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March 30, 2021

The Dance Between Grief and Gratitude

  As I lay in bed this morning I took an oath of gratitude. The magical qualities of the warm and fuzzy blanket we wrapped Sue Sue up in every single day now protect me from the darkness that night time conjures. I slept like a baby. I can’t remember the last time I even slept through the night. I know it was her newly released spirit cradling me into slumber from the heavens. I’m not sure if I was dreaming or remembering a time when my husband was in medical school, some twenty years earlier. We needed some guidance getting ourselves on the same page. Seeing each other for three hours every other day wasn’t exactly a recipe for newlyweds to have and to hold wedded bliss. I researched experts who might be a compass and help us find our way. I convinced Alan to take a workshop with me and it changed “us” forever. One of the exercises required us to consciously say nice things to each other, even if it felt forced, which it most certainly did. The purpose being that eventually these words would come naturally, as they once had. This would create a new habit of communication.
This was the case and as a result the deep abiding love that was clogged became unstuck and free flowing once again. The workshop was our version of liquid Drano. I am now looking to unleash my joie di vivre and hoping this practice might once again release the joy that is inside but temporarily corked by grief and loss. Like a fine bottle of wine, what I need right now is to breathe and to sit.
I am fully aware that walking this journey with Sue Sue was one of the greatest privileges of my life. I am grateful to have had her in my family, for the good, the bad and the ugly. The last ten years of cancers showed us what a warrior she was. She was courageous and victorious, til now. As a tribute, today I am going to look for the reasons to have a heart that is full of gratitude. I am happiest that she no longer struggles to breathe, that her life is no longer sustained by Jello and broth, that she is finally out of her sick bed I choose to believe she has been liberated from the prison that was her body; that fought her every step of the way in the final days and weeks.
I am grateful that yesterday a dear friend gave me her weekly massage which is an integral part of HER OWN treatment for cancer. I needed to be touched on many levels. Her gesture touched me deeply and the massage therapist kneaded deeper places in my body, holding on far too tight to feelings that needed to be released. Rain beat down on the roof yesterday and I knew that the universe was weeping with us. The weather forecast in our house was loss. Sue Sue was gone. It rained and rained and rained all day. I felt like the weather.
Today I am going to choose to look for the sunshine. I’m going to pick a bouquet of dandelions. The dandelion is the symbol of emotional healing. Since they can endure almost any living condition, they represent overcoming every hardship. I’m going to focus on being blessed. I am lucky to spend the day today preparing our income taxes, okay I choked on that, but even in the mundane there is cause for gratitude. I am quite thankful for Alan’s healthy income and his steady job. He dedicated years of his life studying to become a physician. I am looking for a word that exceeds grateful and would use that to express my thanks that I don’t need to have a job right now. This freed me up to be fully available to tend to Sue Sue’s every need, particularly in these last months. Sue Sue was my job. How many people do you know that really love their job like I did? The pay was lousy but the perks were worth it. We spent every day together and I got to hold her hand as she walked out of this life.
  I am grateful that Eliza is home from Montecito, California with her “other family” where she was loved and adored. Yesterday she was a casualty of social networking and technology. I consciously decided NOT to post anything on Facebook or e-mail when Sue Sue passed. So many people were holding and wondering what her condition was but it was a deeply personal time. I called every person she asked me to call. One day in the hospital weeks earlier we went through her little red phone book. She still wrote everything down. She told me who to call and she was quite specific about who not to call.
One of the first calls was to my son Dylan who was had just been delivered to the airport by my neighbor as the result of a frantic request from me at 6 a.m. Dylan knew that morning was likely the end. I wanted him to hear it from me as soon as it happened. These kids live on their phones. In his grief and to honor his grandma, he posted” RIP Sue Sue” as his Facebook status. It was a sweet sentiment from a broken hearted 16 year old boy– who just the night before held her in his arms and said his goodbye.
Eliza was fast asleep in California. It was 5 a.m. West Coast time and I loved knowing that she was dreaming while we were living a nightmare. One of her friends here in Florida, saw Dylan’s post and texted Eliza to say how sorry she was. She didn’t even know Eliza was out of town. Eliza woke up to that text and my phone rang seconds later. I heard a distraught little girl sobbing. I could barely make out the words. All I could do was listen and console. I tenderly explained to her that Daddy wasn’t even able to be with Sue Sue because he was at the hospital working, and he was sad about that. I explained  that Dylan was sitting all alone at the airport getting ready to get on a plane to Mexico, and he was so sad. And I told her that I was holding Sue Sue’s hand when she stopped breathing and I was incredibly sad. There is no good way to find out that someone you’ve loved your whole life is gone, and the location doesn’t change the profound sense of loss. I am grateful that she was with friends who loved her through, who listened, who let her go off and be alone when she needed space and who wrapped her up in their own love. The Keeper of the Stars took care of my children that morning as a cosmic gift to a mother who could not wrap her arms around them at a time they felt empty inside. 
Today’s life lesson is to demonstrate joy. I will celebrate that I was the lucky girl who got to be Sue Sue’s daughter-in-love. In the healthy days she was giggly and fun. She was famous for being the life of the party. I related to her personality completely. We could have been sisters separated at birth and I understand why Alan fell in love with me. She was a do-er, loved to be busy-busy and always wanted to be surrounded by people. She was the friend who picked up the phone when it had been too long. Her relationships were rock solid. She made that a priority. She knew when she was gone that we would wrap our arms around each other in grief and circle around her memory.
I am grateful to have the kind of  friends who have held me up so I could see over my own exhaustion, and now grief. I am grateful for my family who has respected my need to walk this so fully with Sue Sue. Grateful for a mother who is sure enough of herself that she isn’t threatened by my deep love for someone else’s mother. That is not small. Grateful for the simplicity of relationships that require minimal effort yet produce maximal support of who I am and who I want to be.
My mother, has always been my moral compass, my even keel and my greatest admirer. She listens, never judges, we affectionately call her Switzerland, and always finds the good in me, even when it’s hard to see! More times than I can share, she has dusted me off and propped me back up, and always but always tells me all the things I do so well, no matter where I fall short. I am grateful to have a mother. I am grateful to have my mother and I realize how precious it is to have her with me still. I am grateful to Sue Sue for reminding me of how lucky I am to have those that still walk on this earth with me.
 We are all blessed and we all struggle. Today I choose to move forward with gratitude in my heart and joy in my soul that Sue Sue is free. As a tribute to her courage and tenacity, I will celebrate her today. Sue today. I am grateful that I was the person holding Sue Sue’s hand when she slipped away and I am grateful that I will hold her son Alan’s hand for the rest of my life. She would love that.
  I am grateful to place ashes in the ground that have unearthed a lifetime of memories. What an interesting and excruciating proposition. We have talked the talk for so long and now we must walk the walk. We are simply putting one foot in front of the other, with honor, and empathy for our journey. And we know that one day we will dance. It is not the feet that make one dance, it is surely the heart. I am certain of that. The only other thing I know for sure is that I will keep Sue Sue’s undying spirit where it belongs, not in the ground, but in my heart forever, where she remains alive.
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