July 4 Firecracker Day. Five weeks since Christine died. I sorted some more of her stuff. Will it never end? Worry means we are concerned we can’t get our own way, says Oswald Chambers. Always true? I am inching back to God. I don’t have all the answers, yet God loves me. I know that.
July 6 Beginnings are easy to determine. Endings are harder to predict. I knew Christine would die young, but not so young. She often said she wanted to grow old and have gray hair and wrinkles like mine. But she knew it would probably not happen. I don’t feel rich inside with peace and joy. I am alone but not lonely. I treasure my solitude while grieving. Plants grow in the dark of the night, not at noon during the heat of the sun. Maybe I can also.
July 10 My “spiritual” friend phones to tell me to count my blessings. I try to accept her words graciously. A friend comes to spend time with me. After an hour and a half talking about her heavy schedule, her trips, her hobbies, I felt my ear drums had been blasted full of holes. Maybe she needed to talk more than I needed to tell her about my grief. I was selfish expecting her to comfort me. I sense the goal of much contemporary Christianity is to release people from suffering rather than to have them acknowledge it and let it teach them something.
July 16 The dark night is lifting, the morning twilight beginning. I have felt a return of joy to live, a readiness to get up in the morning, to read, to do something. Yesterday was quiet, but I was not lonely. I met Peter F. in church yesterday. He lost a son in spring. He knows about the wound in the heart that does not heal. We didn’t have to speak words to one another.
July 18 Last night I went to a grief support group of five women and two leaders. I don’t think I’ll go again. These women had all lost a husband. The only support was a gentle murmuring of the leaders that any feeling was all right.
July 20 Oswald Chambers says it is unnecessary to keep asking, “Lord, lead me.” He will lead. If our common-sense decisions are not his, he will press through. We must be quiet and wait for new direction. I am waiting, Lord.
July 21 Donna and I have lunch. I can talk freely about my loss to her. She spent the most time with Christine in the last months. A recently retired woman in church is dying of cancer. She has decided on no more chemotherapy. Death had clamped onto Christine and now onto Marilyn. We live in a world of life and death. Pain and suffering are part of life. To deny suffering is to deny reality. The point is to keep affirming life. Thank you, Lord, for healing that has started.
Chris was always in a state of waiting for the next siege with her illness, and the next. A crisis seemed preferable to the waiting. Death beckoned, daring her to let go.
July 25 I feel like an intruder when I sort Christine’s personal files. I don’t belong here, a voice tells me. This is private. Don’t you see the Private sign? But I enter anyway. The files are getting thinner. She saved nearly every piece of paper that entered her world.
July 27 The sunrise this morning was a vast diffusion of gold and pink over the whole city. Something is stirring inside me. I don’t quite know what. I cringe when people defend God to me with great statements of the way he works. God does not need our defense. God can take care of himself.
July 28 All summer seven-year-old Jennifer has come every Wednesday to learn to sew. Sometimes we go to Botanica to the Butterfly House. Jennie has learned to coax butterflies to rest on her fingers. One day we saw a luna moth that had just emerged from its cocoon. “I am a happy girl,” she told me as we worked on a small coverlet. Her willingness to tackle new projects gives me joy. She is in love with life.
August 19 I struggle with guilt and Christine’s indirect condemnation of me when I argued with Joanna about behavior I disagreed with. Chris believed in a perfect world, especially in Christ-believers, and then was disappointed when they revealed they were human. I was often too human for her.
She never fully came to terms with her father’s death as a seven-year-old. His death and her birthday coincided and, consequently, she became the pampered guest at the family funeral gathering 38 years ago. She complained she didn’t get to see him before he died. Hospital rules didn’t allow children to come in. I was fearful his appearance with a week’s growth of beard, without dentures, cheeks sunken and body wasted, unable to talk, would harm her. I was wrong. I should have taken her to see him.
Christine was angry when friends disappointed her. She was angry that she had to live with me because she could not support herself when she returned to Wichita from Chicago, a city she loved, and where she had a huge community of fun-loving friends. She went into a low-grade depression.
She was angry with me that I wasn’t dancing ecstatically when she didn’t die in 1994, even though we had had hospice in our home for six months. I had braced myself for her death during that time and watched her steady deterioration. I was planning to go to the funeral home the next day about final arrangements. I had slept on the floor for about six weeks to help with sudden vomiting or bathroom needs. My own emotions were shredded. I felt exhausted. Death would have been a relief for her – and me.
