I have always known how fortunate I am to have a family that loves and cares for me. Every time I’ve been sick or had major surgery my mother, mother-in-law and sister have come to care for me. Their presence has allowed me to heal knowing that my family and household are being taken care of in a way that is nurturing and respectful. They are all hands-on caregivers, helping me dress, doing laundry, preparing meals, shuttling kids around, all the things they know I would do if able.
My sister Julie has also come when I’ve needed her simply by my asking. There was a time when we were both in college and I had just broken up with my boyfriend of two years. A dance that I thought I was going to attend with him was coming up and he was bringing his new girlfriend. My pride made me determined to attend the dance, but I needed back up. All of my friends were attending with dates and I didn’t want to be an add-on to their evenings. Julie took the bus from Boston to Providence and came to the dance with me. She understood without explanation why I needed her there. Going to the dance was about proving to myself that I wasn’t going to allow anyone to make me feel that I didn’t deserve to be present. Just having her there allowed me to move past my self-consciousness of feeling alone. It also allowed me to sneak glances at the girlfriend while proving to myself that the world didn’t end because of the break-up. A problem that at the time seemed so monumental. Thank God for youthful ignorance and invincibility.
My past shows me that asking for help is something I do after much consideration. My “self” never allows me to slip too far before I reach out and ask for support. Right after Jordan died, as October and November came and went, Christmas was approaching and I had no idea how I was going to make it through the holiday season. Mark and I both said that if it were just the two of us we’d probably go someplace far from home and come back when the holidays were over. Our children however, looked to us to provide continuity and reassurance that our world would keep going. I knew I had to provide those things, but I didn’t know how I could with grief weighing so heavy within me.
The albatross that most exemplified my unyielding sorrow was my dining room table. It was cluttered with plastic ware and covered containers from the weeks after Jordan died. The dishes needed to be returned to those who had dropped off food at our house. The table also held the guest book from the Memorial Service as well as cards and letters of condolences mixed in with mail Mark and I hadn’t been able to sort through. There were two large poster boards leaning against the wall in the dining room that we’d displayed at the Memorial service. They held pictures of Jordan and messages family and friends wrote on them after the Memorial service. When I would pass through the dining room I would usually avert my eyes not able to take in what the table represented. Occasionally I would sit in one of the chairs and pick up a pile of cards and letters attempting to sort through them. I would sit and stare for a few moments as I felt myself becoming agitated. I would sigh heavily and shake my head as I left the room. I couldn’t do it. I was overwhelmed by all the reminders of loss that occupied the table yet I couldn’t move past the vestiges of the Memorial Service. Clearing off the table meant moving on and accepting that we would have our first Christmas without Jordan. How could Christmas come to our house without Jordan? I was so conflicted. I wanted to be able to walk through my house without averting my head at what to me represented my failure to move on. My cluttered, filled with reminders that my son was gone, dining room table needed to be readied for the holidays and I couldn’t do it. When I asked my sister if she could come for a few days to help me she said simply, “Yes.” She understood without explanation my need for order. She didn’t try to tell me it didn’t matter what the table looked like. She knew me and knew what I needed to ease my mind. I knew she would help me handle the task in the way that would be gentle and spare me as much pain and anguish as possible.
Julie came for three days before Christmas and in that time made a spreadsheet of all the addresses Mark and I needed to send thank-you notes. She found boxes for all the cards and letters that I wanted to keep and put them in a closet where I could easily get to them, but they were out of sight. The day that she left, like someone from a design show she brought up candles and other decorations from my basement and transformed my dining room into a place of beauty. A place I could walk through without trying not to see all the reminders of death that had been in the room. I hugged her tightly when she left saying, “Thank you” but meaning so much more. She took care of me without judgment.
I am again in a place where I feel so close to breaking. My sister asked me the other day how I was doing. I told her I was hanging on by the thinnest thread. With my simmering worry about Merrick being away for 6 weeks, Mark travelling frequently for work and my daughters needing me to help them navigate their grief I feel broken. . Weariness has set in; being caretaker and receptacle for my children’s grief as well as my own has taken all of my energy.
My mother and sister heard the weariness in my voice and their love for me is bringing them for a visit. They’re coming today. They’re coming to as my mother said, “Lay eyes on me and take care of me for a few days.” They made the decision to miss our 52nd annual family reunion, even thought they’ve paid for all the events. I had my moments of guilt. I didn’t want them to miss seeing all of our relatives and my mother presiding over our family meeting. I told Mama I’d be okay even though the conversations she’d had with me in the last few days indicated otherwise. Mama simply said to me, “I’m doing what my instincts tell me to do.” She then asked me was there anything she could bring me? Through tears all I said was, “I just want you to cook for me and take care of me.” Relief surged through me as I felt the weight of caretaker being eased by my mother and sister.
My mother and sister are coming today to embrace and love my family. My mother will cook all our favorite foods. As I rest in my room with vigilance abating I know I will hear the sounds of my daughters playing endless games of Uno with their aunt and “Oma”. They will laugh louder and longer than they have in a long time. Mama and Julie will sit with me on my front porch and listen without judgment or advice as I unburden myself, letting them in on how grief is working within me as Jordan’s 21st birthday approaches. They are coming to take care of me and I’ve never been more grateful. Just knowing that I can let my guard down for a little while and rest because they are here is my blessing.