and to keep visiting until they visited one last time for the final goodbye.

Visiting someone in a care facility is hard for me but I have to remind myself how much harder it has to be to be a person at the mercy of failing bodily systems away from my home and those whom I love. God bless the workers who care for our loved ones in our absence, but may we never forget how much power there is in spending our own time with those loved ones who long for who and how they once were and how we can give them a connection to the lives they have led outside their confinement.

I used to think my grandparents’ use of the word visiting spelled B-O-R-I-N-G, but now I know it spelled L-O-V-E. Now, that was living well.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Yoga is funny—there you are being all mindful—or at bare minimum focusing on how long you have been in the moment of one particular pose—when something else pops into your mind. Maybe something about moving a certain part of your body brings that thought to surface or maybe it’s just another mystery of how your own mind works.

At the end of Wednesday’s class, I thought I was relaxing into savasana when somehow my mind turned to who I was when I was growing up. Too many heart-chakra opening poses so soon after my recent high school reunion trip must have jogged my brain into thoughts of, well, jogging/running.

And just like that I was mad at running.

Oh, Running, I thought you were The One. My first True Love. I was devoted to you—monogamous. Sure, when I met you, I did so with my teammates at my side. Unlike some of those girls, I never shirked on workouts or pretended I didn’t see the coach’s signal to start. You should have loved them more—with their longer legs and easy breathing—but they would not commit to you as I did.

And when that school year ended, I began taking those baby steps that lead toward what eventually became an obsession. We began to meet almost daily. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night—nor unrelenting winds that ranged from 95-degree furnace blasts to sub-zero chills that froze my eyelashes together—kept me from my appointments with you.

I wanted more from you—I dreamed of glory but what I got was quiet time and peace in the moment and a chance to hear the thoughts in my own head. As the miles passed beneath my feet, I learned to love the process and how not to focus only on results.

But you turned out to be a fickle lover. You broke my heart with a kind of pain I didn’t expect. I knew the pain of working hard and strengthening my body. I knew the pain of keeping moving through all sorts of weather or feeling as if my lungs could not catch air—which was ironically the result of an undetected medical condition that would not be discovered until 13 ½ years after we started together. What I didn’t know was that though my body was designed to keep up with you, it wasn’t necessarily designed well to do so for as many miles as I did without adjustments to how I moved. That pain didn’t exactly make me stop, but it made me understand I couldn’t just all out follow you without possible repercussions. What I did for love was not enough—I had to protect myself by not trusting you with abandon as I first had.

We’ve had that kind of on-again, off-again relationship that friends will warn you about. I don’t expect so much from you anymore. I set boundaries for myself and—mostly—live with them. Though I still have the speed to try to catch you, I’m not ready to push myself just to have another piece of me break again. I see you more as an old friend these days than as the focus of my passion. And that’s mostly OK. That we can still meet is almost good enough—except for during those rare moments when my heart remembers that I thought we could have so much more together.

Maybe if I keep working, one pose at a time, I’ll find the peace that brings me to accept that however many miles you and I get to share, those miles belong to a good-sized portion of the best days of my life—past, present, and future. May all that practice help me to open up to releasing what was in order to make space for whatever is yet to come.

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

Most all was calm, most all was bright. That’s how this Christmas felt after so many years of distress and darkness. I’m not a person who expects a perfect Christmas, but it’s been a long time since our Christmases felt normal-enough in any way.

First there was the Christmas Eve when my mom fell and we couldn’t deny anymore that who she was was slipping away. There would be three more Christmases with her—each one with less and less of her present. But the first Christmas without her here at all, I could hardly imagine “doing” Christmas, knowing she would not be part of the celebrations at all, except in our memories. And so we created new traditions, even down to changing almost everything about the way we decorated.

But my mother was not the only one who had changed in a big way during all these years. The Christmas after Mom’s fall, my daughter—and our whole family, of course—was also freefalling into a developing mental illness—something with which we had no experience. After initial improvements and a couple seemingly reasonable years, her descent accelerated, all while we were trying to figure out what she needed from the distance as she attended college. Last Christmas, though seemingly bleak enough, brought the present of a different diagnosis—which has led to more appropriate treatments—and a renewed sense of hope—for her and for those of us who love her.

Though I still miss my mother at Christmas—and always will—I am learning to accept her absence and to find comfort and joy in the new traditions, just as I did in the Christmases after I lost my father. For most of us beyond a certain age, figuring out to how celebrate again after losing our grandparents and parents and other older loved ones is a life passage through which we must live. I am finally coming to terms with what Christmas means now for me without both of my parents.

