Last October, my boyfriend’s mother passed away from a long and hearty fight with lung cancer. She was a light that could not be dimmed – even by the grasps of cancer. Through the last two and half years Becky encouraged, prodded, reminded, and prayed that we would all live and love and experience life.
Becky had arranged several trips after her diagnosis: she took all of us to Europe, to Nashville, and visited each of her kids in their homes multiple times. One of the trips she had planned was to take us all to a lakeside resort in Iowa. Unfortunately, we were not able to take that trip with her due to a turn in her illness, but she encouraged her daughter to still plan for us all to go. And Christi did just that.
This last weekend we all packed up and headed to the same cabin with the same itinerary that had been planned before. It was a perfect weekend and it happened to be Becky’s birthday.
In the first year after a loss each holiday can feel like a brick to the stomach. Often grievers will mark the amount of days passed. The unknown of how Christmas or birthdays will be handled can be terrifying. After the first year, milestones like holidays can still be difficult but you begin to have a feel for how to celebrate with your family’s new dynamic. Creating memorials or traditions can really help ease the pain of your loved one’s absence – the subtle shift of just missing them to remembering them with a special memorial can help heal.
We celebrated Becky. We laughed. We rode the pontoon and sat by the campfire. And on the evening of her birthday Christi planned a special memorial for her mother. We each took Sharpie and wrote a message to Becky on a Chinese flying lantern. While drawing a picture for Grandma, Christi’s four year old asked, “Now this is going to make it all the way to heaven, right?” Her 8 year old decided that it was the best the messages were written upside down so Grandma could read them. There were tears shed but there was some laughter too. As the lantern slowly rose through the night sky and the light got further and further away, each of our hearts felt a little bit more connected to Becky – despite the loss.
Memorials are symbols. Some will turn into traditions – like eating crème brulee every year on Rachael’s birthday. Other memorials will be one-time occurrences. Participating in memorials is not a fixation on your loved one; it is not considered being stuck in your grief. These events give physicality to the grief that we feel, but they are also moments of celebration. We conquer death when we continue to celebrate life that was lived. I encourage grievers, no matter how far along in the journey, to continue to celebrate your loved ones. And deep down, I truly believe that they are somewhere celebrating us too.
I’ve been inflammatory the last few days. It’s hard to say exactly what has caused my recent irritability, except there seems to be a real or perceived series of ‘unfairnesses’ this week. My heart has been heavy with feeling like I don’t have anyone on my team or that I’m being put into last place with the people I love. It struck me today as I was getting into my car at the coffee shop – after fuming at my partner for not seeing my point of view about an overreacting neighbor – that with each incidence I’ve been saying in the back of my head “Rachael was always on my side.”
This is a true statement and not an over-glorification of my loved one (which often happens in grief); but in truth, Rachael made a point to always be on my side, my team, in my corner, and she’d drop anything to spend time together. I’ve often felt deep guilt at not providing the same unconditional sisterly pact back – at least not with the same intensity.
So getting into the car, as I started a conversation in my own head of what I wished I could say to this neighbor, or my partner, or the other people who have disappointed me this week, my heart echoed “Rachael was always on my side.” With that, the all too familiar feeling of loneliness settled in and my inflammation weakened.
I flipped on the radio for some ease and within 30 seconds an old song started to play … “I’m too sexy for my hat, too sexy for my hat, whatcha think about that ...” There she was. Dancing between our connected hollywood bath, swishing her hair side to side and forcing me to join in. She wanted me to laugh then and I didn’t feel so alone.
Whether the timing was just right to bring a memory of how she handled me when I was frustrated or whether it was truly a sign that she really hasn’t left me alone is hard to say. But I’m definitely too sexy to stay irritable.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
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