While sitting in a restaurant enjoying Valentine’s Day dinner with my husband, we were engaged in our usual conversation about our kids, family plans, the movie we had just seen, and the menu in which we were about to order from. He had his phone in his hand, thumbing through social media and I was eyeing the restaurant menu when suddenly he said, “I see you had a moment last night.” Brows raised, I was trying to wrap my brain around what he meant. “I see you posted something about your mom on Facebook.” He said. “Oh yea” I replied. “You saw that, huh?” What I wanted to say was “Baby, I didn’t have a moment. This is where I reside.” For me, life will always be divided into two defining moments- before and after my mom’s death. I exist in both. But, no longer do I feel shackled by grief. Of course I miss her. I miss her terribly every hour of every day, but I would not call those moments. It’s just my life now. It’s part of who I am.
He has both his parents. I don’t. My dad died when I was 13 years old. Thirty-two years later, I lost my mom. older, I had a much harder time handling and accepting my mom’s passing. To say I was devastated would be an understatement.
Grief held on to me as if his life depended on me, as if I was his life jacket. And, I not knowing what else to do or who to turn to, I gave in to him. I tossed out that life jacket into what felt like the very bottom of the ocean’s depth. I freed grieve. I resuscitated him and in turn he breathed depression, anxiety,and panic attacks into my being. For the first time in my life I felt mentally unstable. Fragile. This went on intensely for about a year and less so, off and on for about 4 years.
My first panic attack happened at work. It was November of 2008. The week after Thanksgiving. I had just return from Atlanta, where I enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. Although, I didn’t know it then (or maybe I did), my mom was at the end of her battle, her life. However, looking back, I am convinced my body, my subconscious knew she was dying.
That day every thing seemed normal. I was a staff development teacher at the time. My colleagues and I were having a lunch meeting when without warning, I began taking rapid breaths. My heart beats went from what felt like zero to a thousand within seconds. Beyond scared, I told my colleagues that I thought I was having a heart attack and to call an ambulance. The doctors ran every test imagineable on my heart and found nothing. A few days later, I would have another attack at home. This time violently hyperventilating, I really felt I was going to die. In the ER again, I was given a shot of Ativan. This time, my heart beats did the reverse, taking me on a slow nose dive to somewhere between normal to a catatonic state. It reminded me of Diana Ross in the movie “Lady Sings the Blues” when she was put in isolation and left to detox. All I could do was curl up into a fetal position to comfort myself until it (the let down) was over. There were several more panic attacks after that, most less severe, but there was one I will never forget as long as I live.
I had just driven my son and daughter to school. I was feeling fine. It was a beautiful morning. I was ready for the day, excited to see my teacher clients. Within 5 minutes of dropping them off, I was sitting in my car waiting for the traffic light to turn green when my focus quickly shifted to the rising I felt inside my body. It’s hard to explain. But, I had become accustomed to the symptoms of panic attacks and I knew then I was about to have one. Even so, it didn’t matter what I knew, that I recognize the onslaught. They always scared me to death. I always felt like I was losing control. Like this is it. I’m gonna die right here, right now. I drove like a bat outta hell to the nearest hospital, about 7 minutes away; running red lights and stop signs. When I finally reached the ER, I jumped out of my car, leaving the car engine running and the door open, exclaiming to everyone that I was having a heart attack. The thing is, I probably knew I wasn’t, but pyschologically and physically I felt it to be true. To me, it was truer than anything.
Again, the diagnosis was panic attack. By this time the doctors had become familiar with me. My frequent visits to the ER had created a long wrap sheet. “Do you have a psychiatrist?” The doctor asked. Surprised, I said “No.” “You should see one.” He recommended. “Me??” I thought. I was completed and unequivocally baffled. But, the thought did not escape me that the doctor thought I was crazy.
Growing up, and especially growing up black, psychiatrists were reserved for crazy people, the mentally disabled. We, as black people just did not see psychiatrists. We suffered in silence; kept it on the down low, on the hush-hush. Our fears were always brought to the Lord in church and on our knees.
After researching panic attacks, I learned that it IS a mental disorder , one that is rooted in fear. But… What did I have to fear? I didn’t feel afraid. Eventually, I did see a psychiatrist who talked to me, prescribed meds, and told me I needed to see a therapist to get at the heart of my worries, my fears.
My god, I’ve seen so many therapists since my mother’s passing; sat on so many couches – many of which were uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that I’d leave without notice. This whole thing being so new to me, I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t feel right. They didn’t feel right, the therapists that is. The whole thing felt very sterile.
After a couple of years of working with a therapist who mixes a variety of methodologies and styles (e.g. Prayer, meditation, tapping, coaching, and honest conversation), I finally found someone I can open up to. What I have learned about myself is that I have fears, the one that connects most to the lost of my mom, is getting the same cancer she died from. Because, I look so much like her, I have felt that her fate is mine. . What I have learned through therapy is that although I am my mother’s daughter, I am not her. I am me. Her life, is not mine.
I no longer have those “moments” my husband described over dinner. They come too often to be given such a title. They just are. An unknown author once wrote:
“I had my own idea of grief. I thought it was a sad time that followed the death of someone you love. And you had to push through it to get to the other side. I am learning there is no other side. There is no pushing through anything, but rather an absorption, adjustment, an acceptance. Grief is not something you complete, but rather endure. Grief is not a task you finish or move on. But, an element of yourself; an alteration of your being. A new way of seeing. A new definition of yourself.”
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote:
“The reality is you will grieve forever. You will to 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 again. Nor should you be the same; nor should you want to.”
No moments here. I’ve been over the mountains and through the valleys. I’ve gone skydiving off that mountain. I’ve walked through the valley with blindfolds on, wandering aimlessly to find my way. It was a long haul. Along the way, I lost a lot of baggage, but grief remained in tow. By all means, lighter than before. Nonetheless, still there to remind me of the great love I lost. No moments here.