Grief Loss and Queen Annes Lace
Photo by Kathy Clark
Published in ChicagoNow , August 3, 2016
As I see my mother’s favorite wildflower, Queen Anne’s Lace, popping up in fields, I find it hard to believe she’s been gone for over a year. Grief is indeed a process, and time does help to heal the raw wound of loss. Yet, as this excerpt from my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real shares, losing someone you love is not something you ever get over. You just learn to live with it and keep your precious memories alive.
Queen Anne’s Lace
Yesterday, I saw a patch of Queen Anne’s lace growing beside a highway and started to cry. I was overwhelmed by a wave of grief. My mother, who died in April, loved this wild flower. It reminded her of her own childhood summers when it grew in abundance where she lived. She loved to pick it and create spectacular bouquets.
My heart ached as I recalled summers when my children were young and we visited my parents. Mom used to take my kids to pick the Queen Anne’s lace that grew next to their apartment. She explained that while some people thought it was a weed, she always thought it was beautiful. They would return to her apartment and fill vases with what they had picked. They shared her opinion that it was beautiful indeed.
I used to think that time heals all wounds, but losing my parents hurts more as time passes. I guess there is some truth to the proverbial five stages of grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Because I was blessed to have my parents both live to age ninety-one, the stages of denial, anger, and bargaining were replaced by a numb feeling of inevitability. That would land me squarely in what she calls the depression phase these days. I don’t really feel depressed so much as I feel wistful and nostalgic. It’s hard to enter into a true depressive state about being orphaned just before my seventieth birthday. Most folks would say I was lucky, and they would be right. But having no older generation left is shocking. Actually, I am also feeling the final stage of acceptance along with my sadness. Most of the time, I am busy with my daily life. Until a bunch of wild flowers punches me in the gut.
I wish it were as easy to close the book on my parents’ lives as it is to take care of their legal affairs. And believe me, that has been a huge challenge. You would think they left a huge estate judging by the number of phone calls to their lawyer, Mom’s senior living community, and Dad’s investment broker. Then there were all of the tasks involved in clearing out Mom’s apartment and divvying up its contents. As my brothers and I near the end of this process, I find myself more melancholy. With less to do comes more time to reflect.
When my father died three years ago, I didn’t fully mourn. Mom needed my support. She had to move. She was sick. She broke her hip. Our relationship evolved into daily phone calls in which she shared her worries, fears, and triumphs. Sometimes, she would call to ask if I had been the person who called her (she never understood how to retrieve messages), or she would call when I was in the middle of a meeting to share some gossip. Now, I find myself missing those calls that sometimes felt like an obligation or an intrusion into my own busy life. At some point every day, I find myself thinking, This would be a good time to call Mom.
I can’t find a magical way to “let it go” like Elsa from Frozen. Nor do I want to. Instead, I search for ways to make the memories live for me. I reread my father’s writing. I watch videos they taped talking about their lives. I cull through old photos, make collages for my kids, and frame photos for my grandkids. Still, the realization that I am no longer someone’s daughter feels like a sore that scabs over but continues to bleed every time I pick at it.
I find comfort in the words of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler:
You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.
Today, after seeing the Queen Anne’s lace, I am remembering my mother. I want to pick a bouquet and say, “Here, Mom, these are for you.”