June 10 I feel as if I am playing snakes and ladders. I move up the ladder only to come sliding down a slippery snake. My mood cannot stay high enough to pull me out of my hole.
June 12 I read again Oswald Chambers’ words: “If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace. If he has made it bitter, drink it in communion with him.” My cup is bitter. I cannot accept that Christine is gone. I thought she would live until fall. The ides of March showed up too soon. Christine got really sick the beginning of March with phlebitis, cellulitis, and then a host of ills, descending one by one like an Egyptian plague. I was confused by the mixed signals from the medical profession: “Her tests show her kidneys are stable,” “She is doing well.” She wasn’t doing well. A man in church is dying. I am not alone in experiencing death.
I have no one to tell news to. Christine sometimes listened to my news two and three times without criticizing me.
The news that Christine died hasn’t filtered through to everyone. On Sunday I had to tell some friends she had died. They were embarrassed, having been busy with their own problems. I recreate memories of her. We went to Botanica twice in April with her in a wheelchair to see the fields of tulips ablaze with color. A young man helped me push her over a hump in the path that defeated me.
We are nearly finished sorting her things and bringing personal items to my place. I find a long list of her “to-do” things with some items marked off: Put up bathroom curtains, iron table runner upstairs, put dust ruffle on bed. She was still moving in, making this house her home. Her list said she still needed to clean her desk, clean the living room chairs, clean her files. Now that is my job. She was a list-maker. But her lists took a long time to work through because of her low energy. Each stroke through an item meant a slow step forward.
These are my circumstances: a daughter dead too soon, a house larger than I need, an aging body, sometimes a discouraged spirit. I long for routine, steadiness, no middle-of-the-night phone call announcing a death, no interrupted sleep.
June 16 My comforters come. My neighbor, 83, offers his help for anything he can do. Another neighbor brings banana nut muffins he baked himself. He wants to help with my pain. People still ask, “How are you?” I have started saying, “I am grieving and it is hard work.” Someone says, “It must be pretty empty at your place now.” Christine had lived with me about five of the last eight years after she became disabled. Yes, of course. Why remind me of the emptiness? Why are some calls comforting, others disturbing, especially late at night. Every visible reminder of Christine’s life stabs me to the quick. A young woman at church, a former student, turned to me and gave me a quick hug. No words. That helps most.
The mourning dove is back, weeping with me.
June 20 Susan wrote her postponed medical board exams. “A day in hell,” she said. But she passed well. I continue to sort Christine’s things. How can someone who professed to live the simple life still have so much stuff, especially books and files? It is hard work, very hard work, physically and emotionally. I am less concerned why this is happening to me, a mother, than why it happened to her, a daughter. She had many dreams – to love deeply, to love wholly, to bring beauty to life, to be a reconciler. What mission did she pursue? A sense of the holy. And the beautiful in life.
Everything reminds me of her—my grocery shelf, my freezer, my frig, my bathroom. I bought groceries that met her needs. I cooked and ate what she could eat—low salt, low fat, low protein, low sugar. Someone said death is like the many strings the Lilliputians used to tie Gulliver down. Each string that attached Christine to life has to be cut—her car insurance, appointments, bank account, mail, her large pill tray. I dump it out.
A friend told me love shows itself in a willingness to use and display the loved one’s things. I wear the agate necklace she loved. I display the ugly tan ceramic angel she picked up in Mexico. The wings are broken, but she cherished it. Her wings were also broken, but she was not ugly.
I can think more clearly now. I feel like a failure at times. I should have shown more love, more willingness to listen, to let go of my own projects.
June 21 Yesterday I was weepy all morning. At the doctor’s office for a regular checkup I burst into tears. Dr. C. was a sympathetic listener, gentle, offering medication for depression. I resisted that. “Don’t forget God still exists,” she said. It felt good to cry without anyone passing judgment.
Susan and I returned to Christine’s place for final cleanup. Most books are sorted. Before we left, the bathroom ceiling collapsed. My thought was “Now I don’t have to wash that floor.” The pile in the living room gets smaller. It is about time to call the Salvation Army for a pickup.
The life-threatening moments are the many “How are you doing?” questions. The life-renewing ones are those when I gain awareness I can make choices about my attitude. Would it help these people who are mostly interested in how I am doing if I responded with a strong “just great”? I sense it would make them feel better if I did. There will be life ahead.
My guilt about Christine’s death is not unusual. Why did she die? Because we live in a flawed world. Sin brought sickness into the world. Sickness is part of life. But why she had to suffer for many years has no answers, especially with her wealth of creativity, leadership skills, identification with the poor, and friend-making skills. There was grace for yesterday. I got through the day without tears. There will be grace for today. Lord, help me to hold out my hands to receive it.
June 28 I sense I will again need to make goals for myself after several years of making Christine a priority. My out-of-town friend is surprised when I talk about restructuring my life now that Christine is no longer around. “I guess I don’t know how to make goals for myself at this point in life,” she says. She is over seventy and has no goals. What is the role of hope in grief work?
I wonder, am puzzled, why Christine’s whole life was saturated with goals to nurture body and soul, yet they didn’t keep her alive. In the hospital after she died the nurses had rearranged her body from the fetal position to which she moved almost automatically to the classic death pose – eyes shut, hands folded so her uric acid deposits would be least visible. She didn’t look like herself but like my mother. It startled me for a moment.
June 29 Friends continue to call, often in the bright cheer-up style. They have little understanding of my inner turmoil.
July 3 Susan and Roger and I visit Christine’s grave site. It has fallen in. We stand and cry. It is hard to imagine Chris under the ground in her lovely teal blue dress, necklace and earrings, rotting away. I didn’t tell her often enough I loved her, that she was beautiful. I didn’t make vereniki enough, her favorite food. She tried making some once with phyllo dough, low-fat cottage cheese and nonfat sour cream—a travesty of the real Low German dish.
What can I learn from this experience of dying and death? I have no great statements to make of God carrying me though every pain—at least not yet. I am not yet at the end of my grief journey. I make no apology for my struggle. Some of what I write in this journal is an exploration of my humanity, not my faith. Unanswered questions are not fatal. Our response can be. End of Part III To Be Continued