Tag Archives: grief

One Year Down and Life to Go


20130825_111222I don’t know how I can hurt this much and not die. I’ve asked psychiatrists, psychologists, and internalists, but none of them can give me an answer. So I go on.

A year ago this evening, Mama died. Death did what no psychotic girlfriend, no commitment-shy boyfriend, no divorce or distance could do — split up Mama and me. Despite my protestations, my howlings to the deaf heavens, and my insistence that surely some fundamental law of the universe has been violated, the world still turns; the Sun comes up and it goes down. Life goes on whether I want it to or not because, as a midwestern singer so eloquently put it thirty years and three name changes ago, “Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.”

The grief is mine to shoulder alone now. My beloved psychiatrist warned me people — even closest friends — generally give a person three weeks to a month of good, quality support before life intervenes. After that, it’s just you, four walls, and memories. Oh, and “firsts” lots and lots of firsts — first white carnation Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving without her, first Christmas without her, and probably the worst for me . . . my first birthday without getting a call at 6:19 AM telling me she loved me and wishing me Happy Birthday.

I swear to Buddha I will projectile vomit upon the next person — well-meaning or no — who tells me “time heals all wounds.” I’m here to say it doesn’t or if it does, a year is nowhere near enough time. While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to go back in time and cold-cock one idiotic Prussian philosopher by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche right square in his gloriously mustachioed mouth. If you don’t know, he’s the moron who penned the sadistic little phrase “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Bullpucky. Mama’s dying may not have killed me, but it damn sure hasn’t made me stronger.

I wish I could say more, but even though people have told me I am good with words, I just don’t have the vocabulary to explain the abject loneliness I feel every morning I wake up and remember Mama’s not with me (and please, if you are my friend or just want me to think of you as a decent human being, spare me the “she’s always with you in spirit” drivel. “Spirit hugs” if they even exist, are about as useless as a milk bucket under a bull.) I can’t describe the emotional crash I get every time something tremendously noteworthy – to me at least – happens and I immediately pull out my phone to call Mama and tell her . . . only to realize I’ve deleted her contact information just so I won’t do such a stupid thing.

My reality is, Mama’s dead and that’s thrown all my puzzle pieces into the air in disarray and one year later, I’m afraid I don’t have the emotional strength to even start looking for the edge pieces.

And so it goes.

Love you all, love you Mama; I still miss you.


Life is a Circle, but not like Disney


Nothing prepared me to be bitten multiple times by my grandmother.

kelloggwomanWhen I entered this world, I had four living grandparents AND four living great-grandparents. Granny Matt (short for Mattie) and Papa Hurley passed before I developed memories of them, but family members have told me both loved me tremendously. It’s not good to grow up with six doting grandparents; it’s not so much the danger of being spoiled rotten — which I was — so much as such excess love doesn’t prepare a person for what a terrible place the world is.

Papa Wham passed in 1995 — the first person so close to me to die. I was attending a wake for a student who’d been killed in a car wreck when my brand new cell phone rang. The first cell phone call I ever received was to let me know Papa Wham was gone.

Little Papa Hughes, my maternal great-grandfather, died on New Year’s Day 1997. He was a tiny man with a heart entirely too large for his slight frame. He was also a bit of “a character” and I have stories on top of stories about him.

Big Granny Hughes, whom Mama (and pretty much everyone) called Maggie-Valmer went Home in February 2001. I call it a testament to her life that it took three preachers — including me — to do her life justice.

After losing those three wells of my adoration, the next few years were quiet. Then Papa John died October 17, 2006. I didn’t grieve Papa’s death for 18 months because Mama was in such a terrible state I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose her as well. I can say from personal, painful experience it is dangerous to one’s mental health to suppress a terrible grief because once Mama came somewhat out of the fog, I had the nervous breakdown that ultimately cost me my job, my second career, and almost my sanity.

