Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Peace That Comes From Knowing

The first Christmas without my mother has passed, and of course she was on my mind constantly. Everything I did, everywhere I went, everything I saw or heard in some way reminded me of her. My mother loved Christmas - the decorations, presents, movies, songs, friends, family time. She didn't care about getting anything herself, she just wanted to give to others (which was how she lived her entire life). As I decorated my tree this year I looked at the many ornaments she had given me and remembered something special about each one. I missed her more and more with every ornament I hung, but while I shed a few tears I didn't have any major meltdowns. And though I felt a sense of sadness at times, I wasn't overwhelmed by it - at least not the way I was after Eddie died. I started to think about the difference in my reactions to these two losses and to wonder why I wasn't feeling or acting the same this time. As I continued to decorate my tree and listen to the words of some of my mother's favorite Christmas songs, it finally occcurred to me - while I miss my mother (and always will) I am at peace with her death. But now, nearly six years later, I still do not have any peace about Eddie's death - and THAT is the difference.

My mother had the strongest faith of anyone I have ever known. Even with everything she endured that faith never waivered. She talked about it openly and freely to others. She read her bible and prayed daily. As I cleaned out her house and went through her belongings I found evidence of her faith everywhere - bible verses written on little pieces of paper and stuck inside things, book after book of inspirational stories and quotes, even her usernames, passwords, and email address contained scripture references! She believed until the very end that she could be healed of her disease, but at the same time she was willing to accept if that healing didn't come. There was never a doubt in my mind about where my mother was going when she left this earth. I didn't need any proof - but I got it anyway.

On her last day Mama's house was filled with friends and family, some who drove several hours just to be there for the afternoon (which only confirmed how much she meant to others). We had food, two Christmas trees, Thanksgiving arrangements, Halloween decorations, a fourth of July sign and flag, and birthday flowers and many celebrations as we could have all rolled into one. People were talking, laughing, reminiscing, singing, and praying. There were of course tears flowing as we were all aware her time with us was almost over. The day eventually came to an end and most of the company left as it began to get dark. I knew this would be my last night with my mother. I wanted to pretend like it was any other night though, so I turned on the television - Saturday night football of course - and we cheered against Auburn!

Not long after the game ended, it was obvious that Mama's time here was ending as well. Those of us who were there gathered around her bed - her sisters Marie and Vangie, her niece Debbie, her friend Jean, her hospice nurse Joy (an angel on earth), the home health caregiver, her preacher John (who arrived just moments before she passed), and myself. I was holding Mama's left hand and Marie was holding her right as she and Vangie took turns reading some of Mama's favorite passages from the Bible. Joy was talking to her and telling her it was okay to let go when her right arm started to rise. At first I thought Marie was raising her arm, but Marie let go of her hand and her arm continued to rise toward the ceiling. Her eyes looked up to a point in the distance, she stretched out her fingers, and took one last quiet breath...leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that there was someone there reaching out to take her hand. I spent my mother's last moments with her, I told her goodbye and that I loved her, and most importantly I witnessed her entrance into heaven...and THAT is why I am at peace!

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  
John 14:27

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Missing Piece

A couple of months ago I decided to resume my blog to share my feelings about my mother's battle with cancer. At that time her cancer had worsened and she was feeling sick and experiencing a great deal of pain most of the time. I made one entry in my blog about how unfair I thought it was that someone so good had to suffer so much, but I haven't written about anything since then. I've had plenty of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and especially questions, but I either didn't have the time or the energy to write about them until now. After fighting with everything she had and never for one second giving up her faith or her belief in a miracle my mother left this world on October 25, 2014. Normally in a case like this people would say that the person "lost the battle" with their disease. I'm not going to use those words, though, because my mother didn't LOSE anything...she WON and her reward was a new, healthy, pain and disease-free life in a place where she will forever be surrounded by loved ones and happiness.

I know I am not the first person to ever lose a parent. Many people have experienced the death of one or both of their parents long before me. My own son lost his father after only 24 years. I was lucky enough to have my mother as a part of my life for 53 years. My mother wasn't just my mother though - she was also my best friend and my confidant. During my entire life we never lived very far apart, and even when we didn't live close enough for daily visits we still talked on the phone (or more recently texted) every day. We talked about everything, and she always helped me through the difficult times. As close as we were though, we were polar opposites in almost every way. If she said something was yellow, I said it was green. If she said it was cold, I said it was hot. We didn't see eye to eye on politics, religion, how Trey should live his life, or how Emily should be raised. She was content, even happy, with the simple things, but I always wanted more. When I told her about the last car I purchased her response was simply to ask "why"! She told me what she thought I should and shouldn't do, and I usually ended up doing the opposite. She never hid what she thought or how she felt about what I did (I guess in that way we are alike). When I showed her my tattoo at the beach a couple of summers ago her only comment was "If you're waiting for me to say I like it, I don't"! I think that's what made our relationship so special though...we could voice our opinions, disagree, even have some pretty serious arguments, then five minutes later act as if nothing had happened.

