The Grief Diary: The Final Clean Out, Sorting Trash from Treasure

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the seventh in this series.

It’s Clean Up Week in my town, a period of more than seven days when residents are permitted to put any unwanted, discarded, broken-down items out on the curb for pickup by the Department of Public Works.

What happens next is anybody’s guess.

As you may imagine this is very popular with my neighbors, who begin piling up their junk days before the trucks arrive, making me dodge dilapidated furniture, unsightly mattresses, demolished children’s toys, and whatever else they see fit to dispose of as I power walk through the neighborhood. Some people, like me, have a tidy little pile in front of the house. Others stack mountains of useless items in front of theirs. I wonder, how long have they been holding on to this crap?

Humans are, by nature, pack rats, hoarders, holding on to things long after their usefulness and beyond their attraction. You never know when you might need that empty ricotta cheese carton. That Chinese food container would make a good cookie tray, if I were ever to bake cookies and bring them somewhere. That new wireless keyboard I bought is terrific, but I better hold on to the old one, just in case. Everyone’s house is full of objects we can’t bring ourselves to throw out because one day we might need them, and what a shame if we have to go out and buy them again.

Never is this more apparent then when you’re tasked with the job to clean out, once and for all, someone’s home after they have passed away. I have done this three times.

Treasure, Trash, Trophies?

The first time I was involved with cleaning out a deceased family member’s home was in 2002. I was just on the periphery, brought in to help out at the tail end of things and after all the “good stuff” had been claimed by others. No bother. I picked up a metal colander and a pretty green bowl I use to this day, and a yellow ceramic flower pot I gave to my daughter. A few other tchotchkes we couldn’t bear to part with take up space on shelves in the garage. At these times we may tend to go for more functional items but often are moved to latch on to the sentimental, those things that bring on memories of the person we’ve lost, which explains the variety of decades old music boxes we continue to cling to although we haven’t started one up in ages.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

This particular clean out occurred at my husband’s Aunt Rosie’s house. Aside from the colander, bowl, flower pot, music boxes, and the tchotchkes I acquired I took away from that experience an eye opening lesson I think about to this day, almost 20 years later. You see, Aunt Rose had been a champion bowler for most of her life. She was a legend in town, so much so that when I met people and mentioned my last name they immediately asked if I was related to her. In her attic were hundreds, hundreds, of bowling trophies she’d won over the decades, all sizes, some just a few inches tall, others three or four feet in height and heavy. They gathered dust under the beams of her roof, had languished there for years, forgotten perhaps, but now they needed to be moved because a new buyer was coming in.

The last thing we wanted to do was trash them. After all, they represented a lifetime of hard work, dedication, grit, and determination. A huge accomplishment for a woman of her time, unmarried, childless, working full-time at a good government job. The trash heap would not do. So I made some calls to see if perhaps they could be recycled, melted down, reused, awarded to new champions. No one was interested. The bowling alley where she’d played most of her games didn’t want them. The trophy shop in town said no thanks. We had no place to keep them. And so they ended up out at the curb with the rest of the junk no one could use. Making dozens of trips, we carried them down from the attic and stacked them amid discarded household items, garbage, the last remaining remnants of a home, a life. I felt a bit despondent as I realized that what one might prize most in life can actually mean nothing to others and is easily discarded. She herself had relegated them to the attic, unseen and perhaps unthought of for years. We kept a few for old time’s sake but the rest were taken away with Monday’s trash pick up. Treasure became trash.

Mom’s Home Sweet Home

Years later, in 2018, I was tasked with cleaning out my mother’s home after she passed away. Like with Aunt Rose’s house, a buyer was at the door, this time literally as he actually took part in the clean out! We needed money to pay for her care, and as she was no longer living at home it seemed best to sell her mobile home. We had a buyer just days after we listed it. Unfortunately, Mom passed before the closing. As my brothers and I were all in town for the services we decided to move up the closing and prep the home for immediate takeover, that weekend. My brother Vic called some friends and 15 of us descended upon her home of 20-odd years and had it move-in ready in SIX hours. And there was a LOT of stuff in that home. The cupboards and closets were full. Each person took a room and sorted trash from treasure, making three piles: stuff to keep, stuff to throw out, stuff to donate. Throughout the day people claimed various items and marked them with their names or moved them to their cars. We made several trips to the Salvation Army. The new owner took some of the larger pieces of furniture we couldn’t move.