I came out of my breakdown just in time to lose Granny Wham on February 5, 2008. As much as I adored Granny Wham and as much as I know she loved me, her passing was easier to take. After Papa died and she became unable to care for herself or be left alone, we had no choice but to place her in a facility. My Aunt Cathy wore ruts in I-385 between Fountain Inn and Laurens going to see her mama; Uncle Larry stopped by on his way to and from the Roadway terminal in Columbia every time he had a trip; and I tried to see her at least once a week, but she missed being home tending her family. Still, miserable though she was, she soldiered on three years at Martha Franks Retirement Home.  A week before she passed I went to see her; she told me, “Mama {her mama} came to see me last night.” I knew it wouldn’t be long. Now Granny Wham is waiting on the other side of those Gates of Pearl (with Papa Wham nearby and most likely seated on a golden bench talking baseball with St. Peter).

So Granny Ima (for Imogene) is all I have left. She’s under hospice care at NHC nursing home in Clinton. I go to see her at 10:00 AM every Tuesday, and I leave a sliver of my heart each time I turn from her bed to come home. Ima has dementia. She knows who I am, who Rob is, and who my Aunt Pearl is, but she can’t say our names. All she can say clearly is “yep” and “nope.” I took Mama to see her twice a week as long as she was able, then once a week, then once every two weeks . . . then I took her when she could rally the strength, but one thing never changed — Granny always said, “My baby girl’ whenever Mama asked her who she (Mama) was. I haven’t told Ima that Mama is gone. I tell her the truth — Wannie (her name for Mama) can’t get up anymore to see her, but she loves her very much. Every time I tell her, Granny nods.

Unfortunately, though, Granny’s mind is riddled with holes and she’s lost control of her emotions (especially her temper) just as she’s lost her language. She can’t stand being poked and prodded and she seems to see everything as being poked and prodded. She has a hissy fit whenever she gets a bath — or what passes for a bath when you’re bedridden. I gave my signed permission today for the nursing staff to stop sticking her fingers twice a day for blood sugar samples to control her diabetes. Dr. Blackstone told me years ago diabetes wasn’t what was going to kill Granny. I told the head of nursing today, there are worse ways to die than diabetic coma.

Granny saves a special rage for anyone who tries to clean her hands and especially her fingernails. She cannot abide having her hands or nails messed with, which wouldn’t be so bad, but Granny’s mind wanders now and she will not stop digging in her disposable briefs. Maybe she itches, maybe it’s something else, but whatever the cause, she can’t tell us. I’m not going to be graphic, but you can draw your conclusions as to the state of her nails. Mama cried every time she saw Granny’s nails, but the staff can only do so much because Granny is “combative” which is nicely saying she gets pissed off when you touch her too much.

However, as family, I am not bound by the facility’s rules against restraints, and her nails and hands were so hideous today that I held my precious grandmother while two nurses cleaned and trimmed her nails. I linked my fingers in hers like we used to do crossing the street. She fought but her strength was no match for mine, just as mine was no match for hers long ago when I had to have childhood shots. As I cupped her arthritic fingers gently as I could so as to not hurt her, the tears ran down my face just as they ran down hers long ago. Then I knew with perfect clarity what a parent means when he says, “This is hurting me more than it hurts you.” At one point, she managed to get my hand near her mouth so she bit me. It seemed to make her feel better, so I just left my arm where she could gnaw on it at will — a small bruise or two (she has no teeth) are a small price to pay for her hands to be clean. After we finished, a nurse brought her a strawberry nutrition shake and the nurses were forgiven . . . her look told me I was not, even though next Tuesday she won’t remember a thing. I sat with her a while longer, then kissed her cheek, placed today’s sliver on her pillow, and turned to come home.

The old proverb, “Once a man; twice a child” is painful to see in someone you love.Freshly pressed

Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

Five Months On


Mama’s buried next to Papa up on that hill.

