Mar 03 2008

The Mourning Mind

Published by at 2:02 AM under Family

    As we approach what would be my father’s 81st birthday, my mother and I find ourselves discussing what was happening around the time that he passed, and I learned something I had not known or had forgotten in the blur of activity following his passing ~ he died just 9 days before September 11th, and everything changed after that. Even though we’re on the West Coast, we were forced into survival mode, and I wish now I had known what my mother went through that day, what she has carried inside all these years since.

    My father awoke in the grip of a painful stroke, and when my mother awakened and saw that he was sitting beside her on the edge of the bed, unable to speak, she knew, without words, that he was in pain, that something was terribly wrong. She called 911 and got them ready to go, but when it was time to leave with the paramedics she decided to follow the ambulance, knowing she could call me from the car to tell me to come right away, never suspecting that once she arrived at the ER she would be turned away from my father and directed to admitting to fill out forms. She saw him being taken from the ambulance, tears streaming down his face, clearly in pain, and she begged them to do something for him, but they insisted he wasn’t in pain. It wasn’t until later, after they ran tests, that they finally discovered he had had the type of stroke that causes severe pain. Once again she was pulled away to deal with more paperwork, the hospital staff never stopping to consider her needs by offering to put off their red tape for a few minutes so that my mother could be with my father before they medicated him, because they knew that it would cause him to lose consciousness, as it was, for the last time. And so she never had the chance to look into his eyes to say goodbye and tell him that she loved him one last time. She has lived with the regret of not choosing to ride with him in the ambulance, of not insisting on staying by his side, and though she says she does not “let herself go there”, sometimes her memories betray her, sneaking up on her ~ unfortunately in the form of one of my stories this time ~ but when this happens we grieve together, about the day that shattered our lives so completely, we rage against the systems that were in place in not one but two hospitals where we lost my father and my brother, we consider what might have been, what is now, and then we remember what came before our losses. She shared an amazing life and love with my father for 47 years. I was lucky to share 39 of them, and my brother shared 42. Two people were never more blessed, or more in love. They loved each other so much that I might never have gotten married, they had raised the bar so high by their example.

     I only discovered that we share regrets about my father’s death because I was talking with our friend Sonja about how I had recently melted down after spending several days working round the clock to meet a deadline piecing together our financial picture for our attorney to submit to the US Trustee for our BK Case only to have him send in the wrong documents (though I clearly labeled the right ones), had a nasty argument with Rick regarding his doctors recommendations (which I agreed with, Lord Help Me), my son does the opposite of everything I tell him (I expected this when he becomes a teen, but at four?), and then I began to think back to my father’s illness, and beyond that to the times in my life that I had been right and nobody had listened or believed me… My melt down came with the bleak thought that I had become, indeed had always been, ineffectual, that no matter what I do, how hard I work or what I say, nobody listens and the end result is always the same, I keep spinning my wheels and getting nowhere, all roads seem to lead me down the same dark alley!

    And so it was that my husband came home to find me in a curled up sobbing heap in bed. Now admittedly, by this time, I was suffering from sleep deprivation, severely stressed as our hearing was just days away, and all this had caused my pain medications to cease working. So clarity was not something I was experiencing, while the Terminator-like grip on my neck and beleaguered psyche was definitely winning the war. So what was it that got me out of bed and back to work? Love. Corny, I know, but the fact is, my family needed me to be centered, balanced and focused. In the end, my husband got our attorney to send the right docs, which did help our case, he is trying to follow his doctors recommendations now, and since I got more rested my son likes me better and we play more and argue less.

    As I reflected on all this, I saw how my history had been the same back through the years, all my friends that had died unnecessarily and how many might have been saved; my best friend and I had a terrible argument over getting tested for AIDS (I was pro, he only saw the government intrusion side), that caused us to not talk for over a year. When we did finally start talking again it was too late, he died of AIDS in 1994. Another friend, who died of cancer, refused to leave with me when I visited her at a halfway house she had been brought to by a man doing research for his book, a man who had known her chances of survival on this experimental treatment were nil, but she believed his promises of miracles, and so, as she stood before me looking like a Holocaust victim, she refused to return with me out of a sense of obligation to this man that had brought her there ~ but she did not owe this man her life, my argument fell on deaf ears, and she died within four months. My father didn’t believe a doctor could help him, that what was wrong with him was simply aging as far as he was concerned, more than three years later he finally sought a doctors opinion but by the time he found a good one that might have been able to help it was already too late.

