Oh sure, I cry when I have to and am not in the least embarrassed to.
But I’m not someone who weeps at the drop of hat.
A few weeks ago our friend and Cutie’s foster mama told us she was moving to another state. She and her dogs, “the cousins,” had become like family to us, so it was a loss.
But was it so much a loss that I’d be constantly tearing up about it?
I like her very much and her dogs have are part of our extended family.
But did it make sense to be so weepy? People move every day. People have come into and left my life over and over. It’s just part of life and I didn’t usually get so emotional. Constantly emotional. Like I’ve been.
And then, one day last week, while driving, it hit me. This week is the second anniversary of my beloved Riley’s death. My heart dog. My soulmate dog. The dog love of my life.
But that’s not all. On Dec. 21 it will be 20 years since my .mother died and on Dec. 27 it will be four years since my dear, dear friend made her own transition. Not just one death anniversary. Three. But wait. Some 40 years ago my grandfather died Thanksgiving week. So really, FOUR. (Scroll down for all their photos)
This most recent loss, while not by death, was just another blow in the holiday season.
Death anniversaries. They sneak up on you. And have a deeper impact than we might think, especially over the holidays.
Sure, you might THINK you should be “over it by now” but the truth is, some losses are always there. They hurt always and forever. You always feel the void. Like Riley’s. My mother. My friend.
That’s why this season is a particularly important time to be kind and gentle with those suffering loss or a death anniversary. You might not be able to tell, but chances are, they are feeling it.
Those are the words that just came off my keyboard. And then, a second later, I thought about grieving parents. And that grief isn’t a contest. It just isn’t. We all grieve as hard as we need to and as long as we need to. That’s truth.
Mom’s been gone 20 years now. 20 years! An eternity, I was going to write, and a second later I thought, “We’re all living in eternity.”
Yeah, there’s no winning when you 1) work in grief and 2) work in afterlife stuff.
My mother’s death was huge for me. The biggest thing that had ever happened to me, and the most mysterious.
So in that last year of her life I traveled thousands of miles every month to spend a week or two at her hospital bedside and as I walked into the hospital every day of every visit, an essay was writing itself in my head. I took everything around me in. And then finally, after she died, this piece came out of me.
It sat around for month, years even, and then, a few years later, was accepted for publication in a literary magazine affiliated with a medical school.
Mom’s death catapulted me into a search for the answer to this question: “Where did she go?” and that led me on a spiritual journey that hasn’t stopped. A story for another day.
I read once that the death of the mother is the first sorry wept without her. How true that is.
For today, though, the day before what would’ve been her 94th birthday, I’m sharing this piece in her memory.
20 years. That’s how long it’s been since my mother left this earth.
I still grieve. She no longer crosses my mind every single day, but most days, yes, thoughts of her come up and I grieve her loss. Her way too early death.
Her friends thought she was a saint–most of them, anyway, but the truth is, she’d never have made mother of the year. She had her issues and lots of them. There were traumatic times she should have stepped up to protect her children and didn’t and there were times she shouldn’t have stepped in when she did and consequences were paid. She paid them and so did others.
Once, walking through a mall with my brother on one of my visits (long ago, when I had an actual relationship with him) a complete stranger stopped me.
“Are you Carol Cassara?” she asked. “You should be ashamed of yourself for how you treated your mother.”
Immediately, I knew my mother had spun something really terrible she’d done so that her culpability disappeared. In a way I felt like laughing–this complete stranger had no clue about what had really happened. In another way I felt like crying because I could see my mother was unable to look at what she’d done, maybe out of shame or embarrassment. I even understood why she’d done this awful thing. I got it because I got her.
I tell this story to underscore that love can be complicated. But the truth is:
Love is love.
Even with all her flaws, I loved her and I always felt protective of her. I spent the last year of her life flying back and forth from Florida to my upstate NY home town to be with her at the hospital. One or two weeks a month, work be damned.
“It’s always a party when you come,” she once told me from her hospital bed. Even as a write this the tears come because I still remember those long days at her bedside. Sometimes she was on a ventilator. Other times she was totally with it. I didn’t accept that she was dying. She was only 74. It was an early death.
So when I sat down with my Guided Journal through Grief, which, by the way, I have worked through for most of the significant people in my life who have died, and saw this question, I was stricken.
“What didn’t she get to finish?”
She didn’t get to finish her life. She didn’t get to see her beloved only grandson graduate from law school or even high school. She didn’t get to see Michael and me remarry, something she had always longed for. She didn’t get to enjoy her golden years.
The list is long. Some people don’t get to finish what they started and she was one of them. She didn’t get to finish her life.
