Friday, November 25, 2011

Holidays, Grief and Loss

I tried to write a post this week on things I am grateful for this year, but I couldn’t do it. It is not that I don’t have anything to be grateful for, I do. I just couldn’t do it, as the grief that I thought was under control came back and smothered me once again.

The past four years I have spent nearly every holiday at the nursing home where my mother resided. It was a two hour drive, sometimes through nasty Minnesota weather. I made that trip because when my mother was admitted, I vowed that she would not spend a holiday alone. It was part of a larger promise I made to my dad on his last day. I don’t know if he heard me, but I told him he could go. I would take care of mom.

The food at the nursing home was good, but it was hard to watch my mother just push the food around on her plate, taking only occasional nibbles. We were almost always the last ones there. Mom and I had always lingered over meals. Years ago, the kitchen at the farm was the place to be. She and I had many long conversations over coffee after breakfast. Sometimes the dishes weren’t cleared until we realized it was time to make lunch. But, the nursing home was different. The conversations were usually me encouraging her to eat, something. It usually was dessert. But mostly, it was silent.

I missed those conversations we had at her kitchen table. Mom had always kept up with current events and although we did not agree on many things, we could always talk. I always called her when I had good news or when I needed some support. I think that was the hardest thing to deal with after she started to decline. I lost a huge part of my support system and I have not yet recovered it.

In previous years, I paid close attention to the weather in preparation for any holiday. Last Thanksgiving we had a huge storm Thanksgiving Day. I avoided it by driving down a day early and staying two nights instead of one. This year the weather was beautiful, but I had no place to go.

Mom died four months ago. I knew the holidays would be hard, made even more difficult because her birthday was December 18th, a week before Christmas. I tried to prepare myself for this. Tried to become emotionally stronger, but I still found myself sinking into the despair of grief. I denied it. I fought it. But, I lost the battle. I find myself back in that empty place, grieving my mother.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Gift of Song – from Jennifer Haase

It was as if the music demanded my attention, first subtly and then more overtly. I stopped the game I was playing and listened…

The music to which I am referring is the newest CD from “indie” singer/songwriter Jennifer Haase, “No More Invitations.” I started playing it late one night, when I should have been going to sleep. But, sleep was proving to be elusive, so I started playing mahjong online and put the CD that I had just gotten in the mail on as background. However, it wouldn’t stay in the background. Together the music, the lyrics and the compelling voice came together for a wonderful distraction. At the last note of the final song, I found that I did not want it to end. So I played the whole CD again.

I have never been a casual listener of music. While I can appreciate a nice tune with nonsensical lyrics, I love a song that truly says something. When the words reveal a deeper meaning and are layered just so between the notes, I am transported much in the same way as when I read a good book.

At first listen, I did not find a weak song on the entire CD. Jennifer Haase’s voice and the deliberate way she sings show a maturity from her first CD, “Listening Chair.” Each song seemed to evoke an emotion that we all can relate to in our own way. From the sad and mournful “Oneonta” to the tastefully, seductive love songs: “Beautiful Man” and “As the Record Spins,” Haase delivers a universal message that we all can relate to and it becomes our own.

I should also note that “Oneonta” contains a special treat featuring background vocals from Rosanne Cash. Although I hesitate to compare Haase’s music to any particular singer, I do hear the influence of Rosanne Cash in the lyrics and the ability to create a mood as a poet would, using only words. Without the music, the words could and do stand alone.

However, when done right, the music can take the words to a completely different level. I found this effect most strongly in the song, “All Out of Try.” The music represents a mask, a “la la la” everything is ok on the surface attitude. But, the words reveal a life kept secret from others, particularly in the chorus.

