One day the temperature is 42F degrees, the next the windchill is 14F degrees below zero. This is December in the Midwest, I’m used to rapidly changing weather.
Just because you expect it, doesn’t mean it’s not jarring to your system.
You layer up the cold weather gear. Heavy coat, boots, scarf, hat. All in an attempt to protect yourself and keep the cold at bay.
You go to work, you shop for groceries, you shovel snow.
You even have some fun.
But the cold seeps in.
You walk into a building and the warmth fogs up your glasses.
Occasionally, you just can’t do it. You can’t stand the cold so you stay inside.
Sometimes you stand in the sunshine, no breeze, and think the cold isn’t so bad today. Then from out of nowhere a gust of frigid wind knocks you for a loop.
The cold creeps in.
At the end of the day, when you take off the coat and the hat, you’re all disheveled underneath. Your hair is staticky, your shirt twisted, and your sock pulls off when you take off your boot.
This year I’ve learned, it’s the same with grief.
You layer up with activities and projects to keep your mind busy. All in an attempt to protect yourself and keep the reminders and the memories at bay.
You try to make the best of each day. You get things done. You even have some fun.
But the grief seeps in.
Sometimes your outlook is foggy. You can’t see where you’re going.
Occasionally, you just can’t do it. You need a break from the battle so you spend the day doing whatever comforts you.
Sometimes you go along fine for days. Then from out of nowhere a giant reminder punches you in the gut. You turn from smiling to crying with the flip of the memory light switch.
At the end of the day you’re all disheveled. The emotional equivalent of your sock coming off with your boot.
The grief creeps in.
December 18, 2012 at 4:30 pm my mom took her last breath.
She was 59 years old.
Diagnosed with seven tumors in her brain four months prior, she had decided to stop treatment, so I expected the end to come, but that didn’t make it any less jarring to my system.
I watched it all happen. I took care of her every minute of those four months. I watched her fight daily. When she stopped eating I watched her live 98 days without food. I watched her body waste down to skin and bone and her personality regress from that of an intelligent, well-spoken, funny, fun-loving gentle soul of a woman to an often incoherent but even gentler spirit, child-like in its kindness.
It broke my heart when the point came that I could no longer communicate with the person I had talked and laughed with literally every day of my life. And the memory of how her huge, grateful eyes would light up as she raised her only movable arm up to greet and grab the hand of her visitors in her last days, instantly brings me to tears.
I feel blessed to have been able to care for her and to have been sitting on the bed next to her as she suddenly exhaled her last breath. But, grateful though I am, I still have nightmares about her final days that wake me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
I’ve learned that the first 127 days was just the start of this journey.
In these last 360-some days there have been far more good times than bad, but nearly every day the grief has seeped in at some point.
Though you never forget someone you loved, especially when they pass away quickly and far too soon for their age, I think, just like the cold winter weather, you eventually acclimate yourself to it.
In the same way that 20F degrees eventually feels like a heat wave, you eventually acclimate to life without your loved one and the constant presence of them in your mind and heart brings you joy instead of pain. I have no idea when that happens, but I know it will. Someday.
The holiday season is hard when you’ve lost someone, but when their death occurred during the holiday season, not only are you trying to enjoy the holidays while painfully aware of their absence, but you are also dealing with memories surrounding their death.
Add to that the fact that winter means short days, long nights, and weather that sometime prohibits your daily outdoor walk, and I’m here to tell you, no amount of ukelele-playing, smiling Hawaiian Elvis coasters under your glass of juice is going to turn that around.
On second thought, maybe Hawaiian Elvis does make things easier. Anything that makes you smile, especially when you don’t feel like it, makes a huge difference to your well-being. So, if this holiday season is hard for you, please find a way to smile and laugh. Be brave enough to seek it out. Happiness doesn’t always come find you. Sometimes you have to hunt it down on your own or ask your family and friends to help you find it.
I will close with one story about my mom. She would be mortified that I’m telling it, but I think it shows her true spirit. She came home from her office one day with a giant bruise. I asked her what happened. Keep in mind she would have been in her 40s at this time, an age when we’re all supposed to be well-behaved grown-ups. She told me she was up there by herself when music came on the radio that inspired her to try some ballet moves. She jumped across the room and landed flat on her face. She then demonstrated for me what she had been trying to do and we both laughed so hard we cried.
In her honor, I ask all of you to strive, whenever possible, to be the type of grown-up who, when the music strikes them, tries a flying ballet move then laughs their head off when they fall on their face.
Everyone who knew Melinda was better for it. I know they would all tell you so.
I know I am a better person for having her as my mom for 36 years.