Mothering Grief

family Grieving story

I have a meditation I like to do at least a couple of times a month for my family. I see a beautiful hillside, green and warm with nature’s vitality in full display. Then I see each of my kids sitting there, being warmed by that sun, loved by that place. I see that as the sanctuary of my heart, the place I want them to have in my life. After a while I invite in the parts of them I find difficult to love, their anger, their sharp attitudes. I work to receive those parts of them, love those parts too. That can be a very productive challenge (sometimes I suck at it.)

Lately my hillside has been dark and unwelcoming, its filled with wreckage, not even I want to spend time there.

Its taken me a while to understand why things aren’t flowing there. A big part of it is not trusting myself because of loss, loss of Terry as well as loss of a more recent love. Its not rational, but how can I trust myself with a family if I can’t sustain a partnership, no matter the reason? I know I’m not to blame, but that doesn’t really mean that much when you’re holding crying kids. Thats just for starters.

I’ve also been having feelings that just don’t seem like they should be able to live in me all at once. My life is full of choices I thought I’d made for good when Terry was alive. I’m coming to see how many new possibilities there are. There’s a kind of sweet sorrow in that, feeling the joyful pregnancy of this moment of my life, and at the same time feeling the grief of Terry missing out on all of what the future holds. I feel the guilt of being the one who gets to be here, enjoying the coming years with the kids. She loved having babies, but somehow I think these active years would have been the happiest for her. The play that waits for us is just her kind of play.

I don’t know how to process all of that – how to be delightfully pregnant with possibilities and holding grief at the same time? Can I feel all of that without curling up in a ball with a case of cookies, a bottle of wine and every episode of the X-files?

A young woman showed up with her newborn for a session at the drop-in grief group I attend. Her Mother had died just a few precious days before she gave birth, she was barely 20 years old. Women all over the world must stand in that place often, where hope for the future and grief travel together. Sitting there it was amazing to see how her maternal pleasure was alive, sharing the same heart with her grief. Her baby made some rounds in the circle, so full of wonder and equanimity among the tears.

How do Mothers step forward into life with grief, fear of the future and hope all roiling through every part of their being?

I never could compartmentalize, not like the women in my life, maybe thats just what it means to be a man. We are focused on action more than feeling, so we need to have one actionable thing to do. Reaching out from the heart in a hundred directions – not so much in the skillset. Still I can see the world of possibilities resting beneath my grief and the grief at the same time, if I don’t look at either of them too closely. I’m not ready for rebirth, but its there, pushing against the darkness, crowding that wreckage. I guess I’ll just have to live with it for now.

Funny how the land at our home looks like my heart – lots of junk I have to clear away amidst the epic rebirth of green this winters rains have given us. Maybe the hillside isn’t sunny all the time, but at least its familiar ground, at least Dads still there for the kids. Maybe the darkness and the pregnancy aren’t so seperate.

True has been taking grief, and death deeper into herself. She is as happy as she’s ever been, but she wonders more about life and death.

Me: You have the sniffles now, and a cough. If you go outside without your jacket now your cold will get worse…
Her: (Calmly) and I’ll die?
Me: No you won’t die! Your cold will only get worse, its just a cold!

Last night at bedtime
Her: Is Bella (our dog) going to die?
Me: Yes, dogs don’t live as long as people.
Her: (Crying) Bella is going to die!
Tadg: True don’t worry, its years from now. You’ll probably be my age when she dies.
Her: (Crying.)
Me: You know Bella’s spirit will still be with us. Dogs often like to stay with their family even after they die.
Her: (Crying.)
Me: (Giving in to my caretaking habits)…and we’ll probably have a puppy by then, you know someone to help keep Bella young and active.
Her: (Stops crying) a puppy?
Me: Yep.
Her: (Deep sigh.) OK. Goodnight.

Tadg continues to grow into his role as guardian of little sister, tormentor of little sister and all around awesome son. Right now he’s taking pride in all the right things, helping out at school, his friends, his family. He was almost moved to tears when he saw pictures of Terry’s induction into her High Schools hall of fame for her many extraordinary achievements. Every one of those events, those moments when Terry is brought back into his life in a new way, seem to make him fuller, stronger. I talked about her at the climbing gym where Tadg started taking classes.

Me: Tadg, Momma was afraid of heights just like you. When we climbed here together befor you were born sometimes she would get way up high and just start shaking.
Tadg: Really?
Me: Yep, and she always went on if she could. Scared of heights but loved to climb
True: All the way to the top? Of the highest ones?
Me: Yep, every route in there, all the way to the top!
True: Wow.
Tadg: (Just smiles as he looks out the window, thinking about Momma.)

The other night I woke at about 2am and went to check on the kids. The house has gotten really cold this winter and I like to make sure the covers are still on them. Miraculously both of their rooms were clean, they both had night lights on. I can stand between each room and turn my head to watch either of them. In the middle of night, its like that is all the world has ever been made up of – this moment, these amazing kids, sleeping soundly, safe and warm. One sentenced filled my head: I’m so blessed.

If this is what the future looks like, I’m good.

I guess we don’t all get to process things the way we’d like. I think the new Mother from my grief group will be processing her loss, and loving her baby, for a long time. I guess I’ll be doing the same with my kids and my loss.

We have a pomegranate tree on our land thats survived all of my efforts to neglect it to death. Its blossoms are so radiant, they can’t be just from this world. Terry loved eating pomegranates naked in a stream, or in the tub with the kids. I think of them as Persephone’s fruit, the Goddess of the underworld. For her, renewal is always present in death, if we can fully accept the finality of death first. There have to be fruit trees in my heart-field. I’ll have to learn how to compost all that wreckage so the kids can have some good fruit when I visit them there. Bella’s there too, each of the cats and the chickens. I have to visit myself there sometimes too, just to make sure I’m not going too crazy.

Pomegranate wine.

May you be as blessed as I am every day.

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