    Seeing my frustration at not being able to get my father to go to a doctor in time, Sonja talked about the fact that each person has their own path to follow, and that it was basically his road and that I should accept that and let go of my regrets and frustration at not having been able to get thru to him. But I think this misses the point, because this was not a stranger, this was an important relationship in my life. I doubt that if Sonja’s husband came to her and said he had bought a rifle and was headed for the mall she would shrug her shoulders and say “that’s his path, and the path of the people at the mall as well”. Wouldn’t life be simple for all of us if we were that self-contained, but we are not. We all impact one another’s lives, we flow in and out and interwine with each other. So perhaps it is her path to speak up and stop the insanity if her husband decides to buy a rifle. Thankfully her husband is more likely to take his problems out on a basketball court than in a mall!

    We impact the people in our lives, whether we acknowledge that or take responsibility for that or not. I recognize the impact I had on my parents, just as they impacted my life. When I had my son I made a conscious decision to treat our relationship differently. I don’t make promises lightly because I intend to keep every one (so far, so good), I don’t say “do as I say, not as I do”, I admit when I don’t know something, and when I’ve done something wrong I apologize so my son can learn. He has the gift to teach me things too, if I accept him as my teacher and do not close that door.

    The rhyme “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” couldn’t be more wrong. The fact is people use their words on one another, and then say they have no responsibility for what others do with or in their lives, but the fact is our words are powerful tools and weapons ~ especially if the person we are speaking to values our opinion; our words can raise one up or bring the final crushing blow. We toss words out without even glancing back to see the impact they have. In earlier years I was careless this way, and spent my later years healing wounds I had never meant to inflict. But many people never even notice or would even take responsibility for such wounds. My friendships were too valuable not to go back and examine my complicity in creating conflicts and erosion along the way. As I have matured and taken responsibility for my words and deeds I find that, though I have fewer friends, the ones I have now are of a richer and more enduring variety.

    My point, sadly missed by Sonja due to distractions by my son, was not that I have regrets at not being heard, but rather that I found my voice so late in life. I have no doubt, had I learned to speak my mind clearly and more specifically, without force or agenda, but rather with the clarity of my love and concern for those of my family and friends in need of hearing what I needed and wanted to say that I would have been heard, and perhaps my words would have been acted on. That I still at times struggle to be heard over the din of our daily lives is a frustration to me. That my husband finds it humorous is simply annoying…

    Through my discussion with Sonja, I discovered that losing my dad taught me to speak up and don’t be afraid to fight for something if it is really important to me, like the life and welfare of a loved one. Before I had my son, I had made peace with the passing of my father and brother. But when I had Cory, I began to feel that they were missing out on something big, and Cory in turn was missing something momentous too, and I found myself grieving for them again as if they had just passed. And so it is that at different times in our lives, the deaths of loved ones will mean different things, and the emotions that come with it will impact us differently.

    Finally, and most importantly, I would say this to anyone who finds themselves still grieving upon thinking of a loved one or friend that passed away years ago. When we watch a movie and see someone die, we cry and grieve for that person. We give the actors Academy Awards for their tremendous ability to portray this so realistically that we, the audience, believe it. And yet when we show our grief or pain of loss, especially years after someone has died, it makes friends and family uncomfortable, and we hear the usual “you cannot blame yourself” or “you have to let that go, it was meant to be”, or perhaps you have your own mantra or things that you tell yourself to make yourself feel better, I know I have a few of my own about how I was grateful that both my father and brother passed before 9/11. But the fact is, there is emotion in death, there is emotion in memories, and to think of someone we loved so deeply and expect us to feel nothing is unreasonable, because there will always be a sense of loss. To try to dictate what we should feel is even more ridiculous, because the fact is the moment we think of a person, what is going on in our lives at that moment will determine how we feel and the emotions that will arise from that memory. If you allow yourself to cry and grieve for a stranger on a movie screen, then why not let yourself grieve again for someone that meant so much to you in life? But don’t get stuck there, don’t wallow, that serves no purpose and does not celebrate the life of the one that is gone. Bring forth your memories of high points with your loved ones, remembering them as they were in life ~ the good and the bad ~ and feel the love you shared warm your spirit. In that way, they live again, in the moment, with you.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “The Mourning Mind”

  1. Sonjaon 03 Mar 2008 at 10:45 PM

    Candace, you have taken what I told you that day out of context and put an added emotional spin to it.

