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The subject of grief is definitely one for which I now have a deeper understanding.  Losing my mother was so extremely difficult for me.  I had never lost a family member before her, so the immediate grief process was extremely laborious and raw.  She and I were very close.  Her personality was so big, so when it wasn’t there anymore, the space left wasn’t just empty, it was a vacuum.  It threatened to pull me down into darkness.  Frankly, there were many moments when I thought that letting go and allowing that darkness to pull me down, drifting into nothingness, sounded like a good idea.

It’s about a year and a half after she left this earth, and my grief is not so raw anymore.  But it’s still here with me.  I carry it like an accessory I didn’t choose.

Anyone who has taken a psychology course will be familiar with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Moving through these stages looks differently for each person, but if each stage isn’t visited, even briefly, the process will not be complete.

I had a wonderful relationship with my mom, but even so, I struggled with my grief process whenever I was reminded of the things about her that annoyed or angered me. She was opinionated, loud, stubborn, and a bit of a know-it-all, just to name a few things. So when I felt the absence of those things and realized how…nice it was to not have to deal with them, I felt horribly guilty. But in the end, I know who she was. I know what she meant to me, and I understood our relationship and I know how much I loved her, and how much she loved me. Our relationship was real and imperfect, but not confusing.

Tuesday night, I listened to a webinar as part of our education requirement for our adoption. The topic was attachment and how it may look differently in adoption. It was all really great information, most of which I was already aware of from seminars and conferences we had attended just because we are passionate about adoption and orphan care. But one of the sub-topics caught my attention. Grief, from the perspective of the adopted child. Because adoption does not exist without loss. It does not matter if the child was adopted at birth, as a toddler, or as an older child. That child has lost the chance to be raised by their birthfamily.

With loss, comes grieving. but if that child is in any way unclear about their feelings for or relationship with their birthmom/birthfamily, they can become stuck in that process. If they become stuck, attachment to the adoptive parent will be difficult.

As a child struggles with the loss of birthfamily, they inevitably think about the circumstances in which that loss occurred. Even in a family situation where a child does not feel safe (i.e. alcohol/drug use, physicaly/secual/emotional abuse), the child will still feel a sense of loyalty and love for their birthfamily. The juxtaposition between that love/loyalty and the fear for safety causes a great deal of confusion for the child.

“They’re my parents and I love them, but they let scary people into our house”
“She hugs and kisses me, and tells me she loves me, but when she drinks, she yells and throws things and it scares me.”
“Mom told me that my birthmom didn’t have money to take care of me, but I wonder if it’s because she didn’t love me.”

Confused feelings about birthfamily throws a wrench into the grieving process. It’s hard to deal with feelings when you’re not really sure what they are. Grief is difficult enough without throwing in the additional stress of confusion.

As we prepare our home and hearts for V, we need to be ready for her grief. not only will she grieve her family, but her homeland, her friends, and all that was familiar to her. I am well aware that there is no prescription to keep us moving through the process of grief. No magic potion to get us “unstuck”. I cannot make it better. But I can give her permission and encouragement to slog through the mire. Who knows how long it will take, but I have my slogging boots at the ready.

I haven’t been doing any running since my mom died.  I don’t know if there’s some deep existential reason for it, but I just haven’t.  Maybe the steady beat of my feet hitting the pavement would bring too much time for clear thinking and therefore, thinking about her and what I’m missing.  I don’t generally run with music because I enjoy actually being able to think and listen to the world around me.  I find the absence of music really calms my soul.

Anyway, since my mom, I’ve only done Zumba.  It’s been good for me, good for endorphin flow, strengthening my core, for feeding my inner dancer, and keeping my mind focused on watching the steps and what I’m doing.  Not much time for deep reflection.  Although, I did have a moment about a week after she passed, where as soon as I started moving, the tears started flowing.  It was weird, twisting my hips and salsa-stepping as tears rolled down my cheeks.  I had to step out for a minute or two to get myself under control.  I’m sure the people in the class would have understood, but, I don’t know them and wasn’t expecting them to not feel weird about the sobbing girl in the front row.  For the most part, I’ve gotten through without any emotional breakdowns and have found that it’s reminding me that I must keep moving, for mom’s sake.

