I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mired in Mother's Day memories

Chris and me 
Yesterday I gave some thought to today's post, and I wondered if it's time to remember my own years as a mother. Even though both of my sons have died, it doesn't negate my motherhood. Most of the time I've written about my own mom and how much I miss her, but I also realize that I've actively suppressed the memories I have about Chris, who has been gone for more than thirteen years.

This picture was taken one summer long ago when I was visiting my sister in Michigan; I recognize her back yard, but I've got no clue as to why we were both there. I suspect that Norma Jean's husband Pete took the picture. I scanned it with my phone, which is why the picture is not very high quality; however, I think it fits my mood for the day. I spent yesterday going through old pictures, and one batch I hadn't been ready to look at since I put them there in 2002: the ones I took to Germany to share with Chris' friends and family for his funeral.

I hadn't seen Chris for a couple of years when he died suddenly of cardiac arrest while jogging. He had just finished his daily PT when he was granted permission to try to run a little faster. He fell over and by the time his fellow soldiers reached him, they were unable to revive him. He was gone. Although I hadn't seen Chris for awhile, we wrote to each other in email regularly, and he had recently quit smoking and was struggling to keep his weight down. Yesterday I ran across the last email exchange we had, which was also in with that batch of pictures.

So yes, it's true that I am mired down in memories this morning. Every time I woke during the night, I would think about Chris and the times we spent together at various junctures in our lives. Chris lived in Boulder before he went off to join the Army in 1993. Although he was over thirty, the cutoff date when the Army would still accept him was fast approaching, so off he went to start a new life. He thrived in the Army, which made me realize that he really needed the discipline and structure it provided him.

While he was stationed in Germany, he met and married a young German woman with a son from a previous marriage. Chris always seemed to get involved with women who had children, but he never fathered any himself. I think he would have loved to be a father and would have been a good one, but for whatever reason it never happened.

Of course, that also means that I am not a grandmother and never will be. I'll never know that experience, but I really enjoy getting to know the grandchildren of my blogging friends, and of course there's my sister Norma Jean's two grandchildren, who are my grand-nieces. And there's Leo from the coffee shop, who is now seven but has been a constant joy to me for more than six years. Now that he is growing up, he doesn't spend as much time with me in the coffee shop, but I still see him several times a week, when his father brings him in for breakfast before taking him to school.

I remember when Chris started kindergarten. I prepared his lunch for him, and the school bus came down our street to gather up the children. So different from these days when parents take their kids to school, I had to let him wait for the school bus and catch it himself. I cried but tried to be brave for him. He was starting out into the unknown, without me. We had been through so much together, and I was divorced from his father at that time and had remarried. We lived in Don's house when he caught that first school bus. It's a traumatic memory for me, but I don't think it was for him. He enjoyed school but was not an outstanding student. He learned all that he needed to in school but never picked up a book and read it just for enjoyment. In fact, while he was growing up I would read to him when he was little, but he had little patience for it once he grew a little older. He was a typical boy who loved to be outdoors.

Over the years, we went through a lot together, but once he reached adulthood we were more like friends than family. He would not tolerate me telling him how to live his life, and in order to keep him around, I'd look the other way when he made choices I felt uncomfortable with. I would agonize over jobs he lost but would rarely be told the reason. I was always very glad when he was happy with his life, and I was pleased for him when we went off to join the Army.

I had never met his wife Silvia before I went to Germany for the funeral. She is a very nice person, but her English was not very good and she was always unwilling to talk with me on the phone when I spoke to Chris. She and I grew familiar with one another during that awful week I spent there. I never felt any real connection to her, other than through Chris, and he was now gone. We grieved over his loss together, cried together, and then I got on the plane and returned to my life in Boulder.

But it was never the same after that. For many months I couldn't sleep very well and would wake with nightmares, always seeing Chris' body in his dress uniform in the coffin. Silvia wanted him buried and my wishes were not taken into account. It was horrible watching the coffin placed into the ground. If it had been left to me, his body would have been cremated, but it was not my decision.

I think in many ways the fact that as his mother I was no longer considered to be his closest relative was hardest for me to bear. As I look back on those days, I again feel the pain I experienced then, and I realize it's one of the reasons I don't do it very often. But in honor of my son, I am doing it today.

One night long ago, after Chris had been gone for awhile, I had a very vivid dream. So vivid that just thinking about it now it seems like a memory from an actual experience. Chris and a friend Franz, who died in an avalanche, were walking towards me on a garden path, with the sun shining brightly on them, birds singing, just a lovely scene. Chris was waving to me, smiling, and he told me not to worry, he is just fine and happy. Franz smiled at me too, and put his hand on Chris' shoulder and raised his other in companionship, much the way mine is raised in the picture above. I woke from that dream with tears on my face, tears of happiness as well as loss. It comforts me still to this day.

Now that I am in the winter of my own life, having outlived both of my sons, my parents, numerous friends and family, I realize that the pain of all that loss is simply no longer there. It's not that I don't still miss them, but I remember them with love. Although the imprint of the pain is still present and can be revived, I'm not sure what purpose it serves. All our lives we have the ability to make choices about how we proceed from one day to the next, but as time goes by, it seems easier for me to remember the love and the joy we shared, rather than the pain and suffering that goes along with living.