Mom loved her home. It was in a peaceful little trailer park on the cusp of Cape Cod, her own little slice of heaven where she lived worry-free as it was very affordable for a couple living on Social Security and a pension. In the end, though, a home is just an asset, the greatest asset when circumstances change and paid caregivers are required. And the remainder of its contents became useless once they’d been picked over by family and friends wanting just a little piece of Mom to keep her memory alive: a sugar bowl, a plaque on the wall, a bible, any old thing. And there was tons of it.

As the hours wore on we worked tirelessly, sorting the piles. The one in the rented dumpster grew taller and wider as we moved through her possessions. All the cars were packed door to door. We finished while there was still daylight left. I was the last to leave, locking the door behind me. I brought home more dishes, kitchenware and tchotchkes than I’ll never need or use that now clutter my garage, a clean out job for some other day.

Cleaning Out Vic’s Dream House

Lastly, I inherited the job of cleaning out my brother Vic’s house last fall. Like the others, it too had a buyer at the door. He had just bought it months before and hadn’t fully moved in at the time of his unexpected, inexplicable death. We found boxes of stuff stacked all over the basement, a lifetime of memorabilia, items picked up along the way, some I assume forgotten, some useless. Every box had to be sifted through, every item catalogued and considered: is it trash or treasure? It took weeks, long hours, and sore muscles. It was devastating.

I had not yet had a chance to visit him in his new home (thanks to COVID) and had only seen pictures. It was his dream house. For years he’d wanted to quit his job and move out of the city to the mountains where he could live in peace amid nature, no neighbors. Each time I went there I searched for his presence but it wasn’t there. I had no memories of him in this house.

As I sorted through his things I felt like I was betraying him. “I’m sorry,” I whispered many times through tears as I discarded something or sold something else at a fraction of its cost to whoever was willing to buy it. It was one of the worst tasks I’ve ever faced. Among his possessions were many items he treasured, loved, adored, but in the end they were of little value to anyone else. It sickens me to think of those who walked away with a little piece of Vic for just a few dollars, while at the same time I’m grateful they did so because we had to get rid of all this stuff. We had a deadline, and as the days ticked off and fewer of them remained I was getting nervous, worried that the day of the closing would arrive and the house would still be full of clutter. Thanks to the help of a very committed real estate agent we met our deadline. The sale went through as planned. And I hold on to some treasures I claimed during the cleanout.

It’s Just Stuff

Months later my brother Kenn and I talked about those frenetic, frantic days, marveling at how we got it all done, just four of us and a real estate agent. He too claimed truckloads of belongings in a desperate attempt to hang on to part of our brother. He now realizes, as he can’t get around his basement, that in the end it’s all just “stuff.” Vic is just as gone as he was when we learned of his death, when we buried his ashes, no matter what items we hold onto. In fact, that’s what Vic always said: “It’s just stuff.” He had a practical approach to possessions, even those he treasured most. They’re here to serve us for as long as we want, and when we are no longer here to use them or they become unwanted they’re just “stuff” to move along, trash or treasure, to give or sell to someone else, known or unknown, anyone who has a need, a want, a use.

Spring Cleaning

Minimalism is the new “thing” these days. After being shut up in the house for the past 14 months due to the pandemic it’s time for a deep spring cleaning. Out with the old. Then of course there’s always new clutter to buy to replace the old clutter. In with the new. Reflecting on these experiences I vow to not leave a mess for my daughter to clean out when I’m gone. I’ve begun paring things down. I’m having a yard sale or two this summer to dispense with as much as I can. The rest will go to the Salvation Army. Some of these items will have come from Aunt Rosie’s house, my mom’s, or Vic’s. It’s a cycle. And it’s just stuff.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: Mother’s Day

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the sixth in this series.