She didn’t get to be happy. Because despite what people in her life thought, she was an unhappy woman with a very sad life. A life that had gone bad. A life she didn’t know how to live.
On the positive side, she didn’t live to see some of the most shameful of family behavior. But she did live to see some of it and she was the cause of some of it, something she regretted in the end. Nor did she live to see my father deteriorate with dementia.
But still, I know she would have rather been here than not.
Oh, life is so complicated, isn’t it? Death is easy in comparison.
Can you feel my emotion? Because it’s all over this screen.
One of the gifts the Guided Journalthrough Griefhas brought me is the ability to work through some of these heavy issues. To see them in a new light. And no, it wouldn’t have been better to keep it all buried. Ask any therapist: stuffing our feelings is absolutely the worst thing we can do.
The healthy thing to do is to work through these complex emotions. When we’re ready. Which is why it’s a beautiful gift to give ourselves. And a beautiful gift to give someone we love.
No one likes to consider death, much less read about it, something I thought about as I wrote this post–I don’t want you to instantly click “close!” But I learned something recently about staring death in the eye, something that might help you:
There aren’t many things scarier, for most of us. And if you’re like me, the idea of death has held terror.
But unless it’s quick and unexpected, there comes a time when we are forced to confront death, to take its measure, to stare it down.
Maybe it’s my age, but during my recent health scare, I decided to consider death. After all, I work in grief. I’ve walked alongside a few loved ones on their last journey, watched at least one take her last breath and death now has shape and form. I’ve seen it close up.
In the past, the thought of that final walk of my own would fill me with anxiety. But this time, it was different.
Before me in the OR was the unknown, and some risk. There’s risk any time you go under anesthesia. Surgery can go wrong. They can find something fatal. Anything can happen. And so I thought about what might lie on the other side.
My spiritual evolution hasn’t been a secret–I’ve written about it and talked about it. But how would it be when the rubber met the road? When I was facing that great unknown?
I’ve done more spiritual connecting over the past decade than I’ve ever done and it’s done nothing but reassure me that we do not die. That spark of us that is our soul goes on, just in a different form.
Family and friends on the other side have communicated with me and that’s not only been comforting, it’s allowed my fear to abate.
I spent the entire month before surgery doing healing meditations, rituals and self-hypnotherapy meant to release anxiety and promote healing. And my anxiety floated off. Now, I don’t want to make too little of this–I can be a world-class neurotic and when a good friend came into the room as they were prepping me for surgery and said “I can’t believe how calm you are” he knew what he was talking about. It was very different than similar situations in the past. I had no anxiety. At all.
And then, after all the woo-woo, using reason, I decided that I had nothing to lose, actually–that the great transition was just that: a transition. There was no need for me to have an automatic fear now that I’d thought it through and stared death right in the eye.
I felt a little frisson of not exactly excitement, but curiosity. And absolutely no fear.
If you’ve got anxiety over a health condition, a procedure or treatment, or even mortality, I would love to help you. Using a combination of ritual, guided imagery, journaling, I can help you release your nervousness and feel more comfortable with yourself and the human condition of mortality. Whether you’re local or in another city or even country, we’ll customize an approach that takes you and your emotions into account.
If you’d like to talk about how that might work, use the purple “schedule appointment” button on the hypnotherapy page here and set up a time for a call. Let me help you do what I did so effectively for myself.
It isn’t until we’ve suffered a great loss that we see our mortality close up and personal. Right now, we’re writing the story of our lives, but we can not grasp that it’s in disappearing ink.
And then, a loved one makes their transition and sometimes it can feel like “What happened? Where did he go? How did that happen?”
All we know is this life. One breath after another, one step after another, one life event after another. We march through without recognizing how finite this life is and how every breath, step and event will one day be memories.
This is something I struggle with every time a loved one dies.
The other day I was at a restaurant where my late friend and I had a wonderful lunch the year she died. I looked at “our” table–yes, I remember it–and I even remember where we were sitting. I can even pull up how it felt to be there with her.
What I CAN’T fathom is that she is gone. She has disappeared.
Our mortality is, arguably, the hardest reality we ever have to face. No one gets out of here alive. No one. Not even us.
But is that such a bad thing?
Sure, we’ll miss those we leave behind. But if we have a belief in something more, transition is likely to be an amazing thing. And if it’s all about love and peace? And if our lost loved ones greet us?
What’s so bad about that? It would be a refreshing change from the travails of our earth.
Here’s the thing: we’re all moving on one day and while we don’t like to think about it, making peace with that fact allows us to live our lives here more fully.
Mortality is the hardest thing we face. But face it we must one day. Why not learn to make peace with it now?