“I’m sorry, it’s your party

But both of us will shatter

If I am why you start to cry

And although I can’t be your candy

I’ll sugarcoat my story

And repress the reasons why

Because I’m all out of try”

All Out of Try by Jennifer Haase by JenniferHaaseMusic

Writing a review of a CD is not something I would normally do. It is in fact only the second review of any kind that I have done in the 6 years I have been writing online. The first was for an indie writer. I did it because I have tremendous respect for those who are gifted with talent and the determination to develop it, those who have the courage to follow their passion. Jennifer Haase is an example for all of us who still believe in the possibility of our dreams. But, talent alone is not enough. As an independent musician, Jennifer Haase is doing it alone, without the benefit of a record company to help promote and market her music. When I received the CD it arrived in a simple package, the address labels handwritten by Haase herself. I teased her on Twitter telling her I was going to keep the package so that someday I could say, “I knew her when…”

I am known by my friends and family as someone who shares music that I love, and I do love this particular CD. But, instead of burning CD’s to share, I am purchasing copies to give as gifts. It is my way of supporting the dreams and talent of a truly special singer who is also becoming a great online friend.

It is at times like this where I wish this blog were more well-read. It is new and mainly a personal one, read mostly by friends. So I asking my friends who do read it to help me support Jennifer Haase by buying the CD and hey, tell your friends about it. If I have not convinced you in this post, you can check out the music yourself on her website, Rhymes with Classy or at her artist’s page on Reverbnation ,where you can also hear songs from her first CD and custom songs written for special occasions, (another great gift idea!).

I will admit to a little selfishness here, I want to hear more! I am hoping someday to be enjoying a 3rd CD from Jennifer. That doesn’t happen unless she can promote and sell her current CD. So I am asking you all, my friends, to do what you can to help a new friend of mine. Maybe also consider looking at other independent writers and musicians to support. In doing so, you can keep many dreams alive.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My Father’s Shirt

I found it in a drawer, neatly folded. It was charcoal gray, a heavy flannel material. My mom had asked me to pack up his things so that they could be donated. I packed everything else, but I kept the shirt.

I don’t think I ever saw him wear it. And I am sure he did not buy it himself. It was probably given to him by one of my siblings as a present. Whenever we were at a loss as to what to buy him for Christmas, a shirt was always a safe gift to buy. It looked like it would be really warm.

When I got home I hung it in my closet. Often when I chose my clothes for the day, I would see it and smile. The first time I remember wearing it was the day we drove to Milwaukee to my uncle’s funeral. He was the youngest of my dad’s siblings. He was also the last. It was an extremely cold day, as I recall below zero with a nasty wind-chill. It was appropriate for the weather and I felt like I had my dad along to pay my final respects to his younger brother. And it was really warm.

It is a comfort, this shirt. I wore it recently to work when I knew it was going to be a tough shift. It is a tangible piece of him. I loved my dad and after 6 years I still miss him.

Right now, I am wearing his shirt.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I miss my friends

My friends haven’t gone anywhere. It was I who left. After Mom died, many have offered to be there if I need to talk. It is just that I can’t. My words are gone.

I would love to return to the state of mind in which I could have long conversations about nothing and anything. You know, they were the kind of conversations that went on for hours, but only seem like minutes. They were conversations that you had no idea what you talked about later, but knew that profound truths had been shared along with a lot of silly nonsense. I seem to have lost that ability to share in this way.

Twitter had become my favorite online site. It kept me in touch with the latest news. I also had a few friends that I connected with and shared thoughts and music. But, after Mom died I couldn’t be there at all. It was all just too noisy. I don’t want to lose touch with these friends, but in many ways I already have.

I find myself at times lurking on Twitter. Conversations between friends go on around me in a carefree way. I miss being a part of them, but can find a way in. It is as if we are in different worlds and maybe we always were.

I no longer spend much time there. It is just too hard. As of late, I have tried forcing myself to reach out, but it is so difficult to do. I can’t talk about the trivial stuff that is the main content of most conversations as I am weighed down by my grief. I want to scream, “Can’t you see that I am in pain!” But, they can’t see that. They don’t even know I am there, mute in the corner, unable to speak. There are no words for what I am feeling. They cannot see me fighting back tears alone in my room, lit only by the screen of my laptop.

Absence of conversation and human contact forced me inside my head. But, restless thoughts have led to sleepless nights. To combat this I have started to play games on my computer and have become addicted to mahjongg. I play the simple version on Yahoo with numbers and letters. The traditional version required too much thought. I wanted and needed a mindless activity. I play as fast as I can and have found that I am most successful when I don’t think about it at all. I just click on the tiles as fast as I can. Winning is not important, it is just in the doing. Then, I found getting to the mindless state was easier if I played music. I used an old mix of 12 songs and put them on repeat. I might go through them several times in one session. I play until my eyes are too heavy to stay open. Sometimes this allows me to sleep.

