Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Convalescence of Grief

''Healing,'' Papa would tell me, ''is not a science, but the intuitive art of wooing nature.''
- W. H. Auden

The Convalescent (Zeffy in Bed) - Oil on canvas
 Lillian Hale, 1906

It’s been one week since my mother flew away on the supermoon. At least that’s the way I like to think of it, her soul lifting up out of her now-unnecessary body, soaring upward to alight on the gleaming giant moon, looking down at the glory of Gaia’s earth, then moving on to realms unknown.

Or maybe her departure was more like the explosion of fireworks, with tiny sparkling shards of her soul arching out in all directions , lighting up the heavens, some of them piercing into her family and friends’ hearts as the true “final resting place.” Who can know for sure?

What I do know with certainty is that I have barely begun the grieving process, and I need to be gentle with myself. I’ve been through the process before (who at my age hasn’t?), and there is no set time frame for healing to occur. I have no expectations but to allow the process to unfold as it will, feel what I must feel when the feelings arise, cry the tears I must cry when they erupt, and endure the pain that I am sure to encounter along the way.

Already I have reached for the phone several times, thinking it’s time for me to check in with Mom, when I remember that she won’t be on the other end of the line. It’s a strange and sad feeling.

When my husband insisted soon after our marriage over 35 years ago that we move to his hometown (ancient, pre-cell phone days), I acquiesced, though secretly I felt as if he was moving me to the other side of the world, rather than the other side of the state. I had not, at that point, traveled much in my entire life, and my roots had grown deep and spread wide and set firmly in the soil of my hometown. I agreed to yank myself up, roots and all, on one condition. He could not complain about the long distance phone bill. Ever. To anyone. Especially to his family. He agreed.

To my knowledge, he never did. I spoke with my mother frequently…not every day, but at least once a week at first. Then, as I went through pregnancies and childbirths and illnesses and injuries and birthdays and first dentist appointments and first soccer practices and first days of school and such, I was calling more frequently.

By the time I found myself with three little boys under the age of five, I was speaking to Mom every day. Of course I would. After all, she had raised four boys of her own, so there wasn’t much that she didn’t know about these feral beings and how to tame them. Oh, yeah. She was so wise. [If you want to read some of her “mom-isms” you can read them HERE.]

Mind you, she rarely called me. In fact, she rarely called any of her children. If the phone rang and her number popped up on caller ID, I was sure that either it was my birthday, or there was an emergency. She was the kind of mother who never meddled in her children’s business, never inserted herself in their plans, and never played the martyr. The truth is, she had a busy, productive life of her own outside of her children, and so maybe…now that I think of it…just maybe, she enjoyed her freedom from us!

At any rate, I never felt pressured to call her. I simply loved her company, her great good humor, her sage advice, and her attention. After all, I was one of six children, so it was with no small measure of satisfaction that as an adult I discovered that the best way to bask in my mother’s undivided attention was to speak with her on the phone.

As her health declined and my trips to check on her increased, our phone conversations waned (she never could get the hang of her hearing aid), but we still laughed a lot during our conversations. I loved making Mom laugh, and she certainly knew how to tickle my funny bone.

Even in the final weeks of her life, I would regale her with stories (complaints) about my routine experiences (problems) with everyday life (family), and soon we would both be laughing. She looked at me once on a recent visit, held my hands in hers, and said to me, “you are such a funny girl.”

“Funny, “ha-ha”, or funny, “odd?” I asked, which set her laughing again.

“Funny, “ha-ha,” she assured me, to which I asked her, “Now where would I get that trait?”

She released my hands, put both her thumbs in the air, and pointed them at herself, which of course, tickled me pink.

Yes, I think I will need some time to adapt to the quiet mornings without the phone conversations with my mother.

I guess I'll do what we usually do while healing...lie in bed a while longer than usual, get fresh air, breathe deeply, and carefully nourish my body.  Like caring for a convalescent, I'll give myself a little extra TLC.

It'll be just won't be as fun.

Today, I wish for you a great conversation with one you love.

Today's music selection is the aria, "Song to the Moon" from the opera "Rusalka" by Antonin Dvorak. I'm sorry to say that this beautiful version has no English credits to share with you. I assume this singer is Korean, though I may be mistaken, but there is no mistaking the gorgeous talent she holds.

In this aria, a water nymph, Rusalka, sings to the moon that the moon might hear her desire to find the prince she loves.  I especially love Dvorak's lyrics beseeching the moon;

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky
Through the vast night pierce your rays
This sleeping world you wander by
Smiling on men's homes and ways
Oh moon 'ere past you glide, tell me 
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?


