I went to buy a bra

I hadn’t shopped at this particular lingerie store in a long time, a really long time. I couldn’t quite explain why, because I love the place. I just hadn’t gotten around to it.

So I went, because they were having an amazing sale and I needed a bra. I got there and the familiarity of the place hit me. I used to take my mom there to get her a nice bra or two when she came from Puerto Rico to visit. For Mother’s Day one year, we even bought matching pajamas because they were on sale and we thought it would be funny. The random memory made me smile, like it always does.

While checking out, the cashier looked up my account and said something about me not shopping there in a long time. On my way out it dawned on me. I stopped going when my mom passed away. I had subconsciously avoided the place for 5 years.

And then it came like a wave, unexpected, knocking me completely over. I sobbed the whole way home, saltwater tears rushing out.

I wonder what else I have been avoiding.

L.S.

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Full of questions for my parents and my grandparents

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My parents holding hands. My paternal aunt and paternal grandmother sitting by.

Yesterday, I experienced an enormous sense of loss and this morning I am still enveloped in sadness. I was in the car listening to a podcast about immigrant stories and I wondered, how the process was for my parents. Being Puerto Rican they freely flew into the United States, but how did they feel, being so very poor, getting on a plane for the first time, traveling to a place so far away and so different from rural Puerto Rico, with big buildings, a subway system and a different language to learn?

I could ask my aunts what they felt, but my mom and my grandmother were different from the rest of my aunts. They were brave, they took risks, they were fighters. Plus even if you are traveling in the same plane at the same time, your travel experience is very different than everyone else’s.

Then I went on to wonder how exactly did my parents meet. They were both full of stories, and talked often, and I remember vague details of how they met but I want all the details, and I want them now. I am overwhelmed by this enormous sense of loss. It’s a mix of a cultural loss, given that I too moved to the United States as an adult after being raised in Puerto Rico, but also a personal loss, because I love hearing stories.

My grandmother loved telling stories, I have a couple recorded. But they are not enough, because as I grow older I have different questions. When I was young I wanted to know certain things and that is what I asked. But as a mother of 3 rapidly growing daughters I want to know more. There is so much that photos do not tell me.

I am hoping to be interview some family members, to collect some stories from my parents and grandparents.

It is nice to know that there is a community of people reading my stories and following this process with me. It gives me immense relief to have a place to bring my thoughts and share things that have helped me wrap my head around the concept of loss. It is terrible to feel alone when in grief. You are there, I am here, but there is no need to feel alone.  If you like what you are reading, please click “Like” below. Do you have a friend in grief? consider sharing this site. If you want to chat, leave a comment. Let’s share a virtual hug.

Laura

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral

I read this a long time ago, but I still go back to it time to time when I start feeling angry at how my mother’s pastor handled the funeral service. My mother’s funeral service was turned into an evangelizing event by my mother’s church; to redeem that, I pass this on:

Why you should have a physicist speak at your funeral

AARON FREEMAN:

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.

I imagine a physicist speaking at my mom’s funeral and I smile. Science is a beautiful thing. It blows my mind to find comfort in science. At my mother’s funeral I couldn’t offer this beautiful message, but I can share it with you. If you want to listen to it, click here. Now, pass me those tissues.

Laura

Grief and feeling tired

I recently dealt with some legal issues relating to my parents property.  Because it is in Puerto Rico (where bureaucracy is thick and difficult to navigate) it meant digging up all sorts of documentation, scanning, faxing, calling, and crossing my fingers that my lawyer was not going to call me and inform me that my family of 5 had to pack up and go there personally.

Needless to say, I started grieving all over again. The interesting thing is that at the beginning I didn’t notice it. All I noticed is that I was feeling very, very tired.

I tried sleeping more, exercising more, drinking less coffee, drinking less wine, drinking more wine… nothing relieved the heaviness I was feeling. Then I found this podcast [Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 7 possibilities, some common, some not-so-obvious, for why you may be tired]. I wanted to share it because it helped me put things in perspective and realize that I was having a bit of anxiety, but most importantly that a big part of what I was feeling was grief.