No mother deserved accolades for Mother’s Day more than mine. Widowed at 48 with four children aged 10 to 15, she worked as a key punch operator for a men’s clothing retailer, a job she would hold for 25 years. She managed to hang on to our house. We were never hungry and did not know how precarious our financial situation was from week to week. She raised all of us to adulthood with an iron fist, ensuring we’d escape the missteps many young people raised in the city often make: unintended pregnancy, dropping out of school, substance abuse, incarceration. This was due to her fierce discipline, unconditional love, and huge faith.

A Life Built on Faith

Mom was deeply religious – 12 years of Catholic school – and had a commitment to God and church that lasted all of her 91 years. As a girl and as a young woman she went to church daily, a habit she picked up again after her retirement. She’d be out the door before 8 am for morning mass well into her mid-80’s. She prayed constantly. “I don’t make a move without Jesus,” she said. She often prayed to win money on lottery tickets or at Bingo to cover unexpected expenses, and she won, big jackpots. A $500 win once or even twice a month was not a surprise. She was lucky, or, as she said, “blessed.”

Playing bingo at the Club House.

A Promise

One sunny morning, years ago, we sat at the kitchen table having coffee, plotting our next adventure. She suddenly became serious and grasped my hand tightly in hers. “Look at me,” she said, and I gave her my full attention. “When I die,” she continued, “don’t be sad, don’t cry, because I’ll be with Jesus, and I’ve been waiting for that all my life.”

I took her words to heart, even pronounced them at her funeral to let others know not to be sad she’s gone. And for the most part I’m not sad she’s no longer here. I think of her every day, several times, but most of the time tears do not sting my eyes. I remember her words and think of her with Jesus, with my dad, and her second husband, and her mom, and all the others who left this earth before she did, and now my brother Vic. They must be having a good time together in heaven. I hope there’s Bingo, and lots of lottery scratch tickets.

Remembering the Laughter, and the Fun

On this Mother’s Day I think of her and send kisses up to heaven, hoping she’ll catch them. I remember how funny she was, especially at the end of her life. I enjoyed her company so much during that time, in spite of her illness and debility and the difficulties they caused. We always made time to laugh.

Mom loved to be the center of attention and loved to have her picture taken. These shots were taken in the Memorial Garden at the nursing facility where she recovered from a fractured hip. I posed her with the blue hydrangeas and my daughter snapped the photos of her making funny faces, pure Marge. Then she added Snapchat filters and boy, did Mom laugh to see herself this way. She was a ham, and God, did I love her.

I miss her.

I know that Mother’s Day can be controversial. No one is guaranteed a good mother. Women who have been the best of mothers are still abandoned or neglected by their children. Women who yearn for children may never have them.The world is full of women with broken hearts, and hurting children too. Mother’s Day can open wounds, trigger old pain and hurt. On this day, let’s celebrate the women in our lives who have nurtured us, regardless of our relationship. Mothering can come in many ways.

A Mother’s Day Giveaway

In honor of mothers – birth moms, step moms, grandmothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, pregnant mothers, mothers of lost children – I have two free books to offer you. One is my novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story. All of my stories have strong women at their core, and Sara, in Blue Hydrangeas, who has lost a daughter and carried on, is one of them. The Kindle edition is free through May 10th. Get it here.

And I’m offering free copies of AlzAuthors first anthology Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving Stories for free on Kindle as well. AlzAuthors, my non-profit, is the global community of authors writing about Alzheimer’s and dementia from personal experience to light the way for others. In this book, 58 authors tell their deeply personal stories about caring for a loved one, often a mother. The stories are short and make for good reading if you’re a caregiver or just interested in the disease. Get it here through May 10th.

Please share both free books with your moms, friends, family, and fellow readers or caregivers.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: Cause of Death

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the fifth in this series

The end of life comes in many ways, some expected, some totally unexpected. I have witnessed both. I wonder which is best, and for who, and why, as if an answer exists.

