Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's a Strange, Strange World/Quick Update on My Life/Thoughts About Grieving

I apologize in advance for a long, rambly post only tangentially related to books and movies. But for anyone who wants to get to know me a bit better, it might be a good read. :-) 

Considering I grew up thinking a rotary dial phone and an electric typewriter were the height of technology, it's surprising how often I stop to think about the degree to which technology has been absorbed into every facet of our lives.




When I was my daughter Trisha's age, I thought by this time manned space travel would be mundane. Plus we'd have flying cars and robot maids to clean our house. (What can I say? In my day, The Jetsons was a staple of Saturday morning T.V. And during the decade after the moon landing, to hear people talk, any minute there'd be a McDonalds franchise on Mars. :-P) I'd heard of computers, the blossoming technology that would someday take the world by storm. They were said to fill up entire laboratories and be operated by ingenious mad scientists. But I never, in my wildest dreams, envisioned the internet.

Now, at about the same age when I looked at our new phone and said "COOL! It has BUTTONS!" ... my son gets uptight if it takes 3 minutes to get an internet connection so he can game with his friends in Australia.

 What a difference 30 years makes, eh?

 "Everything is Amazing & Nobody Is Happy"

The video "Everything is Amazing and Nobody Is Happy" cracks me up, and it TOTALLY applies to me. Despite having come of age with rotary dial phones, I drop F-Bombs if my internet access is a little bit too slow while I'm trying to work. What's up with that?

Once in a while, I have a moment of clarity when I realize how amazing and surreal the world is today. A few weeks ago, I had to explain to Trisha the function of a postage stamp. But the real clincher came last night -- my kid sent me a Facebook message to tell she was ready for bed and needed to be tucked in. And yes she was right in the next room.

It's a strange, strange world. But seriously? I still want my flying car and my robot maid!

On another note, our home is still quarantined due to illness. :-P My husband brought this virus home from work, and it's been making the rounds. My 14-year-old son, the kid who wants to be buried with his precious X-Box 360, was too sick to game. I have laryngitis, and I have to resort to communicating with my family via Post-It notes. Call it my Nag-by-Note system.

Since I'm not sick enough to stay in bed, but I do need to stay home, I've tried to be productive. My current project ... and for me, this is BIG ... has been cleaning and reorganizing my bookcase.

I am the least compulsive person I know. My house always looks like a train wreck, and the organizational system in my desk/work area is one of the great mysteries of the universe. But I like my books organized. Not just organized but alphabetized, in each category, by my own fussy system. Well, it took me a LONG time, this week, to get it back to that condition, and it required sacrificing a lot of books. This is my current pile of stuff earmarked as library donations:


Holy crap!

But, hey ... I'm almost finished.


I dearly love my bookcase, and organizing it brings back many memories. My husband built it for me, as a gift, to try to help me begin to heal from my mother's death. Which makes no sense unless you understand the context.


My mom died, when she was only 63, due to mysterious causes -- possibly medical malpractice. Like most parents and kids, our relationship had been through ups and downs. But through the years -- more and more -- she became my best friend.

One thing we always shared, from my earliest memories -- through ups, downs, and everything in between -- was our love of books. I will always vividly remember the books we read together when I was growing up, the novels and writers we discussed as adults, and the authors for whom we shared an unabiding love. Relationships, abiding love, and grief are wonderfully raw and messy and infinitely complex. Often it's the tangible things -- and shared passions -- that help us survive and begin to make sense of it all.


I was fortunate to have the opportunity -- however briefly -- to say goodbye to Mom. Her world had already shrunk to a hospital bed, and she soon lost the ability to speak. On the last day, I brought her favorite book into the ICU. The Little Prince. I read to her for a while, and it's the last thing we shared. We got to the part about the baobab tree.

When we left the house, after the funeral, I had a feeling I'd never be back; it wasn't likely that my mother's husband and I would stay in touch for long. Out of respect for our stepfather, my brother and I took very little from the house, a decision we later deeply regretted. The one thing I took greedily, weighing down the trunk of the car until I wondered whether we'd make it over the state line, was books. As many of her books as I could manage to make off with.That, plus a handful of photos and knickknacks, and we were gone.

My husband, who had no particular words of wisdom on how to deal with a grief too large to carry, built this bookcase to hold all the books. Hers and mine. On a shelf, along with a picture of Mom, are her copies of The Little Prince.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross famously wrote about stages of the grief process, which is as good a model as any for understanding it. Reading On Death and Dying, once might get the notion that it's a linear process. It isn't, of course. Denial, anger, bargaining, and depression come and go in waves, and sometimes they all seem to gang up and kick your ass. And acceptance often comes only in glimmers.

