Hello, my name is Kim. I’m in a relationship with Grief and it’s . . . complicated. Oh, we flirted for years, I first met him when I lost my only grandmother, but I was much too young for a relationship with him then. He refused to stay away, revisiting me at the loss of dear aunts, uncles, cousins, pets and my parents. Losing my mother made me see him differently and learn more about his true nature. I finally understood that he would always be a part of my life. Then, 4 months ago, my daughter lost her long, valiant battle against Cystic Fibrosis, and Grief moved in with me to stay.
He is one of those demanding types – just SO possessive – you know the drill – thinks he has to be with me EVERY minute of the day. He always tries to make me think he is the only one I can stand to be around. I mean – if someone around me rolls their eyes about having to take their daughter to another practice or another appointment or that she didn’t make her bed – he will jab me. “Hear that? Seriously, I don’t know how you can stand to be around that. You should tell her you’d give anything to be taking your daughter to an appointment. Come away, come away – just come be here with me, where it’s safe – you don’t want to be around these people. I’m always here, waiting for you.” I can smile and nod and make the right noises to show that I sympathize. Despite what he says, I know they aren’t trying to be unkind or insensitive – they are just Living. They are sad for me, but I know their lives go on along because Grief doesn’t live at their house. I hope that they never have to MEET him, much less have him as a needy roommate!
But let me tell you, Grief doesn’t know who he’s messing with – I am a strong person with my own ideas about how life should be lived and how my daughter’s memory should be honored. Her entire life was like a “drill” for this from the time I held my sickly 6-month-old baby listening to the doctor say, “She has Cystic Fibrosis, but the treatments have come a long way. 30 years ago, her life expectancy would be about 8 years. Now, barring any complications, there’s no reason to believe she won’t live well into young adulthood.” I couldn’t process it – it made me crazy for a while. I was a brand new young mother learning that my firstborn would most likely not outlive me, a lifetime of hopes and dreams suddenly snatched away. I survived it realizing that life doesn’t come with any guarantees. We can’t focus on when it will be over, we must focus on today, and the next day and the next . . . one day at a time, because NONE of us knows when our hour cometh.
There were so many scares along the way, so many times I wondered if THIS was going to be the time she didn’t bounce back. That girl had a warrior spirit that inspired so many, especially me – I am strong – but could never endure all that she endured with a smile and unceasingly sweet temperament. Not me, man, I’d be a big whiney baby about it. We chose to meet the icky stuff with humor, tickling the big ole elephant in the room with a humongous feather, because laughter truly is the best medicine. Besides – being all somber and melancholy sure didn’t help anything – we wanted to celebrate our time together with as much joy as we could muster.
There was indeed joy, and experiences – she powered through so many things that many kids with CF could only dream of. I think, in her mind, she was living not only for herself, but for every victim of CF that hadn’t gotten to live as full a life as she did. Before the disease gripped her too tightly, she got to march in the high school band, be a field commander, be a bride, and even be a mom to a beautiful son. AND a trip to DisneyWorld – HELLO. Grief was practically a stalker in those days as she was frequently in and out of the hospital and eventually wheelchair bound, but we refused to allow him into our circle.
Then she got a double lung transplant – elating us with a hope we dared not have before. She rose from her wheelchair and got to take her dog for a walk. She got to climb stairs. She got to go shopping with me and her sister. She had the strength to jump in her car and drive over for a visit – no heavy equipment to haul, no oxygen tanks . . . It gave her a wonderful reprieve and a chance to enjoy life’s simple pleasures until the lungs went into permanent rejection. Less than a month before her 35th birthday, I got a call, and this time I knew – this was not a drill – this was an actual emergency, that day I knew would come. I was there by her side, stroking her hair and holding her hand as Grief stood at my shoulder, waiting, then he came home with me to stay.
I am still learning how to live in harmony with him, and if any of you out there have Grief in your lives – I understand what a challenge it is. He is demanding, but you can wrestle control from him at times. I’ve seen dear, strong people fall under his spell, be seduced into going along with his plan to focus solely on him – letting all the beauty that Life still holds slip entirely away from them. It can be so easy to do – he is very persuasive. But I go all Pollyanna on him and play the happy game. It may sound silly, but it really can help. Reach out for those happy memories, pull them close to you, let their light warm you – rejoice that your loved one DID live.
That is the real healing thought for me. If she had never been, then I wouldn’t be going through this – right? Would that have been better? I could carry on, blissfully unaware of the pain of losing a child (because as you moms know, it doesn’t matter that she was almost 35, she was STILL my baby). Would I be willing to never have those years with her so I wouldn’t have to know this soul-crushing kind of pain? Am I going to hold on to the bitter greediness of not having her longer? Grief always gets a worried look on his face when I say stuff like that, because then I get feisty. I start poking him in the chest, saying, “You know what? You need to just BACK OFF, because I am celebrating the joy of having her in my life – it was all WORTH IT!!!!” Her suffering is over and mine has just begun, but I allow my heart to fill up with the glow of the fierce love that I have for her, that we had for each other, and that I have for my other daughter, family and friends that are still here with me. That love drives out the stifling sadness for a time with the renewed strength I know she would want me to have. She wouldn’t want me to abandon my other loved ones by getting too involved with Grief, because he would be happy to take ALL my time if I let him.
So many horrific things are happening these days, so many are dealing with unimaginable loss. I always felt that I was somewhat lucky – I knew to not take any day for granted. Try to make that a mantra – you don’t have to be dying to live like you are – seize and appreciate life’s precious moments and don’t lose them to Regret, because he’s an even bigger jerk than Grief – his mooch of a buddy, Guilt, is always on his heels, showing up where he’s not wanted. Instead, invite Joy, Love, Gratitude and Remembrance into your home – they will lift you up instead of dragging you down. Oh sure – sometimes Grief will come out of his room and really get me going, but Gratitude will come along, wipe my tears, and shoo him away so I can compose myself and start again. If she just hadn’t been so darn awesome, I wouldn’t be missing her so much. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
You know how we all have those “my mom always said” sayings? I told my two girls that the thing I wanted them to always remember me saying is, “Happiness is a state of mind, not a set of circumstances.” Time to practice what I’ve preached – don’t you just hate when that happens? Be well, love fiercely and count blessings . . .
Kim Stephens Hayes is from Troy, Ohio and is a proud mother, avid concert goer and lover of music, books, and movies. Doll collecting is a passion, as well as designing/sewing for them and giving seminars/workshops at national doll conventions.