Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Salinity of Tears

My son, a doctor of physics, came over last night with his wife (they needed wood glue; I made smoothies*). I wanted to ask him a question, but forgot: If you're swimming backstroke and you start to cry, will the tears change the salinity of the pool?

Silly question, for sure not. You only squirt out a few, but any tears feel disturbing. Still, you say to yourself, that it is nice being in the pool, no one can tell these are tears; it's all water. And although everyone knows that squirting them out, during mourning is a good thing, they make people uncomfortable, even when the raison d'etre is understood.

It has been six months since my mom passed away, unbelievable, and I'm able to say to anyone who asks, How's it going? that I'm doing good.

By good that means less sadness, fewer tears, fewer negative thoughts and self-recriminations, although these still pop up. The legacy we try to keep alive in our heads is already fading, although new memories surprisingly replace the old.

My greatest fear is that I'll lose the sound of her voice. In so many years of doing therapy, I can't remember anyone bringing this up in a good way, the sound of her voice in my head. People remember being yelled at, criticized. It was my good fortune, certainly, that the voice I hear is a nice sound, although there was some of that, criticism. In the idealization process, the criticism completely faded.

Friday night, after a delicious, substantial meal with a couple of friends, I had a dream. In the dream I'm asking my father, who passed away three years ago, if he thinks I should buy a new car.

I show him the shiny, black sedan at the used car lot. In his good natured way he shrugs and tells me it seems as good a car as any. Usually when you dream of dead people they don't talk, they just make an appearance, so this is an exciting dream. Real memories of my father had faded, all that looking after my mother coming first. My father made a few dream appearances these past few years, none of them talking roles. So it was nice to say hello.I'll have to ask my hostess about those ingredients.**

Not that I'm so deep, or even dark (as one awesome website suggests). But one of the things that happens to you as a therapist is that you look for meaning in little things. Or maybe therapists are just this way, which is why they become therapists. It is an occupational hazard, and family therapists, especially, look for metaphors, the one big thing wrong, or perhaps right, in families. But it is also nice to look for the big universal picture, if there is one, and how we fit into that.

So here's a story.

Not long ago all of my children had left Chicago for school, careers, or marriage. Now three are back in town, complete with families, and one of the other two rumbles about a return. My daughter had the hardest choice, moving here from Los Angeles, no small miracle. People don't move from Los Angeles to Chicago. Career, not family, their deciding factor. We don't care why.

So they are working. And when your kids are lucky enough to have jobs, and they can effectively juggle life with children, partners, and pets, well, you are happy and don't care if you don't talk much.You can be in the same town and barely get off more than a text.

Today 11:05 AM
Daughter: Game times today: 3:30 in Skokie, 5:00 JCC.

Today: 1:35 PM
Me: Cool.

In a million years you don't complain at how little verbal communication you have, you're so happy that when you get together, even for a kids basketball game, that you haven't had to fly across the country. And you  drive your grandchildren to school five days a week, and to the orthodontist. There are donuts in everyone's future.

No matter, on a typical Saturday I tend to feel badly. Memories of my mother come out of nowhere, usually in services at the synagogue. And I probably look sad, and people might even notice tearfulness. I hate this but am powerless. And there's that dictum that it is good to cry, you won't forever, you'll miss not missing her one day.

So there I am, totally trancing out, picturing my mother's face when I would walk through her door, enter her home. She is still living with my father, and I let myself in with my key, for they are either eating a meal, sitting in the den watching television, or puttering around. They notice and are so happy to see me, so glad for the company. Or Mom is living independently in her apartment in a residential center after he has died, and I walk into the cafeteria, surprise her at lunch and she lights up, that enormous smile shatters the cosmos. And I remember how, when I leave, she always walks me out, not just to the door, but all the way down the hall, almost to the elevator but not quite. Leaving the house, she is outside on the front porch, watching until I drive off,  fade away.

So there I am on a Saturday, standing against a wall in the synagogue because the rabbi is talking and I can't handle sitting anymore, and someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and it is my kid and she throws her arms around me, she just knows, and gives me a tremendous hug. Right there in front of everybody.

If I ever complain about anything again, just hit me.


*Our lives have changed since I bought a Ninja last summer. All the left-over fruit goes in the freezer, especially bananas. Add a little mango juice, water, and a little vanilla ice cream, and life is beautiful.

**If you want to remember dreams the trick is to hesitate before completely waking up in the morning. Lie there a minute, eyes closed, and they'll come back.


Hannah said...

Oh my god I love your blog posts, thank you for that! For creating a space where people can love, lose, cry and share it. Very grateful.

Unknown said...

Hugs are awesome! Glad you got one just when you needed it the most.

Anonymous said...

How beautiful. I have two kids like that, who just know. No matter what else is going on, I am truly blessed.

Anonymous said...

Waaah! You totally brought me back to how my grandmother would light up when I came through her kitchen door. Even after she couldn't get up from her chair without help, she would absolutely turn on like a light bulb. Tears running down my face, therapydoc. Sad and happy tears. Thanks (seriously). Wishing you many more moments of sweet comfort.

therapydoc said...

Thamks to all of you! And we're all alright, right?

Mound Builder said...

One of my children lives far away, on the other side of the country. It's hard to stay connected. I'm happy with text messages that come unexpectedly, like a photo of a very unusual, silly handbag she sent last week, wanted to know what I thought of it. The other child has returned home, temporarily, working, saving up her money to figure out what she wants to do next. I look forward to having them closer, one way or another, even though one of them is here, still, it feels like she wants/needs to be on her own, have her own life. But I love it when she wants to hang out with me, or says something silly in response to me.

I'm coming up on the 7th anniversary of my mother's death. It is true that I don't cry like I did 7 years ago. But tears still spring to my eyes sometimes, often about the most unlikely things, some memory that will come back. I can still hear my mother's voice, can still hear the last thing she said to me, "_____, I don't want to leave you." I think of that and know that's how I feel about my own children.

Marcia said...

"you'll miss not missing her one day"? My mom died in 1989. I still miss her. So I don't think you have to worry about that. :) It's not as painful though. Shortly after she died my 5 year old daughter heard me say I don't want to forget about my mom. She said, "let's write it down". So we did.

therapydoc said...

Mound Builder, that's just beautiful, and Marcia, what a great kid! I love it when this feels like a group therapy. The stories are what it's all about.

Mound Builder said...

Thank you, therapydoc. I am somewhat randomly mentioning TV shows here, since it sounds like you watch things. Lately, as some parts of my life have gotten less hectic, I've been streaming TV shows while I do other things. This evening I just finished watching a series called Touch. It's about an autistic boy who, as it turns out, is one of 36 righteous people who live on this planet, making things right. He doesn't know that to begin with, but eventually is befriended by a Hassidic Jewish man. As I am not Jewish, I hadn't heard of this idea before, but found it intriguing. I love the internal monologues we, as audience, are privy to from the autistic boy, philosophical musings on the nature of the world and the importance of love and connection. I think you will understand that this is one of the ways, these days, that I process the loss of my parents. There is a strong appeal to the idea that there is order to the world and that somehow the separations can be made right and we can be brought to wholeness, even when our own view of the world is limited. I've found several series along these lines, and watch/listen to them hungrily; they seem to satisfy some need these days. Thought I would mention them in case you're looking for something to watch.

therapydoc said...

I'll look for the show, thanks. Sometimes we'll talk about someone like that, "He's probably one of the 36." Then someone will confirm. "Yeah. For sure." Then there's a pause and someone adds, "Do you think? Really?" Because we're all hoping he/she really is, and that we can be influenced, catch some of it.

What's Going to Be with Our Kids?