When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~ Kahlil Gibran, from"The Prophet"

Friday, September 2, 2011

in a spirit of letting go...

When Erin was a senior in high school, I decided to take a part-time job. It was the fall of 2008, and as she began the new school year she was characteristically undaunted by the adjusted schedule that coordinated with her 5-day/every third week after school chemotherapy protocol, which included the fringe benefits of a monthly (pre-neulasta-boost) tanked white count and a bombed hemoglobin level pallor that even expert make-up application couldn't hide. Stop worrying mom! Yes dear.

So, to give myself a semblance of outward focus, I accepted a job that was ten minutes away. Rather than staring at the clock all day until it was time to pick her up and take her to chemo/for a transfusion/home, with my mind spinning all the potential scenarios of allowing her to leave the house-bubble of safety, I steeled myself and released her into the germ-infested halls of the school, where she drank from the water fountains where students spit gum and I still don't even want to think about what else, and where she limped up and down three flights of steps in the damn flip flops she insisted on wearing, adamantly refusing an elevator pass.
(She never got sick and she never fell on those stairs.)
let her go...

My place of employment was owned and operated by the Congregation of St Joseph, the Sisters of the Catholic order that taught at many of our local schools. You can read about their business HERE at Ministry of the Arts if you're so inclined. The Sisters compose music, write poetry and prayers, draw and paint... The products are beautiful, and they're sold in the gift shop on the premises, through a mail-order catalog and via the internet.

I found this card one day as I was familiarizing myself with some of the products. The verbiage, so appropriate, stopped me in my tracks.  I felt as though it had been written just for me.

Blessing - Pat Bergen, CSJ
Art - Mary Southard, CSJ

I bought the card, took it home, kept it with me and read it constantly, pleading with God to "bless this woman".  Bless ME!  Oh God, I beg you to bless exhausted, terrified, pitiful me. Help me know what to do. She's not leaving me today. Not yet. But she's eventually going to.  I know that.  Help me to know what to do.  How to do the unthinkable. Help me to let go of her.  That's ridiculous!  How can I possibly let go of my daughter?  "Breathe new life in her".  Get me through the day.  Or more challenging, get me through the darkness of night after night after night.  Oh God, those nights.  Help me breathe, Period!

I did let go. I had to.  I rested for a while after because I took comfort in the overwhelming relief that she'd finally been graced with well-deserved peace.  The suffering was over.  I was carried by the adrenaline rush of gratitude for that peace.

I'd finally packed the card away among others received from thoughtful people over time - three years of struggle and then death and then the after.  So many extraordinary cards.  Boxes of them.  Scores of handwritten notes from adults, teens and children.  Treasures I'll keep forever.

While recently rummaging through one of the boxes in search of something else, I unearthed it. I'm thankful, for I find myself in need of its messages again.

Strong emotions in the here and now are causing me to feel tipped in many directions ~ the wedding, the deaths of other children we met along the cancer road, the beginning of a new school year coupled with the many  if only  scenarios and the accompanying deep sadness playing in my head about what Erin should be doing now... "be with her now as she opens her hands", a variety of potential job situations and some resulting uncertainty about what I really want, what's truly best while putting the pieces of a new life together... "whispers of new voices and new learnings".  Who am I now?

It's so complicated. I still can't let go.  I don't want to let go.
My gratitude for her peace has waned, or rather, it's countered by frustration over what I can't have.  Everything blew up.
I want my old life back.

in a spirit of letting go...
don't i get to keep something?
there are so many times when the "cherished memories" simply aren't enough to fight off the chill of grief that courses through my veins, yet those same memories are what drive me forward on certain days
again, so complicated

to what do i cling when i enter the gates...

PS - please take a moment and visit Robin's blog here to read the Suscipe and her accompanying words of wisdom. Robin's beloved son died by suicide three years ago.

It's SO not easy.


  1. I want mine, too.
    I want it fiercely.
    Most of the time I believe that it's just gone for a little while. (Three years is a long little while.)

    If it helps any (what an idiotic thing to say), I made a resolution while I was on retreat in July to let go of the debilitating grief. Not of my child, but of the pain that I was clutching as if it were him.

    Movement forward, I would say.

    Of course, yesterday and today don't count insofar as that resolution is concerned.

  2. I'm having trouble cutting the thread that connects the debilitating grief with my child. They're still interwoven much of the time.
    Idiotic? Your advice is never so. The insanity that marks our lives makes those stalwart resolutions pale on the challenging days.
    Yes, movement forward, though sometimes in place rather than backward suffices. Thanks for being there.

  3. The only thing I know for sure Poots, is that there's a huge tapestry , made up of many single threads of love that are holding you and your sweet family together...people all over the world, even folks you've never met or heard from, who are keeping you in their thoughts and prayers. Even still.

    Can you feel it?

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  5. Mary, this morning someone from Elmhurst IL visited my blog via yours - that's not where you live, is it? I ask because Elmhurst is where Josh was living when he died.

    I am reposting this comment because I was so intently focused on Erin - and all of you - in my own walk and prayer this morning that I called you Erin when I first posted. Talk about these children remaining alive through their mothers' love!

  6. Got your response in my blog comments. Wow!

    Josh lived in Hyde Park for all of college - on campus and then in apartments - and eventually moved to Elmhurst, where he worked for McMaster Carr.

    I think that this all might mean that when I finally work up the courage to return to Chicago with the ashes I am planning to take to Hyde Park there, I will have a mom friend as well as young people friends?

  7. What a beautiful card. I saw it on Robin's posting, and then recognized it on the sidebar as your posting. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    One of the hard-to-fathom gifts that our children have given us - part of their legacy - is our friendships with other bereaved moms. I thank Katie, Josh, Erin, Joey, Sarah, Hannah, Ben and so many others for the precious gifts of their mothers' love and understanding!

  8. I know a couple of people who work for McMaster Carr, Robin. This is all just so amazing.
    Yes, of course you will have a mom friend - anytime you decide you're ready to come. I love Hyde Park and the U of C area.

    Karen, thank goodness for the legacy of connection with one another that we've received from our children. It's quite a world!

  9. Several of the young people from MMC came here to the funeral home visitation. Wonderful people.

  10. As I follow these posting today, all I can say is~wow. Lives interwoven. Mary, Karen L R said it best, feel that love. Hold it close. Put out your hand, we can hold it tightly. To all commenters, thank you for sharing your lives and losses with Mary and all of us. We are better people because of it, and wiser.
    As always thank you, Mary, I am a better person becaue you are my friend.

  11. Oh Mary, this is so well written. Thank you.
    "there are so many times when the "cherished memories" simply aren't enough to fight off the chill of grief that courses through my veins"

  12. Beautiful postings by Mary and Robin. My prayers are with you both. I want to run over to St. Joe's convent to buy copies of that soul-stirring blessing! Was in Elmhurst all weekend thinking of Erin; and now Josh. Did not know the prayer was called Suspice but when I pray it I add at the end ..."and give me your strength and courage, Lord." God's grace and love are enough, more than we can imagine. But I am weak...as Peter in his denial...Thomas in his doubting...I should simply ask for the trust I need in His love. Love, I

  13. I hate this grief that consumes you, the hole in your heart but most of all I HATE CANCER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am grateful our girls are at peace with Nach but I want just one more hug. PLEASE