It has been eighteen months. Almost to the day.
Eighteen months of loss — living with loss, working with loss, experiencing and re-experiencing loss after loss after loss.
Loss to death, yes. Professionally, every day in the work that I love and know I am meant to do. Personally, when, in the first fifteen months of life without my mother, I had to put down three precious pets, including her own Border Collie, the beloved BelleRogers.
But other losses as well. Less obvious, more insidious losses. Betrayals and desertions. Broken promises. Misplaced trust. The falling away of people and things and circumstances I had expected to carry me through the rest of my life. The loss of home and health and strength and stamina and peace. The loss of dreams. The loss of hope.
“Ambiguous losses”, “Secondary losses”.
The pain and confusion of which has been neither ambiguous nor secondary.
The eighteen hardest months of my life.
Harder than being young and broke and hungry in every way there is to be hungry. Harder than the aftermath of three miscarriages. Harder than the disintegration of a decade-long career. Harder than the dissolution of a twenty year marriage. Harder than the death of my father. Harder than the death of my sister. Harder, even, than the death of my mother itself.
Harder, because through all those other circumstances, all those other experiences and lessons, I still had her. She was with me. Even when I was not with her.
Which was much of the time.
Ours was a difficult relationship. She was not an easy mother. I was not an easy child. I think we often made it look easy, at least far easier than it was. Much of that was due to her ability to be one person outside our home and a completely different one inside it. Much of it was due to my luck in simply not getting caught at the many things I did just to get away and stay away from her — physically, emotionally, mentally Away.
Still, no matter what, no matter when, I always knew she was “there” — whether I wanted her to be or not. I think I spent much, too much, of my life, resenting rather than being grateful for that. Years when I clung too ferociously to memories of bloody lips and even bloodier words, refusing to allow myself the full benefit of the truly unconditional love that was hers, and hers alone, for me.
I thought I had let go all that during the last ten years of her life, those years we spent together. And I did let go much of it. But, I think, not all. Perhaps it is not possible to let go all. Perhaps, even, we are not meant to. Perhaps we are meant, instead, to use it to rise, to evolve into something better, into someone more.
The title of this blog is Embracing Your Grief. Looking back over these eighteen months, I can see that, despite my best efforts, I have failed to do that.
It’s not so much that I have denied my grief. Certainly I have not insisted upon some “alternative fact” to my mother’s death and its subsequent losses. And there have most definitely been times in these eighteen months when I have forced myself to take my own advice and “lean into” the pain of her loss. Those times, those nights of literal Crying Out to and for her, those days of Sitting With the literal inability to breathe in a world in which she no longer does, have, without doubt, saved what sanity I have left.
But it does not mean that I have embraced my grief.
At least not fully.
Because that requires purpose.
And for the past eighteen months, I have had very little purpose beyond just getting through one day, one moment, to the next.
For months now, I have tried to write of the grief I have felt since the night of November 8th, as I watched my greatest fears realized one Electoral College vote after another. I have tried so many times to write of this latest loss, but I have yet to get further than a sentence or two, and, most times, not even that.
It is a national grief, at least for many of us. And it goes far beyond the failure of a particular candidate to be elected to office.
Personally, Hillary Clinton was never “my candidate”. Bernie Sanders was my candidate. Elizabeth Warren could have been my candidate. Not Hillary. However, she was, and is, imminently more qualified than any of the sixteen possible opponents she faced and certainly far more able than the one who was ultimately enthroned by our outmoded, outdated Electoral College system.
But, no, I do not grieve the particular loss of Hillary Clinton as POTUS.
The losses I grieve, the losses I believe so much of the nation joins me in grieving, are much greater, much deeper, much more visceral than that.
I grieve the loss of national compassion. Of tolerance. Of empathy. I grieve the proliferation of national racism. Of greed. Of misogyny. I grieve the fact that intelligence and liberality and open-mindedness have become sins. I grieve the blow to my belief that people are basically, inherently good. That, given opportunity and information, they will make choices that reflect that inherent goodness, not only for their own best interests, but for the Common Good, for the Greater Good.
That is tremendous grief.
And it, like the grief of my mother’s death, has been more than I have been able to embrace.
Yesterday, scrolling through photographs of peaceful protests across not just my country, but the world, by women and the men who are strong enough to support them, I realized that the blow to my belief in the basic goodness of humanity has not been a fatal one.
Not by a long shot.
Yesterday, I saw my mother in the faces of those women. I heard my mother’s voice telling me as it had done from infancy that I could do, could be, anything and anyone I chose, telling me that I did not need a man to give me permission or make it possible for me to do so. I heard my mother telling me that women are the strongest creatures in the world.
Yesterday, I heard my mother remind me of my purpose.
I bear within me the same Cherokee native/Irish immigrant blood that carried her through almost nine decades of a life filled with far greater challenges than any I have ever faced. There is strength and hope in that blood. Great strength. Boundless hope.
The kind of strength and hope that allowed an uneducated 25 year old mother of a severely disabled child to look at doctors and say, “Oh, no, my child will not die. I don’t care what you say — my child will not die.” The kind of strength and hope that fought for that child’s highest quality of life for 58 years, then managed to help that life end with grace and dignity and peace.
The kind of strength and hope on which this entire nation has been built.
Yesterday, my mother reminded me of all that. Yesterday, my mother reminded me that I am her daughter.
No matter what, no matter who, no matter the loss, the heartbreak, the disappointment, the abandonment, the rejection, the fear that has occurred in the last eighteen months, and that no doubt lies ahead, I am Stephanie Dawn Monica Rogers, Betty Jo’s daughter.
Betty Jo’s purposeful daughter.
And she has given me the strength to embrace anything.