I can clearly recall the way I felt and the thoughts I had when I first started running over two years ago.  My body was all, “WHAT?  What are you doing?  Have you lost your mind, woman?” and my thoughts were, “This feels weird.  I don’t know if I can do this.  I’m just not a runner.  I’ll keep at it for a couple of weeks, but I doubt this will get better.”  I kept at it.  And it got better.  And soon, I realized that yes, I actually AM a runner.  I was trying to fit myself into the mold of “runner” that I had in my head from my school years.  Runners were those skinny folk who were on track and cross-country.  People who wore tiny, creepy, tiny shorts.  People who didn’t feel nauseous when it was time for the “25 minute run” in P.E. class.  Those people were not me.  What I learned, was, that those are just a small percentage of the community of people who are runners.  Our bodies don’t fit into certain specifications.  We all run at varying paces.   Some of us really really really love it, some of us do it just because it’s good for us.  The spectrum of tortoises and hares and everything in between, that is the running community.

This year, I have challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone in a really big way.  I signed up for a half-marathon.  The longest race I’ve ever run is a 5K.  So, just add 10 miles to that.  Easy, peezy, lemon squeezy.  Or not.  I know this will be hard, but I also know that the path to reach a goal that is worth striving for is never easy.  Greatness cannot be achieved unless there is struggle.

On July 22nd, after months of training (& plenty of struggle, I am sure), I will be lined up at the start of Chicago’s Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon.  My husband will be at my side, running with me the whole way.  I will be running with The American Cancer Society’s team, DetermiNation.  Not only do team members get private port-o-potty privileges, but we’ll be running for a good cause.  I will be running for my mom.  The 22nd of July is just days before her birthday on the 28th.  A birthday she will not be with us to celebrate, but that’s why I’m running with the American Cancer Society.  To help others to be able to celebrate their birthdays.   Soon I’ll be hitting you up to sponsor me.  So keep an eye out.

On Saturday, I got back into a running routine.  It was snowy and icy, and it felt great.  I had to hop over a few treacherous spots, I felt the snow seep into the top of my shoes, but the steady beat of feet on pavement, and crunch of snow was what this girl needed.  Those thoughts of “I can’t do this” that swirled in my head when I first began, were replaced by thoughts like, “I remember this.  I can do this.  This is who I am now”.

I’ve honestly never been curious about what it would feel like if someone took a cheese grater to my nerves, but that is exactly how I’m feeling tonight.  Raw, jagged, floppy-like, drippy and haggard.  I was back in Michigan this weekend with my mom and my immediate family and this is how I feel now.  Imagine driving for 3 hours feeling like that.  Alone.  Thank goodness for satellite radio and the comedy channel.  If I had been left to my own thoughts I would not have made it.

This is the facebook status I just posted:  I can’t express the experience of this weekend.  So many emotions, raw, deep, horrible, wonderful, heartbreaking and uplifting.  I am a puddle of goo right now, desperately trying to get my bones to keep me upright.  Oh bones, don’t fail me!  Hold my frame upright so that I might be able to do stuff like hug my children, read them stories, snuggle with them in bed, walk to the bathroom (oy, that could get really messy if you disintegrate, bones of mine.), and walk up the stairs so that I might collapse into bed and hopefully drift off into dreamless, delicious, sleep.

I am so grateful to have the family I do.  We are not perfect, we don’t exactly tell each other our deepest feelings, but there is safety within our circle.  Safety where we can say what is on our hearts and minds and know that it will be met with unconditional love.  Even if at first there may be frustration or annoyance.  The love underneath holds everything up.

It was just Mom, Dad, and the kids this weekend.  Our little Potter family unit together.  We hashed stuff out.  It wasn’t pretty.  We talked about stuff that had nothing to do with Mom’s health.  We talked about stuff that’s been bugging us for years and we have avoided saying it, afraid that it was just us being selfish and for Pete’s sake, just get over it.  The funny thing is, a lot of that stuff we held on to ended up being so silly once it was finally said.  You realize that your perception in the first place was WAY off, and now you’re wondering why in the world you spent all those years holding on to it.  There were more than a few moments of, “I didn’t know you felt that way!”  and “I didn’t know YOU felt that way!  I thought you were just crazy!  Or I was crazy!”  and “Crazy is true, but not in this case”.