Although I know my mother is in a "better place" now, that doesn't stop me from asking why she couldn't have been healed here; why she was taken away from the people who needed her; and why she had to suffer so much during her last few months. I realize I won't get an answer to these questions, but just as I did after Eddie's death I'm still asking them. I will miss my mother terribly for the rest of my life. Not a day has gone by during the past two weeks that I haven't picked up the phone to call or text her, expected to see her when I walked into her house, or thought of something I just had to tell her about right away! I have been truly blessed with the love and support I've received from family and friends during this time, and I will be forever thankful to those who have been here helping me along the way. But I have also been truly hurt by some I thought would be here and weren't. That is definitely the kind of thing I would have talked to my mother about, and I can hear her now telling me..."Honey, focus on the positive, the people you know you can depend on. Those who are supposed to be in your life will be there for you when you need them the most. If they're not, then you don't really need them."

As my mother would want, I will try to focus on the positive and on all of the good things I have in my life. I am thankful that I still have my dad, Trey, Emily, an extended family, a home, a job I can retire from in just a few months, and the best friends anyone could ever ask for. Most people would probably be content, satisfied, and maybe even happy with what I have. But of course (just as my mother knew) I'm never satisfied and am always looking for something more...there's an important piece missing from my life, and I think it's time to start working on finding it.

"Love is the seed of all hope. It is the enticement to trust, to risk, to try, and to go on." ~Gloria Gaither

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Tie That Binds

Starting a blog about my experience after Eddie died turned out to be the best therapy I could have ever hoped for. Turning my thoughts and feelings into written words and subsequently sharing them with others enabled me to face what happened and eventually move on with my life. Everyone chooses how best to deal with their own difficult times - there is no right or wrong way - we just have to find what works. Because I found once before that writing works for me, I've decided to resume my blog to share my experience as my mother battles cancer. I debated on whether I should continue using "Life Goes On" or start a new blog. Even though I don't intend for my writing to focus solely on the past, I know that in some way (at least in my mind) everything will always be related to Eddie's death. The things I write about now may not have not been caused by, nor be a direct result of his suicide, but the way I choose to deal with them will always be affected by it.

My mother was initially diagnosed with cancer in March 2009, on a Monday, exactly six weeks before Eddie died. Though one didn't cause the other, for me these two events will always be linked. Since that time I've read a number of quotes about things happening for a reason...“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” (Marilyn Monroe); "There is always a reason for everything that happens. Your experiences are designed to shape you, define you and, hopefully, grow you into the mightiest you possible." (Aristotle); even the Bible in Ecclesiastes 3:1 says "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." While these are all great quotes I have to agree the most with one by Aaron Chan..."People say everything happens for a reason. But it would be nice to know some of the reasons why."...I would like for someone to tell me the reason my mother has cancer and explain the purpose of her suffering.

Through everything that has happened my mother's faith has never waivered - she reads the Bible and devotions every day, prays, talks to others about God, and believes in miracles - she never gives up. The way she is handling this disease is a testament to her faith and an example for others to follow. I see and understand all of that, so pardon me for being selfish, but I think it would serve a much greater purpose for her to be healthy and remain here where she does so much good for others. My mother has always put her own wants and needs last. She has always been the one who takes care of everyone else. There are any number of people who depend on her - my grandmother, my father, Trey, Emily, even me (though I don't admit it very often) - and there has never been a time that she didn't come through for all of us. Seeing her experience the constant pain she is in now and watching her try to cope with the nonstop nausea and inability to do the things she wants to do is difficult to say the least. I don't understand why this is happening to someone who deserves so much better, and I don't see any purpose whatsoever in her suffering. I know we don't always get answers to the questions we ask, and our prayers aren't always answered as quickly as we think they should be, but knowing that doesn't make this any easier.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Out of the Darkness

The first of March - this weekend marks the beginning of "that time" of year for me. Two weeks from today will be the 5th anniversary of Eddie's death. I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few days. I've learned to start ahead of time preparing myself for the date. But so far I feel like this year is going to be different. I don't mean that I think the day will be easy - it will never be easy. I just think I've finally come to terms with what happened and am beginning to feel some sense of peace. I still don't understand why things happened as they did, but I've honestly quit trying because I know that I never will. I still don't like the choice Eddie made, but I've accepted it was his choice, and no matter how much I'd like to think so, nothing I could have said or done would have made a difference. I still have moments when I get angry at Eddie - either because he's not here to experience something or because he's not around to help me with something - but the anger doesn't last. I still think of him every day and miss the good times we shared, but I no longer dwell on the bad times. My focus has shifted from mourning what could have been to remembering and appreciating what was.

