Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Losses, incremental and not

I have been thinking a lot about death. The loss of my parents in particular, but also of others with whom I walked this journey in such close association for a while. My mother's 97th birthday just passed, and the 23rd anniversary of my dad's death is coming up this month, and I have been marveling that these two people who gave me life, who shaped and protected me the best way they knew how, without whom I did not know myself, could be so long gone from the earth. Lately, they have both been showing up in my dreams. I am always comforted.

Then there's my college boyfriend, Paul, who died of AIDS at the height of the epidemic in the early eighties. He was my best friend till the day he died. Even after we broke up we remained close, supremely at ease in each other's company, an intimacy that only deepened once sex was no longer part of our story. When he was dying, it was to my home he came and stayed until his final trip to the hospital. He died the spring after my husband's father had a debilitating stroke. I think these two devastating losses made my husband and me unwilling to waste time, more able to make the leap into commitment, even though we never lived in the same city until three weeks before we were married.

I've also been brooding about the therapist who saved my life—Saint Eleta, my husband called her. I found her right after Paul died, when I thought I would dissolve from grief, or be undone by the secrets he only shared at the end. Looking back, I can see he was never at peace in this life, and that he was unafraid to die, as if he'd worked out something about what awaited him on the other side.

This morning, on a whim, I google searched Saint Eleta's name. She moved away the year my daughter was born, relocating to Atlanta to be close to her grandchildren. I often reflected to my husband that she stayed in New York City just long enough to help me get my head straight for marriage and motherhood. I was sitting in my living room, aching for her, wishing I could talk with her just one more time about where I find myself in this moment, in a body that is shot through with pain and feels broken, though it still takes me where I want to go, and I'm thankful for that. Eleta would help me look on the bright side. The pragmatic side. She would help me understand that I cannot keep mourning the incremental loss of my children, which is not loss at all, but a blossoming, as they grow more fully into their lives, embracing who they are in ways my friend Paul, who died when he was their age, never got a chance to do.

I am grateful for my children's blossoming, I thought as I searched for Saint Eleta, trying to channel her wisdom. What came up was her obituary from 2005, and suddenly the tears were rolling down my face, because I realized that I had known she died, back when my kids were 10 and 13. Caught up in the everyday hubbub of raising them, I'd tucked the news into a corner of my heart and didn't take it out again until this morning. This grief I feel right now is fresh and new, and finally it honors her, and pays silent tribute to the years I sat across from her in a dim-lit office as she helped me peel back the layers and become myself, my better self, the one my loved ones might more easily live with. I wish I could talk to her again. I'm in a whole new phase of life, and I need to become my better self again.


  1. I think the growing away of our children is both blossoming AND loss, my friend. After all, we will never have our children back the way they were, not even if they are physically with us for extended stays - not even then, because they are not the children they once were.

    At least, that is how it is for me. And as such, I recognize both happiness AND grief. The grief, like other forms of it, becomes less as time goes by.

  2. What a powerful post about loss and grief and change and growth and pain.
    In some ways I am very grateful that I had four children, the first two separated by a good number of years from the third and fourth. They gradually prepared me for how it was to be and of course now, with the grandchildren, it is almost like having those years back again when my own children were babies, were small. But they will grow up too...
    Such a poignant story about realizing that someone so very dear to you, so very, very important in your life is dead and then the realization that you already knew that.
    You didn't allow yourself to really know that.
    I guess now, for some reason, you can.
    Perhaps this is another step on your path towards knowing in more things.
    Why does it hurt so much to be a human being, a human being who loves?

  3. Sending love as you think about your dear ones and experience grief and gratitude and becoming your better self again. You, writing your thoughts here, have helped me today to acknowledge the grief that lingers in my life and know that I am not alone. The flower you chose with its red, orange, and yellow speaks powerfully.

  4. This is just so beautiful and sad. And full of love for people you love and have loved. You will always be taken care of because you love so much and so purely. Joanne

  5. Love and loss, these inevitable bookends of our lives. I often think about how long it has been since I've seen my father, he's been gone so long now. Next month it will be 27 years. Oh how they stay in our hearts, seeds they planted so long ago.

  6. kind of a heart rending post. I'm sorry you are feeling such loss, old ones and new ones and ones you are just now acknowledging.

  7. Hugs to you from a fellow survivor.

  8. So much sadness. And so much to be grateful for. Sending you a big hug. XOXO

  9. This is a very moving touching read. I am now full of thoughts and memories. Also, what a gorgeous picture!

  10. It seems to me that getting older is about dealing with losses. We lose our friends, our partners, sometimes even our children. We lose our health, our independence and if life is terribly cruel, even our memories. It's part of the cycle of life. When we're young we look forward and as we age we look backward. The cool thing is that as we look backward we can see patterns and learn. It's not our first time around the track.

    The really hard part is watching my children make the same mistakes I made, knowing what I know now, I would have done things differently but it doesn't work that way. I had my chance. Now it is my children's turn while I can only watch.

    I think grief helps to shape us. It allows us to be more vulnerable with others. We start to realize that all of us have lost people, lost things, lost places. We are all the same and as we get older we become more similar in what we have lost, if that makes any sense:)

    Sending hugs.

  11. It's so interesting how therapists stay with us even long after we've stopped attending. I went to a therapist for a while in the '90s and while I wasn't ready to hear what she was telling me at the time, I've "retroactively" heard her words many times and she was spot on. She DID help me, just on my own timetable.

  12. You describe the journey of life. As mothers and nurturers there is much flux and change in relationships. Today, I accept this as a given and part of my journey. In many ways you are lucky to have had someone guide you in such meaningful ways, even to this day. Susan

  13. This is an incredibly beautiful testament to love and to therapy and to wisdom and sadness and life itself. I love you.


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