Where do you put grief?

This morning, as every Monday morning, we put the dry cleaning bag at the front door. We have a weekly pick up and delivery service. As I walked by, for just a brief but absolutely certain moment, it was Preston lying there. I choked back a sob. I went out for a walk, and on Briar Lane I was overcome with memories of letting go of Preston’s leash here and letting him chase squirrels.

Preston was (is and always will be) our 150 pound Newfoundland dog, so the squirrels had very little to fear. I say our dog, because we all loved him. Yet if we are being honest he was really my dog. Preston was by my side, behind my chair, next to me on the couch, for 12 years. It was me he punished by giving me the cold shoulder when we returned from being away for any length of time. And it was me who kissed his nose when we said goodbye to him in early June.

Two plus months in, I don’t cry every day any more. This coexistence, me and my grief, is not a comfortable one. And I am finding I need to make more room for grief. I need to know how to prepare–to the extent it is possible–for the next loss as my mother is leaving me. I have known this for a long time, but the examples I can point to are getting more frequent, and more concrete. It’s no longer just my vague “knowing.” I am able to put words to the events particularly as she loses her ability to.

Last week, I told her I was making panzanella, one of her favorite dishes. We have a garden that is overflowing its boundaries, and the tomatoes are just beginning to ripen. “What’s that?,” she asked me. I explained it was the tomato bread salad that she loved. She showed no hint of recognition. She plays along–“Oh great!” she said. “Cheryl is making my favorite salad,” she gamely informed my father. I knew she had no idea.

Today I asked her if she would like some bruschetta for lunch. My aggravation at her continuing refusal to pronounce it as bru sketta rather than bru shetta has been a running joke in my family for many years. “What’s that?” she asked me. I had to turn away quickly as the tears began again.

My mother has not been available to me for guidance, or for comfort, for a long time. I know this and understand it. I do not resent it. And she is still here, and healthy, and pretty happy I hope. Yet I am grieving and I do not know what to do with it, not the current grief nor the anticipated grief. I am trying to dig deep and find the joy in my memories of my beautiful Preston, and the joy in the mother I still have.

Does one swallow grief? That’s what it feels like sometimes. Like I am stuffing it back down my throat. I worry there won’t be enough room. There’s hardly enough now.

6 Replies to “Where do you put grief?”

  1. Oh Cheryl, as always your writing is beautiful. The subject matter clearly difficult . I truly believe grief needs to be honored, it comes for the loss of something so special , so important, so worthy to be grieved when lost. I also believe in the new ‘normal’ which may change daily, and know you will (if you haven’t already), find joy in every day’s new normal. I will be thinking of you on this daughter’s journey…..xoxoxo

  2. Grief never goes away, but neither does the love you have for Preston or your Mom or all those you still have to loose. It sounds like a cliche, but the only feeling stronger than lose is love. I have lost many fur babies, and with a 10 year old Golden I know her time is short. So, I try to appreciate each of her quirks even more, each snuggle, each nose rub and when she stole the new plush bunny out of the grand baby’s gift bag, I saw the ‘I couldn’t help it look ‘ in her eyes and snuggled again. I think pictures help. I’ve done a Shutterfly book on each dog before we loose them and then enjoy the pictures and memories again and again. Do the book now. Looking at the pictures makes the good memories easier to remember.
    I knew I was losing my Mom for months too. Hers was a slow, uncomfortable death but we talked in the times the morphine would let her be clear and said what we both needed to say . I think with a parent, grief is only helped by knowing you did all you could to make their last days as they would have wanted them, and letting them know you love them. Having been a hospice volunteer for years, I know people hear more than families think and I am sure they know when then are safe and loved.
    Finally, talk and share your grief. Others want to help but don’t know what to do or say. Let them share your pain and the joy of the wonderful memories you have to share. Sharing is healing, for you and those you share with. At our age, death is now a constant companion, but it does not have to be all pain. It takes courage, compassion and caring to heal and help others. Reach out Cheryl, you are not alone.

    1. Thank you so much for your beautiful sentiments. It is SO hard with my mother as she and my father live with me 6 months out of the year. I have a bit of a Proustian thing–I did it with my nana, too–that a favorite food will bring back great memories! I am learning the hard way that’s just not true, but I also know she loved the bruschetta! Very grateful for your friendship, thank you.

  3. I knew about sweet Preston, and your mother’s broken bones, and some of the pressures of life with your parents, but I don’t think I knew about your mother’s rapid decline. I’m so so sorry to hear about that. We shouldn’t be so far away… I have no advice about grief except not to suppress it or judge it. If we are lucky to love we must be lucky to grieve. Be kind to yourself. Know that you are loved

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