Sparked by Words

The Calm after the Storm

I broke down in the supermarket the other day, in the greeting card aisle, looking at Rosh Hashanah cards. This will be the first year I observe Jewish High Holy Days without either of my parents. Just seeing the cards wishing peace and a healthy year to come tore me apart.

Other things unexpectedly lance my gut – the scent of coffee as both my parents could not face the day without a cup or two. The sight of the ocean as we’d lived near the Atlantic on the New Jersey shore or the Pacific in both Hawaii and California. The chirping, twittering sounds of birds as my dad ushered us through rain forests and woods, identifying avian species. The feel of hot wind against my skin, recalling the clutch of Alabama’s unforgiving broiling weather when I lived there as a kindergartner. Pierced constantly, I bleed all over the place.

I look at a pink blouse in Macy’s, thinking how much my mom would like it, maybe I should… then it comes back to me – no need to buy it for her. The same effect on spotting a new crossword puzzle book at CVS, solving puzzles together a favorite pastime when she was alive. The Alzheimer’s that held her in its long noose for so many years is finally over – she passed in late March. Still my emotional pain is ebbing – mom is no longer in the horrific physical pain that stalked the last year of her life, and that’s a good thing. My blood stanches.

I dreamed of my parents standing next to each other, gazing at the Pacific. Their last home was a condo that overlooked the ocean, nothing in front of their window but train rails along the beach and the swelling turquoise sea. My dad had one arm around my mom, the other around me, united again at last.

I know our dreams are personal manifestations of the world as we experience it, filtered through our sleeping subconscious mind. Still, I felt tranquil in that moment, knowing I had done everything I could to care for my ill mom in a way my dad could accept after he died nearly ten years ago. I believe in the survival of the soul – my dream might be a message from the world to come, from the sacred essence that survived the deaths of their corporeality.

Over the last decade, I’ve had a loving, supportive family holding me up. A son and daughter-in-law moved aside like cars in the way of a fire truck, allowing me respite with their two children. My grandchildren, who loved their great-grandmother, not realizing she was ill. She was their Gigi, and they accepted her quixotic inability to remember their names, always knowing she would shower them with kisses and hugs. My grandchildren softened the shredded edge of my worries with play, stories, and antics that allowed me serenity.

Another son and daughter-in-law, living far from us, knew when I needed a phone call. The cell tower network (we are so very fortunate to live in an era of global communication access) leap frogs hundreds of miles so I could contact our two youngest grandchildren. I listened to their baby talk until their babbling chatter over the years became words, then sentences, and finally full throttled conversations about dinosaurs, gymnastics class, and the funny bugs in the yard. To be immersed in such presence is a holy moment.

My husband put up with my despair and commiserated about the injustice of a disease that dismantled my mother’s social and logic skills. He endured me fuming about the legal, health, and financial worries that woke me in the middle of the night like lions hunting on African grasslands, the threat of attack imminent. A husband who visited his mother-in-law without a prompt from me, always with a fresh bouquet of blooms to remind her that she was someone important to him, even when she no longer had any idea who he was. He soothed me back to sleep.

Friends inflated a flotation jacket around me, keeping me from drowning. Some are people I’ve known forever, living near enough for a hug fest, others only close enough for a sobbing phone call late at night. My friends are a bulwark of ears and shoulders, one limb to turn my verbal outrage into sense, the other a net to catch my emotional free fall. Many are family members of other sufferers of Alzheimer’s. We are an alliance of wisdom and folk stories about how to limit the devastation of the disease, both the physical impact on those who are ill and the emotional toll that forces family into no man’s land. All of it is about loss, confusion, and righting a leaky craft. They remain steadfast for me as I do for them.

Alzheimer’s is a shipwreck foundered on alien shoals. But I am learning to jump ship, skip the waves, and wade in the shallows. To smile. To sleep through the night. To feel the consolation that my parents’ long journeys are over, that mine will be an easier trek each new day. There is laughter again, friendship, love, family, and calm after the storm.