Sudden Death

In my family, an early death is not uncommon, especially on my father’s side. Many of his 11 siblings passed before I came along: brother Victor at just 25; sister Helen at 27; brother Chester at 34, sister Gladys at 39. My dad died at 45. Others lived only into their 60’s. I’m told they contracted rheumatic fever during an outbreak in Boston in the 1930’s, which resulted in rheumatic heart disease, leaving them all vulnerable to valvular disease, heart failure, heart attacks, and cardiac arrest.

Most of these deaths were unexpected, in spite of our knowing the decedent had a heart condition. But they were not senseless. “They had heart trouble. What a shame.” Sad but not surprising: In their day, most people did not survive a heart attack. Cardiac care is much improved since then. People live a lot longer with “heart trouble.”

When my brother Vic died following an inexplicable motorcycle accident last summer, my brother Kenn asked, “Didn’t we already go through this with Daddy?” He went into cardiac arrest following a heart attack. Vic’s was a sudden death too, on the Fourth of July, a beautiful summer day, perfect. He had recently made some major life changes to fulfill a dream and was as happy as I’d ever seen him. We’d hosted a barbecue at my house that day with my husband’s family, the first time we’d gathered in many months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We stayed outdoors the whole time, enjoying the holiday, oblivious as we celebrated that our lives had taken a tragic turn due to an accident on a winding Vermont highway almost 300 miles away.

The call came: Vic and Deanna were in a motorcycle accident. They passed away. “Are you kidding?” was my first reaction to the friend who relayed this news, a reflex response. Of course he wasn’t. Why would anyone kid about something so serious? But it was unbelievable. And senseless. Vic didn’t have a motorcycle at the time (he was riding a friend’s). A bike ride wasn’t part of that weekend’s plans. Why was he even on a motorcycle? His partner Deanna was on the back of the bike. I’m told it was her first motorcycle ride. Why didn’t she stay behind? These thoughts tormented me for days and still do. We have so many unanswered questions. And like my father’s death, it was sudden, and the suddenness made it so much worse. Vic was just 57.

Protracted Death

Conversely, in 2017 we lost another family member after he endured a vicious cancer that took him in less than two years. He had surgeries, chemo, radiation, everything, and yet succumbed. As the weeks ticked on and the outcome looked bleak we prepared ourselves for the phone call, but at the same time prayed and hoped for a miracle. Where life exists, so does hope. But we knew days before his death there would be no miracle, and I was at work when I got the call. I expected it, but still felt as though the floor dropped out from under me.

And I wonder: Is it better to know ahead of time, to prepare yourself for loss, or is it better to be blissfully unaware of impending doom and get the news like a gut punch, jolting you out of your world? And who benefits either way: you or the decedent?

I’ve heard people say it’s best to simply die in your sleep, in an instant, no warning. That might be better for the decedent but for those left to mourn it’s horrible. There’s no closure, too much unsaid and undone.

In my nursing career I witnessed hundreds of people suffer a slow, painful death, hanging on to the last possible moment, until nothing remained of them. Believe me: the will to live is the strongest force in life. People can endure tremendous physical challenges. But this leads to anticipatory grief, which can last months if not years, and places a tremendous strain on all involved. The upside is time to plan for the end, to sort things out, to make amends, to say goodbye, to say “I love you” one last time. Is this better?

Is anything “better” about any of this?

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: Missing The Missing

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the fourth in this series.

Missing someone is its own painful loss. A passing thought or memory of a loved one no longer here can trigger overwhelming feelings of longing and sadness. When there are a number of lost loved ones a myriad of memories can launch an afternoon of despair, turn a sunny day into a morass of depression, stop you short.

I try not to miss my missing loved ones.

Outside forces sometimes make this impossible.

Pop-up photos in my Facebook Feed

Some Facebook genius probably thinks they’re making my day by showing me random photos in my feed. If it exists in my account I must want to see it, right? Except sometimes these photos are of someone I’ve lost, someone I’m missing, someone I’m mourning, and seeing their beloved face on my screen when I don’t expect to can be a shock, sending my day spinning into emotional chaos.

Pop-up photos on my iPhone

Same thing with my iPhone. Pictures I’m not expecting show up and, depending on my mood, or the day, make me cry, or smile.

