Monday, September 20, 2010

Bittersweet Summer

Summer 2010 won't be over for a few days.  Officially, Fall 2010 begins on September 22.  Ever since Labor Day, my family and I have been expressing to each other how happy we will be to put this past summer behind us.  Certainly, our individual lives and the collective life of our family was changed in ways we never could have imagined on Memorial Day Weekend when my fourth child took her life at the age of 34.

As a family, we love to be together.  Each personality of each of my five children is unique.  Taught never to be afraid of individualism, it seems that my children have always majored in expressing that individualism in unique ways.  A well defined sense of self has always been articulated in intelligent, funny and sometimes overpowering ways whenever the family is together.  Let's put it this way, Thanksgivings are not boring at my house if everyone is home.  Political and religious views many times are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and my kids love a good argument.  I've often pitied the poor soul that had enough courage to marry into this family because it can't be easy to run with this tribe if one is faint of heart.

None of my children or grandchildren live near me.  The closest family lives about 120 miles from me.  We don't get together often enough.  In fact, in the past ten years, it takes a pretty major event to get everyone home at the same time.

When Julie passed away, the first thing on everyone's mind was getting the youngest member of the family home.  Jonathan and his wife and young son were all half way around the world away in Bangladesh.  It would be three long days before they were able to arrive in the Boulder, Colorado after making the long, sad journey home.  Our hearts were full of grief and happiness at the same time when we were finally able to all gather together safely at the home of my third child.  Her home officially became the headquarters for all events that followed and the hotel that housed the surviving siblings, their spouses and all seven of the grandchildren.
Looking Over the Back Fence
(I think there was a blind kitten who lived there)

Breakfast on The Back Deck

My grandchildren give me great hope for the future and fill my heart with gratitude and pride.  I hope that they will remember the time that they had together as a time of healing as well as a time of sorrow.

I know that for me, because I was surrounded by the strength of my children and the youth and beauty of my grandchildren, I will look back on the Summer of 2010 not just with grief and sorrow, but with a sense of bittersweet memories of time we all spent together loving each other, crying together, and trying to make sense of the tragic event which had just occurred to us and to our loved one who left us way too young and way too early.
My Beautiful Granddaughters
My Handsome Grandsons

This photograph has become a very special one to me as it captures the grandchildren gathered together playing a board game next to a table that is coved with the bright, colorful daisies that were the family flowers for Julie's services.  Life does go on for those who remain.  Families come together and celebrate just being together even in wake of unspeakable loss.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Heartache - Living the Definition

Julie looking out over a great divide
Until the death of my daughter in May, I had never really experienced grief.  Yes, I've had my losses.  Who can reach the seventh decade of life without experiencing loss?  Those losses, some of them quite significant, pale in comparison to the death of a child.  

A few months ago on an especially painful afternoon, the acute sorrow that I felt gave me new meaning to the word heartache.  Heartache was no longer just a word to me.  Heartache, a noun, a thing, could have become a proper noun and been capitalized as it applied its meaning to my life.  

I felt as if I were actually experiencing the origin of the word.  In fact, I said to my husband, "My heart hurts."  The pain I felt during those first few weeks after my daughter's death was visceral in nature, constant, and debilitating.  Many times I felt terribly alone in my pain, not because I did not have support or love surrounding me, but rather because the external love and support around me could not break through to touch the deep heartache in the core of my being.  

Heartache is a condition that is experienced internally.  Even as I went through the external motions of life, the internal reality of loss, shock, pain, anger, and sorrow never seemed far from the surface.  Thankfully, during that time, and now, I have been able to accomplish the external motions of living.  

A dark black line was drawn down the timeline of my life on a Saturday morning in May.  That line marked life before Julie's suicide and after her suicide.  At times, the divide seemed too wide and too deep to ever cross.  The divide that seemed too wide and deep to ever cross will always be there, but the depth is not as deep as it once was, nor is it as wide.  Somehow, carrying on traditions from the past link the two periods of my life together.  

Gardening, walking, reading, writing, journaling, those activities which have been a part of the daily and weekly fabric of my life, have helped me transition into the resumption of life before I walked through life with great heartache.   Lunching with friends gave me a feeling of normalcy.  

Last week as my husband and I attended the first football game of the season for the high school where he served as principal, I was aware of how important it is to continue many long established traditions while one is on a grief journey that involves great heartache.  Sitting on the 17th row of the football stadium, surrounded by a sea of black and white, listening to the high school band play, felt normal.  

Heartache's intensity has decreased as I have gone about the business of living and grieving.  I believe I am somehow melding the those two opposites into the whole of my life.  I was once told that one must integrate all the events of one's life to truly heal.  Perhaps, I am integrating the ability to live each day the best that I can with the process of grieving.  By doing this, I realize that I am becoming a the person who will be forever heartbroken, but I will also be one who strives to live a rich and productive future.