But, this is only a temporary solution and I want my old life back. I want to be carefree again. But, I fear those days are gone for good. I am different now. Death changed me and there is no going back.

Life changes are inevitable. I accept that. But, I just miss what it was. I miss who I was. But mostly I miss the unconditional love that only a parent can give.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Grief is an emptiness that is soul deep

I was talking to a friend on Twitter yesterday about grief and losing loved ones. She had written that some people expect that you should be able to move on and find closure. But, we both felt that sometimes that is impossible to do. You don’t just get over it, but people want you to. Life moves on and they expect that you should too. During that conversation I posted the following:

Anyone who believes that has not suffered great loss or is in denial. Grief is a soul deep emptiness that cannot be filled. You can only hope to learn to live with it.”

They don’t understand that it is hard, nearly impossible at times to avoid the overwhelming presence of grief. I go about my daily life, but it is never far away, just waiting to suck me back in. When you lose family, it is as if part of you, your history, is gone. For me it does feel like a large piece of my heart and soul was ripped out and went with them. We were all so inter-twined… and then they were gone.

Grief over the loss of a loved one is so hard. I can’t even begin to describe it. Sometimes it is like a huge weight that is sitting on you and won’t let you up. So you just sit there or if you are still in bed, you just lay there and let it cover you like a blanket. I feel helpless as it encompasses me and everything around me. Everything I touch is somehow tainted. I see things differently. I question the motives of my friends. I feel alone and a little lost, but I am afraid to reach out to anyone. I don’t want them tainted by this as well.

At times like this we all need to bleed. It is a part of the process. We need the pain that heartache brings. It is the only thing we can feel. So we wallow in our grief. We push it around in our mind, experiencing it piece by piece, until it becomes a part of us, until we can pick ourselves up and learn to live with it.

Experience has shown me that in time the pain of loss will be less. But, it never completely leaves and we are forever changed by it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grief and Loss

I lost my mom on July 13th. It had been anticipated and expected for the past several years. But, it still took me by surprise. There were so many times in the past few years that I thought I was going to lose her, but she rallied and got better. To have her just die in her sleep was not the scenario I expected. There was no particular health issue. She just died.

I miss my mom. But, I have been missing her for many years. She changed when she went into the nursing home. The strong-willed mother who never feared giving her opinion was gone, replaced by a vulnerable woman with a far-away look in her eyes. I missed her advice. And although I didn’t always agree with her, I missed the conversation over coffee after breakfast. We often would talk so long that by the time we cleared the dishes, it was time to make lunch.

These past few years when I shared a meal with her it was at the nursing home. I watched as my mom just pushed the food around her plate, nibbling here and there, but eating little of it. We didn’t talk much anymore. There was a lot of uncomfortable silence; at least it was on my side. I am not sure how it was on her side. I felt that I no longer knew her.

I am told that there is a lot of my mother in me. It wasn’t until I got older and could appreciate her for the woman that she was that I took it as a compliment. I loved her independence and even as her skills started to deteriorate, she found a way to compensate so that she could live independently. I believe she started to die when she realized she had lost that independence, forever.

It was hard for me to go see her at all. I dreaded the drive down and many times cried after I left. I put myself in her position. I knew how I would feel. It hurt to see her.

Now she is gone. In a way it was almost a relief. Her soul was set free, independent of an aging body that no longer worked well. She would say that she had finally gone home. But, I still hurt.

Tuesday night it all came back, triggered by a totally unrelated event. Grief and a profound sense of loss overwhelmed me. It was as powerful as that first moment I heard she was gone. Once again tears flowed and I sobbed uncontrollably. I could do nothing, but grieve.

No matter how old we get, I think it is always a comfort to know you have a parent out there. That connection to unconditional love is a precious thing. When they are gone, you realize that you are truly alone. It is up to you and you alone. And maybe in reality, it had been that way for many years. The death of a parent confirms it.