 

Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on families. It’s in the process of being edited, and then I’ll start querying for an agent to represent my work. My credentials for writing this story are eighteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.

 

Image of California coastline courtesy of Pixabay

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Comments on: "The Calm after the Storm" (33)

  1. My profound condolences for your loss, Sharon. Living without either parent is a hardship.

    As of a year ago last month, I’m in the same boat. My mother died the previous August.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a wonderful last paragraph.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ah, the web of love

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know how long it takes to get past the death of a parent, worse, a mother. I talk to mine though I know she’s not there. I hear odd noises and assume it’s her, rambling around. That brings me comfort.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. sad of course, yet beautiful as well — it is a gift to have a heart. such great images here — ebb/flow, blood, emotions, lifejacket

    Like

  6. Thinking of you and sending a hug, Sharon. Love and peace to you. ❤️

    Like

  7. Losing a parent shocked me to the core despite knowing it was bound to happen some time. But I can only image the suffering a family experiences when dealing with such a long journey into the unknown. You help me understand with your beautiful words.

    It’s good to know laughter and peace are returning — even if slowly.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jenna Barwin said:

    <<>>

    You so eloquently capture the moving tide of grief. The first holiday without them can be the hardest.

    Like

  9. Shari, your words are at the same time heartbreaking with their metaphors and uplifting with the same. I see your heart in every word and those finite relationships you describe so eloquently are what make our world go ’round, the cycle of life. Some day when my parents pass into eternity, I will perhaps react like you in the card or clothing aisle of the store, stopping to think twice that I won’t have to think of a Christmas present for each of them. Is this an excerpt from your novel? I hope so, it is glorious!

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    • Terry, I hoped readers would sense the darkness fading away in this post. Happiness returns after all, even if it takes its time, even after the brief moments of harrowing pain knowing that my parents are gone.

      As for echoes of my book: it’s being read by several people who report that they find it an extraordinarily affecting story. One is a talented writer, one a close friend who knew my parents, one a professional who works in the field of assisting those who are aging.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sharon, you write with eloquence and emotion of the maelstrom of your life these past years. The overwhelming sadness, the loss … but within you share the warmth and love of your family, husband, friends. The laughter which is once again possible. I was moved by your dream, beautifully related, incredibly vivid and real. Hold on to that, to the eternal spirit of your parents, an unbreakable bond. Hugs & love xx

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  11. My thoughts are with you. Alzheimer’s is such a cruel disease both for the sufferer and those who know love and care for them

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    • Thank you, Peter. You’re correct in your assessment – I hope this is not from your personal experience but sense because of the broad reach of the disease that it may be. Wishing you well.

      Like

  12. I truly believe that the souls of those we love never really leave us and are always a part of our life even if we can’t see them. Nature abhors lost of energy and what else would a lost soul be?
    Sending you all my love and many more hugs, dear friend – I really wish I could do more. And I’m glad that slowly but surely light and laughter are coming back to you. I don’t know much about your holidays but hope it’s okay to wish you happy ones! ❤

    Like

    • Thank you, Sarah, for your warm wishes. You and a few other people are the reason I write about my experiences of the years of struggling with my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my journey after her death. Hopefully someone one day will find strength to deal with their own trials because of reading my words. They’ll know that things do get better even if they take a while. I do feel my parents’ presence at times in good memories.

      How is your mom doing? I hope things are better for her. She’s lucky to have a loving daughter who cares so much.

      And yes, it’s most appropriate to wish happiness at our holidays. In fact, we say “A sweet year to you.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • And it´s so important that you write about it! And I can only hope that you´ll very soon find a publisher for it! Or might self-publishing be also a possibility? Either way your words and story will be a source of strength to every reader.

        Wishing you a sweet year! 🙂

        Like

      • Thank you for such kind words, Sarah. It will get published one way or the next. I appreciate your encouragement.

        Liked by 1 person

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