Steaming Bowl of Sadness: Dealing with Grief
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
This quote comes from a book called Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher. I read this with my kids at school a long time ago and at that point in my life, I had never been asked to eat a bowl of sadness. Unfortunately, in everyone’s life there comes a time, when the bowl is set before you. Bon appetit!
Except, what if I am not ready to face my bowl? What if I am more content to push it to the far corners of my mind? What if the smell turns my stomach and I try to pretend the bowl is not on my table?
My steaming bowl of sadness is the death of my mother. When my mom passed away this last June, there wasn't just a bowl set before me, it was bigger than that. A lake, a river, an ocean! An inconceivable amount of sadness and sorrow was set before me.
A bowl would have seemed manageable, but my love and respect for her are too big to get over. I used to think I would be the kind of person to let the grief happen naturally and just get it all out at once. Work through it as fast as I could. Be the overachiever, but no, I’m scared of it. It is too real and too painful and I keep pushing it away.
Maybe I push it away because she taught me to keep moving and not to dwell on your situation. Make the best of what you have been given. This principle has served me well most of my life and for the first month, after she passed, this was my strategy. Keep moving. I am a wife, I am a mother, I am an educator, I am a daughter of a grieving father. I keep moving.
My other strategy was to dwell on the positive, to focus on the fact that I was lucky enough to have the best possible mom a girl could have. I tried to live in a state of how blessed I am and look on the positive. I was blessed to have her for forty years. I look at all my blessings and I push the bowl of sadness as far away from me as I can.
God helped me deal with her cancer every step of the way, he even showed me when it was time to switch my prayers of give us more time to please let her pass in peace. Mom had just started trying to take a different chemo and I had been praying for this one to work and for God to give us more "good time" with her, when one morning I came across this story. There was a king named Hezekiah and he was very sick. He sought out Isaiah, the prophet, to ask if his illness would go away or not. Isaiah inquired of the Lord and returned to Hezekiah with bad news. Hezekiah wept, cried, and prayed to the Lord. The Lord told Isaiah to return to him with different news. God had heard his prayers and was going to add fifteen years to his life. After I read this, I felt God tell me he had heard all my prayers for my mom and he had also given her fifteen years passed her original diagnosis, but he was going to be bringing her home soon.
Staying focused on my blessings kept me moving for a little while too, but the grief is there, an unwanted visitor, refusing to leave.
There is no way, I can get to the other side of this pain. I know I need to let myself feel some it, but I’m pushing it away right now. It is too big a loss to confront. Somehow I know, I will never eat it all. It will be a never-ending buffet.
The week she died, God let me borrow an amazing amount of his strength and power. I felt him comforting me and giving me what I need to get through the day, I felt like he had wrapped me up in plastic wrap, the kind you use to wrap up china when you move. He had me covered with his strength and his joy. But now, I feel him unwrapping me, taking his power away, much like you feel when your Tylenol wears off and you begin to feel the dull ache. I’m feeling it now.
Grief is sneaky. Forcing me to take a bite at unexpected times. You know when you are trying to feed a baby a new food, sometimes you have to sneak a bite in on them. Feed them something they like and then throw in a bite of the new stuff. It is tricky, but it works. They eat a few bites. Well, that is what life is doing to me. I’m going about my regular routine and I'm blindsided! I’m hit with a bite of grief so terrible: I want to spit it out.
The forced bites started on vacation two weeks after she died. We were all cooking in the kitchen and Carter, my three-year-old, was playing on my dad’s i-pad. All of a sudden, he yells… "There is Mimi, There is Mimi..!" His sweet little voice had so much love and excitement in it over her picture. My dad and I locked eyes and I ran from the room, the grief punched me full in the face and stopped me in my tracks. I’m bawling in the closet, you know the full on ugly cry. My sweet Claire comes and wraps her arms around me and cries with me.
I miss her so much! It was so fun to tease my mom! One of my favorite things to poke fun at her about was her ability to hide tissues everywhere. The tissues were under her pillow, in her purse, and in her coat pockets...she was never without a tissue. Even though I teased her, my running nose benefited from her gross little habit all the time.
I was cleaning out one of her closets and tried on one of her jackets… the wadded tissue my hand came across, was my undoing! That tissue unleashed a tidal wave of grief that knocked me to knees. I sat on the floor and lost it… then I used the wadded up tissue I had found in her jacket to fix my face. I know, gross, right? What are you going to do? When given the option between an old tissue and nothing, I always go for the tissue. That was the way it always was with us, she was always there when I needed her to be. The tissue caused my tears, but then it was like she was there with me to wipe them away. This wave was so strong, I tell myself I’m not ready for the next one.
The bites keep coming.
Driving in the car, I hear an advertisement… The world's longest yard sale will start… My throat constricts and tightens, she loved the longest yard sale! She used to say it was her favorite weekend of the whole year. She and her best friend, Sherry, were practically giddy the week of the yard sale. They planned out their routes and talked about it all month. Once they even received a personal letter to let them know this particular vendor was going to set up her station in a different location. She actually made vendors her friends! I can barely see the road through my tears and contemplate pulling over until I can gain composure.
The bites keep coming and coming, even in my dreams. I wake up and my pillow is soaked with my tears.
I know I need to start taking control of the bowl and forcing myself to eat some bites on my own terms, but right now, all I can do is act like a toddler and put my hands over my mouth shaking my head back and forth because I don’t want to eat what life is serving.
I suppose everyone handles the loss of a parent in their own way, I’m just struggling to find mine. I suppose I will keep taking bites of this sadness the rest of my life. I just hope somewhere along the way, the more bites I take, it will get a little easier to stomach. I guess that is what people mean when they say give it time, give it time.