But she didn’t die, but began a long convalescence. I felt pushed against the wall. I was the only one on whom she could vent her feelings. I imagine her in heaven exclaiming to me, “Mother, you didn’t manage my death any better than Daddy’s.”
I wish we had talked about death more, about all these feelings, but then we did – somewhat. I still have my notes on what she wanted at her funeral. She often said, “I feel as if I have death perched on my shoulder.”
My guilt overwhelms me at times. Did I really do enough for her? During the years she lived with me we ate her kind of food, lived according to her schedule, attended functions she enjoyed. But was it enough? Were there enough words of love, focused attention, symbols of caring?
I state firmly to myself Christine died because of her illness, not because I didn’t do enough. I need to say this. I regret not having been present when she died, but she wanted everyone to leave. Maybe she couldn’t let go of life when we were all around, says Donna. She was too self-reliant. The newspaper had an article this morning on the need to mourn. Two days, two weeks, two months is not enough.
Sept. 13 Three months is not enough. I watched the entire public television series by Bill Moyers on death and dying. Donna tells me that Christine probably processed death so often within herself and with her spiritual director, she was determined to stay alive to the end.
I am puzzled by the absence of pastoral care after a death.
Oct. 7 Chris, you are still here with me—just gone for a while. I am lonely today for you. I wonder what great heights you would have risen to had you had a healthy body. You were gifted in all areas –singing, writing, public speaking, spiritual discernment, caring for others. I could extend the list endlessly.
Oct. 9 At a university forum on poetry I told one of Christine’s former professors of her death. She was floored. She sat down to grasp my words. “Did she die at home? Was it hard?”
Oct. 21 Susan and I went to a hospital memorial service for those who had died in there in recent months. A large crowd filled the chapel, some obviously recently bereaved. It helps to mourn with mourners.
Oct. 31 Three years ago Chris and I visited the kidney dialysis unit. We were given a tour and more information than I wanted. We came home and cried. That path seemed too hard.
Nov. 6 Her congregation held a memorial service for anyone who had experienced death in recent months. I find great comfort to hear Scriptures read and hymns sung related to God’s role in healing. Yet I felt pain when I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a list of Christine’s medical appointments for one week in May, the last time I wore the coat. She always gave me a weekly schedule so I would know when to pick her up.
Nov. 15 I am waiting for dawn to break through, for someone to tell me boldly that it’s okay that Chris is gone. Some prisoners of war say they learned from their experience—became better persons. Can I become a better person because of my loss? Suffering is an extremely complicated emotion. It was hard to feel strong faith when Chris was dying. I felt an instinctive revolt against death, though submission to God’s will was in the background, by habit, mostly.
Nov. 21 I feel I am moving to something new. I don’t know what. I am in a holding pattern, with openness, waiting for God to reveal himself to me.
Nov. 23 Thanksgiving Day. I am alone. The children went to the in-law sides of the family. What am I thankful for? That Christine’s suffering is over.
Dec. 26 It bothers me that no one talks about Christine. Must I grieve alone? I have heard others say the same thing. I remember after Walter died mention of his name in conversation cast a pall over the group.
Jan. 5 I wish I had known Chris was going to die in the next few days. Yet if I had known, what would I have done differently? We would have talked more about dying, I say. I feel bravely certain about that now. But I know I would have waited for her to introduce the subject. No mother should have to tell her daughter she is dying. In the hospital I talked to her about the DNR order she had once agreed to. In the hospital I told her she was dying. I think I was telling myself. I don’t know if she grasped what I was saying. I stumbled trying to explain her critical medical situation to her. I didn’t grasp it myself.
Jan. 17 Time does not heal all things. Time does not heal all grief. Time heals grief as we work with it. I have worked hard at my grief this summer and fall. I am bothered when people who escape a tornado say, “God was watching over me,” knowing their neighbors’ homes were devastated. Does God pick and choose his favorites for special care? Does he let a tornado destroy some while he holds others close so no harm can come to them? How does God decide?
Jan. 19 I had the strangest dream. I was called to the hospital. Chris was dying. Another family was also there because of death. Then Chris came into the room, smiling radiantly, with long curly hair, not the short wispy stuff she had in recent years. I felt comforted. This morning I read Psalm 65:8: “Where morning dawns and evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” The night has passed. The morning twilight is turning to sunlight. My grief journey has not ended, but is moving to another stage.
[To be continued]