Cutting Loss Down to Size

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Her name was Annamaria Giuseppina Virgo Sorci. She was barely 5 feet tall, but her spirit filled amphitheaters. When she was angry, she scared me...but never for long because her anger wore itself out as quickly as it erupted. Some people called her controlling, but they didn't see her with my eyes. She was my mother.

Lately I'd been missing and thinking about her intensely, unaware of the date. But the heart has no need of a calendar. Mothers Day. Of course. The reason for those odd streams of memories trickling through my thoughts.

I remembered toilet training. Yes. My own. Just after a breakfast of cereal, a big glass of milk, and orange juice. (I hadn't wanted that orange juice). I just wanted to leave the table and go play with my toys. Instead, I was grasped firmly by the hand and brought to the potty. Objections were futile. I knew I was disappointing her. But I just couldn't perform. So we waited...waited...waited. She was nothing if not determined.

I remember crying as my big brother and older cousins happily marched off to school together. Why was I being excluded? She dried my tears and told me there was a different school for little girls my age. And she put me in front of the tv with my breakfast while I attended Romper Room with Miss Frances. It was magic. She had created a world for me.

She was a whirlwind. Cleaning was serious business. So was cooking, creating parties and family events, and preparing for the holidays. Everything she did was magazine-photo perfect. She was her own harshest critic, re-doing things as often as it took. She loved what she did for us.

And she loved us all fiercely. It seemed she spent every moment with us. On the rare occasions that she went out for an evening, she'd tip-toe in and kiss me awake
before she even took off her coat. It felt like a dream. A few years later, after her parents moved in with us, I heard my nonna during the night telling her to let her sleep in peace, dio mio. Nonna was sick and Mom would check on her to make sure she was still breathing!

Mom was omnipresent. And if she couldn't be present physically, she reached out via telephone. She had all of my friends' phone numbers and knew where I was every minute. God help me if I changed plans and forgot to clue her in. As a teenager, I was embarrassed by her "checking up on me." As an adult, I realize she was scared. I was her baby. The phone was the only way she could keep me safe from a distance.

After her parents had passed and my brother and I were on our own, she and Dad had more time to themselves.They traveled extensively. She would tell me (for a few decades, actually) how lucky she had been to have had such a good life. She had married the love of her life, they'd had no money worries, had friends and family they loved, and enjoyed so many wonderful times together. And then her tone would change. She'd lean forward and look at me intently, and say: "So don't you cry for me when I'm gone, you hear?? I've had a wonderful life, you hear me??"

In my discomfort, I'd wave away such talk. Sometimes I'd nod and agree, just to placate her and put an end to it. Sometimes I'd tease her and tell her I'll cry if I want to. Then she'd get angry and say: "I mean it, Dolores. I'm not kidding around. You listen to me!"

And the first month or so after she died, there were no tears. Just as she wanted. But soon enough, in the shower, the tears came. They poured down. They could have watered a small garden. Sometimes they come still, in spite of her finger-wagging.

So, there, Ma. Not even you can wipe away all the tears. Or plan every eventuality. Or shield me from heartbreak. You can't control love. You hear?

Friday, January 2, 2015



OK.  I admit it.  I'm a reluctant traveler. I don't like being confined in the sardine can some call an airplane. I feel alienated when plucked from my universe. I don't like crowds. And the TSA and Customs agents give me "agita." (Google it.) Traveling is a loss: the loss of the comfortable, the familiar, the known. Travel demands we let go of our grip on what we have and open ourselves to something else.

On the 26th of December, the aftermath of Christmas dinner still in the dishwasher, I took an early-morning flight to Turks and Caicos. Would I be able to loosen my grip? There are so many things to let go of.

Letting go of the cold:


Letting go of gray, dark skies and naked branches:

Letting go of stress:

Letting go of the old year:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  IN this new year, may we all learn when to hold on and when to let go.

In some cultures, it is the custom to print on slips of paper practices or attitudes we'd like to remove from our lives, such as anger, grudges, recklessness, etc. and burn them away, sending them up in smoke on New Year's Eve and beginning the new year with a clean slate.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Mornings are the hardest time

Going to a therapist for grief work can bring out the cynic in me.  So many of the questions seem facile and pointless:  when is grief hardest for you?  Can you think of  a certain incident or memory that particularly seems to give rise to it?  Is there a certain time of the week or day that seems to trigger it?

