Sunday, May 07, 2006

Processing Loss

Over the past six months, three of our good friends lost a parent; two passed away in the last few weeks after long illnesses. And upon hearing the news of their premature deaths, my heart split in two: one half wept for my friends, and at the hole left in their lives. The other half grew fiercely protective of my own parents. The thought of losing them makes me short of breath.

How do you adjust to a world where a seemingly innocuous device like the telephone is a constant reminder that you won’t hear your mother’s voice again? Where a simple margarine commercial can send you into a tailspin because you remember that your dad won’t be eating toast and reading the paper the next morning? I guess you absorb the new reality somehow, and then you’re a different person. Like you’ve lost the ability to see certain shades of color, maybe.

But I see in my friends’ eyes that they’ve gained something intangible as well. They’ve been to the dark place we use Nanny 911 and Doritos and Tom Cruise jokes and a six-pack of Newcastle to avoid thinking about. (Or is that just me?) They’ve been there and returned to remind me not to whine when J requests a back scratch, to drive the extra few miles to visit my grandmother when I’m in her city for a meeting, to stop and chat with my widowed neighbor even when smiling feels like a chore, to plan and actually take vacations, and to just be kind and grateful, because I’ve got a fucking barge full of things to be grateful for.

Sometimes my Dad tells the story about the time my younger brother Jake, then age four, shuffled into the kitchen in his footie PJs late one night and surprised him while he was writing in his journal.

“What’s up, buddy?” Dad asked.

“I feel like I’m sad.”

“Why are you sad?”

Jake paused for a moment before replying, “Because someday you’re going to die.”

When Dad tells this story now he always ends with his response to Jake: “And I told him, ‘But not for a long, long time. Not until you’re all grown up, with children of your own.’” Which appeased my sensitive baby brother for the time being (probably because his mind had been blown by the image of himself as a mustachioed parent one day).

Because of my recently heightened awareness of mortality, “a long, long time” has come to seem incredibly fleeting to me lately.

So I’ve been listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and sighing wistfully while staring at my husband. I’m just centimeters away from weeping over old photos after slugging a bottle of shiraz, which is a sure sign that it’s time for me to listen to Bob and Tom instead of public radio for a few days while I do my morning routine. Anyway, I don’t want this blog entry to be all “death, nostalgia, and grief” (it helps if you imagine Steve Martin singing those three words to an upbeat banjo tune).

I guess I want to end this with a story about my mom. When I was in junior high, she’d drop me and my friend Pam off at the mall every Friday night to fart around and gawk at boys while my mother purchased the ingredients carefully listed in her little notebook for a whole week’s worth of dinners: taco fixings for Monday, spaghetti sauce for Tuesday, hamburgers on Wednesday, sweet & sour pork (my dad’s favorite) on Thursday, and pizza on Friday. Afterwards, she’d pick us up promptly at 8:30 in front of Forest Mall so we could race home in time to catch Miami Vice at 9.

I already mentioned that Pam and I were in junior high, so we were obligated to wave from the back seat of the mini-van at every carload of remotely cute boys we passed on the way home. Once my mom thought it would be funny to wave at the boys, too … and they ended up following us home. Every few miles we’d turn around and nervously ask, “Are they still there?” Then we’d shriek upon the confirmation that yes, they were. They followed us ten miles out of town, all the way to Pam’s house, where the three of us raced indoors and hid until they drove away.

It’s just a small story, but it reveals a bit about my mother’s playful side. Which is one of the many things I’m grateful for.


  1. I can't even believe you wrote about this. Can you say "collective consciousness?" My mother used to say the very same thing to us and it's crossed my mind this weekend that "a very very long time, I promise" is running its course. Ugh, I hate even writing it out loud (writing out loud? Is there such a thing?)

    Such a lovely post.

    Oh, and the site looks great. I've been embarassingly absent too long. Apologies. Stupid dayjob.

  2. Anonymous11:39 PM

    Oh, God, Jess. I think those same thoughts so often. I read this whole post with tears in my eyes--tears of future sadness, of recognition, of sympathy, of love for my own family. It's so often on my mind, to sometimes morbid levels, ever since my grandmother died two years and two days ago. Just a sudden phone call, she had collapsed at the age of ninety, and she may not recover. And she didn't. Sometimes I am so protective of my parents and don't want to let them out of my site, and sometimes I think that it would hurt less if I pushed them away so we wouldn't be as close for that someday. But I know that it wouldn't hurt less, and that I would only be filled with regrets, and I pull them close again. I feel so silly, because my eyes are still tear-filled. I think I owe my family another round of "I love you"s, just in case.

  3. Okay, scary that *I* now say these things to my children -- that I'll be around for a long, long time. God, I hope it's true.

    Thanks a fucking lot for depressing me at 12:38 a.m.! I think I need to go find some chocolate.

    What really got to me though was the part about your mom...

    Was she really able to figure out the weekly meals that easily?!?!?
    Send her my way, Baby!

