Holy Days, Hard Days

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From Grief and Grace: Collected Voices on Loss and Living Onward:

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Christmas morning, I flailed. I was as restless as I had been peaceful just a few days earlier. My grief was acute, stabbing. I had lost my mate; it was a primitive animal feeling. I was not depressed, I was simply overcome by waves of sadness. Such fizz and delight as I had had with life seemed long ago and bound to Richard. Richard is not here.
I want my husband back, I chanted yet again to myself. I want my husband back. It was a flat recitation that did not relieve the quiet terror. It didn’t have a prayer.

—K. Redfield Jamison, Nothing Was the Same, 159

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Since Jesse died, I have felt joy. I have even laughed until tears came to my eyes. I have written a book and essays, I have acted on television and in film, I have hosted huge family parties.
But, full disclosure: I have taken to my bed for the entire day sometimes, on Jesse’s birthday, and on the January date I found him dead. Because what makes more sense to me, the actual person who has suffered a loss, are the words C. S. Lewis’s character speaks in the film “Shadowlands”: “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”

—M. Leone, “A Mother’s Grief—Without Time Limits,” The Boston Globe online

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I have had five Mother’s Days without Grace now. . . .
This Mother’s Day, I lay in bed feeling that strange mixture of grief and joy. Down the hall, I heard [adopted daughter] Annabelle’s high, squeaky voice. . . . I picture Grace in her smudged glasses, her tangled hair, her wry smile. I feel tears building in my eyes. . . . Then there are footsteps, and Annabelle is at the side of the bed, clutching a pink rose.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” she says, grinning.
Annabelle lifts her arms to me, and I pick her up.
“Mama,” she whispers.
“Daughter,” I whisper back.

—A. Hood, Journey Through Grief, 180–81

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I still struggle with depression every August and September.
I think about him every day.
And on those days when my thoughts rest for awhile on some accidental memory of us together, I have a hard time remembering what kind of mother I was to him. I don’t see me clearly in those moments, only Michael—laughing, walking through a room in his green plaid pajama bottoms, eating peaches out of the can. Covered under a pile of blankets on his bed, asleep. Playing his guitar. And even though in my mind I seemed to be always laying foundations for what was to come in his life—college and career, mission, marriage, the stuff of his maturity—I don’t think of myself as the mom who lived more in my son’s future than in his present. I hope I wasn’t that mom. I didn’t want to be.
But then Michael would never let me get away with that.
Thank Heaven, he wouldn’t let me.

—Cheri Pray Earl, “My Grief Observed,” anthologized in Dance with Them, ed. Kathryn Lynard Soper, 183

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Grief strikes at the most unexpected times. Just prior to the beginning of the academic year I had occasion to go over to the school. The first room I went to was the first grade. Johnny would have been in first grade. The desks were neatly set up. Books, place cards, lots of bright shapes and colors. I read the names: Paul and Catherine and Stephen and Genna (Johnny’s cousins); Joe, Annie, Andrew, Gregory, Stephanie, Robbie, Walter. These were all the names we’d been hearing for the previous three years. Like an earthquake filmed in slow motion, I felt the bricks of my soul coming apart. I tried to find a place to go to escape or at least to ease the pain, but in that moment all that existed was pain and there was no place to go. I could only hope no one was watching me. I gritted my teeth as hard as I could and told myself, “Not now! Not now! Wait till later, when you’re alone.”

—G. Floyd, A Grief Unveiled, 118

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Some friends had come over to help us, including a family that had recently lost their teenage son in a drowning accident. Their surviving younger children, Abby and Eli, were among [our daughter] Lily’s closest friends. The kids were understandably solemn and the adults measured all our words under the immense weight of grief as we set to work. . . .
[Another friend] and I compared notes on our teenage daughters—relatively new drivers on the narrow country roads between their jobs, friends, and home—and the worries that come with that territory. I was painfully conscious of Becky’s [mother of the deceased teen] quiet, her ache for a teenage son who never even got to acquire a driver’s license. The accident that killed Larry could not have been avoided through any amount of worry. We all cultivate illusions of safety that could fall away in the knife edge of one second.
I wondered how we would get through this afternoon, how she would get through months and years of living with impossible loss. I wondered if I’d been tactless, inviting these dear friends to an afternoon of ending lives. And then felt stupid for that thought. People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we’ll somehow remind them of death’s existence, we are missing their reality. Harvesting turkeys—which this family would soon do on their own farm—was just another kind of work. A rendezvous with death, for them, was waking up each morning without their brother and son.

—Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, 229, 233

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Tomorrow, starting at dawn, at the hour when the land turns white,
I will leave. You see, I know you are waiting for me.
I will go through the forest, I will go past the mountain,
I cannot stay far from you any longer.

I will walk with my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
seeing nothing else, hearing no sound,
alone, unknown, back bent, hands crossed,
sad, and day for me will be like night.

I will not look at the gold of the falling evening,
nor at the sails in the distance going down to Harfleur.
And when I arrive, I will put on your grave
a sprig of green holly and of heather in bloom.

—“Victor Hugo: Tomorrow, as soon as it is dawn,” (Demain dès l’Aube).
This piece Hugo wrote near the one year anniversary of his daughter Leopoldine’s and son-in-law Charles Vacquerie’s deaths from an accidental double drowning in the Seine.

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On November 14, 1970, a plane crashed in the rain in Huntington, West Virginia, killing the entire football team of Marshall University, along with team supporters and crew members. . . .
After nearly 30 years, the pain still is fresh each morning, . . . almost as if it renews itself overnight, culling from the darkness new power to hurt. “You don’t forget it. You don’t. It’s something that happened and you can’t do anything about it. I have to accept it.
“I have my bad moments. I do.” He paused. “I get in my car and I ride. I ride out to the cemetery and visit his grave. I have a cry.” He paused again, longer this time. “Sometimes I can’t talk about it.”
[Jimi Reese, 72, mother of Scottie Reese] “I think about him all the time,” Jimi said. “Sometimes it seems like he’s still around somewhere, like he can’t be gone. When it gets round close to that day again, I start to think about it harder. Along about that time of (that) month, it gets pretty heavy.
“It ran through my mind the other day, how old he’d be, where he’d be.”
Indeed, Scottie—and all of the young men on the Marshall plane—have now been dead longer than they were alive.

—Julia Keller, quoted in “The Marshall plane crash, remembered thirty years later: ‘It’s always with you,’” Consolatio online

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Everyday I’m with the child
She walks on my dreams
Every place I go she’s there
And in the spaces in between

Unfinished business
Keeping us sleepless
Unfinished business
You and me.
—One Night the Moon, Rachel Perkins, dir., 2001

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