My mother died 4 years ago, my dad 6 years ago. It has been a long time, but seeing their death certificates and reading through their bank account print outs brought back so much emotion that at first I didn’t even know how to categorize it.

Grief is exhausting. It helps to know that you are exhausted because you are grieving. It helps to know that you are not being lazy or not trying hard enough to “get out there” and “do things”.

It is perfectly normal to feel this way and rest assured that the exhaustion will pass. In my case I couldn’t even remember how tired I felt after my mom passed away. My body didn’t recognize what I was feeling as grief. Acknowledging it helped me focus on the things that I could control and not fret about the things that were just normal psychological reactions.

I hate giving advice, but if you need a list of things you can control, you can try these: keep hydrated, eat well, exercise, take vitamins, get outside-enjoy some sunshine (if you can’t, make sure to take a vitamin D supplement). Also, try to not drink too much coffee or alcohol. If you can, exercise. Like me, you will most likely feel that it is not helping, but you will be able to take pride in knowing that you are keeping your body healthy while the rest of you heals. And remember, be gentle on yourself. Grief is real and everyone grieves in their own personal way, which means that what you are feeling is perfectly normal.

Laura

That sweater my mom gave me and all this other stuff

My husband and I have been trying to downsize since my mom passed away (back in 2010). In short, our efforts have been fruitless.  We are constantly packing up boxes to donate our stuff to charity and we have at least 1 garage sale each year. We don’t shop much, but even so, we find that our house is a magnet for stuff. Papers, hand-me-downs, craft projects, toys- plus all of my mom’s stuff… We decided to be drastic and move from a 3 story house to a 3 bedroom apartment. Let the fun (and wild roller-coaster of emotions) begin!

I was reading an O magazine article on downsizing (I was quite desperate) and found a section on organizing clothes. It said “that sweater that your mom gave you, it’s NOT your mom.” The idea being that if I don’t wear it, I am to get rid of it.  But what if my mom is dead?  What if this sweater reminded me of her, together with those pair of shoes, and that purse, and that picture frame over there, oh and that planter, and a coffee cup… I’m not even discussing all of the boxes of photos I haven’t scanned… I like to be reminded of my mom and the little things we shared. So I held on to the sweater for 4 years, I probably wore it a total of 3 times. Yesterday I decided it was time to make some drastic decisions.

My mom's room at it's worst- transformed into a sorting station.

My mom’s room at it’s worst- transformed into a sorting station.

One of the reasons we are moving from this house is because the lower floor (picture above) was intended to be for my mom to live in. Once she passed away we tried having an office/playroom take the place of her living area, and we tried moving my husbands office to her kitchenette. We used her large bathroom often for our girls to bathe. But even when we had that floor in frequent use, it wasn’t enough to keep it organized. Most of our lives take place in our living room/kitchen so we decided all we needed was that, and some rooms for the girls to have their own space. We are happiest when living in our 25 foot RV (I work remotely so we try to camp as often as possible) so that got us thinking about our lives and happiness and how complicated our lives have gotten. We decided it was definitely time to simplify our routines and minimize the space we have to take care of.

I recently found out I am part of a downsizing/simplifying trend, which made me smile because it reassures me (HEY! I am not crazy!).

So yes, I packed up the sweater, the purse and the shoes for our next garage sale… the planter will go to a friend, the coffee cup to my office  and I am keeping the picture frame.

It feels good.

I am smiling, and really that’s all that matters.

L.S.

Stuck in the wine aisle sobbing; another Valentine’s Day

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On Valentines Day I systematically try to avoid the chocolate aisles. You need to understand one thing: I LOVE CHOCOLATE with a passion that is borderline creepy. I also like holidays, any excuse for a celebration, I’m in. But my mother was my first Valentine and she is not here anymore.