I believe a lot of my current feelings have to do with the publication of my book. The timing (being released just before this 5th anniversary) was perfect. As people have started to read the book some have asked me questions about things I said, felt, and experienced, and others have shared their own experiences with me. As a result I've talked more openly and honestly about what happened in the last few weeks than I ever did in the past five years. With the exception of writing my blog, this has proven to be the greatest therapy I could have hoped for. I've spent time the past two nights talking with a friend whose neighbor committed suicide this past week. He shot himself with a shotgun just like Eddie. He was married with two children, had a job, and had never given any indication that he was considering taking his own life. He and his wife were coming up on their 25th wedding many similarities to my own experience. My friend was of course shocked at what happened and was asking the same questions I asked...How could this happen? Why didn't I see any signs? Could I have said or done something to make a difference? Instead of being upset over talking about something so painfully familiar to me though, I was glad to be able to provide some comfort. Of course I didn't have any answers, but I was able to offer understanding.

I've also spent time during the last couple of weeks with other friends who recently lost loved ones. The circumstances were different, but the losses were difficult just the same. Everyone experiences the same emotions in varying forms and intensities when a loved one passes away. Whether it is a sudden, tragic loss or an expected one, everyone needs comfort, sympathy, and understanding afterwards. We all deal with our losses in different ways...some of us want another person to talk to and share our feelings with, while others prefer to remain quiet and cope with the loss on their own. Regardless of the method we choose though we all need someone nearby for support. No matter how strong we think we are no one recovers alone!

All of this has made me realize one thing...I don't want what I went through and learned in the process to be swept under a rug and forgotten...I want it to be used for good. So, despite my previous adamant insistence that I was finished with school, I am now contemplating going back (AFTER I retire from teaching) to become a counselor. If I can help anyone in any way, then my own experience has not been in vain.

“For darkness restores what light cannot repair.” ~Joseph Brodsky

Friday, January 3, 2014

My First REAL New Year's Resolution

I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions. I say the usual things just like everyone else...I'm going to eat less, exercise more, live a healthier life...but I've never really set specific goals that I intended to work towards in the upcoming year. I'm making a change this year though by setting one BIG goal, making one BIG let go of past regrets. That shouldn't be too difficult should it? (HA!) We all have regrets...things we did or said that we wish we hadn't, things we didn't do or say that we wish we had...they're a part of life. I've spent a lot of time this holiday season thinking about the past, the mistakes I know I made, and the regrets I have as a result. Just as we all have regrets, we've also all made mistakes. We're human, and like regrets mistakes are a part of life. If we didn't make mistakes there wouldn't be anything for us to learn from. Mistakes and regrets can teach us some of life's greatest lessons.

My problem is getting "bogged down" in my mistakes and beating myself up over things I can't do anything about. My regrets become like a cloud hanging over me that I can't get out from under. I let them turn into feelings of guilt, and I blame myself for things I can't change. In my head I know this is useless, a waste of my time and energy. Should haves and shouldn't haves are irrelevant. "Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, it might have been." (Kurt Vonnegut) As much as we'd like to we can't go back and change the past...we can't undo what's already been done. Knowing this and accepting it though are two different things.

I know this goal isn't something I can accomplish overnight. My regrets have built up over many years and are based on many mistakes, so it will take time to let go of them. To be honest I'm not even sure what "letting go" means or how to go about doing it. I know all of the things I've read...take responsibility for my actions, apologize for things I've done wrong, ask for forgiveness from anyone I feel I've hurt, learn from my mistakes, and finally forgive myself. I think I've done the first three as much as I possibly can - I've taken responsibility, apologized, and asked for forgivness. I'm continuing to do the fourth - learning from what I've done wrong. It's the last one I need to work on. Often we are harder on ourself than others are, so forgiving ourself isn't always as easy as forgiving someone else.

I can let my mistakes and my regrets continue to be a constant burden, or I can use them as a motivation to improve myself. I can dwell on my past mistakes, or I can learn from them and use the experiences to shape a better future. I can stay focused on the chances I've lost, or I can look at the possibilities ahead of me. I can remain trapped in the past, or I can slowly close the door on it, leaving the regrets behind. These are the choices I have. I know what the right ones are. Now I just have to act on them. "Never look back unless you are planning to go that way." (Henry David Thoreau)