    PS--I think you're pregnant just by how you're so nostalgic. That's it, you've got to be pregnant. And the mention of Shiraz--if I get NEAR that stuff, I get knocked up. We almost named our daughter, Rosemount Shiraz, no lie.

    Cheer up! Things could be worse. You could be stuck in a hotel room with two virtual strangers needing to fart but not being able to!


  4. I raise my own bottle of wine in salute to your mom.

  5. This was a beautiful post. I am watching my parents age before my eyes. My Dad has early onset Alzheimers and coming to terms with it is really difficult. I cherish every moment with them that I can. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
    I think that when our parents die, it brings us that much closer to our own mortality.

    Cute story about your mom!

  6. Anonymous7:21 AM

    There's nothing like death around you and/or the birth of your own child to make your own mortality more imminent. While I always wanted to live a long life - I have never wanted to do so more since having my child - however, I'd give her my long life if I had the choice.

  7. Anonymous7:44 AM

    Oh yes. This is a subject that brings major tears to my eyes and denial to my heart. Like Mom101, I can't even bear to talk about it out loud. But I do think about it a lot, how I would cope, how I would explain it to my girls. No easy answers.

  8. Sometimes, it really sucks getting older, doesn't it? Been thinking about this a lot myself lately. This weekend I asked my mom, who is chronically ill, if she had a living will, and it made me feel like I wanted to throw up. SIGH. That was a lovely story about your mom.

  9. It's interesting how possessive we become of our loved ones when others pass away. I never understood how stars could be weird and possessive about reading of themselves in the paper. I always just thought, "who cares, so you and your family are written about..." Until my cousin died. There was a whole article in the Trib. complete with his full name and circumstances surrounding his death. I felt like lashing out, "How dare you say (write) his name - he's MINE!" I was shocked by my own reaction.
    Facing our mortality, and the mortality of those we love can be jarring.
    What a sweet story of your time with your Mother and friend. Condolences to your friends.

  10. Anonymous9:42 AM

    That was a beautiful, if emotionally devastating post. I am off to call my mom and then suck down an Ativan...

  11. Maybe it's something in the air. My own thoughts have been in the same place of late. Time for a call.

  12. I distincly remembe that moment - that year after my father's heart attack, the year before he died - when all of those former years of "it won't happen for a long, long time" suddenly telescoped inward and I was left with moments of such pure and neightened awareness that I actually wanted to remove myself from the moment. To just "be" again.


    A beautifully written post. And the story about your mother is wonderful. Thank you for sharing all this.

  13. Thank you. I needed to call my grandmother (whom I always told "I want you to live to be 100!" and she's now only ten years away). I will do that tonight.

    That long, long time gets shorter each day.

  14. I was getting my nails done recently, and chatting with the manicurist, and she told me that her mother had died recently. She was matter of fact, in the way that you have to be when you are NOT GOING TO CRY. I told her I was so sorry, and that every girl, no matter how old, needs her mother. She said, "Of course...because without your mother, you're all alone." That cut straight to my heart. Here she was, married, kids, siblings, etc., but without her mom, she feels alone.

    I know, I will feel the same way, when my parents die. I hope it's a LONG, LONG time from now. And that I don't prematurely leave my daughter feeling that way. She deserves an old mother, too.

  15. OK, reading these comments really does suck. My granny is 93 and I need to call her RIGHT NOW!

  16. I've also unfortunately been blessed with a hyper awareness of mortality. It's sad to think about these things happening and hurting before they actually do. Perhaps the benefit we both reep from this affliction is an appreciation for the things that bring us happiness and give our life value.

  17. Life and good health are a privilege to be cherished. I'm not too sure of many things, but that's one I have no doubt about. Thanks for a nice reminder.

  18. Consider me one of your blog friends that has been to the other side. Since my Mom passed away I often have to stop myself from constantly telling my friends to call their parents and tell them that they love them because I'm afraid it sounds preachy. But if that's what it takes to remind people that time is short then I will continue to preach. We all think we have more time than we do with our loved ones, but time is short. Visit your grandmother, tell your mom you love her (and thank her for every day of your life), hug your dad... and drink good wine.

  19. I don't really have any family - no brothers or sisters, no close aunts or uncles OR cousins, neices or nephews, so when my mom goes, I'm going to LOSE IT. Bigtime.

  20. Losing my mom was the most difficult thing I have ever been through in my entire life. I don't know how else to put it, but I feel like I lost a huge part of my body and my soul. It'll be four years this summer and I still ache for her and long for her like she died yesterday.

    The story you shared about your dad and your brother brought tears to my eyes. So touching and poignant. The playful side you shared about your mom made me smile. Hang on to those memories; it's what I have that keeps me going.

    This was such a great post, Jess.

    (And I like the new look, too.)

  21. I think about this, too. In some ways, it gets even harder to think about as we age.

    You are a good daughter.

  22. Anonymous6:36 PM

    I lost both my parents by the time I was 20. I'm now in my late 30's (shudder) and I STILL think 'Ooh, I need to tell Mom about that', or if the car is messing up, I think 'Dad could fix that'. And then I remember. And it sucks.