However, a renewed feeling of calm and hope for my own children—something I took for granted years ago—is the most precious gift I have ever received. I treasure these things and ponder them in my heart.

Of course, this Christmas season, though more normal than it has been in years thanks to our daughter’s improved outlook, has not been perfect. Now my husband’s parents are in decline, even if not so precipitously (mentally) as my mom had been. And our son is suffering lingering effects from a concussion he received mid-month—time will yet tell how well he heals.

So crazy how hard it sometimes is to feel the true joy of the greatest miracle of all time when you have been seeking other more personal miracles in the lives of those whom you love. And yet, in my own dark nights of my soul, I continued to understand the longing for light to come into this world—and have clung to that light even when joy itself has seemed elusive except in the smaller moments. I remain grateful for the miracles—small and large—that have happened in our lives.

I open my arms and heart to receive this gift of a Christmas that has had more laughter than tears—something I haven’t been able to say for many long years. One of the greatest miracles is that I can still believe in a merry-enough Christmas after all.

God bless us one and all—especially if this is one of those Christmases when you are still trying to convince yourself to continue believing that one day, you too, will again celebrate a merry-enough Christmas.

Mae graduating from college

Mae graduating from college

Earlier this year I ran into (at a running event!) someone I knew before either of us were mothers and when both of us had mothers. I run very, very short distances and she’s an ultra-marathoner. But what we also share now is a term that was explained in an article she posted prior to Mother’s Day—we are unmothered. That is to say our mothers no longer walk this earth, which makes Mother’s Day forevermore a bit of a sad holiday for us, even as we celebrate being the mothers we have become.

Laurie came up with an idea for her friends to raise money in honor of mothers during May. When I first read her blog post, I thought I would be donating to Alzheimer’s, the disease that stole my mother before she ever left. Quite frankly, though, I forgot about Laurie’s challenge until she posted an update on FB today.

Turns out because of the current situation with the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, I already have donated to a cause my mother would support. I didn’t do it in her honor, but the Malala Fund very much mirrors my mother’s beliefs. Mom believed in education for everyone, but especially for girls and women. My mother got a lot of guff from her neighbors and peers in rural Nebraska for being a smart person who craved learning.

Though she scored high enough on the county test to earn a scholarship to the local college, the fact her small town high school was not accredited kept her from the award. Instead, she worked 30 hours a week at the drug store, taking a full load of classes and participating in a variety of musical, social, and academic clubs and activities.

When she graduated with her teaching degree in 1951, she went to work in K-12 schools, teaching everything from choir and band to music education to the youngest students. What she never told me, but I learned later, was that directing bands had been limited to men. But due to a shortage of male teachers during the Korean Conflict, women got to direct bands for the first time at that time.

While I did not know how groundbreaking her first jobs were, I did know that she and her teaching friends were held to different standards than men were. When a male colleague used to park his car by their lodging to hide the fact he was gambling elsewhere, the women had to worry that they would be fired on suspicion of lax morals. Though concerned he might be fired for gambling, he did not worry about the potential for damaging their reputations and livelihoods. The three women had to resort to removing the distributor cap on his vehicle to remind him to keep them out of his dirty laundry.

Mom studied during her summers, completing her Master’s degree six years later. She knew men in the program who only passed because their wives wrote their papers. She needed no one to write her papers.

People gave her a hard time for pursuing education versus pursuing marriage. The “old maid” met up with my father in the summer of her 29th year and was married less than six months later. Though my father longed for the domestic abilities of more typical women of the era, I could tell he enjoyed her intelligence. My parents hung around other educated couples, people who were enjoying the fruits of being the first generation in their families to achieve college educations. Not a one of those women in that crowd was uneducated.

My mom was a lifelong learner and a lifelong educator. Though she stopped teaching in the schools in her early 40s, she did continue as a paraprofessional for several more years before switching to working as an unemployment claims taker where she attempted to educate those who sat at her desk. Plus, she continued to direct various choirs in the community and churches. She also mentored individual young people, tickled pink (as she would say) by their learning, growth, and achievements.

Mom tended to be reading around three books at a time, usually biographies, histories, and other dense nonfiction works. Her favorite television programs were on the History Channel and PBS.