I've never met anyone who followed a straight path to recovery. It's more like a spiral, becoming more bearable, then harder, then better, then worse. With luck, you inch your way a bit higher each time you go around.

Even nine years later, I'm still not doing well with this. But yes, it gradually gets easier. As someone -- I forget who -- wisely observed, some forms of grief never go away, but you do make room for it. And as time goes on, the tangible things -- like Mom's books and ultrasound photos of my stillborn son -- become increasingly important to me.

When I became a mom, of course, I was insanely eager to share my love of reading with the kids. And, to some extent, I've done this. But neither of my teens are big readers, and ultimately they developed their own passions. So I tried to educate myself about what they love and -- to some degree -- to share these passions with them. This led to my becoming a film buff, rejuvenating my love of fiction writing, and working to gain a greater appreciation of video games.

At times, I find myself thinking about the memories with which I'll leave my kids. This usually occurs to me when I'm being Super-Bitch Mom. ;-)

When I'm "too busy" or "not in the mood" to talk about gaming or a crazy-ass indie movie I never learned to appreciate, I try to remember that. Someday, shared memories, interests and passions will be one of the few things I leave behind. :-)

On a related note, I have a question. What novels and movies dealing with grief, in an honest and real way, do you particularly recommend? While I am open to all forms of faith and spirituality, I'd prefer stories without an overly religious message. I'm thinking about making a list, and I'd love to hear your suggestions.

36 comments:

  1. Most of the deaths that have surrounded my family have been when I was from 11 - 13. And I guess, being that young, you don't really know what grief is. I had pets dying for as long as I can remember, and sort of had a grasp of grieving then, but I still don't totally fully understand it and how to combat it, let alone through books/films. I think as I get older, and people start to pass away, it'll become more of an issue to try and deal with, something I don't think anyone looks forward to.

    Loved the post btw!

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    1. What a wonderful, thoughtful comment. Thanks! I doubt this is something anybody fully understands. And I agree that we experience it differently when we're in various stages of the life cycle.

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  2. Incredible Post Stephanie! First of all, movies dealing with Grief(I am not sure if they help us in dealing with grief in any way because personally I never feel so but they sure are remarkable as a movie and honest in their portrayal) -
    Finding Neverland - I have seen this movie probably 10 times and I have cried every single time.
    The Sweet Hereafter - one of my all time favourites and specifically for strikingly real portrayal of grief.
    I think I can also throw In the Bedroom and The Chocolat in the mix as well.

    Its my ambition to generate a book collection like yours. I had a smaller rack back in India. I will get there is few years. :)

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. :-) And thank you for the film recommendations. I remember Finding Neverland as a sweet and sad movie, and In the Bedroom is definitely a powerful film about grief. I haven't seen The Sweet Hereafter -- I should have a look. I'm not sure about The Chocolat -- is that the one with Juliette Binoche where she sets up a chocolate shop in a French village?

      Good luck with building your book collection. :-)

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  3. This is a beautiful post. You brought tears to my eyes. I lost my dad last year, so my grief is still fresh so to speak. But then, I hear that with a parent it is always fresh (as you know)--and, just, as you said, you make room for it in your life. I can't even imagine life without my mother and hope I don't have to for a long time yet.

    My dad was a big reader and I credit both him and my mom for turning me onto books. I still remember the conversation with my father when I told him I was culling my bookshelves for my big move a year and a half ago. He was silent for a long while before asking if I was sure I wanted to part with the books. His own library, one I remember quite well growing up, being huge. He also asked to have first go at my books to see if there were any he wanted to read. He and I had our differences and he had his share of problems, but we had worked through them mostly by the time he died. Unfortunately, I didn't get to say goodbye. His death was quite unexpected.

    I haven't come across a book to help me with the grief--although I haven't really looked either. I do want to read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair at some point. What I have done, or at least want to do, is read at least one book a year for my father--a book that I would have gotten him for Christmas or his birthday--and honor him that way. I did that this past year. I suppose its similar to looking at old photos of him, a way to remember him, but it makes me feel close to him again.

    I imagine, like me, you wish your children could know your mother like I wish my daughter could know my father. I only hope that my stories do him justice.

    Sending a big hug your way.

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    1. Thank you for this kind and eloquent comment! I am sorry you never had the chance to say goodbye to your father. I love the idea of reading one book a year as a gift to him. I don't know how old your kids are, but maybe they could be included in that in some way.

      Thank you again. I'm so glad I "met" you online this week.

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  4. This was a lovely post. My grandfather recently passed away, and although I spent a lot of time with him during my childhood we we're really intellectually close until a few years ago when we started to read similar books and talk about them. Being able to recommend books to him is a memory I'll always treasure. So, I get the connecting through books thing -- it's a great way to bond with people we love.

