Grief, Gratitude, and Connection

October is a month for gratitude and giving thanks. It is also a month when we speak of ghosts and spirits, remember those we loved who are no longer here, and if we are lucky enough, we may even feel a stronger connection to the souls of our dearly departed who linger on.

Gratitude is a hard thing to find in grief. It is especially hard to find when grief comes in crushing waves, making it hard to see, or even breathe. But when the storm calms, I recognize gratitude for a whole host of things, even amidst the pain of losing a soul mate. It has been almost a year since I lost my mother, and while I struggle to feel connected to the soul I loved so deeply and miss so terribly, there was connection felt, and I am thankful for it, no matter how long ago and how badly I yearn for it to come to us again.

To understand this connection, I have to explain that we almost lost my mother once before this: over 4 years ago, a clot travelled from her leg to her lungs and almost took her away then. At the time I was weeks away from delivering Oliver. We visited Mom often, held her hand in hospital, and she pulled through. Soon after returning home, we all realized she needed to be moved into assisted living. While things were harder after this major health scare and set-back, we got precious time together. We were gifted years of visits, laughs, hugs, and special moments; there were treasured memories made in this time. And she met her Ollie, the baby boy she’d dreamed of; the cheeky, smiley soul who brings joy to so many. Maybe my mom pulled through all those years ago because she knew we weren’t ready to be without her. Maybe she needed to meet her grandson, see me through motherhood once more, watch her little Lily Rose grow, see my brother build his life up even better, have more laughs with her sisters and friends, and allow my dad more time with his Bonbon. Maybe she wasn’t the one ready to leave all her loved ones and venture Into the Mystic.

Jon’s dad also got to meet Oliver, but sadly he didn’t get to enjoy him as long as my mom; after a battle with cancer, Jon’s dad passed away when Oliver wasn’t even 6 months old. We were all devastated, but it was Jon who lost his father, and while I felt his pain and missed his dad too, I didn’t yet understand the heartbreak. It took time, and as Jon can attest, the pain of losing a parent never truly leaves you:  it just eases ever so slightly, and somehow, you learn to live again, although you are forever changed in some ways.

But then on Christmas Eve, when Oliver was only 3 and a half and Lily Rose was 6 years old, in the middle of Covid and having not hugged her for months, my mom left us and suddenly I understood Jon’s heartbreak. It was his turn to comfort me. After the initial shock of hearing my mom had passed and just as the crushing loss first set in, I cried to Jon and said I couldn’t go on without her. Lily Rose, ever the sensitive and wise little soul, said hearing this upset her. She explained to me that we could go on, but we’d just have to learn to live without Grandma, just as we had eventually learned to live without Grandad.

As we approach the year mark of living without her, the sadness still feels palpable. It comes and it goes, but when it hits, it feels like a crushing weight on my chest and a deep aching for the one I loved first in this world. I know it hits my family equally as hard, in different ways, and at various times. There are songs, sounds, smells, places, and so many things that bring her memory back to us; while these signs are so appreciated, they also come with so much longing still.

There is something that brought me comfort in those first blurry days of grief; something that still gives me a sense of calm and a sort of peace now. When I feel lonely without my mother here, I hold on to a moment: Not even a week after my mom passed away, Oliver woke, yelled for me, and I went running to his bedroom. He does this almost nightly, but he has never said what he said next: someone had touched the back of his neck. Jon and Lily Rose were fast asleep in their beds.  Initially, it scared me, and my mind ran to thinking there was an intruder. Then I felt shivers down my spine, thinking what else it could be. It could have been that he dreamed it all up, but why go that route when life gives you signs just when you need them most! After speaking to family and friends who are open to this sort of thing, I knew what it was: someone, somewhere was reaching out. You don’t have to believe in any of this; just believe in the power of love to get us through this loss!

I believe that my mother reached out to the boy she’d dreamed of before he was born; she reached out to the boy she’d lived to meet. Maybe Bonbon reached out to comfort him, or maybe she reached out to him so he could comfort his heartbroken momma, her daughter she loved so fiercely and worried couldn’t get through the loss. Maybe it was her way of guiding us through as we learn to live without her. Whatever the reason, and however this was possible, I am grateful:  for the extra time and precious moments we got with her, even if it will never be enough; for the comfort and guidance of family who regularly check in and help me through; for wise and open friends who believe in magic and spirits; for signs of souls still with us and enduring connection; and, most importantly, for a mother’s love so powerful, it lives on, even after she’s left this earthly world.

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