What she really could not tolerate was people who preferred ignorance or who chose to keep knowledge from others, especially from the poor and/or females. No matter the religion, she scorned those who would squelch learning in the name of some narrow version of worship. Her God was a God who gave us all brains to use in order to create a better society. Her God did not ask us just to operate on feelings or spirit, but also on learning about the times behind the sacred texts and understanding the subtleties of the language. And, her God did not keep women and girls away from books, the pulpit, or work.

My mother would love Malala Yousafzai and the fight she leads to bring education to all, especially those kept away by their sex (whether because they are girls or fidgety boys who don’t fit the system), their caste, their rank, their income level, their religion, or their disability or whatever keeps education from them. Education is a great equalizer—and that’s exactly why certain people want to keep others from it.

May we never stop fighting to provide education—and may we return those to safety who are in danger simply for wanting to grow. Thank you, Mom, for fighting the good fight—I honor you by honoring those who continue that fight.

Mae and Trina, 1995 (Trina's MBA graduation)

Mae and Trina, 1995
(Trina’s MBA graduation)

Trina and Scott with Whiskers, the dog we had after Dee Dee.

Trina and Scott with Whiskers, the dog we had after Dee Dee.

Letting a dog go never gets easier, no matter how many dogs you’ve had cross the Rainbow Bridge in your life.

My in-laws had to say goodbye to another dog today. Today I realized that might be especially hard for them not just because she was their dog, but also because they have gone through this so many times before.

As I was thinking about that, then I realized what day it was and burst into tears for my not-quite-five-year-old self. May Day 1967 was my unwilling initiation into the dog loss club.

Oh, Dee Dee wasn’t an elderly dog—which is something altogether since in those situations we have so many years to connect with our dogs and grow to love them more each year we share.

No, she was my first dog, the one who came to me on my fourth birthday, so small she fit into a grape basket. I never imagined she wouldn’t grow old as I grew up.

May Days in small-town-Nebraska were festival days when kids took their handmade paper baskets, filled them with goodies, and distributed those baskets to the doors of the homes where their friends lived. But the wind and our typical unlocked front door conspired to turn our joy into sorrow. As a family opened our door to protect the gifts they had brought us, out ran our little girl, straight toward the wheels of a vehicle being driven down our normally quiet street.

Not sure if seeing that all happen made it much worse or not. After all, I got that she was really, really gone. Even if I didn’t really understand death, I understood what I witnessed.

She is just the first of the names of my “soft and warm and fuzzy” loved ones written on my heart. Dee Dee, Whiskers, Duncan, Chelsea, Fordham, Abel.

And those are just the names of those who have lived with me over the years. I also have not forgotten many of those dogs who stole the hearts of those humans I also have known and loved.

I definitely get that my in-laws are really, really hurting, too. That’s why I’m bringing my mother-in-law flowers tonight. I can’t fix her pain, but I understand it, although maybe not as well as I will understand when I reach her age.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

Which is ridiculous because I had loving and active parents for many years of my life. They saw me graduate, get married, and have children. They loved their grandchildren and visited me often once I was a grown-up.

Yet some days I just can’t believe they are gone. That all we had together has come and passed long ago. My grandparents lived so long that I never expected the times with my parents would be over before my own kids were barely out of the home for college.

1962 (Don't worry--my dad was a happier person than in this picture, but A. He is a Lange and they look this way in pictures and B. I think my toddler brother is acting his age and frustrating my father!)

1962 (Don’t worry–my dad was a happier person than in this picture, but A. He is a Lange and they look this way in pictures and B. I think my toddler brother is acting his age and frustrating my father!)

Oh, given their illnesses, I would not have asked either of them to live another day. But healthy? Oh, yes, I’d have taken that. And to have extended my days of watching and worrying over their care to a time when I was not in the middle of raising my own kids. Everyone got shortchanged.

I try not to spend much time in regret or anger, especially knowing that others have had losses much earlier, but then there are the days when I just miss them and it still doesn’t feel right.

My dad has been gone for twelve years. How is that even possible? The good news is that when I recently saw pictures of him in his last months, ravaged by cancer, I realized I had almost forgotten how he looked then. My memories have reverted to the way he had looked the rest of the time I knew him—which is such a blessing.

I pray the day comes for me with my mother when I forget all that Alzheimer’s stole from her—and from everyone who loved and relied on her. So though she died just over three years ago, the mother I knew left for good over six years ago. My rational self knows that I am an adult woman of over half a century (!) but sometimes I feel exactly like a motherless child. I suppose that is a feeling many of us experience from time to time for the rest of our days—until we leave our own (adult) children feeling like motherless (or fatherless) children.