//In the town where I grew up “el Día del Amor y la Amistad”(literal translation: the day of love and friendship) was hugely celebrated. Every year many girls in school would get flowers, chocolates, balloons or teddy bears from a boy (or multiple boys, if they were really lucky). I was never popular with the boys and my parents were well aware, so each year my mom would get me a little something: a teddy bear one year, new pajamas another, flowers, balloons, one year she even got me perfume! She always tried to make the day special. There was always a card and always a box of chocolates. This would cheer me up after a day of wondering why not ONE BOY in the whole school liked me enough to show it.//

I now have children and children love to celebrate, so it’s impossible to avoid the chocolate aisle altogether for the weeks before Valentine’s Day.  I find myself having to breathe and focus on the task at hand: purchase the chocolates, walk away.

Yesterday I lost it and I wasn’t even shopping for chocolates! I was at Cost Plus World Market shopping for fun snacks, coffee and wine. Something about the store, maybe their many Valentine’s Day displays triggered it. It happened suddenly and I couldn’t control it. Next thing I knew I was sobbing in the wine aisle. It was strange. I was a bit embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to ask what was wrong. What would I have said? My mother died <<back in 2010>>. I imagine the confused face of this imaginary person- shouldn’t I be “over it” if it happened 4 years ago?

I calmed myself down, checked out and got into the car. On my drive home I reflected:

I asked myself why should I care what people think? Well… I encounter so many people that are more than willing to tell me about God and God’s plans and mysteries and how my mother is probably better off in heaven- that I am afraid of being caught sobbing in the wine aisle, because OBVIOUSLY wine is not the answer, GOD IS! I wasn’t sure I would be able to articulately handle the rhetoric of afterlife-consolation. When I am calm I think about all these eloquent things I can say in reply, but when I am approached I usually silently blink at the person in awe that they have the nerve to talk to me about grief.

Then I tell myself that I am being silly; the likelihood of a stranger asking a woman who is crying (in the wine aisle) why she is crying is very VERY low. I had gone there after a long day in the office and most likely looked a bit frazzled (if not completely insane) so maybe I should say the chances of someone approaching me were pretty close to null. But then again: A crying woman in the wine aisle is the perfect invitation to someone that is sent to this world to spread the gospel. What if someone offered to pray for me, right there, what would I have done?

What would you have done?

L.S.

How to help someone who’s grieving: the difference between empathy and sympathy

I thought I knew how to be supportive. Then I lost my dad and mom and learned how NOT to be helpful from all the people around me that were trying, in earnest, to help. I learned that most frequently (if not always) it’s best to be still and quiet and just listen.

I didn’t know how to put into words the subtle difference between ‘trying to help’ and ‘actually being helpful’ until I saw this video, the key is the difference between sympathy (trying) and empathy (helping).

Voice: Dr Brené Brown from the talk The Power of Vulnerability.
Animation: Katy Davis (AKA Gobblynne) http://www.gobblynne.com

So many times people (trying to help) would say things like “I know how you feel, when I lost my [sister, friend, dog] I felt like I didn’t want to wake up in the morning” or “you need to focus on those wonderful things surrounding you, be grateful for your [supportive husband, beautiful daughters, health]”… I also had people telling me not to worry “you’ll eventually get over it”. And I won’t even get started with the “she’s better off in heaven” because I could write a whole post about that one.

Let’s start this new year with the resolve to be more empathetic, to listen more, to offer a kind touch, a quiet hug.

Cheers to a year full of love, happy 2014!

Laura

 

It is nice to know that there is a community of people reading my posts. It gives me immense relief to have a place to bring my thoughts and share things that have helped me wrap my head around the concept of loss. You are there, I am here, but there is no reason we can’t connect.  If you like what you are reading, please click “Like” below. If you want to chat, leave a comment. Thanks!

On birth and death

Birthing stories have always made me misty eyed. Even before I had kids I loved the idea of receiving this little human being into the world amidst stress and pain and finding out that you love this little person already, because how couldn’t you?

Now that I HAVE kids I can’t watch a movie or read a book with a birthing scene without turning into a mushy mess.

Let me clarify, I am not a sap. But I do love babies. My mom REALLY loved babies, she was crazy about them, so I guess it could be either an inherited trait or a learned behavior or (gasp) even both?!?