    I would never tell someone “don’t do anything about a problem, just let it go”. Of course you must diligently take action against problems and danger. However, there does seem to me to be a point where after you have done all you can do in a situation, you do have to detach from the outcome and let it go, unless you are prepared to suffer the health consequences of holding on.

    Common sense dictates that you try to help and or prevent bad situations from happening. And of course we are emotional when a loved one dies. You are totally right about these concepts and of course I am not a robot so I do have emotions and have had losses in my life as well; you make it sound like I am immune to human feelings. I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I am not.

    I was simply trying to tell you that we are not in total control of anything in life. You state your truth, you take the appropriate actions, but then life goes on. You cannot change another person no matter how hard you try and this is where “their path” comes in. Do you do everything other people tell you that you should do? I hope not.

    Please believe that I was trying to make you feel better, not ignore or belittle what you had to say.

    Love you.

  2. Candace Gardneron 04 Mar 2008 at 10:57 AM

    In my case, as the youngest in a household of brilliant minds ~ and I know this is hard for you to imagine, since you never saw me in the fold of my family ~ getting a word in edgewise, much less being taken seriously, was almost impossible. That is where I mastered the art of the run-on sentence, because it was rude to interrupt someone when they were speaking! Getting my point across meant making my case to not one but three people who were anti-establishment medicine, and so in effect anti-Candace message.

    It was not until I had moved out of the house and spent time apart from Dad that I was able to see a difference in him, but I could not convey this to him or the others. It was my inability to communicate this properly to my family ~ and how that had been a part of my melt down ~ that I was trying to share with you, but your message of my father’s life path became the issue instead. I do not dwell on my father’s passing, but when it comes up in discussion there is passion because there is pain there, and I tire of hearing others telling me that it was his path, that we all have no choice but to watch others on their paths and just let it be. Socrates words “the unexamined life is not worth living” comes to mind when I think of this, because I know, were I to accept the platitude of a “life path”, I would never have examined what happened with my father and learned what I did wrong in trying to reach him, and I might never have found my voice.

    Of course I know that you are not a robot, my ruminations went beyond the discussion of the day we were talking. You merely sparked the fire of thought (sorry if you got singed by the flame). But if we were to truly believe that we are not in control of anything in life, then why would we do anything about a problem? Is this not the very foundation of the MTV generation: There is no hope to effect change in our world, so let’s just get stoned and watch music videos.

    I have learned to listen when another shares a perspective varying from my own, even if I don’t like it. I don’t always hear them at the time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think on it later ~ in fact, it guarantees it will have my full attention later, because I know that if I am fighting a concept there must be something to it and that I need to examine it more fully to understand why I resist it so much. Sometimes I find something new in another’s perspective, other times I find that it brings my own beliefs into sharper focus and hones my instincts.

    The fact is, I would be more open to others input than my father was to mine, perhaps because of what happened, I cannot say. I do not believe that we have only one path, I believe that we have choices, that all the people in our lives have influence in the directions we take when we open our hearts and minds to them. Having a child definitely broadened the spectrum of colors I view my world through.

    The intent of my writings was to evolve the idea that we should allow ourselves to grieve not just after the passing of a loved one, but when the emotions arise years later unexpectedly. To not try to squelch the process with platitudes but rather to feel and move through them. It is not you that I disapprove of, but the philosophy that you propound that disturbed me so.

    There was much more to what I wrote than what you have expressed concern about here, and I hope that you will read it again from a fresh perspective now. You are a dear friend to all of us, that we can disagree and still find common ground to meet and discuss these things is proof of that.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: