Monday, August 27, 2012
My summer of laughter and forgetting
This summer I had regular and hefty doses of it.
Last year on July 8, I was at my mom's hospital bed saying my final goodbye. The months that followed were a blur. I faced the daily struggle of balancing my own grief with my responsibilities as a wife and mother. My daughters measured their own emotional states by the tenor of my moods. The more short tempered or despondent I was, the more anxious and untethered they became. They looked to me to provide solid ground beneath their feet, after a loss that rocked their world.
It was up to me to make them feel safe. And some days, I just wasn't up to the task.
When we arrived at the one-year anniversary of my mother's death, I confronted varying emotions: Disbelief that a whole year had passed, profound sadness, but also a pull to come out of the dark. Watching someone you love go through a protracted illness, seeing their suffering, is a trauma. It takes time to actually want to heal. Perhaps it was the influence of my Jewish friends, whose faith ritualizes a year of mourning, but at the one-year mark, I felt the first stirrings of that desire.
To do it would take a mix of forgetting, and remembering. Trauma stays with you. You have flashbacks. The images aren't pretty. The only way I could think of dulling their sharp edges was to seek pleasure. Grieving people sometimes shun enjoyable activities because they're depressed, and because they feel detached and maybe even a little guilty doing them. I knew for me to begin to heal, I was going to have to lose the guilt—and invite joy.
I needed to remember my mother's words. She told us in a letter she wrote before she died, that the best way to honor her life, was to savor the sweetness of ours.
I began planning our summer days with that simple purpose. Find joy. Savor it. Laugh.
As a result my family and I had the summer of our lives. We visited the places and the people we love. We read books. We didn't rush anywhere. We said no to things we didn't want to do and yes to things we did. We cooked our favorite meals and ate them together. We told jokes at the table. We took long walks on the beach and looked up at the stars.
In early August, I spent a weekend in Maine at a writing retreat where I met a group of amazingly talented and generous women. We picked blueberries, enjoyed a lobster dinner al fresco, and yes, even did a little writing. On numerous occasions that weekend we laughed so hard, we cried.
Each of those moments was an offering and a prayer of gratitude to my wise and beautiful mother.
My year of mourning is over. My summer of laughter and forgetting has allowed me to remember what's important.