I suppose there is a way to control these pop-ups on Facebook and on my iPhone but I don’t have time to figure it out. If you know how please share the trick.

Random Acts of Memory

Occasionally a random glimpse of a piece of a person reminds me of someone I’ve lost:

A man’s freckled arm resting on the frame of his car’s window as we pass each other sparks memories of my father.

An elderly woman’s hooded brown eyes evoke memories of my mother.

The sight of fresh snowfall in the morning awakens thoughts of my brother Vic, who loved taking out his snowmobiles in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Don’t Be Sad, Don’t Cry”

Many years ago, I sat at the kitchen table with my mom just talking over coffee, as we always did. It was not a serious conversation. We were laughing, reminiscing, planning and plotting what fun thing we’d do next. She suddenly grabbed my hand and said, “Look at me. Listen to what I have to say.” The mood grew serious. She had my undivided attention. “When I die,” she said, grasping my hand, “don’t be sad, don’t cry for me, because I’ll be with Jesus, and I’ve been waiting for that all of my life.”

Mom was a devout Catholic: 12 years of parochial school, daily mass for years. She often said she’d wished she’d been a nun. She was very close to the Lord. Death did not frighten her. She saw it as a necessary route to the afterlife.

At her funeral I shared this story with those who attended. It surprised no one. Everyone knew of her unshakeable faith. And from that day on when I find myself tearing up from missing her or distracted by a sweet memory, I go back to those words, and heed her instructions: “Don’t be sad. Don’t cry.”

Sometimes it works. Most times I’m filled with an emptiness, a sense of loss. Mom died at age 91. My dad died at 45. She lived twice as long as he did, and yet it wasn’t enough. At her funeral my youngest brother said, “Maybe I’m selfish but I want more. I want more time with my mom. I know we had more than most people get, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting even more.”

It’s only human nature to want more time with those we love.

And that’s why we miss them. We miss that lost time. And as time moves on and our loved ones recede into the backstory of our lives, we reflect on their lives and our love, and eventually find joy amid the sadness.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: Busyness Beats Sadness

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the third in this series.

In the immediate days following a death there are a myriad of details to attend to, especially when you’re the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate. First, you must make arrangements for the funeral or memorial service. You go through the motions numb, on autopilot, pushing your grief aside to choose a funeral director, set the date and location, book the church or religious leader, purchase a casket or urn, arrange for music, speakers, readings, and flowers, pick out the last outfit your loved one will ever wear, decide who to invite to the service, write an obituary, write a eulogy, and do whatever else is needed to memorialize your lost one in a dignified, respectable, loving way.

I’ve arranged three funerals since January, 2018. In each case, I wanted to ensure my loved ones were honored. This took a lot of time and energy in and amongst the grieving. The upside to all this activity is that it distracts you from acknowledging your loss.

Busyness Beats Sadness

Busyness is a strategy you can employ in the weeks and months following your loss to beat your sadness, at least for awhile. For example, taking on the role of administrator for my brother Vic’s estate required me to manage the details of his funeral, along with the help of my brothers. After the funeral, I spent hours each week unraveling his life, attending to his business: cancelling credit cards and bank accounts, selling his house and other property. An administrator works alone. No one can help you because you are the only one with the authority to speak for the dead. Everything falls on your shoulders.

While all of this was going on, I, of course, grieved, and many times my grief was amplified as I had to confront the reality of his death time and again while explaining it to strangers on the phone, or sending out official documents – like his death certificate – to complete my tasks. But I also had to keep it together to conduct this business, so I dried my tears and carried on.

What I learned, though, is that this busyness doesn’t ease the pain or stem the tide of grief. It just pushes it off until the day all the tasks are done, every little thing is sold, given away, donated, or trashed. The funeral is over. A new family lives in his house. The grave marker is installed. Once the tasks run out there’s no hiding, and the loss hits anew: He is really, truly gone, and I must come to grips with it.

