Just under a year ago, I posted a message about feeling loss around the time of Easter (An emotionally difficult weekend). Basically, it’s a holiday that for me has always been associated with my mom. Not that she was a giant “Easter” person with egg hunts and stuff, maybe just because it is at heart a religious holiday and my mother symbolized my Catholic heritage. Since her passing, I’ve struggled with grief in varying forms.
For the first year, most of the time was taken up with logistics of her estate and the grief was kept at bay, at least in part. Then, as time passed after closing the estate, I noticed that I was run down. My normal psychological tools weren’t working either. Normally, if something is bothering me, I have three tools available to me.
First, self-reflection. If I think about things, try to quiet my mind, and simply reflect on the times when things are bothering me and what some of the triggers might be, I can often figure out pretty well who, what and sometimes why. Not always, but it works pretty well. This is a direct result of my tadpole years where I stripped my psyche bare and then rebuilt it by hand. I know the pieces pretty well, and while I can still fool myself, quiet self-reflection is often enough.
Second, I can just tune out completely. Separating myself from whatever is going on, at least mentally, and going to bed, often allows my subconscious to bring it to the surface first thing the next morning. It just pops up like my brain has been working on it all night and the computing is done, ready to spit out the answer card. Doesn’t always work, but sometimes it’s awesome.
Third, I have my “sore tooth” method. This is a bit more mechanical, more linear. Rather than using method one which is more intuitive (getting in touch with my psyche), or method two which is even more intuitive (letting my sub-conscious do it’s own thing), method three is very analytical. I call it the sore tooth method because it is like having a sore tooth — you aren’t exactly sure which of the teeth it is, so you gently probe the area with your tongue. Is it that one? No. Is it that one? No. Is it that…argghhh! Yep, found it.
I can do the same mentally when I’m having a problem. I run through a list of possible causes, test each of them. Is it a conflict with a family member? Is it lack of progress on that goal or any goal? Is it something with work? Sometimes I have to go a lot more granular but the sore tooth usually kicks back a response to guide my analysis.
Of course, I know myself well enough that I don’t have to be so detailed most of the time, but for deeper concerns, one of the three methods will reveal what’s niggling at my subconscious.
In Year Two after my mother died, I knew something was bothering me but I couldn’t figure it out. I tried quiet reflection, and I suspected there was grief mixed in, but nothing came out of my meditation. Sleeping on it didn’t help. When my tongue probed “grief”, no response. None of the my self-analysis was presenting any resonance with me at all. Through work, we have access to the Employee Assistance Program, and I called them for a therapy referral. I didn’t think I needed a psychiatrist, or psychologist, more someone to talk through what I was feeling. I ended up with a retired social worker who does some basic counselling, and I think she is mostly aimed at family practice. I had out-paced my own knowledge and options, and I needed that extra perspective.
We worked through a couple of scenarios, but it was grief that resonated the most strongly with me. Partly as it explained why none of my normal “receptors” were coming back “sore tooth” — since grief often acts like a wet blanket dampening down everything. Almost like an interference layer too. And knowing WHAT it was allowed me to push past some of it, and manage it a little better.
However, as I said last year at this time, I am feeling still the loss of my roots. Peterborough is very clearly part of my past, not my future, and I’ve almost reached the point where I will have lived in Ottawa longer than everywhere else combined. This is my home, my roots are (trans)planted here. Yet at Xmas, I was feeling run down. Not grief exactly, more the isolation factor that I had allowed to creep into my life unchecked and even unrecognized. I felt a distancing, but was in active denial to even probe it, let alone deal with it. Part of my new year’s goals has started to address it, but at Xmas, I was drained. I went to Peterborough for the holidays with my wife’s family, and don’t get me wrong, they’re awesome, but I couldn’t handle the social interaction. I had no energy for it. I’m not an extrovert by any stretch, but this time, I actively had to limit my exposure to groups and even had to spend some of the time in the bedroom reading.
In February, I took a mental health break from work to get my shit together, and I’m slowly rebuilding my energy levels, while also ticking off some goal boxes. Those are not separate things, actually — I re-energize myself with blue energy projects and I’ve been deep diving into book reviews, reading, organizing my website, etc. My energy levels are starting to return. I had enough energy to blast through a bunch of stuff for medical stuff this past month. New dentist, new hygienist, a few torture sessions in the chair to get me back on track for now with a plan for the future. I followed up with the sleep clinic, inspired by a friend’s success, and have my new sleep machine routine going. Not raging success or fully in my habit yet, but improving. Saw my regular doctor, had a checkup on a bunch of things, altered some of my blood pressure meds. Hearing test is next on my list probably, although I might have overdone it with visits this month (more red energy than blue, but came out a bit even I think overall, might need to pause for a week or two). I’ve called the social worker for another session, will set that up likely for next week or two. Kind of a mental tune-up, check in, nothing serious, but I am a bit harsher on a few things of late, adjusting my balance from previous years. I was feeling pretty good as the month wound down.