  1. My heart goes out to you...The painting and music and your prose are simply golden...

    Sending you love and healing your way. Love you!

  2. THis is so beautiful, Jo. Wrenching and beautiful and all of it rings true.

    I STILL, to this very day, think of things I would love to say to my mother, people I wish she could meet, and such.

    I was so sad at Obama's inauguration, that she wasn't still around. She would have LOVED it.

    You are healthy minded and sane - and you've suffered a terrible loss. So glad you're coming for a visit. I can't wait!

  3. oh my goodness jo i am so astonished at the relationship - the extraordinary relationship between child and mother and then especially between daughter and mother - your experience of your mother is almost certainly coloured by every pencil crayon in the box and yet you see the essence of it all for the gift that it is. thankyou for sharing this so very beautiful rendering of your experience. the joy, the pain, the very truth. steven

  4. Thank you, Vicki. It's a long process, isn't it? I'm sure you understand. ♥

  5. You are so wise to know that you have to be your own primary care-giver in the grieving process. I'm glad to read that you will be gentle with yourself and will give yourself time - the loss is enormous, but the good memories and all that love will see you through.

  6. Reya, we've said exactly the same thing about my father...wishing he could have seen President Obama's inauguration. Tsk. I suppose they both had front row seats if they wanted them, eh?

    I'm convinced that my visit to see both Andrea then you was a pre-ordained gift...of course I always considered both to be a great gift, but I didn't really know the context of the gift until now. I'm so grateful for both gifts.

  7. Thank you Steven, for understanding the complexity of the gift. Every relationship is extraordinary, and each is a gift to be appreciated for the lessons it provides.

    Our relationship, and this profound experience, have taught me so very much.

  8. Pondie, you're so kind. I don't feel very wise, but I've learned through the years to listen to my intuition, and I feel intuitively that it's the right thing to do. I will go easy on myself for a while, I promise.

    You're so right about the memories...they will carry me through. ♥

  9. My mother died June 2009 and all of these feelings, thoughts, intuitions are so fresh in my heart, the memories, the things she would have loved to see. This post is so beautifully written Jo. There is an empty space where the emergency runs and phone calls used to be. That space in my life is beginning to fill up with the exploits of my grandchildren, with whom I have more time to spend... and it's all good. Baby steps.......

  10. wow, Linda. I had no idea you'd suffered two such profound losses so closely together. I'm in awe of the way you've chosen to follow your path...with grace and goodness and not a speck of self pity. What a teacher you are.

    thank you very much, most humbly. ♥

  11. The anniversary of my mothers death is this week and I have had all these same feeling tumbling around my mind for awhile now. It is such a long process. I remember having to put a note by the phone so I would stop trying to call her...I still have it fifteen years later. Be kind to yourself and go at your own pace...grief is a fixkle thing and can't be rushed. In my thoughts dear Jo.

  12. Oh Jo, I'm so, so sorry. Your writing is such a beautiful, honest tribute to a woman who sounds as if she spent a beautiful and honest life. I can only imagine the hole that must be in your heart right now. Yes please, take care of yourself and give yourself time. Your music today was exquisite and so moving. Sending energy and healing thoughts across the big pond. Peace.

  13. Thank you, jojo. I love the idea that grief is a fickle thing. So true.

    It comes and goes on a whim, doesn't it? I was fine while visiting my daughter, "being there" for her in her own grief, yet when I boarded the airplane for the trip home, it all suddenly came pouring in again.

    I guess I'll go write that note to myself now about the

    so glad to hear from you,

  14. Delana, you are spot on (as usual). My mother lived a beautiful and honest life. And simple. She knew how to simplify things down to their essence, which I hope I've learned from her.

    Glad the music touched you as it did me. Singing to the moon sounds like such a lovely thing to do.

    Many thanks for your kind words from across the pond,

  15. jo,

    you share so beautifully of both the pain of your loss and your precious memories of your dear mother. i especially like what you said about her soul being like an exploding firework, lighting up the heavens and piercing the hearts of her loved ones as her true final resting place. that is poetry.

    i know that feeling of picking up the phone and expecting to hear her voice. my mom passed away 20 years ago this year, and it took a very long time for me to get used to that.

    i wish you peace in the days, weeks and months ahead and may her memory be eternal in your heart --- of course, it will be.

    with love,


  16. I'm so happy to have friends like you, Amanda, who gently inform me that this process takes YEARS and never fully leaves us.

    Thanks so much for the kind. comforting words. They really do help.


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