I posted this piece on my former blog a little over a year ago, but as the madness of May 2013 is in full force and as we approach the year marker of my father-in-law's death, I decided to share it again:
I do understand that the NCAA coined the term March Madness for the flurry of college basketball games played throughout the month, however, I do not think this kind of madness holds a candle to the madness that most mothers feel in May. For one thing, if you have any campers, the stacks of camp forms (which include having up-to- date physicals) are due. Spring sports are in full swing and this year, between my two boys (one of whom was rostered on four baseball teams, yep four) we were at a field, sometimes two, almost every night of the week and on weekends. My youngest daughter plays soccer and because they weren’t going to be able to have a team for her and her buddies if no one stepped up to coach…well, sure, I will figure out how to make it work. And I know so much about soccer! Not…never played a day in my life. And it is only two nights a week. What?! Not really sure how these logistics are going to work. And then if you happen to have high-schoolers like I do, it is finals prep time (and in my house, finals freak-out time), and if you happen to have a junior (soon to be a senior) like I do, let’s throw in the SAT or ACT tests this month as well!
Then there is a sprint for the finish at our kids’ school with events that I had never even heard of until enrolling my kids at this school: portfolio day, field day, staff appreciation day, 4th grade graduation, closing ceremonies for lower school, middle school and upper school (all on different days), baccalaureate (where the first graders—yep, I have one of those too—sing to the outgoing seniors). And, my daughter’s birthday party was also in the month of May, as well as my mother's 70th birthday. And oh, that Mother's Day in May idea...yeah...sure.
In addition to the above-mentioned mayhem, which made my head and heart spin on a very regular basis, this May was especially heart- wrenching for my family. My father-in-law, who fought a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer for 4 ½ years, passed away on May 12th (his 77th birthday).
The madness of May, however, did not allow much time for the necessary process of grieving. We took time to honor my father-in-law with a beautiful funeral and a three-day shivah (time of mourning when friends and family gather to support the family of the deceased). But before any of us were ready, the kids had to take their finals, return to their sports, my husband had to return to work, and we all had to return to the plethora of other events sprawled all over the calendar. And I had to continue to guide the ship, and keep everyone moving in the right direction, which at this point was getting through the end of the school, helping them study for finals and finish up final projects, trying to keep their spirits up but also supporting them in their grief. I also needed to be there for my husband, who seemed to be in a state of shock and needed the space and time to digest all of this. And quite honestly, there were days that I didn't think I could do it all; days that I wanted to run for the hills!
I felt consumed by grief, my own and everyone’s around me, and in making sure that everyone else was okay. This is when I knew I needed to, in addition to taking care of them and their needs, I needed to find a way to take care of myself. I went back to teaching the high energy yoga sculpt classes that I love and to my writing.
We all got through the next few weeks and found our way to the end of the school year. My kids did fine on their finals, they contributed on their sports teams, and we managed to find time to talk about Papa and how we will miss him. The last day full of school was Friday, June 1st and I felt a certain lightness as May had turned into June--summer was here and we would all have a little break from the madness. But this lightness did not last long. Five of my son’s friends came home with him from school that day. They were all playing wiffle ball in the back yard and I asked them if they wanted to go to the pool. Some said yes, and some said no. They took a vote. Going to the pool won.
The boys, my youngest daughter and I all piled in my car and drove over to a nearby pool. They played basketball and swam. We had been there for about an hour and I was talking to a friend when I heard a whistle blow three times. Kids scurried out of the pool. My heart stopped as I watched a lifeguard pull out, what looked to me like a lifeless little body, from the pool. A boy, 6 years old, a kindergartener at my kids' school, attending a birthday party. The rest of the details still haunt me, and writing them down is just too painful. But when I settled into my car with my group of kids, we prayed. We prayed for Nicolas. We prayed for a miracle. But not long after we left, we sadly found out that Nicolas was dead.
Witnessing the two deaths, one of a loved of and the other, a horrible, tragic death of a child, my heart exploded into a zillion pieces and I have been working on putting it back together since. My kids fill me up with so much love and joy, my husband is slowly smiling a bit more, and thank g-d for my amazing family and friends. Not long after the pool event, we took an Alaskan cruise with my side of the family, during which ironically it was rainy, windy and cold for 90 percent of time. Then, we sent our teenagers off to their amazing camps, and my sister and I planned and pulled off a surprise 50th wedding anniversary for our parents.
It is mid-July now, and I am trying to take it one day at a time. The days and nights are calmer; the pace is slower, and a lot less frantic. I am ever so grateful for this time to think, to write, to teach, to grieve and to let go. Grateful that I don’t have to rush off to work every day no matter what is going on, as so many moms do. Sometimes in the midst of those ever-so chaotic times when the world is moving faster than you feel like you can grasp, when life seems to throw you curve balls that you are not able to dodge, I would say that as a mother, it can be very tricky. As you deal with your own pain and fear, you must deal with your children’s as well. And each child processes life’s curve balls differently, and they don't really tell you what their process is, because most likely they don't know. Some like to talk about how they feel, some internalize, some move to anger, and others want to pretend that everything is fine.
As a mother, it can be downright excruciating to try to help navigate your child through their process of grief, as we are not even always sure how to direct ourselves. But in the spirit of yoga, my advice would be to stay present, be honest with your feelings, take time to heal, and believe in your heart of hearts, and share with your children, that “this too shall pass.” Life can be complicated, scary and often does not make a whole lot of sense, but hang onto those you love, and somehow, some way, your world will come back into focus even though it may look and feel slightly or significantly different.