Writer and visual artist sharing her story of grief and way-finding and asking friends and strangers to share theirs. She has deep gratitude for all the contributors who write, edit, interview and create artwork for this community as a completely free service. What a gift!
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Here are a few of my favorite Loss Letters to get you started on this journey...
Why the hell do I want to write about grief?
I want to share a sliver of my story here and express my gratitude for a community of family + friends that held me so warmly last July and beyond. Dear reader, I hope this gives you some context.
THE MORNING OF MY wedding was a clear, unseasonably cool, utterly perfect July day in the Catskills of New York. I was skipping our guest welcome breakfast to check on Mom.
She was shivering in a large bed, hands forearms grotesquely puffy — eyes and bridge of her nose almost swollen shut. She was covered in bruises, 90lbs 5’7” and tearlessly sobbing because she didn’t have enough strength to open the slender door to the bathroom in her room. I did my best to calm her down, opened the door, added blankets, tried to gently pet her head until she said it hurt too much. Waves of guilt and sadness shook me — we should have cancelled this, gotten married in a backyard, no one else around, no drive from South Jersey to the mountains with her cancer-riddled body.
My sister and I had done everything we could to make this a safe experience for Mom.
MOM WAS DIAGNOSED with lung cancer a year before. By May, we had stopped chemo every 3rd week in favor of the latest greatest Immunotherapy biweekly treatment. My sister and I (along with our partners) sat with her to in every appointment and infusion, took extensive notes, emailed called and otherwise educated the entire family. We prepared for my wedding with blessings from every oncologist, a family team of emergency drivers (printed directions to the local ER), a cousin to help her get whatever she needed and another to fill in during the ceremony if needed. We had a tote bag full of medical records on DVDs, doctors’ home and cell numbers and shorthand lists of everything Mom had taken over the past six weeks. We even emailed guests to help them understand what was happening to Mom’s body to ease the shock of seeing her so grey and thin. We pleaded with guests to “stay positive during the celebration” to give everyone a respite from fear and grief.
MOM, MY SISTER AND I tried on gowns directly following a nightmare biopsy and resulting lung collapse; invitations were written and addressed during infusions; all the heavy planning fell to my tough-as-hell partner, M. We were efficient instead of sentimental.
It’s called anticipatory grief. It’s the mountain of loss I felt before the Big Loss ever happened. For me and M., caring for my mother complicated the feelings of planning a wedding. Often people would say “You must be SO excited!” but excitement felt distant and difficult to conjure. Mom’s doctors were full of hope, speaking in years but Mom looked worse and worse.
A resourceful friend called her brother (a neighbor of Mom’s) to request his yard and living room for a just-in-case venue. Just in case we had to bag the Catskills New York wedding with 170 guests.
THE MORNING OF MY WEDDING sitting beside Mom, I wondered if we should have done that all along. After we got Mom comfortable I sprinted to the field where our rehearsal was taking place. We read through the poems and practiced the ceremony M. and I had planned during a car trip from treatment in South Jersey to our Brooklyn apartment. I felt lucky. I felt full of love and connection. Love for my partner, love for my friends and family who went to these extraordinary efforts to make the day a reality.
I had shared with a therapist (upon the insistence of friends) a week before the wedding that I feared I wouldn’t be able to be happy on my wedding day. She gave me the incredible relief by saying, you don’t need to be happy. Just be present with whatever feelings come up. I went into the weekend without the weight of expectation.
That evening as my sister and I rode on the back of a golf cart, decked to the nines I felt gratitude, peace and joy. I did feel happy. When I saw M., soon to be my wife, I was in bliss. This is my person, who has carried me through the entire past year of Mom’s illness, of infinite change-of-plans, and sacrifice of security. If ever there was a wedding to feel loved, to love others, to be held by a community, this was the wedding.
The entire ceremony was beyond my hopes, the dance party, the food, the people we had the absolute pleasure of spending the weekend with…all of it was joy. Pure and complete joy.
THREE SHORT WEEKS AFTER the wedding Mom had a bad day. She seemed sicker than ever and my sister called an ambulance. My sister and I along with our spouses were at her bedside, recounting memories from childhood, repeating stories of her childhood and her mother. We kept her company as her ability to respond or stay awake faded, we kept talking, kept touching her shoulder or hand or head. The physician told us to “call everyone” and within 30 hours of her hospital arrival she died.
Newlywed life has been a confusing time of monumental grief and tremendous love. I miss my Mom more than I can ever express. I love my wife more and more as we navigate this together. Mostly, I’m grateful. I’m grateful. I’m grateful.