I was an only child and my mom had started worrying that I would put off having kids for ever. She was thrilled to know that I was ready to start a family and wanted more than 2 kids. She was around for the birth of my first, and relished every second she had with her new and only granddaughter. She always envisioned herself being there enjoying my children. We would talk about it often.

Her time with my first newborn was cut short because my grandmother passed away suddenly, and my mom had to go back to Puerto Rico to deal with the funeral arrangements. She had been my grandmothers caregiver during the previous 5 years and felt disappointed with the timing of my grandmothers passing. She explained that she wanted to be there in her last days. But there weren’t any “last days”! (I wanted to point out) She died in her sleep! (I wanted to rationalize). But I wasn’t about to argue with my mother about anything. I felt grief as well. A selfish kind of grief: I would have loved for my grandmother to meet my new baby.

My mom was visiting with me again when I was pregnant with my second child. My dad had passed away, and she was looking forward to spending a significant amount of the year living with us. I was excited as well. No one loved my firstborn the way she did. But she passed away, in my home, before that second birth.

With this birth story I came undone. She wasn’t able to hold my second girl, to press her against her cheek, to smell her. She wasn’t able to marvel at the tiny fingernails or laugh at every little piglet squeal and grunt. I grieved deeply while I got to know this little being who somehow seemed to understand that I was broken inside.

With the birth of my third (and last) girl I felt that my birth story had less grief and more joy. Still I find myself staring at my little one, imagining the magnitude with which my mother would love her.

I could have ten babies! But that would be unfeasible for a myriad of reasons, one of them being that babies turn into toddlers and then go to college. Having this be my last also makes me grieve. I feel like every coo or gurgle could be the last. Every little wrinkle will stretch and soon this baby will be running with the rest of my girls. I want to yell: PLEASE STOP GROWING!

I find myself being disappointed when I realize that I didn’t take a certain photo or record a certain video and that now things have changed and I will never be able to relive those little moments that have passed. But it’s futile to try to capture moments in order to hold on to them because every single moment -in its uniqueness- is the last and there’s not a thing we can do to stop that.

L.

With a mind full of loved ones and a heart full of love…

Dr. Joseph Chuman, beautifully said*:

…I think we express our loyalty to those who are gone not by denying our own lives, but by recognizing what they have given us and how their values have merged with our own.

…those who are gone do not totally leave. They remain to populate my mind, and my mind has grown very crowded with the memories of people I knew and loved, and with whom I have significantly shared my life.

It is challenging to belong to a culture with traditional values that expect you to mourn for a given amount of time and act a certain way after your loved one(s) have passed away. I went to the beach with my little one the day after my mom’s burial to the horror of my family and friends. It happened to be Mothers Day, and in my befuddled state it seemed the most logical thing to do. I had to get out. Nature seemed like a good option and my daughter was happy to have a change of scenery. It ended up being an okay morning. Granted I was kind of numb, but felt genuine joy amidst the sorrow because I didn’t have an option: seeing a 3 year old tumble in the waves and emerge with a full head of sand is bound to make you laugh. I had to keep repeating to myself that I knew my parents would have liked me to move on with my life for the sake of myself and my children.

How refreshing it is to hear someone say, not that those who leave populate the heavens above us, looking after us, and possibly chastising us for having a little fun,  but that they are inside our minds. What a beautiful thing to have our loved ones living inside of us in the form of memory.

I think it’s time for people of religious backgrounds to be compassionate towards those who do not believe in an afterlife. As a society we need to start gaining consciousness that blanket statements like “now you have an angel looking after you”, “she is in a better place” or the most presumptuous of all “you will see her in heaven one day” are hurtful to those who do not believe that there is a “better place” and who do not expect to see their loved ones ever again.

Why not just cherish the memories and continue with our lives, honoring those that have gone before us by having the most amazing lives that we can possibly have? It’s a refreshing thought.

With a mind full of loved ones and a heart full of love,

L.S.

*Quotes part of a Platform address by Dr. Joseph Chuman, leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, November 4, 2012. Please take the time to read it in it’s entirety, it will be well worth your time.