Grief, Gratitude and Genealogy

I have experienced grief several times in my life. The most recent has been the protracted kind familiar to anyone with a loved one diagnosed with dementia.

There are many stages in the grieving process, most commonly denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This poem written sometime during the first few years of my Mother’s illness covers most of them.

Witness

Why does it hurt so

Seeing her like this?

A fresh layer of my heart

Is stripped off,

Leaving it exposed,

Raw.

Just as I had healed

From the last time.

Is there no respite?

The only one I see

Is in our final separation.

Release.

Is it wrong to want it?

Yet I hold out hope

For a reprieve.

Would it hurt less

If I didn’t?

I doubt it.

She is my mother, sister, dearest friend

For all my life

I have known no other

Who could look at me

And know my mind

My heart.

My job, my responsibility,

My sacred task

Is to watch

Her be erased

Layer by layer.

My Mum taught me to sew and one of the things that helped me deal with the pain of losing her was making a Healing Heart quilt. I would bring squares with me when I visited and we would talk about them as I sewed. The square below was made just after a deep tissue massage. I had been having a lot of pain in my left shoulder and during the massage I talked to the therapist about the feeling that my heart had been shattered like a piece of glass and one of those pieces had lodged in my shoulder, causing the pain. Driving home afterwards I could see an image of my heart shattered, but pieced back together. I knew I had to make a quilt square about this. In my mind it looked raw and ugly, but as it came together in front of my eyes I realised it was even more beautiful than before it was broken.

healing-heart-square

Later, moving towards acceptance and acknowledging that it was time to let her go, I wrote this poem.

The Return

My Mother is going away from me

She goes a little farther every day

Sometimes she returns and it’s like it used to be

A gift

A miracle

I hold it to me

I fix the memory in my mind

And heart

And soul

In every cell of my body

It is that important to me

I know it will soon be gone

I can’t rely on it coming again

But her movement inevitably is away from me

 

I see her walking along a tree-lined path

Grassy carpet at her feet

Tranquil sunshine and birdsong

The trees are open and sunshine gently bathes her

The end of the path is misty and soft

I can’t see beyond

But I know it is peaceful and joyful and safe

It is home

 

She half turns

Looks back at me over her shoulder

Smiles and waves

Turns again and walks slowly, slowly

Away from me

 

I do not call her back

She must go on

I do not go after her

I cannot go where she goes

And she travels alone

On this beautiful path

 

I grieve for her going

My heart breaks at the sight of her back

Growing smaller and more distant

But she is free to go

And she owes me nothing

This time is hers

 

My Mother is going away from me

A little farther each day

Waving

Years before, I had begun some research on our family tree. I uncovered many things we didn’t know about but one of the most surprising and sobering was the fact that my grandfather on my Dad’s side had lost his father aged ten and his mother aged twelve. When I asked my Dad about it he said his father had never mentioned it. On my Mum’s side her father lost his mother at the age of twenty-two.

As I gradually moved towards acceptance of my mother’s condition, which had got to the stage where she no longer knew me or remembered having any children, I was reminded of these family facts. Someone else’s pain and loss doesn’t lessen our own but thinking about my two grandfathers gave me some perspective on my own situation. I began to feel grateful for the forty years I had enjoyed a wonderful relationship with my Mum, all we had shared and all she had taught me. I had so many memories of our time together, holidays, phone conversations, letters and gifts, many handmade, and I felt rich for having known her. Being grateful shifted my energy from a victim of grief to a survivor of grief. I still carry the burden and some days it is too heavy to bear but mostly it is lighter thanks to gratitude.

Forever loved

For resources and support with your own grief http://grief.com/

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