Mourning Pages

Over the years, it’s been suggested that I participate in an activity called “Morning Pages,” where you get out of bed, rub the sleep out of your eyes, grab a pen and dedicated notebook and start writing. Apparently, you can write any old thing that wanders through your head in those moments when your mind isn’t cluttered with the garbage that accumulates as you rush through the day. Fresh and clean, the mind-hand connection can create amazing things. Apparently. I don’t know. I’ve never tried it.

I’m usually too tired first thing in the morning to do much of anything aside from turning on the coffeemaker, firing up my computer and waddling through Facebook. Coffee in hand—the first sip so delectable it makes me grateful to be alive—I start checking the financial news and my calendar for the day. Half way through my second cup, I’m usually so stressed about either the financial markets or what I have to do that day that my mental garbage begins to rapidly fill.

The experience of losing my husband of 46 years in March 2021, has forced me to do what I call “Mourning Pages.” I’ve done a lot of research about grief and am getting therapy to understand mine. I’ve learned sadness will come and go. In between, I’ll be happy, feel almost “cured.” It’s all very bipolar and unsettling, a process that stretches over the course of months to years. I hate process. Hate it. Really hate it.

As a result of my mid-century upbringing, I’m not supposed to hate anything. Otherwise, my brow might permanently furrow, my lips become a perpetual grimace. My clinched hands might freeze in that position. What sort of husband could I hope to attract with such a disfigured face and club-foot hands? It was best to stop feelings of hatred in their tracks lest my parents could not marry me off and I ended up living with them the rest of my life. (Perish the thought.)

I learned I’m supposed to have love in my heart at all times and when I don’t, I must shame myself into making it so. Fortunately, I have a therapist who tells me it’s okay to feel hateful at times. I love her for that and so much more.

In the early months after Gary died, sadness overtook me several times a day. I didn’t have the strength to fight it. Crying off and on all day is debilitating. In an effort to protect my energy and allow me to continue to be a productive member of society, my very clever mind became successful in circumventing grief. But its pesky partner—my body—seems to be in cahoots with that bitch. They plot against my mind and send warning signals when I’ve avoided grief too long.

I begin to feel what seem like tears in my heart. As my mind fights to prevent letting them out, I start to feel faint or get what Southerners call the vapors. If I avoid the vapors too long—and believe me, I have—I become nauseated. Only then do I recognize that it’s time to succumb to my Mourning Pages.

These aren’t the socially acceptable tears that I shed when I talk about the loss of Gary to family, friends and acquaintances. These are guttural, ugly tears that emanate from the core of my being, that spew like hot lava and feel like they’re burning me. They are best shed in private.

Most recently, these tears reared their hideousness after my adult children and young grandchildren left the day after Christmas. We’d had five days of sharing food, laughter, toddler glee and meltdowns, raucous activity and noise. After they left, it was rainy and dark. It was eerily quiet. The house felt like a morgue. It was beyond awful.

It was close to noon and I was hungry. I prepared my lunch and sat at the kitchen table—alone for the first time in five days. I felt like one of those pathetic characters in an Ingmar Bergman movie—a shriveled up widow, sitting alone at a darkened table in her drab, studio apartment, an elevated commuter train running past her windows every few minutes, shaking the walls as she spoons food into her mouth. The image was so disturbing that I couldn’t eat. I cried gut-shaking, choking tears.

My grief avoidance mind eventually took over. You need to take down the Christmas decorations! They are only serving as a reminder that the holiday is over. Like Gary, it’s dead.

I love Christmas and have a lot of decorations. It takes me hours to put them up and hours to disassemble. I struggled to bring in a couple of bins from the garage. I started with the tree ornaments. A few minutes in, I sank to the floor and let the hot lava of grief overtake me. Gary is no longer here. He will never be here. There is no one on this earth who will share the love of our children and grandchildren the way we did, the way I continue to do.

I got to my feet, determined to get the blasted ornaments off the tree. I looked around at the other Christmas decorations and didn’t have the energy to continue. It would have been be so much easier to vaporize them. Oh, how I wished for that kind of superpower.

I gave up, took a hot bath and sat on the sofa in a daze, watching mindless television programs before going to bed early—as in seven o’clock early.

The next morning, I woke up feeling tired, but was determined to get all of the decorations stuffed into their bins and hidden in the garage. Their mere presence physically hurt me. It took most of the morning and buckets of tears to banish them.

Then there was the tree. Traditionally, I leave it up until New Year’s Day. Not this year! It had to go! It’s artificial and too big to manage by myself. I contacted a friend who said she could help me the next day. I sighed in resignation.

***

This morning when my feet hit the landing at the bottom of the stairs, I glanced to the right and noticed the tree, sitting naked and alone in the dark parlor window. I walked down the hall to the kitchen to start the coffee. Instead of going into my home office, I went into the parlor and turned on the tree lights.

Cup of coffee in hand, I sit on the sofa, having one last moment with my tree, with this glorious Christmas season where my family and I reveled in being together knowing that life is fleeting. I let the tears flow as I wonder if the next post-Christmas season will be better or worse. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m going to pour myself another cup of coffee, sip it slowly, cry some more, and let my tree anchor me a bit longer in my Mourning Pages.

14 thoughts on “Mourning Pages

  1. So moving, and so beautifully written.
    It seems you could publish this for all
    to read and people would be able to relate in some way.
    And if not now, then some day.
    I am so sorry for your great loss.

    Thank you Kate and blessings for 2022♥️

  2. I think the important thing about the Mourning Pages is, if you don’t feel like writing, don’t. Draw a picture or include a postcard or memory. A dried leaf. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. I know few people whose lives have not been struck by loss these past couple of years but losing a spouse, that’s a biggie. I hope you feel his presence soon.

  3. I know that kind of grief… after Jason died I felt like jagged glass. It gets easier to the point I can see Christmas and remember his joy in the magic… and celebrate his birthday the day after. Hang in there… it won’t always be this raw. Your writing will help you.

  4. Dear Kate,

    Your beautiful essay is so full and so helpful I’ve read it several times. I’m sorry for and understand your pain. I try to imagine somewhere in the scheme of how we live and survive, it’s a necessary, if deep, s…t hole. Then, maybe its depth is a measure of how deeply and completely you live, including all the years with Gary. I’m not sure how many people don’t just float on the surface.

    Your piece struck home at several levels, but reading about your mourning “process” one of my own re-surfaced. I’ve realized lately I’m in “pre-mourning.” Covid and turning 70 this spring focused the headlights of diminishing time right at my eyeballs. Both Robert and I are becoming more short-term forgetful, our physical energies, while good for our age (he’s 76), are dropping. Our ends are now visible. There are times, now, when I purposefully imagine what my life will be like without him (assuming he goes first). I remember doing the same thing as my dad aged into his mid 60s (me in my late 20s). He smoked and was overweight and I kept thinking he wouldn’t live to old age. He didn’t. Not hardly. I lost my mother when I was 3, so I think my pre-mourning with my dad and now are linked; they are a feeble attempt at self-protection. Maybe it’s a good thing to think ahead, but as you clearly know, nothing much lessens or shortens the pain when it comes and stays.

    I’m so happy you have your family, friends, and a good therapist to hold close.

    Thank you for sharing your insides. If you ever need anything, be in touch.

    On Thu, Dec 30, 2021 at 12:50 PM It Happened at Purity wrote:

    > Kate posted: ” Over the years, it’s been suggested that I participate in > an activity called “Morning Pages,” where you get out of bed, rub the sleep > out of your eyes, grab a pen and dedicated notebook and start writing. > Apparently, you can write any old thing that ” >

    • Oh Katy…thank you for your comment. I hear you. I really do. Gary grew increasingly disabled over the past five years or so. We could both see the end coming. We just didn’t know when it would actually arrive. When it did, it shook me to my core.

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