I confess…the questions annoyed me.  It’s easy to think “oh, brother…she really doesn’t get it, does she?  Grief stinks and it hurts all the time.  What’s wrong with her??”  But then the softer side of me encouraged me to go with the program just for the hell of it.  So I cast aside my all-too-quick, haughty criticisms of this approach and just tried it on for size.  I sat with those questions for a bit.  Each time the hurt, smart-ass part of me surfaced, I sent her away.  After all, she wasn’t very pleasant…and she was extremely non-productive, also!  Think about it:  telling ourselves “they just don’t get it” may be valid, but it’s also a show-stopper.  It doesn’t get us anywhere.  It’s just a one-way ticket for one to Griefville.  And that place is no 5-star resort.  It’s more like a cell in solitary confinement.

 So I tried to really think about those questions in an objective way.  Sure, grief may always be with us, but if we think about it…there are certain times when we are able to smile, to laugh, to be in the moment.  Those are times when Grief is a smaller part of our lives.  If Grief can vary in size and degree…that means its power is variable.  And it is useful to observe its fluctuations…very useful.
When I was a student working on my Masters degree in Counseling, one of my teachers told an interesting story.  She had a client seeking  help for her young son’s extreme temper tantrums.  The child was loud and out of control.  Anita asked the mom to “trigger a tantrum” so that she could observe.  The mom took away his stuffed animal-and the tantrum began.  Anita then began a therapeutic  technique I like to call: Be the Movie Director.  Much like a director instructing an actor, she began to comment on the child’s technique: “that’s really some loud voice you’ve got there, kiddo…can you make it even louder?  Wow…good job.  How does it sound when you get a little softer?  What if you pounded the floor with your fist as long as you’re down there?”  In this way, she gradually was able to show him that HE was in charge of this tantrum…and not the victim of some nameless Temper Monster who comes and carries him away.

In the deepest throes of our grief, we so often feel like that small child, overtaken by a quite monstrous Grief who controls our thoughts and feelings.  But what if we…like that small child…could learn to control him, if only in a small way?  That was the purpose of the therapist’s “inane” questions, of course, and I tried to embrace those questions  rather than give in to my cynical resistance.  Yes, I did, in fact, find some answers.

Mornings are the hardest time. Waking up to an empty house underscores the incontrovertible fact that all the people who were part of my universe have gone missing. I don’t know where the hell they are,  they’re just not with me. It hurts most in the mornings. So I try to get dressed and out the door quickly. I ride my bike or go to church or run an errand. I try to break the rhythm of Grief beginning my day.  @#$ you, Grief. I win. You lose. Therapist: 1 Me:1 Grief: 0  J

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It doesn’t go away; it just changes

The pain we feel from our losses doesn’t really go away.  It is transformed over time, softening into a different sensation, only to return with startling strength in odd and unexpected moments. I don’t know, but after you’ve lost someone, you will probably experience the aftershocks. Anything might prompt it. Parents of children lost at Columbine say it comes back to them every time there’s a new school shooting. Many of them say the loss is always with them and that there is no closure.

Closure is a nice idea, but I haven’t experienced it, either.  Yes, we can close the door on the acute pain we feel at the loss, but we’ll never close the door on the relationship we once had with the person we lost.  Our relationships make us who we are.  So, for good or bad, we will think of them.  Sometimes that will be pleasant; sometimes it will make us cry.  Always it will make us a bit more empathetic, a bit more compassionate, a bit more human.

Today I took my very active Border Collie, Pino, to the dog beach. Pino is officially an adolescent—14 months old. He used to be such a good boy. Now he does as he pleases. He ran away from me and found a gang of rascal dogs to attach to. He had such a good time. When I told him it was time to leave, he sat down in the lake and turned his back to me. Everybody laughed!  It was like slapstick comedy: okay, the pie in the face is funny initially, but it quickly gets old. Come on, Pino! Out of the lake, damn it!!  Trite, really cliché. This is beneath you!

After we got back into the car, I looked into his soft amber eyes and his sun- glazed  brown and white coat, and I told him what a bad boy he had been. He smiled at me. It was a perfect moment; I was happy! I took a wrong turn, made a u-turn, turned on the radio, and heard a song that reminded me of Bob. And I cried. I told myself not to be angry with myself for not conquering Grief in that moment. I told myself the pain would pass. I told Pino that he had a dad he’s never met and I was pretty sure that dad would have liked him a lot.  Pino smiled wisely.