1964, Trina

1964, Trina

You don’t have to watch too many television shows or movies or read too many books to find the theme that because we love, we hurt—and conversely, because we have been loved, we also hurt. This is a universal part of the human experience—and if we have been truly blessed, we have been loved well from our very first days.

I am so grateful that some days I do feel like an orphan, not because I was abandoned at a young age, but because I was loved so well—and know exactly what I am missing.

Perhaps it’s Holy Week that brings these emotions to a surface, but, thanks be to Holy Week and its culmination in Easter I know that one day none of us need be orphans any longer.

Dick and Mae, Christmas 1981

Dick and Mae, Christmas 1981

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert Forsythia delayed by spring snows and cold.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert
Forsythia delayed by spring snows and cold.

You never know what to expect around here from year to year—especially in the spring. Last year we were about four weeks or more ahead of schedule—this year, we’re behind. I’d like to get excited about the fact the nurseries are holding sales to get rid of some of their inventory, but I’ve nowhere to put the flowers either!

This wet, cool weather does remind me, though, of May two years ago. I had such big plans for getting out and about with my new puppy and new rescue dog. And, got out I did because I didn’t want my house torn apart! But the reality didn’t quite match my dreams.

In my dreams my back didn’t get hurt driving to pick up that puppy and the initial weather back home was actually nice much of the time.

But in my reality, I still had a lot of fun with my two pups, even if it meant taking them out into the cold rain while wearing my mother’s hand-me-down chartreuse slicker and walking much slower and for shorter distances than planned. There would be other sunny days and runs ahead of us, right? And, how much could I plant anyway if a puppy might come around and dig up my handiwork?

At least that’s what I believed before I knew how long I would have to wait for sunshine and growth.

Funny how the cold rains remind me both of what I don’t want to remember and what I most definitely do want to remember. That stormy May stripped away my assumptions about what I could do and not do for my health and forced me to slow down and stay close to home. In the quiet days when I grieved my active lifestyle, I gathered my dogs around me and learned to be still—with them.

My heart, riddled from loss—expected and unexpected, had developed holes, small and large. The only way to begin to patch or fill those holes was to give in to the pet therapy offered to me, even if that also meant walking outside in all kinds of weather when I really just wanted to stay in and wallow in my pain.

All those planned hikes and runs melted into slow walks, even when the rains disappeared, throughout the summer, into the fall, winter, and even into the next spring. Healing had its own timetable, but through it all I had my dogs. When I finally began to run again—almost a year and a half later—in order to re-develop a healthy form, I had to start doing so without the dogs at my side, but still hope to include them one day soon.

This week, our dog Sam’s hiking backpack arrived for all our planned hikes. And I need to buy a new pair of running shoes—because mine are worn out from running, not just from walking the dogs. Plus, when the weather finally settles down enough for me to plant flowers, I’m not so worried about my now-grown dog Furgus eating them.

Right now, as afternoon stretches toward evening and though creeks are overflowing, the sun is out and drying up many paths—at least those away from flood plains. Turns out, there’s still time to run before the next storm. And if the dogs are lucky, the weather will hold long enough for their walk, too! So often, dreams have their own timetables, too.

My mother's hands, circa 1950s.

My mother’s hands, circa 1950s.

Back to the word choosing the blogger—I really had other plans for “Y” but yesterday another word insisted I change those plans. No, this time my back isn’t out (“B”) and I’m not ill (“I”), thank goodness. While in church enjoying the musical celebration for the retirement of our choir director (18 years at our church and 50 years as a director), I suddenly found myself yearning for the retirement celebration my mother never got.

See that’s the thing when people start falling into dementia—there’s no good way formally to celebrate what people have done and who they have been without pointing out that they are not that anymore.

The choir director and his wife were part of the senior class listed in my deceased father’s college yearbook (from his second degree, post-Korea) so they are not young. But they are still doing very well—no doubt they have decided to enjoy life while they can by giving themselves more freedom and control over their own time.

I remember suggesting to Mom that she give up the organ bench once or twice a month so that she could enjoy her music as well as the other activities she wanted to pursue in her life. However, until forced to do so by getting pretty sick with shingles, she did not do so. Although her downhill slide began around that time, she continued singing in her choir and participating in the musical life of her church for a couple more years until after she had an accident while visiting us which lead to her staying with us to recuperate.