And now I have reached that place that happens every Sunday after I finished writing this post. Partner is still asleep, tea finished and the laptop warming my knees as I sit propped up in bed, and I am thinking of Mother's Day all over the world and thinking about the different ways we will celebrate it. I'll dress and head to the coffee shop and sit with my friends and we'll enjoy each other's company along with the coffee. And I take this moment to be grateful for all the people who have mothered me in various ways, and give thanks for them.

Be well until we meet again next week. I am feeling quite content now, after having relived my own mothering years, and feeling glad to be alive. If I could offer you anything, it would be to find some way to mother yourself today. Until next time.


Linda Reeder said...

After spending hours yesterday working in my daughter's yard, taking the crew out to lunch and meeting up with Jill and the kids at the Sounders game, last night, I am mothering myself today. I just got that extra hour of sleep I was needing. Tom and I will go off to explore a garden somewhere and walk in cool greenness. Jake is working today, but I have put in a request to get together with him when he next has a day off. Jake has been my long term mothering project, the one who also rejects mothering. I know all about that.
Thanks for sharing your memories. Hoping you can smile through your day.

DDD said...

I am much moved. A mother with her two sons passed before her. I cried with sadness, and HAPPY that you overcame.....

Anonymous said...

I am glad that you have come to terms with your loss. Happy Mother's Day, DJan. I wish you the best.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

What a beautiful post, DJan. And your description of that dream certainly sounds like Chris's spirit was communicating that he is happy and flourishing.

Meryl Baer said...

A beautiful post written from your experience, your path to peace, your heart.

Elephant's Child said...

Heartfelt hugs.
That dream was SUCH a gift. Something to hug to yourself on dark days...

The Furry Gnome said...

It's encouraging to know you can now remember Chris with love more than the pain. I find that the grief morphs into a very deep love, not only for our deceased son, but for our living children too. The pain is still very near the surface, but there's just so much love that it's stronger. Happy Mother's Day!

Marie Smith said...

I thought about you earlier today, wondering what this day was like for you. Then you wrote from your heart to your blog and I knew you were OK. The process to OK and embracing life again was a hard fought battle, but you won. You acknowledged the pain and came through the most devastating loss, twice. I cannot imagine it. However, you assured me that the love and joy become the focus rather than the pain and suffering for this loss as well, though not easily.

You inspired me, brought the tears, made me smile about the dream and the hand gesture.

You have shared a wonderful gift with your readers on this Mother's Day, one of hope and peace possible after the darkest days.

Happy Mother's Day and thank you.

Red said...

It's tough but it's good to remember your losses. For some losses are made more difficult by things we cannot control. My Mom lost her only daughter. She was able to move on with her life but many times tears came when she talked about her daughter. My Dad never came to terms the loss of his daughter.

janinsanfran said...

This post is so beautiful. It is very brave to engage past loss so immediately, so much easier to push it away. I too have had the experience of moving from acute, searing grief to loving memories of the good times. When we can do that, it seems undeserved good fortune ... Thanks.

shortybear said...

praying for you, and your memories

Rian said...

DJan, I'm so glad you posted that picture of you and your son. Losing a child is hard to imagine. It has got to be an almost unbearable loss. My sister lost her 17 year old son to Leukemia - and gave up her fight 6 months later. But I do believe that love is never lost. We may not be able to physically see them anymore, but we can still feel their love. And dreams that come to us over time do comfort... and may be 'more' than just dreams. Happy Mother's Day, DJan.

Rita said...

Love that picture! Your dream brings comfort not only to you but to us as well. Remembering all the good things--the miracle and joy of life, however long--brings a peace to the soul. It's gotten easier for me the older I get, I think, and the appreciation feels deeper. Life is a fragile and powerful thing. Blessings to you on Mother's Day!! :)

Far Side of Fifty said...

My dear friend, Happy Mother's Day...once a Mom always a Mom. I am thankful that your mourning feelings have been turned into sweet memories, time has a way of healing all the wounds in a relationship. Not everyone would have emerged the wonderful woman that you are after the death of both of your children. Sending you a hug today:)

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Another post here that I thoroughly enjoyed. Although it is sad that Chris is gone, the way you remember him ... your recollections are so interesting, and in a way, provide some comfort to me about the way I feel about some who are gone in my family. I especially liked what you said about the Military adding some "structure" to Chris's life and the importance of structure. I think a lot of folks don't recognize that! I agree with the well-said comment by janinsanfran. I also want to say Thank You for your kind comments on my blog. Wishing you a fine week ahead!

Arkansas Patti said...

What a marvel that dream was and I do believe that is how our departed loved ones communicate. To have seen him happy and letting you know he was all right had to be a welcoming salve to a painful wound.
That you can now relive those memories and find more comfort than pain is a blessing. That was a caring gift Chris gave his Mom.

Gigi said...

I thought of you yesterday, and sent good thoughts your way (I was unable to get to the computer at all yesterday). I can't imagine the pain that you had to go through at that time. But remembering the love and the joy certainly does seem the way to go.

Sending a giant hug - have a great week.

Jackie said...

"Remembering them with love...."
I hug you so tight, Jan. I have always had a special place in my heart for you and your sons even though I've never met you.
Know that I'm thinking of you....this day.

Glenda Beall said...

A beautiful post and I am touched deeply by your losses. When I see old graveyards with several baby graves for a family, I often wonder how those women were able to go on, especially when life was hard for them. Mothers must have something very special inside them to overcome the pain and grief, often keeping it to themselves. I have friends who have lost children, at birth and as adults, and I marvel at their strength.
I admire you so very much and thank you for sharing this part of your life journey.