Surviving the Hurricane

In the same way we know a hurricane is coming, there are some days you just know the grief storm is brewing in the gulf waiting for the day to come ashore. The best thing you can do is seek shelter and brace for impact. The fact that a hurricane is coming is only secondary to the inescapable reality of it. Whether you move inland or stay for the storm, it’s still there. Mother’s Day felt like my hurricane. I couldn’t out run it or avoid it but I could at least prepare and seek shelter and comfort at home as I braced for landfall.

(Hurricane grief is unlike Tornado grief. Tornado grief is immediate and unpredictable. Tornado grief is sudden. For instance, Tornado grief caught up with me one evening while I was running on a treadmill at the YMCA. Knowing I already have a troubled history with treadmills, I try to take extra care. I was watching an episode of Kids Baking Championship — harmless, I thought — when they interviewed a contestant about the peach pie he was making. “It’s my grandma’s recipe. You add cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the peaches. They are like one big, sweet, happy family in there,” he said in an adorable, squeaky eight-year-old voice.” On cue with one, big, sweet, happy family I felt tears well up so big and mighty in my eyes. It was all I could do to abandon my treadmill and head for the locker room.

That’s Tornado Grief.)

As for my Hurricane grief, most of the weekend was great. I saw so many people I love, caught up with dear, old friends and visited a few of my favorite Durham spots (Hello, Fosters!). But when Sunday morning rolled around, I braced. We laid out sand sandbags and waited for the brewing storm. My dad and I went to church, a place so familiar and fortifying but laden with emotion. I grew up there and have memories there, including my mom’s funeral.

About mid-way through the service, I felt the now familiar lump in my throat get bigger and bigger. If I’ve learned anything though this grief experience, it’s that even with lots of practice, I will not become a dainty crier. I remember watching Soaps with my mom when I was too young to understand what a scandal really was. The women on those shows were such wonderfully beautiful criers. They’d carefully dot the corners of their eyes or shed just one single tear. Just one controlled tear?? Come on! I, on the other hand, have no pretty tears in me. And that’s fine. Of all the skills I could have in the whole world, I’d rather many other important things over my crying ability. The only time I’d contend that idea is when I’m seated in the second row of church. The last place you want to be crying is seated in front of a lot of people. I knew I had to get out.

I gave my dad a nod he knew was code for “I have to go before my face becomes Niagra Falls.” I made it to the bathroom, grabbed a few paper towels and just let myself miss my mom. I missed picking out a Mother’s Day card for her. I missed going on a run with her that morning (but was grateful I had my dad to run with). I missed her sitting so close to me in church to keep warm because she thought it was always “freezing” in there. I missed the way she’d squeeze my hand three times after saying peace. One squeeze each for “I. Love. You.” I miss her.

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I stood by the water fountain, sipping cold water every once in a while to dissolve the lump in my throat. I took a few deep breaths.

Just then a somewhat familiar face approached the water fountain. “Hey, I know you. Sarah Brown?” he asked. “Close. Emily,” I said. “Yes, I know you! What’s your name again?”

He told me his name and we remembered we had been in youth group together YEARS AGO.

“You okay?” he asked. (Remember, Niagra face.)

“My mom passed a way last summer. This is my first Mother’s Day without her. Kinda tough.”

He didn’t sip his water and run or offer any blanket statement (which really would have been fine and understandable). Instead, he personified empathy. He stayed and offered.

“You know I’ve never had any major losses in my life but my dad sure has. Most recently, his best friend died last year and the loss hit us hard. Even the smallest memories of him would stop me in my tracks. Seeing someone driving the same truck or hearing a song on the radio hit me every time.  I learned though, that every time I saw his same truck roll down the highway, I was remembering him. And that felt familiar. It makes me smile when I miss him.”

I smiled and thanked him. What wisdom.

Though my tears, I know that I’m just remembering my mom.

In this new life post-August 18, I’m repeatedly realizing that darkness does not travel alone. Sadness is always in the saddle with Joy. It’s a lesson I love to learn and bears repetition.

Through my tears, memories.

Through my loss, reminders of love.

Through crying alone, friends show up and stay.

I’ve referred to these nine months without my mom as a season. Like the winter, it will eventually bloom into spring. In a way, that’s true. I will not always be living in the immediate wake of a tragic loss. But in a way, this is not a season. I will never fully get over losing my mom. This is not a season. This is the rest of my life with no other side or season to finally arrive at and become “better.” This is not a measured amount of time that will come to pass or an event that will fade into the abyss with other forgotten memories. This is learning to continue living with a irreparable hole in my heart.

A few weeks ago friend told me that the holes in our hearts allow light to shine through. I think that’s just beautiful.

Here’s to the holey, ragged hearts of ours. May they be bearers of light and honesty.





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