Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When mourning and rejoicing coincide

Feel free to call me strange. Take shots at my philosophy on death and dying. Cry along with me as I take a journey of grief. Which ever view you take on what you're about to read, I welcome your input and thoughts.
On Monday evening, the man I wrote about in my previous post took his last breath. With a heavy decision to make, my sister Maureen (Unca Chunk's power of attorney) signed a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. Under consultation and advisement of doctors and family it was decided, but ultimately it was Maureen's signature that put the finality on easing our uncle's suffering. I cannot fathom the range of emotions she experienced as she put pen to paper. Once again, I admire her courage.
Sunday I spent the day with Maureen helping her clean out that which was once her family's home. While shuffling through incidental items, she discussed with me the plan for our uncle. His ventilator would be removed on Monday afternoon. Hospice (as well as family) would be there to ease his suffering and help him die with dignity. We intermittently wept through the course of the afternoon. I tried to empathize with her.
What happened to me over the next couple of days is what this emotional puking is about.
Monday morning brought out a torrential downpour of tears. I allowed myself to sob. A revelation came about when I heard myself mutter one word through the quake of my breakdown: Momma.
While I did love my uncle, I realized much of the grief I was shedding was that for my mother. She died in June of 1981. I was 15; a mere 1.5 months shy of 16. Without intention, I masked my loss. Only those already in the inner circle of my life were aware that she'd been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March '81. Because school was not in session, few of my school friends were aware of our family's major loss. My closest friends at the time, Karen and Suzette, held me up for that summer. Their parents gave me much needed support and guidance and love. Their heavily structured home was always open to me. They were the refuge I sought out subconsciously.
As the years have passed, I've come to realize I shut out my grief back then. My anger towards my mother has eased. Rejecting the idea that she ever truly loved me helped me go on with my life, but it was a Band-Aid that would need to be ripped off eventually. With the help of Maureen, I've let the unpleasant memories of my mom be replaced with the joyful ones. She's let me express my hurt without passing judgement or quashing the notion that I felt like a second stringer in the eyes of our mom.
I've been healing little by little. In the not so distant past, I've chalked up my overwhelming sense of grief when someone who isn't even close to me dies to my hypersensitivity. As a kid and well into adulthood I was the cry-baby. I was the little sister who over-reacted. What's come to light is that I am NOT so overly emotional. For decades I managed to mask my emotions very well. I am not the drama queen as many would have me pegged. I may not put things as eloquently as some people would like, but sugar coating does no one any good. The manner in which I grieve may be irreverent, but it suits me. I'm extremely private. As open as I may appear, I tend to isolate myself in times like this. As my good old Uncle Chuck would say, "if they don't like it, tell 'em to go to hell."
So, as my grieving came rushing outward on Monday morning, and my eyes swelled, I realized that my gut wrenching internal pain was another step toward mourning my mother. UC was her brother. It's all relative, I guess. I sent Maureen an email telling her that it hit me why I couldn't stop crying. I think I shared that I yelped "momma!" as buckets of tears filled my hands. Within moments, she called and we vented. Mo hadn't read my email yet. It's like she knew already. We talked about the early morning when our mom died.
I felt composed as I drove to work. It didn't make sense to me that I should have felt that way. I'd tossed around the idea of asking to leave work to join family at the hospital to be bedside with our uncle. I didn't feel it necessary. I'd prayed and asked for guidance and I am very much at peace with having kept stride with the day as it was already planned.
I kept in touch via texts with Maureen. I surely expected to learn of his passing shortly after he was taken off life saving equipment at 3:30 pm.
Mancub and I carried on with our evening at home per usual. He knew his great uncle was hospitalized and unlikely to pull through this time. I chose not to include him in the information of the DNR order. Sometimes, keeping it simple is best.
I went to bed around 10:30 pm and quickly fell asleep after praying that Unca Chunk would pass from this earthly plane without discomfort.
Around 11:50 pm my phone rang. I knew before clicking 'on' that it was news of his passing. Maureen was on the line as I groggily answered. Our conversation was brief. I felt a great sense of relief.
As I tried to drift back to sleep, an image of my mom and uncle embracing filled my thoughts. Simon and Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" would serve as the soundtrack for the following day.
I cry for those who've left my life. I cry because I'll no longer feel their embrace or hear the sound of their voice say, "I LOVE YOU" but it's with great rejoicing that I celebrate their lives and how they've touched mine. I dance though the tears and skip along knowing that one day we'll reunite. In my dreams, I can laugh and sing in harmony with my mom while my dad painfully strums out a tune on his ukelele.
Death to many seems like such a dark place, but I prefer to skip on the bright side of the road.


  1. Riss,

    I am so sorry for the loss of your Mom & Uncle. I am glad that you seem to have come to terms with your belated grief. I have yet to lose someone close to me, & frankly, I don't think I could `keep it together`, or mask my emotions very well. I think it's important to tell the people we're close to that we love them while their alive, so they'll always know.

    That was a most heartfelt, beautiful post & the perfect video.

    God Bless You & your family.

    Much love.

  2. One of the things I love most about you, Riss, is your emotional honesty. This is a beautiful peace - so honest and raw. Beautiful

  3. I'm so sorry for your losses. Please know I am praying for you and your family.

  4. Wow - I'm so sorry for your losses. Sometimes I think about how crazy it is that something that happens so much later than an actual event can trigger pent-up emotions. It's good that you finally released it. Good for you. *hugs*

  5. Riss,
    You express things so remarkably in your blogs, the last line of this one absolutely knocked me over emotionally. You rock, and I wish you the very best in the difficult days ahead.

  6. Oh, Riss. I am so sorry for your loss. I, too, choose to celebrate a person's life rather than focus on the sadness of their passing. I hope you, your son, your sister, and family continue to remember the wonderful memories you have all built together.

    My heart and prayers are with you and your family. xo

  7. Oh Riss, Sending you lots of hugs and prayers. I am so sorry for your loss. And extra hugs for your grieving for your Mom.


Say what!?