Those of you who follow WYG know that for the last few weeks we have been publishing guest posts from our readers as opposed to our usual WYG authored content. Although it has been an honor to share new voices and new perspectives, we will be taking the reigns back next week, just in time to prepare for the holidays. With that, I’d like to introduce our final guest author and grief friend, Laura Walsh.
Laura Penney Walsh is a mother of three teenagers, a partner to Ed, and a daughter, sister, friend and caregiver. She works as director of development for George Mason University impacting and improving lives through philanthropy. Writing has served as a vehicle for her journey to healing from loss. Laura will be sharing a personal reflection about experiencing multiple losses in a short period of time. Grief experts often call this, cumulative loss or bereavement overload. If you would like more information on this topic, please check out the article linked at the bottom of the post.
The phone rang in my hotel room, startling me in the dark and unfamiliar setting. I looked at the clock and it was 3:30 AM, just six hours since I had left my mom’s bedside. It was my aunt calling to tell me in her gentle voice that the nursing home had just called, my mom was not doing well and they were calling hospice.
As I climbed out of bed a wave of pain tore through me and before I knew it, I was on my knees. The tears flowed as I sat there on the floor alone in the dark, I spoke out loud and I begged and pleaded to heaven above:
I put into motion what my mom had reiterated my whole life. I prayed.
My aunt’s call was not surprising given my mom’s long decline, but the timing was cruel. It had been just three months since my younger brother died unexpectedly, vanishing from my life and leaving me reeling with indescribable agony. And, in spite of preparing for several years for the inevitable passing of my mom and my only parent, I was far from ready.
Actually, it had been only hours since I had shared with my mom that we had lost her beloved little boy, Brian. The strawberry blonde boy she was so choice of and the man she was so deeply proud of. It was an accident that I shared the news of his passing. My family had decided weeks prior that because of her declining health, it was best to not tell her about this devastating loss. Mom rarely spoke, she did not recognize many of those around her, and she was bed and wheel-chair ridden, which was a decline that she pushed against fiercely on her more cognizant days. And so the days following Brian’s passing turned into weeks and the unspeakable loss was not shared.
My family was good at this type of denial. When pain hit, we all knew how to push it down. In the weeks after Brian’s passing, I carried the weight of his death by organizing a beautiful tribute to his life, finding a home for his two precious puppies, reaching out to his treasured friends, patients, and cycling buddies letting them know that the man with never ending energy was simply gone. I worked on disassembling his beloved home, closing his office, and carefully distributing his treasures to those who might care for them in the same way he did.
In those weeks, I found it impossible to even chat with my mother on the phone. Enveloped in the fog of grief, I let time march forward and I did not make my monthly pilgrimage to Florida from Virginia to visit my dear mom. So last evening, when I entered my Mom’s nursing home room for the first time in weeks, one of her devoted care providers, Aida, said “Girl, where have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever.” I exploded in tears, immediately sharing the news that my little brother had died.
The words had no sooner left me when my mom began to climb out of bed with the energy and strength of a teenager being held against their will and she cried, “My Brian, my Brian, tell me, tell me do you mean my Brian?” She swung her arms and pushed and clawed at me and the aides who heard the commotion came to help. It seemed like an eternity of wailing, pushing and pulling before a nurse managed to give my mother an injection to calm her and for sleep to set-in.
I sat and I waited for her to stir. Eventually, her hand reached out to mine and our eyes met. The pain in her eyes was visible and, despite her dementia, I knew that she had not forgotten my last words. The tears rolled down our faces and I climbed into bed with her and sat facing her. Our arms were intertwined and our foreheads pressed together. Through our sobs, I shared that he did not suffer. That it was quick and that a favorite patient of seventeen years found him. That hundreds of people came to his service and that dozens of people shared their own special stories of how he had impacted their lives. I told her that the love and caring she poured into him was reflected in all that he was—an adored son, brother, doctor, friend and man.
Our conversation paused from time to time as we each sat with our own anguish. Our hands, wrapped together, were drenched with our tears and, as the day started to close in around us, I became aware that the dark outside had descended into my mother’s room.
I lost my mom not long after that call in my hotel room, but not before my prayers were answered. For a few sweet days, I was given the gift of time with her. My older brother came to gently whisper in her ear and released her. Her church friends gathered around her bed and sang her favorite hymns. My bulking Uncle Nick, known as the “gorilla” during his time as an NYC fireman, sat next to her bed and took in her loveliness and promised to see her on the other side.
On our last day together, I carried out my tradition of filling her room with bright, yellow flowers. I sat a rose next to her bed and placed daisies and mums in the window. I spoke out loud and watched her breath rise and fall and I said a prayer, one for her and one for me because this was the lesson she had taught me: Everyone needs a prayer.
If only… My heart will become sweet with the memories of the love, lessons and faith that my mom bestowed upon me. If only the memory of disclosing that her child had gone before her would find a place of rightness in my heart and mind. That our last moments of intimacy might comfort me instead of evoking feelings of regret. And, I dare to imagine that my prayers are answered and I start to settle into a new way of living, where I stop looking back and I begin to see what is in front and ahead of me. That I come home to myself and peacefully hold the past and the present together.