Which prepared me not at all for Easter. I was smart enough to realize that spending four days in Peterborough would wring me out like a wet towel, but I like the idea of Jacob getting the time to spend with his grandparents. So I convinced Andrea to go on without me, and her and the cub took the bus to Peterborough on Thursday night. In the snowstorm. Not ideal, but actually everything worked out fine for them. Leaving me Thursday night, Friday, and all day Saturday to hang out by myself in Ottawa. It was heaven. I did a deep dive into my computer on Thursday night and emerged sporadically throughout the weekend for food and daylight, and to talk to them on the phone, but not much else. I plowed through 5 years of old files, something I thought would likely take weeks to accomplish, and I did it in a single go on Friday morning. The mental boost was huge. Great plan.
So, gearing up for Sunday morning, I felt like I was going to be good to go. Nope. I slept like crap on Saturday night. Tossed, turned, couldn’t get comfortable at all. Stressed I think about going to Peterborough. Not the family side. I wasn’t even sure what. Until I got in the car and started driving.
It took me forever to even get in the car, hoping to have left by 8:30 and I didn’t leave until just after 11:00. Turned on the radio, listened to some tunes, and every song was unacceptable. I didn’t want to listen to anything. I wanted something to totally distract me, and it wasn’t working. My brain was going 200 miles per hour and my car was doing 60, but I couldn’t distract myself. I hid it from my brain for almost 90 minutes, but as I reached the half-way part of the trip, the music stations start to die, and the landscape changes to farmer’s fields. Just like the landscape out by the lake where we camped when I was growing up. I came around a bend and it was like hitting a wall.
I didn’t want to go just because it was Easter Sunday. I could lie to myself when I was in Ottawa, I could ignore my mother’s absence when I’m there, but Easter Sunday in the town where she lived her whole life? Not a flipping chance in hell of avoiding that hit. There’s nothing to do about it, really, it’s just the nature of the situation. Going to Peterborough is different now. We used to have to adjust our schedule to go see Nan for part of it, do the balancing act of who is having dinner when, maybe cover one year with the inlaws and one year with her, etc. But that is gone now. As annoying as it was, I feel it’s loss.
Don’t get me wrong, I was not a blubbering idiot all day. I just noticed it, that it was weighing me down. Kind of like the lyric, “Hello darkness, my old friend”. And I know that the only way out is through. But yesterday I didn’t really want out. I wanted to feel the grief in part because it is a connection to her. To feel the link that is mostly gone. To feel the place where the sore tooth used to be, I guess.
Dinner was nice, as it always is. There is little drama in my wife’s family, and little tolerance where there might be any. And I suppose in part because I didn’t grow up with all of them, there is no history to get in the way either, no old slights that might trigger drama. At least not for me, nor apparently for anyone else. It’s just easy. Relaxing almost. I love that Jacob not only gets to spend time with his grandparents but also his great grandfather Doug. I never knew my grandparents so it is doubly special for me to see him have the opportunity.
I really had only one particularly painful moment. Bittersweet perhaps. This morning as we were getting ready to go, Jacob was playing on the piano. Nana and Andrea had taught him some of the Sound of Music, since they’re going to the NAC in a few weeks as a big family outing. Jacob loved the movie, likes the music, and he likes playing on the piano. Today, he was actually playing something. Just the Do-Re-Mi song, but he was quietly doing it by himself, practicing and singing, everyone else was gone to other parts of the house and I was sitting back away in the room. He wasn’t playing for ME, he was just playing for himself.
And I felt the stab that I would love to be able to show that to my mom. She would have loved it. So innocent, so pure, so perfect. And that is the greatest source of grief for me I think. That she doesn’t get to share in these moments, except in a metaphysical sense. She loved Jacob, maybe even in part because she knew it was the golden baby of the golden child, the last of her children to have children, her last grandchild. I weep for the fact that Jacob doesn’t get to see or feel her love and pride in his accomplishments. He’s my awesome possum, but she didn’t get to share it enough.
Then the day ends, the weekend ends, and life returns to normal. Another Easter survived. Life continues.
I miss you Mom. Happy Easter.