Category Archives: grief

Reconciling a life and a disease

The days are tumbling on top of each other following the death of my mother who had HD. I never was able to visit her as much as she wanted me to. Even when I visited her every day she would barely let me out the door. Even when she was yelling at me, she didn’t want me to go. She wanted the connection. I moved away, my own HD progressed and I became less capable of making the 90 minute drive.

Then she started calling me, literally hundreds of times a day. She would sit for hours and hit the redial button and when I would answer, she would ask me when I was coming to visit. When my support system got wind of this, they insisted that I block her calls so I could try to get something done during the day and not have my heart broken every time I heard the despair in her voice and felt the specter of what could befall me. I told her I was having trouble with my phone. She sent me a few letters begging me to help her, but I confirmed that she was safe and being well taken care of. The letters stopped and I visited as often as I could.

At a certain point, long before her final days, she had decided that she wanted to consume me. I don’t know if it was the same dynamic as the time I was drowning and as people kept trying to save me, I climbed up their bodies, plunging them further down into the water. But for years I have felt her sickness manifested in a need for something from me that I could neither identify or satisfy.

Until she died, I carried an enormous weight of guilt because I thought that I wasn’t there enough for her. That I couldn’t see her or help her. That I had failed the one who had failed me the most, and by doing so, I had blown both of our chances for redemption.

Now even though she is gone, I still have a sense of her being. The memory of her unforgettable presence lingers and, more and more, I remember snapshots in my life from the times long ago when she showed me love.

But the oppressive guilt has lifted. I am realizing that I did the best I could based on my own condition, and that is more satisfying knowing that she is released from her diseased body and mind and no longer desperate.

Now it is my turn to live out my days and, while I have plans, I have adjustments to make to improve my health. I am formulating safeguards to protect my kids from what I went through. I am already having conversations with them about blocking me if I perseverate on the phone calls. And I am conveying my unconditional love to them the best that I can.

But I mete it out in small doses, because they are teenagers and I do not want to freak them out.

HD, grief, and The Gilmore Girls

(No spoilers) I started watching The Gilmore Girls on Netflix about a week before my mother died. I didn’t know it then, but I was setting myself up for some good grief therapy. At the center of the show is a relationship between a mother and daughter. It’s a superb relationship. The kind I dreamed of having. Since my mother died, I have watched about half of the original series.

In the first days after her memorial, it was all I could do.

Now I am starting to work my part-time job again and participate in life, and my consumption of the show is something I look forward to fitting in each day.

It seems like watching the perfect mother-daughter relationship would sting, because that is not what I had. Instead, it shows me how abnormal my situation was and I realize how much of it was because of my mother’s illness. And the happiness that I generate for the characters lingers and I feel happier all around.

The big lesson that is forming concerns what I want to do going forward. I want the people I love to know that I love them, so I am making it a point to tell them more often. It’s not eloquent like Lorelei Gilmore, because I don’t have my own writers. But it is not perfunctory either, because I mean it.

I also want to participate in the world around me. That means fighting inertia when it good for me and going out with my family. It means showing Randy and Mark New York City. It means travelling as much as I can and visiting people I love. It means enjoying every moment with Randy and making plans together.

Every now and then, it will hit me that my mother is dead. I will forget and remember again. I will remember the younger, healthier version of her. “My mama is dead,” I will say to Randy and sometimes some tears will come out.

Then I will remember how her brother who had HD writhed for years in a nursing home bed, unless he was strapped down or given paralytic drugs.

Because my mother was the stubbornest person I’ve ever known, I had every idea that she would share the same fate as her brother. But I am glad she did not spend her last years that way. She was only in a nursing home for a few months and was alert most of the time. But one day, she refused to engage in physical therapy and within weeks she succumbed to what we thought was a minor respiratory infection. I like to think she made some decision to let go…

Because of the way my mother died, suddenly the process of dying doesn’t seem so daunting and scary.

And because of The Gilmore Girls, the process of living suddenly holds the promise for fun, adventure and love.

So I am putting away the fears of dying and getting on with the living.