Something Worth Sharing - a Guest Post by Ally Milner
So I've taken a little break from posting homilies online. I'll return to doing that soon. (It's just been quite a full few weeks). That said, a friend wrote this amazing, heart-felt and well-written post (and the word "amazing" does not do its quality justice). They remind me of when my dad died and the inevitable grieving and the struggle to find joy......
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It’s been roughly three and a half months since my mom died from complications related to colon cancer, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot. I’ve been thinking about the whole thing a lot, actually, weighing and measuring everything that happened between November 20th (I take the day off work to spend the day with Mom, who goes to the ER at 7:15 am with abdominal pain) and January 14th (I am at work, and right before lunch, I get The Phone Call). Those two dates mark, in my mind, the beginning of the end and the end–no, I guess not. They mark the end of one chapter, and then a new beginning, one that I didn’t feel ready for, but had to swallow all the same. It’s taken me three and a half months to acknowledge that as scared and unprepared as I was, Mom’s death marked an end, but not the end. And life, in a bigger sense, goes on.
And that’s a good thing.
A little part of me feels traitorous writing this, and a little part of me is not fully convinced of what I’m trying to say, but most of me knows that this is the truth.
From what I’ve gathered, grief is a process with some centralized experiences and many, many unique variations for every distinct person and distinct loss. Experiencing grief seems like going to a build your own pizza place–you and your family and your closest friends will walk in together, and you will all buy something with crust and toppings, but the specifics are different. You will choose what you feel is best for yourself, and you will give the weird eyebrow to that one person in your group who actually likes Provel cheese / skips the sauce / chooses the vegan option (talks too much about the loss / talks too little about the loss / reacts to that loss in a radical way / appears not to reach to that loss at all).
I am still grieving, but I am pretty sure that the worst of it is over–the aimlessness, the spontaneous tears, the internal repetition of the phrase But it’s not fair. For the first two or three weeks after Mom died, I felt a bewildering numbness that pulled me through the ins and outs of the weekday workday. This numbness only melted when I ran, usually in the evenings after work. I’d found Mom’s dog tags from her Marine Corps days maybe two or three days after she died, and for the first few weeks, I carried them with me everywhere. I ran with them clenched in my right hand, imagining myself off the treadmill and into some race or other, where I could cross the finish line with those tags clenched in my fist, taking her with me. When I ran, I felt hope that drove me stride after stride toward this blurry future that was fueled by a promise I made myself: that if I could run X miles in X minutes, I would see Mom at the finish line, and I would wake up from the best joke / worst nightmare I had yet experienced in my twenty-three years.
When my rational side caught up to this clever promise I’d made myself, I stopped running regularly, which was both a good and a bad thing. It was bad because I am a person reliant on exercise to handle stress. It was good because I acknowledged that no number of miles could bring Mom back; no good behavior or well wishes could, either. Acknowledging that made me face the pain of loss that I had politely avoided since January 14th (stoic had become a specialty of mine).
This whole acknowledge the pain thing came to its climax last Wednesday, when I was driving home from dinner with my sisters. I don’t know what factor sparked the metaphorical flame–if I was listening to the band I’d listened to almost the entire time Mom was sick, or if I was thinking about Mother’s Day coming up, or if it was just that I drove past her work on the way home, and it reminded me of her–at any rate, I found myself parked outside my neighborhood clubhouse at eleven o’clock at night, crying my eyes out and feeling what could only be characterized as despair. I was thinking everything that you would probably be thinking if your mom died pretty suddenly and this was one thing your I-want-to-fix-everything self simple could not fix.
At least this episode of getting in touch with my weepy side was not in vain. I’m glad to say I didn’t spend the entire night crying in my car in a pothole-strewn parking lot overlooking a golf course, with nothing but a chevron-patterned throw blanket to use as Kleenex–it turns out I’m moderately intolerant to that sort of environment, so I finished the drive home in relatively short order. I talked to my dad, and he gave me a “chin up, cowgirl” kind of pep talk softened by a one-armed hug. I talked to my boyfriend, and he gave me a threefold reminder that 1. he supported me, but 2. was not a superhero or super genius, and could not fully fix this situation, and 3. would Always Listen to me. (Maybe I’m biased, but is that not the most honest, and, by proxy, wonderful thing you could say to someone who has just cooled down from hysteria and needs something both emotionally and rationally supportive?)
Then I took a shower, and halfway through washing my hair, realized something that I then jumped out of the shower to write down:
Those 2 text messages are the culmination of two months of unorganized grieving, a mind predisposed to rational thinking, and a heart that could not give up on hope even when it was hardest. I can’t speak for everyone’s pain and loss, but I can speak for my own. If me speaking of my own helps you with yours, then I will speak a little longer.
At the specific moment in which this thought more or less came to me, I was thinking about those far-off things I want for my life–an advanced degree, travel, True Love–and, for the first time in two months, my immediate follow-up thought was not about how hard it would be to taste those things without Mom in my life to share them with. My follow-up thought was that I was capable of finding those things, and that, should I find them, I would probably feel pretty lucky [someone, please tell this to future Ally as she graduates or renews her passport or ruminates on True Love, and keep her bawling to a minimum].
To be honest, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the emphasis does not lay with whether it’s a life milestone or an everyday event that I can call a victory. It’s still going to happen, and I’m still going to do it, and I will still feel joy in those moments, because, thank God, my heart is apparently more inclined to joy than sorrow (most of the time).
And maybe I just have the guts to post this now because I ran the idea past my man, and he paraphrased it into something more digestible, which I also took as a sign of approval.
Mom is gone, and I will never forget that. Writing / reading / thinking about that will never be painless. And that’s okay.
Nevertheless, I will smile and laugh and, every once in a while, find some joy. And that’s okay too.