    One book I recently read about grief was called All Gone by Alex Witchel. It's a lot about food and family and memory and grief, and I thought it was really lovely. Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" is another really beautiful book about grief (although very sad in parts).

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    1. Thank you, Kim. I appreciate your kind words and your sharing memories of your grandfather. I had forgotten about The Year of Magical Thinking -- it's a novel I've planned to read for years. I'll look up All Gone, too.

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  5. What a beautiful post, it brought tears to my eyes. I've not had to deal with the death of someone close to me. Not since I was a young girl anyway. It's hard to fathom.

    I wish I did have some great recommendations for you. All I can think of are books and movies that have made me cry and I don't think that's what you're looking for.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer. Actually, I'm not really looking for comforting books and movies -- just anything that addresses grief in an honest, real way. And sometimes crying can be therapeutic. :-) I appreciate your kind words.

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    2. There are two movies who I think dealt with grief in wonderful ways. Stepmom (Susan Sarandon) and Life as a House (Kevin Kline) I haven't seen either of them in years but they were both boo hoo fests for this girl! ;)

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    3. I'd forgotten about Stepmom -- I remember really liking that movie. I'll have to check out Life as a House. I do like Kevin Kline. :) Thanks, Jennifer!

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  6. What an interesting read Stephanie :)

    It's really interesting reading you kid message you in facebook...it reminds me of John Watson blog..how he and Sherlock commented on his blog whereas they are still in the same flat. Technology!

    My mom passed away last year and will do a special post for her next week. She was my best friend. I cope with the grief through time, friends, family, and my pets. I don't think any film can help me get over grief.

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    1. Hah! You're right -- it is kind of like Sherlock and Watson. I hadn't even thought of that. Too funny!

      My family really likes Sherlock -- almost as much as Doctor Who. ;-) My older daughter calls Sherlock's character "an unholy mix between The Doctor and Sheldon Cooper."

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on grief. Time, friends, family & your pets ... that sounds wise. I am so sorry about the loss of your mother.

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    2. If I am not mistaken, Sheldon is from The Big Bang theory, right? I haven't seen that one yet...I already have the first season but haven't got time to see it yet.

      Doctor Who and Sherlock? we totally have similar taste there ;)

      Thank you, Steph. It' s nice reading that your mom was also your bestfriend.

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    3. And I loved reading your post about your mom, too. Yes, Sheldon is from Big Bang Theory. He's a little bit like Sherlock in a few ways -- brilliant but insensitive. :-)

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  7. Grief is a strange thing, isn't it? I lost both my parents within two years of each other (my dad in mountaineering accident and my mom dropped dead without warning). It felt like I lost my anchors in life and I've been drifting ever since. You're right … you don't really get "rid" of the grief .. it just inhabits a space inside you. I've been searching for a book on grief ever since and haven't found one yet that totally spoke to me -- although The Long Goodbye came close. Not being able to say goodbye to my parents is one of my biggest regrets. Just the chance to see them and tell them I love them one more time would have made a huge difference. As it was, it was like losing a telephone connection in the middle of a conversation and never getting them back on the line.

    I too took books to remember my parents … and a few small items that are meaningful. I think your husband's gesture of building the bookcases says more than anything else he could have done. How meaningful!

    Thanks for sharing your story and I too think about my legacy to my son -- Lord knows what it will be but I'm trying and that is all we can do in the end.

    Hugs.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this, Jenners, and I'm glad I'm having the opportunity to get to know you online. I am so sorry you didn't have the chance to say goodbye to your parents. I know exactly what you mean about losing the connection in the middle of the conversation.

      "I think your husband's gesture of building the bookcases says more than anything else he could have done." -- Exactly! That's how I feel. :-)

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  8. Beautiful post. It is so true, grief never fully goes away but we make room for it and try to move on. We never stop missing the people we love.

    I used to think we'd be living life like the Jetsons by now too...lol. A robot maid and a flying car were what I was expecting. The internet and all this technology never fail to amaze me. I've just gotten an iTouch about a year and a half ago and I was so in awe of the idea of a touch screen.
    When I tell my kids "we're living in the future'' they make fun of me.

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    1. Thanks, Naida. I appreciate your thoughts, and I know what you mean about the iTouch. I never even used a computer until I was in college. :-D

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  9. I forgot to say, about the movie....Simon Birch.

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    1. Thanks! I'll look for that.

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  10. Excellent post! My situation resembles Cherokee's. I've had two relatives die when I was between 8-12, but I haven't experienced the loss of a close family member yet. I'm not sure I even know how to grieve, but, like you said in the comments, I think everyone experiences it differently in various stages of life.