A little later she decided she was done living away from us, which meant the day she had come to visit us turned out to be the day she left behind her own church and her former life.

Oh, the music didn’t quite leave her hands right away—she managed to play organ for her new retirement community weekly until a hospital stay ended her formal participation in service. But within a couple months she was just lost, so much so that she needed to go into secure 24-hour care.

Ever since she turned twelve she’d been playing in church on and off. One day she just disappeared from the bench where she had sat—in one church, school, community group, or another—for 67 years. Her hands silenced, the hymnals closed, and the music set aside, who was she without her music?

I still yearn for her to have lost her abilities gradually—that she could have chosen when to leave and could have been toasted and roasted while she still sat on the bench.

How delighted she would have been to hear music made in her honor. I have to believe that somehow she was able to listen to the musical goodbyes at her memorial service, but yesterday I was reminded again just how much I wish she had heard that joyful noise on this earth.

And, yet, the music she taught me and that she gave me over the years prepared me to be part of yesterday’s musical goodbyes—for someone who is still here to delight in the songs. Thanks to her, how can I keep from singing?

Art by Christiana Lambert, 2013

Art by Christiana Lambert, 2013

When I was in high school, I played the grumpy nun, Sister Berthe, in The Sound of Music. Sister Berthe served as the gatekeeper—she just knew that Maria was not cut out to be a nun and she certainly wasn’t going to try to pump her up. On the other hand, Sister Margaretta was always the perky, cheerleader, the “You can do it!” person. As Sister Sophia said, “Sister Margaretta always says, ‘When God closes a door, he opens a window.’”

Sister Berthe was right—Maria didn’t end up becoming a nun. However, Sister Margaretta was also right. God had a place for Maria even if it didn’t turn out to be where she thought He’d called her to go.

Life is like that, whether we want to admit it or not. How many of us who have lived through several decades are so glad that we didn’t always get what we wanted? Sure, we would have liked to have made the choices for ourselves and thus missed out on a whole lot of pain. But we need to be honest with ourselves—we weren’t going to make those choices. No, they had to be made for us in order for us to give up on those dreams that didn’t quite suit us as much as we thought.

Today my daughter had to face news she didn’t want to hear. As much as it hurts, maybe she needs to be open to the possibility that something better will follow. She does have options—options I think may better fit her abilities and plans than her original goal. The tough part is stepping back from the pain and looking around clearly through those eyes that have been forced to focus elsewhere.

I believe in her just as I always have. I hope that one day soon she sees how hard she’s been trying to be something she is not.

She’s actually more than that—and she has options, really she does.

Time to look for that window . . .

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Remember when we didn’t expect mass killings in public places? Seems so long ago anymore when we thought everyday living was fairly safe from random homicidal rampages. What’s up with our country? Why do so many people these days choose to use their brand of darkness to take the light from others?

I went to bed late last night, after talking too long with my daughter, who had gone away on a trip, but woke up extra early, nonetheless. And to find out what? That with great planning, some thug on the other side of our metropolitan area had chosen to use his theatrics to teach late night movie-goers what a dark night is in real life?

What is the purpose of that?

You know, I watched the TV when the Oklahoma City bombings happened and then a few years later when the Columbine shootings occurred. Somehow I felt I might understand if I watched and listened, but I never did.

Ever since then I have pretty much stuck to reading my news—hardly turned on the TV after 9/11, even though my 4th-grade-aged kids were forced to watch the news at school all that very long day.

Can’t watch anymore—I’m way too visual. The pictures get stuck in my head—I’ll never forget the dream I had a couple months after Columbine. My family and I got trapped together with a large group of other people as the killers meandered around deciding whom to kill and whom to spare. The killer pointed at me, a white heat spreading throughout my body, before walking off. I woke up in a sweat—could have sworn it was me under those tables in the Columbine library. The image still has power over me.

I don’t want to see the smiling photos, read the bios, smell the rotting flowers, etc. again—not because the people killed and wounded don’t matter, but because they matter too much. We all do.

I don’t know how to prevent these things anymore than the next person, but if we were all a little kinder in our dealings with others, might fewer people find it so easy to let their hatred fester into violence?

I like to think about that expression: Be kinder than necessary as everyone you meet is battling something.

Our world is too dark—who knows how to change it, except through one kindness at a time.

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