And there was anger.  Of the explosive sort.  It had everything to do with the differences in the way all of us communicate.  The difficulty in remembering to be aware of how our actions may be affecting others, even if there is no ill intent.  We gave each other permission to grieve in our own way, not expecting any other one person to do this the same way that we are.  It is useless to expect my left-brained brother to be as emotional as I am.  I’m not grieving “better”, I’m just doing it my own way.  There is no “good” or “bad” way to grieve, as long as we grieve and not avoid it, pretend it’s not happening.  So the anger was quelled.  The words came again, the lines opened, the “I’m sorry’s” and “I love you’s”, the tears and embraces settled in once again as welcome companions to this road we are navigating.  The realization that we don’t know what we’re doing, that each step forward is likely one of uncertainty, feeling for solid ground.

You see, we’ve never been through this, really.  I never knew my own grandparents, except for my mother’s mother, whom I barely knew and who died when I was young, maybe 6 or 7.  All of my aunts and uncles are still here, all of my cousins…even my cousins’ kids, all still here.  We’ve never done this before, much less for our own mother.  It’s not a good thing to be a novice in.  But we have to.  So we can either let it tear us apart, or we can commit to loving one another through it, and allow it to grow us together.  We have chosen the latter.  All for one, and one for all.

 

You know that feeling when you’re throwing up and it’s almost as if your body has betrayed you?  It’s working on its own, so violently, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it?  You’re sitting over the toilet, or perhaps the sink, or maybe a bag or bowl…hating every second of this awful feeling but you can’t stop it.  Your body is just doing it on its own and you’re completely at its mercy.

That is what my grief feels like.

It’s also sort of like those dreams you may have where something terrible is after you, and you try to run, but all you can manage to do is move in super slow motion.

No control.

Mom is in hospice.

I know what will happen.  And I can’t stop it.  None of us can.

There are moments when it all seems so surreal.  Like this can’t be my life, this can’t be happening, it’s not time for this yet.  Like someone is going to approach me soon and say, “Oh man, we totally got you!  You completely fell for it.  Oh, hahahaha!  Yeah, you should have seen your face!  Hoooooooo!  Oh wow, well, yeah, no, she’s totally fine.  All is well.”.  Then we’d both have a good laugh and I’d say say something like, “I KNEW it was too soon!  Oh, you guys!  You did get me!  You’re just a bunch of punks!”.  Then we’d go out for margaritas or something.

But that’s not the case.  No, reality is more the “can’t stop the vomiting” scenario.

The weird thing is, is when it chooses to hit me.  Like a ninja attack, out of nowhere and I’m completely vulnerable.  Washing dishes, humming a little ditty?  *WHAM!!*  Grief vomit.  I am literally doubled-over, the emotion turning into physical pain and I can barely breathe.  I’ve found myself curled up in a ball on the floor, on my bed, in a chair, more than once, panting from the exhaustion of it all.

Because I can’t fathom a world without my mother in it.  I can’t imagine not being able to pick up the phone and ask her something.  I can’t figure out how I’m going to DO it.  How am I going to go through my days when she’s gone?  How will I find out the end of an incomplete childhood memory that I randomly thought of, and if I don’t discover the ending, it will just bug me?  How will I listen to anyone talk about their mom and how they love her so much?  Or how they can’t stand her?  How will I endure Mother’s Day without this gut-wrenching pain, this pit in my stomach?  How will I….?

All I know is that God has never failed to be with me, holding me, sometimes picking up my feet to move me, through any and every difficult experience.  Though this one is by far the worst, I know He won’t fail me this time….but it doesn’t mean there won’t be pain.  It doesn’t mean I’ll coast through with a plastic smile on my face.  I don’t want to.  That’s not me.  It never has been.  I want to be real.

So I can promise that to you.  I will be real.  I will be honest, good and bad.  It’s the only way I know how to do life.