    The only movies dealing with grief that I can think of are Three Colors: Blue (can't remember if you've seen it yet) and Rabbit Hole.
    I second the Life as a House mention too.

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    1. Thanks, Josh. I rented Blue once but didn't have the chance to watch it. I'll add it back to my list. I've gone back and forth on wanting to see Rabbit Hole, but I've decided I'll see it soon.

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  11. What a beautiful post. It's wonderful that you got to share that special bond with your mother through books. I find myself in the fortunate position of living in a family of readers. I often swap and discuss books with my parents and my sisters. It must be so special to have those books that your mother loved - like you still have a little part of her.

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    1. Thanks, Lindsey -- this is a lovely comment. I'm glad you have a bookish relationship with your parents and sisters. Shared passions are a great thing to have.

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  12. Don't Look Now (1973) and Reign Over Me (2007), are about grief, and both I recommend. You've already seen Ordinary People, I remember. Agree with commments about Blue (1993) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997), both are worth tracking down.

    By the way, I found above titles by doing a keyword search on IMDB for "grief"

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    1. A keyword search is always good, but I prefer personal recommendations. Thanks for mentioning Ordinary People -- you have a good memory. ;-) I'll look into the other titles you suggested. Thanks, Chris!

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  13. What a beautiful post, it made me cry a little as I'm very close with my mother and I can't imagine losing her. It's lovely that you shared something together, in a way going back to those books you loved and reading them again really must make you feel like she's not really gone and always there with you.

    I really liked how this subject was handled in "PS: I Love you" where the husband left tapes and letters for his wife after he was gone, gradually helping her to find happiness again.

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    1. Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful comment, Margaret. I'll check into PS: I Love You.

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  14. Stephanie - Your post brought tears to my eyes and I can tell you've done a great deal of reflecting upon grief and I think you're right that you're never completely done grieving and that your heart just makes room. It must have been incredibly difficult to say goodbye to your mom--I can't imagine as I live less than a mile from mine and still at 31 need her every day--but it's wonderful that you have these memories and the connection of books to keep her alive within you.

    Also--I LOVE personal posts. It's these kinds of connections that make me love blogging and the people behind the blogs. xo

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    1. Thanks, Trish! I really like personal posts, too, but I realize they aren't of interest to everyone. :-) Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment. And what a blessing that you and Elle are so close to your mom, both emotionally and geographically.

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  15. Hmmm. I can think of any number of movies that have sad things in them, but I'm almost drawing a blank when it comes to movies about dealing with grief. I wrote about Field of Dreams and the personal connection to me and my dad back in early November. Unfortunately, it was in a spoiler section where I discussed the end of the film, so if you have not seen the movie, you probably did not read it.

    To kickstart my brain I took a look through the other films I've recommended. I came up with these movies in regards to dealing with grief:

    21 Grams - husband and child
    Another Earth - wife and child
    Beginners - father
    Defendor - mother
    The Descendants - wife/mother
    Gran Torino - wife
    Hugo - father
    Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School - wife
    Pan's Labyrinth - father and sick mother
    To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday - wife/mother
    Up - wife
    A Very Long Engagement - fiancee

    Rather than inundate you with links, here is a single link to my index, from which you could select any/all of the movies above if you wanted to know a little more about why I recommended them: http://tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/p/index-of-movies-reviewed.html

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    1. Great list, Chip. :-) I loved 21 Grams. I also like Defendor, Gran Torino, Hugo and Up. And I'll definitely be coming by to read your post about Field of Dreams.

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  16. Your post touched me deeply Stephanie. I'm so sorry about the loss of your mum and precious baby boy; the good, bad and sad of grief, such a loss leaves you forever changed. So many memories in your bookcase, what a lovely thing for your hubby to do.

    My mum passed away 4 years ago at 62 after a few weeks battling melanoma, she was my best friend and 22 years ago my baby girl died 19 hours after she was born. I totally relate to your thoughts about grief being a spiral, even so far on, some moments, some years are just inexplicably harder than others.

    I find that time lessens pain but it doesn't make the missing less

    My favourite (lol that sounds umm a bit sad) grief books ... Getting Back To Life When Grief Won't Heal by Phyllis Kominsky, Loss of a Baby by Margaret Nichol and A New Star ... beautiful children's story explaining the death of a baby to siblings. Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger is an all time favourite of mine. It's a beautiful fictional story about Yeti Love and choices when you have a devastating terminal illness.

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    1. Thank you, Sheree. I do remember you writing about the loss of your baby girl. (((Hugs)))

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Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.