  23. Anonymous7:45 PM

    My husband was in a roadside bomb only days after he landed in Iraq. He only had a concussion since the vehicle in front of him took the brunt of the blast, but I never thought, even though he's in a war, that he would die. It was a wake up call. My seven year old asked if daddy would die. What do you say to that?

    Well, here's to a better day. :)

  24. I waver between wanting to cherish every moment I have with my mom and wanting to ignore the fact that she won't be here forever so as not to make cherishing every moment a chore.

    The thing is, life really IS short. Apparently I blinked after Quinn was born, and now he'll be a year old Wednesday. But why does this blinking trick not work when my mother-in-law is visiting?

  25. Anonymous10:01 PM

    Great post. It ties into your book, for me. Your mom rules.

  26. My friend Renee's dad died yesterday. (It is so bizarre that I'm just reading this right now.) She told me today and I cried, all the while feeling like a total asshat. But I thought exactly what you wrote - life is short and I need to cherish both my parents. Even when they drive me crazy.

  27. Your Mom and Dad BOTH rock! Life is not long enough to worry about death. Have as much fun as the law will allow and be kind and helpful to all your loved ones!

  28. Oh Jess your not supposed to make me cry at 10 in the morning!!!

    I too have the same thing with my grandmother. She was pretty much my mom and she was such a HUGE stable force in my life that I can't even think about what life would be like without her smell. Every time I visit her, the town, her house, they all smell like home and it kills me that one day they won't.

    Now you made me sad and tearful! ~BIG SIGH~

    It's a hard thing to think about Jess but I guess it's good in the way that we can think back on our memories and enjoy our family now while they are still here.

    I'm truly sorry for your friends loss, because losing a parent isn't easy.

    Cheer up Jess.

    On a side note I loathe the fun now and if it rings past 9:30 I WILL ALWAYS hesitate and go into an anxiety fit before answering.

    Your mom sounds lovely, I hope to be a mom like that too.

  29. Anonymous1:06 PM

    I think about this all the time too, Jess. Our time with those we love is just too damn short.

  30. Jess,

    A beautiful, poignant entry.

    Many times, I've told my son exactly the same thing-- "not for a long, long time" - all the while, hoping that what I'm saying is true.

    You see, when I was a child, my mom said these words often (I was so fearful of losing her).

    She died just after I turned 18; my dad-- just a year and a half later.

    A long, long time can be fleeting, indeed.

  31. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Lovely post. As someone who knows first hand what it's like to lose a parent too soon, I relate to what you said here. And being grateful may not stop the inevitable from happening, but it really does help you appreciate what you have right now. And that's all any of us can do.

  32. Anonymous2:09 PM

    what a beautiul, funny memory.

  33. Awww, this is really sweet. I'm at the same place too - thinking that certain days are numbered and not at all accepting of it. I'm not sure how I'll make peace with it except that we don't have a choice, do we? I guess we do the best we can and then just try to move forward.

    Your mom sounds like a hoot. I see where you get your sense of humor and if your dad had a journal, then that's where you get your sweet writing skills!

    Hi from Brewtown! *waves*

  34. I can't even think about my mother dying. The rest of the 'rents, sure, I can imagine it, but I won't let myself thinking about the phone ringing with *that* news. God willing, it won't for decades. You would think the phone would ring differently, be shrill, or else silent: where you know to pick it up, and you know it won't be good.

    What a lovely post.

  35. Anonymous9:18 AM

    This topic has been heavy on my mind lately and I wrote about it last week after trying over and over again to spit it out.

    It's very difficult for me to take the "enjoy your blessings" lesson from other people's losses, but I have to reconcile myself to the fact that it's all I can take.

  36. Great story and post! Sad but uplifting at the same time. Thanks for sharing.

    Your line about a "long, long time” has come to seem incredibly fleeting to me lately." Wow, that hit home.

  37. First, I love your new look! :)

    I'm dreading the day my parents die. I have been thinking about it a lot lately - not because my friends have lost theirs..I really can't explain why I have been. My mom talks to me almost every day, and I really can't imagine not talking to her. I know it sounds weird, but I just feel like something bad is going to happen in my family this year, which is a really sad thing. I can't shake it.

    It's just a reminder to live up every moment. :)

  38. Anonymous2:55 PM

    What a beautiful post, Jess. This has been on my mind a lot lately, too. My mom is 85 and fortunately in excellent health, but I think about losing her all the time. My dad died almost twenty years ago and that's still hard to deal with at times.

    Thanks for a wonderful reminder to be grateful for those we take for granted.

  39. Anonymous5:17 PM

    It scares me beyond belief to lose my Dad. He is all I have. So I make sure to appreciate the time I have with him.

  40. Anonymous12:46 AM

    I wish I could say I feel the same but regretfully, both of my folks are already gone. But before that... Well, I know what you're talking about.

    This is a beautiful piece of writing :)