My dad died in 1976. To this day a random memory or thought of him can trigger an overwhelming sadness, tears, and grief. Most of the time when I think of him I see him as still living, as he was at 45 years of age, being my dad. I can handle those memories much better than when I acknowledge the fact that he has died and I have not seen him in more than 40 years. Nor heard his voice. Nor felt his touch. That life goes on for decades without a loved one is astounding. Where is he? I wonder. What would he think of me now, as a grown woman, a mother, a writer? What would we be doing if he was still here? How would my life be different if I hadn’t lost him at 15? Because my life would be different in profound ways, I’m sure.

When Dad died I was young, a sophomore in high school. I soon took on the role of co-parent with my mom, helping to care for my younger brothers while she worked. In the 70’s, not many moms worked outside the home, not in my social circle. I had to skip after school activities, sports, clubs, etc, to beat my brothers home so someone would be waiting for them, to supervise them until Mom came home. I did laundry. I started dinner. Busyness beats sadness. I guess I learned that at a young age.

Vic has been gone six months now and there are but a few pieces of his life that still need to be unraveled. I will soon run out of busyness. Hopefully the shock of his inexplicable death and my initial grief will have also been settled in the process, when I wasn’t looking. I know I will always feel sadness, be pissed at him for getting on that motorcycle, and mourn him afresh when the last task concludes and my busyness is finally over. But at least the work of concluding his business on earth provided me with safe cover, space, and time to reconcile myself to his loss.

About This Series

This is a new series for this blog. The last few months – no, the last few years – have been difficult for me. There’s been a lot of loss and change, most of it unexpected, some of it for good reasons. I’m generally an optimistic person but even I have my breaking point. I’ve run into it a few times lately. This has left my mind churning and I find myself with so much to say, so much to work out. Writing has always been a means to my seeking clarity, so I decided to use my blog to figure things out. Welcome to The Grief Diary. Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: A New Year’s Resolution for the Brokenhearted

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the second in this series.

Happy New Year!

Here we are, once more, at the start of a new year. After the disaster of 2020 it couldn’t come soon enough. Putting last year in the rearview mirror is both exhilarating and liberating. We can’t help but be optimistic as we change the calendar, opening up 365 new days brimming with promise, weeks, months, and days yet to be written with the ink of life. Anything can happen, especially good anythings. It’s like being swept up in a gust of fresh air when you’ve been trapped for months in a room with no ventilation.

Many of us start off the new year with a set of resolutions – commitments or ideals to help us get – and keep – on whatever we believe is “the right track.” Some of the more popular are to lose weight, exercise more, save money, get organized, learn a new skill, start a new hobby, and/or spend more time with family and friends. Whew! I’m exhausted already.

These are all admirable goals, but for those of us on the grief journey any one of them can be too much. When you’re just trying to get through the next hour, the next minute, without falling apart, trying to lose weight or go to the gym on a regular schedule is near to impossible. So I’m replacing these popular resolutions with one simple objective that will enable the brokenhearted to nurture, rather than torture, themselves in the new year.

To Thine Own Self Be Kind

“Kindness” tends to be a buzzword these days, usually relating to the concept of being kind to others. What about being kind to ourselves?

I recently discussed this with my pain management specialist. We’d both just read The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which is a profound yet simple book about kindness, self-love, friendship, and hope (read it). She and I agreed on the book’s message to not only be kind to others but to ourselves. Quite often, she said, we hold ourselves up to impossible standards, then when we fail to measure up we heap criticism and disapproval upon ourselves until we collapse. Seems we can beat ourselves up much meaner and harder than anyone else could or would. We’d never do this to a friend or acquaintance, she said. Instead, we extend to them tenderness, compassion, and generosity we routinely withhold from ourselves. This is both physically and mentally unhealthy.

Tread easy

We must remember when grieving that we are not at our best, life is not normal, and we may mistakes, neglect our duties, lose our temper, or break down in tears for no good reason at all. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up when these things happen, causing us to fall short of our unrealistic expectations. We need to step back and look at ourselves as we would look at anyone else living in our circumstances, and say, “It’s okay to be sad, or mad, or lazy, or forgetful.” Forgive yourself as you would forgive anyone else. Know in your heart that you are doing your best, that you need time to process and accept the changes that have come upon your life. It is not easy for anyone, and that includes you.