Today is five months since Mama left this world. To give you an update, I’m making it better than I thought I would, but I can’t tell you why really. I also can’t tell you with any certainty which stage Kübler-Ross’s grief model I’m in right now because it varies among anger, depression, and acceptance on a daily basis. Notice I left out two — bargaining and denial; I did so on purpose because I checked those off the night I watched Mama die. I was in the room holding her right hand when she stopped the hideous “guppy breathing” and went on to what I fervently hope (and on my best days, believe) was the Beulah Land she longed for and a reunion with Papa she had dreamed about.

Denial. I’m not going to sit around and say, “Oh, she’s not dead.” No lie is as pernicious and detrimental as the one we tell ourselves. That’s one reason I refused to have a traditional “Southern funeral” viewing. Mama didn’t want it and I’ll be damned if I was going to stand next to her corpse and listen to people who hadn’t darkened her door in all the years she’d been sick blather on about “how good she looks” and “she seems to be sleeping.” No she doesn’t you lunatic, she SEEMS to be dead. Nope, wasn’t having it. When I walked out of that hospital room at midnight between March 25 and 26, I wasn’t in denial. Mama was dead. To make CERTAIN I don’t slip into denial, I tell myself every morning first thing when I wake up, “Mama is dead; she’s buried at Cannon’s; you did her funeral.” Then I get out of bed. Denial is a river in Egypt as far as I’m concerned.

As for bargaining, I’m not the best Christian in the world and some days one could make the case I’m not a Christian at all, but whatever I am, I know enough to God doesn’t bargain and God’s the only one who could change this particular situation. I don’t have anything to bargain with since it’s all His anyway and I’ve already given up the vices most people use as bargaining chips due to age, infirmity, or fear of Budge’s wrath. If God wanted her alive, she’d still be alive — it really is just that simple. If I heard Mama say it once, I heard her say it a thousand times, quoting Hebrews 9:27, “for it is appointed unto men once to die and after this, the Judgement.” God has the advantage of house rules and the Golden Rule; He owns the house so he makes the rules AND He has all the gold, so He makes those rules as well. I’m glad He does, personally, because if I were in charge, I’d mess this place up something awful.

So that leaves anger, depression, and acceptance. All I can say is it depends on the day. Some days are ruled by anger and those are the days I’m the biggest pain in everyone’s collective ass. I’m angry at Mama for leaving me in this foreign country by myself (inside joke between her and me), I’m angry at God for not healing her or keeping her from dying, and if I get through that package of rage by lunchtime, I’ll spend the rest of the day completely pissed off at myself for being such a big, blubbering baby about the whole thing and acting like I’m the only person in the world who’s ever lost a close loved one. On those days, I basically have what a friend of mine used to call “a bad case of red-ass at the world.” Of course, it doesn’t do a lick of good, but I can’t help it sometimes.

I prefer anger to depression though. Depression sucks rocks. I know lots of people, including my former denomination, don’t really thing depression is a “real thing.” It’s something we should just be able to get over or get through and if you can’t, then you aren’t praying hard enough or you secretly enjoy the depression and attention. Yep, that’s me. I just love feeling like I’m going to die for no physical reason; I simply long to sit on the floor and rock in the dark when it is a gloriously beautiful day outside. I have some pretty bad days and I’d hate to think how bad those days would get if I didn’t have my meds. Here’s an idea for anyone who doesn’t think depression and emotional disorders are real — I’ll go off my meds for about two weeks and have Budge drop me off at your house and stay for a month. Then we’ll see who needs meds.

On the best days though, I dwell in acceptance of the fact Mama is gone and not coming back. It’s not the best kind of acceptance where I can say I’ve truly found peace with Mama’s death. It’s more of the realization I’ve been thrust into a new stage of life whether or not I felt ready. It’s not in the Bible, but I’ve heard it repeated all my life that God will never put more on you than you can bear. All I can say to that is sometimes I think He has a much higher opinion of my carrying capacity than I have of myself. For me, the acceptance is more like a quote from the excellent and underrated Western, Barbarosa which has Willie Nelson as the title character speak what I’ve taken as my philosophy of coping with losing Mama:

what cannot be remedied must be endured

Love y’all, say a prayer for me, and keep those feet clean.