A Residual Haunt
Eleven years ago my mother died. It was a ten year battle. By the time she passed she had both breast cancer and inflammatory breast cancer with metastasis to chest, neck, and face. Yeah. It was pretty brutal.
The day of her death was a release for us both. A few months prior she had chosen to stop treatment and began the process of hospice care. You know how they say the treatment is often worse than the disease? Well, hospice was worse than the treatments. After a couple of months of watching the cancer overtake her throat and face to the point where she could no longer see or swallow, her pain became too great and I ended up rushing her to the hospital so that she could die a kinder death. She couldn’t have an iv in hospice care and the pain patches were making her violently ill.
It took six days for her to pass. I stayed at her side the entire time, afraid that if I left, I would miss her departure. It was really important to see her go and to be the one to mark the time of death. I did both. I left the hospital with a couple of family friends, went home to a quiet house, sat down on my bed, and burst into tears. By my feet, I found her box of tissues that had been in her room. To this day I have no idea how it got into my room. But I like to think, and you will allow me leeway when I say, she put them there for me knowing I would need them.
The first few years, the impending anniversary came and went with the expected gloom. But, much to my surprise, the more distance I gained from the year she died, the harder the anniversary became. Last year’s was the worst. I really thought I was going crazy. The pain began a few months prior. I’m not one for remembering dates (I actually had to look up the date of her death the first few years the anniversary rolled around) but last year the gloom began on July 4th. I was spending Independence Day with my best friend and her mom. It was difficult watching them interact and enjoy each other.
As the months progressed I found myself detaching from friends and family. I would go through bouts of rage many of which were triggered by little to nothing. Depression wove in and out of my days. I went through the motions of living but I could feel myself compressing internally, preparing, bracing.
After an epically crappy September (September ALWAYS seems to be especially bad for annoying life events. Last year, amidst family drama, I had to move out of my house to have it fumigated during a heatwave. On paper it seems like nothing more than an inconvenience, but that’s how September rolls. One inconvenience splinters into a thousand more. My friend calls it the death of a thousand paper-cuts.), I experienced the release I always feel a few days prior to the anniversary. It took me several months to realize that year marked the ten year anniversary.
It took me a while to connect with the reason why I had such a hard time in the months leading up to the anniversary. I assumed it was the impending doom of an awful experience. But when I thought about it, that didn’t ring true. It didn’t feel like enough. I talked it over with my friends but I felt like I was missing something. I knew what was happening wasn’t just the result of a countdown to the day of her loss. It was something more.
Months later, when I gained some distance from the oppression I was feeling, I finally put my finger on why the months leading up to her death were so difficult; why the tension released a few days before the actual date. It occurred to me that I was experiencing a residual haunt of sorts. But instead of the haunting coming from an external source (like energy trapped in rocks and replaying itself under a certain set of circumstances) it was coming from within me. It was trapped in my bones, my tissues, my cells. THE CALL WAS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE.
I wasn’t just grieving a loss. I was unconsciously re-living the journey that culminated in those last six days in the hospital. Looking back on it, September had provided events in my life that triggered those emotions; the feeling of being invaded as hospice care came in and set up was replaced with tiny creatures eating my house and fluttering around my den. The hospital was replaced with a crappy hotel room. And the list goes on.
This was not the first September to walk me down this parallel path. Thank goodness for friends who remember the events in your life. When I mentioned my revelation, I was reminded of other Septembers that had brought with them events with similar outcomes. Now, I am not saying that some unseen force was creating something akin to my own personal groundhog’s day so that I could work through unrecognized grief. The debate over whether I created the events or whether the events were created for me is better left to another post. But I -am- saying that the events occurred and struck an eerie familiarity with emotions that were still laden in the very fiber of my being.
This year’s journey to the anniversary was difficult. In true September form there were many fires in need of extinguishing. But, knowing what I know now, I was able to prepare for that unconscious release of emotion. I was better able to manage the grief not of my mom’s passing, but of the journey that led to it.
Eleven years ago my mother died. But with each passing year, our relationship continues to grow. I always feel her with me. And though I often long for one more hug, I am comforted by the fact that her spirit still guides me. I miss her physical presence, but her spiritual presence is no less diminished. And, at times like this, when I am grieving her loss through tears, she never fails to find ways to comfort me, even if it’s with a carefully and surprisingly placed box of tissues.