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I mused on what is “normal grief” and decided that such a thing doesn’t exist.

“A theme may seem to have been put aside, but it keeps returning– the same thing modulated, somewhat changed form.” Muriel Rukeyser

Around about the 3rd week in August, while thinking of the upcoming September 5 which is the observance of mom’s death date, I decided that I’d probably go to work that day. Other years, most other years, I’ve taken the day off. But I reasoned that this would mark 39 years and, after all, that was WAY long ago so….no big deal.

Around about the last week in August, it struck me that September 5 was on a Wednesday this year. Wednesday.

The day I got the call in 1979 telling me that she was dead. Wednesday, huh? Well….I knew what that meant. I wouldn’t be going to work. My mom didn’t die on Wednesday, September 5. She was found on Wednesday, September 5. Big difference to those of us who share this experience. The question that never gets answered is, “When exactly DID she die?”

The coroner guestimated that she died “somewhere between Sunday and Monday (Labor Day that year) since the neighbor told him she’d had dinner with Mom on Saturday night. I received the first phone call that she hadn’t been to work for 2 days about 3:00pm on September 5. The 2nd phone call confirming her death came 15 minutes later. It was a warm late summer day that year. I’d been out to lunch with a friend. The day had been fun and beautiful.

That 3:15 call came as my 2 children were clamoring in from school asking for treats and something to drink. The memory is vivid and sharp. I can remember packing for myself and 4 children. I can remember the long drive to Aurora from South Bend, Indiana. I can remember the crickets chirping in the twilight as the car pulled into my sister’s driveway. I remember the next day at the funeral home and the day after that picking out what clothes she’d wear. I remember the wake and the funeral. The sights and sounds and smells are as vivid now as they were then.

I allow myself to visit those days once a year. As I contemplated writing this article, I mused on what is “normal grief” and decided that such a thing doesn’t exist. While I can list the steps of grief and the process, I know that each person grieves individually. We bring our own experiences to the grief process.

At an SOS meeting, it’s easy to share my feelings; to the general public, I’d have to do more explaining. I can hear some of the comments now: “Good Heavens, 39 years LATER and you’re still at it?” My response is always, “Why, yes, yes I am.” Someone once went as far as to pose the following question to me: “When do you think you’ll be over it?” “I suppose when I’m dead,” was my reply. The quote at the time is a reminder that the “theme” is never gone…. it may seem to have been put aside, but it keeps returning-the same thing modulated – somewhat changed in form.”

That gut-wrenching searing pain that pounded at me day-in-and-dayout is gone; the overwhelming tears that flowed so many times a day are gone; the listlessness and fatigue are gone. Those symptoms, feelings, were in the first several years. I got through the “firsts”: Thanksgiving, Christmas, her birthday.

The 2nd year was harder but the same events continued to come and were dealt with. The later stages of grief were smoother. But the fact remains that it was and is always there. What will I do this year?

My garden doesn’t look too pretty given that it’s moving toward fall. The beautiful orange flowers around the memorial stone I have in my garden have bloomed and re-bloomed but they are done. I’m going to go buy orangish/copperish mums and put them around the stone. I may work in the garden that day as that’s where I find my peace and my center. I will talk to Mom. That evening, I may have a glass of champagne. I have a picture of Mom and Dad on the table right next to my chair. She is holding up a glass of champagne and smiling her biggest, happiest smile. Perhaps I’ll salute her and thank her for all she gave to me and to so many others…

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