Growing Toward the Light
My routine this week is one I hope to soon break; working on packing up and cleaning out Mom’s apartment all day, finding homes for the things that our family won’t be keeping with the residents, coming home to collapse on the couch, emotionally and physically drained, reading a large stack of wonderfully kind and supportive sympathy cards, attempting to have a coherent conversation with my sweet husband, falling into bed nearly comatose…and then waking soon after with tears rolling down my cheeks, missing my mother.
This morning at 9:09am, it will be one week since Mom was pronounced deceased. At this time one week ago, she called to me in the dark room, telling me good morning for the last time. I notice the markers….”my mother passed away yesterday,” “mom died three days ago,” etc. Soon enough it will be, “Mom died a month ago,” “Gee, has it already been a year since Mom passed away?” It is still surreal, everything so raw, so painful. I have moments where I feel like I am strong and can get through things just fine…and then the tidal wave crashes over me, taking me to my knees in an instant. Will I ever be able to swim against the current and find my way back to calmer waters?
Still struggling with hearing issues, I went to a long-standing audiology appointment this morning, straight from working on Mom’s apartment. The doctor said that stress is playing a major role in some of my symptoms. This first venture outside of my safety net of Chez Gainey and the Home for Wayward Seniors was sticking my big toe into the ice water, and it didn’t go well. Everyone handles grief differently, and everyone handles being around those who are grieving differently, as well. Some are compassionate, some choose to ignore it completely, obviously made very uncomfortable. It is an interesting study in human behavior for me.
Sometimes it feels like I am wearing a banner of grief wrapped around me that all can see. I am different, forever changed. I left Kirkland Clinic, heading home to check on the dogs in preparation for going back to Mom’s apartment. Something felt different, and suddenly it was like a huge weight had settled on my heart. I pulled to the side of the road and sat there, breathing deeply. I felt panic, like I was hearing the news about Mom for the first time all over again, like I was back in the hospital room with her, feeling the myriad of emotions that I experienced. I acknowledged to myself that I needed help in dealing with these overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness. Writing helps tremendously, and my husband and friends have been wonderfully supportive…but it just isn’t enough. I called UAB Counseling and set up an appointment for early next week to discuss healthy ways to process my grief.
In my family, therapy is often frowned upon- a sign of weakness. I have never seen it that way, though, instead, choosing to view it as a sign of strength. Asking for help and choosing not to stuff emotions and suffer in silence has got to be the healthier avenue. I thought about other things I could do to help myself; I called to set up a massage at the spa, wrote to my wonderful Chair in the Department of Music, telling him I needed more time to process all of this, and told him my graduate student was going to meet with my students on Monday, the first day of classes…the day after my mother’s service. I knew I was struggling when I sent that email, as I would never miss the beginning of school for any reason. My Chair replied with a very kind and compassionate response. I am so blessed to work with such great people.
My rules for myself have changed. I am normally very hard on myself…a clarinet player thing. We like to be perfect…we like to be first chair. I am in self-preservation mode right now, obsessed with finishing the apartment, wanting to be released from the sadness and strong memories that come with going through Mom’s things, with seeing people come in to sift through her remaining belongings, choosing what they want to take. I knew Mom would rather her things be given to the residents at Princeton Towers, instead of just being sent to Goodwill. It is so difficult for me to bear witness to, though. Mom loved her things, chosen and placed so carefully in her apartment.
I have decided that I am on a new journey, one in which I am learning to grow toward the light. Like a plant in the shade, slowly reaching my tendrils toward the rays of sun that are just out of my reach. I like that thought. I am open to growing, to change…I welcome it. Even though I used to think that my mother was adverse to change of any kind, I now realize that she handled many changes with great aplomb, right up until the end. I will do the same. Dan told me last night that I have no idea just how much time will open up in my life now. Caring for Mom, worrying about her for the past several years, has been such an integral part of my day. I wouldn’t have changed a thing….but now, what will I do with this new treasure of time?
Some of that time will be spent grieving, in remembrance. Gradually, however, I will replace those hours with working on bettering myself, finding out who I am now as just Denise, not only Denise the daughter and caretaker. I will start exercising again, finish my book, learning the stack of the new music that has been waiting for me all summer for upcoming recitals and concerts. My husband and I will create new traditions for the holidays, new ways to mark their passing with joy and not sadness. We are no longer tied to staying in Birmingham. I will read, learn new things. A renaissance, yet another gift from my mother.
Out of this terribly sad time, beautiful things will grow. I feel my mother’s love wrapped around me, like an invisible protective coating, and I feel safer somehow, wiser, after this experience. I understand some things that my mother tried to tell me now, when I just wasn’t ready to understand before. I feel the weight of our family history, and it’s importance in my life. I am poised, ready to move forward once the weight of grief begins to recede.
And now it is time to plan a celebration, a celebration of a life well-lived. My sister arrives tomorrow afternoon, and I can’t wait to hold her, to laugh and cry as we sit together on the big bed up in the guesthouse, sifting through photos, treasures, and memories. Another step toward the light. On Sunday, family from all over will arrive, friends and colleagues and Wayward Seniors will come together, all to tell stories and sing a few hymns to remember Dorothy Williams, a wonderfully bright light who left so many people forever changed with her beautiful smile, sparkling sense of humor, and positive outlook on life. My sweet Heavy D. Blessings be.
I wrote this for Sunday’s program….
Dorothy Land Schultz was born on October 5th, 1921, in Athens, Tennessee, the youngest of four children of Ernest and Pearl Schultz. She was very close to her sisters Sara and Robbie, and brother Ernest, surviving the Great Depression through hard work, a strong faith in God, and the love of a close-knit family. Her claim to fame in high school was winning a talent show for singing, and being offered her own radio show. Dorothy fell in love and married Paul Williams in 1941, supporting him in his long career in the United States Army. They had five children together in their almost twenty-three years of marriage: Paul (Bud), Sharon (both deceased), Linda, Mark, and Denise. Thanks to her husband’s military career, Dorothy lived in many places across the country and the world, including two tours of duty in Germany, finally settling in Brandon, Florida, for over forty years. Dorothy was a faithful and devoted member and choir member of First Baptist Church of Brandon. She will be remembered as a loving mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, a devoted, generous, and loyal friend, and a wonderful storyteller with a beautiful smile, a great sense of humor, and a positive outlook on life, no matter what challenges she faced.