Now that’s good medicine. I’ll take it. How about you?

About This Series

This is a new series for this blog. The last few months – no, the last few years – have been difficult for me. There’s been a lot of loss and change, most of it unexpected, some of it for good reasons. I’m generally an optimistic person but even I have my breaking point. I’ve run into it a few times lately. This has left my mind churning and I find myself with so much to say, so much to work out. Writing has always been a means to my seeking clarity, so I decided to use my blog to figure things out. Welcome to The Grief Diary. Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss

This is the first in a new series for this blog. The last few months – no, the last few years – have been difficult for me. There’s been a lot of loss and change, most of it unexpected, some of it for good reasons. I’m generally an optimistic person but even I have my breaking point. I’ve run into it a few times lately. This has left my mind churning and I find myself with so much to say, so much to work out. Writing has always been a means to my seeking clarity, so I decided to use my blog to figure things out. Welcome to The Grief Diary.

The Virus

Let’s start with the coronavirus, COVID-19, which impacts everyone everywhere so it’s not necessarily a personal problem in my miniscule part of the world. I have not been sick. No one in my direct orbit has been seriously ill or hospitalized. The biggest impact the virus has had on my life, thus far, is that I’ve been working from home since March 23rd, 2020. It’s doable, but not ideal. I’m a nurse in a college health center, so much of what I’m doing at home is paperwork and administrative stuff. I miss seeing the students, and I miss the daily contact with my colleagues, our conversations, brainstorming, and troubleshooting. I miss the adrenaline rush when there’s a call for a nurse to race to an emergency, accident, sick student, or staff member. I miss walking through the beautiful buildings on our campus. I miss being in a learning environment (which I wrote about here.)

Yeah, there’s a lot to miss, but one thing I’m not missing is a paycheck. I know I’m lucky to have a job where I can work from home. So many others do not. Too many others have lost so much more to this virus: jobs, homes, loved ones. I understand I’m one of the blessed.

I also miss what most people are missing: hanging out with friends and family; going out to dinner, shopping, a concert or a movie; not having to wear a mask everytime I go out. This too shall pass, I tell myself, and each day passes. Hopefully the newly released vaccines will become more widely available and distributed, or people will just get their heads on straight on how to mitigate this virus so life can return to some semblance of “normal.” There’s something optimistic about that, no? So it’s not the virus that has me tied in knots, although it’s not helping.

The Fridge Gallery

Not my fridge but you get the picture. Right after I made this observation I added pictures of the living to my Gallery.

Let’s talk about the fridge gallery. Do you hang pictures on your refrigerator? I do. I have all kinds of pictures – photographs, clippings from magazines and newspapers, cartoons, and inspirational and motivational magnets and mementos – covering the freezer door. The other day I was looking at my fridge gallery and realized that all of the people in the photos were gone. They’d died. This included my parents, my brother, his partner, an aunt, and a cousin. And they are not the only members of my family who have passed away recently. We’ve endured a cycle of death. Last I counted our extended family lost nine members in the last three years.

Grief is a heavy thing. You need to get out from under it sometimes. But it’s hard to climb out when it keeps being heaped upon you. Many of these deaths were preceded by illness, sometimes savage illness, like a vicious cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Two were the result of a single tragic motorcycle accident on a beautiful summer day. All of them bring additional grief, whether it’s anticipatory as you watch someone you love suffer and slip away, or raw as someone is inexplicably ripped away from you with no warning. I’ve endured both and, trust me, there’s no way to determine which is the easier loss to bear.

The Grief Diary

As I pondered the photos on the fridge I thought of each individual life and my thoughts swirled. I felt an urge to tell their stories, to write about their lives, what made them special, why their memory endures. So I’m starting this Grief Diary to tell their stories, and my own, in an exploration of grief, love, and loss. These posts will endeavor to not only heal my broken heart but to help heal others on the grief journey. I can’t promise regular entries but I will post when inspiration moves me.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.