Grave of Linda Gruber.

A year of firsts

One year ago today my mother died.

When I wrote about Linda Gruber in the post For my mother, I had no idea how impactful this event would be on my life. In the months that followed in 2018 and into early 2019, I experienced confusion, depression, and darkness. Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I held it all together. I am thankful to friends, family, co-workers, and anyone else who were helpful during that period.

Navigating a Year of Firsts

The winter was more difficult than usual, and the lows that came caught me by surprise. Grief is a powerful entanglement, and when you’re caught in it, it can be difficult to see the way out. I suppose the reason why my grief was so overwhelming was because of one incredible thing: I loved my mother very much, and I know she loved me, my wife, and my children, very much as well.

By the time spring rolled around, I was taking steps to get better. I went to counseling, started exercising and eating less junk, and started to feel a lot better. It seemed like I had turned a corner. But by the beginning of May, things started to reverse. I wasn’t as much of an emotional wreck, but other healthy aspects that I had been pursuing began to slide.

In June, I decided to stop counseling. I think therapy has great benefits, and I liked a lot of what my counselor had provided me up to that point. But there were things that I didn’t find helpful. The counselor received text messages during our sessions, and I found that off-putting. But mostly, I got to a point where I felt I wanted to try something on my own. Summer is my favorite season, and I figured that a little bit of sun and some outdoor activity would be good medication.

I was right about the sun, but the activities were elusive. Mostly, I spent my time working. In addition, we decided it was time to start looking for a house to buy. We were out of space at our rental, and frankly, mom’s death made me realize I wanted to get moving toward some of my goals sooner rather than later. Most of our summer was spent looking at houses, going to open houses, and trying to find the right fit.

By the end of August, we had purchased a house. In September, I and my family went to Disney World, which was largely in part thanks to a gift — a final gift, in fact — that my mom and dad helped us with. Mom had told dad that she wanted us to be able to go to Disney World, which was something I had talked about while she was alive. So, thanks mom and dad, we had a lot of fun.

Today marks the end of “a year of firsts”which is something everyone who experiences loss has to deal with. It’s a year when that person isn’t around to share in the things you normally experienced with them before. Birthdays, holidays, get togethers and regular everyday memories that can’t be shared with a loved one all get lumped in a year of firsts.

It made for a difficult year, and now we know what the future holds.

A pivotal moment

There are moments in each of our lives that we can point to as a pivotal moment, one which the before and after are clearly divided by one moment in time. That’s not to say that every pivotal moment has a good outcome. History is filled with plenty of examples where a person became changed in an instant, but not for the better.

This certainly could have been my outcome. I was not in a good place at the beginning of the year. There were plenty of days that I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t feel anything, and I certainly didn’t have any passion for life. I felt very empty.

Depression is a wild beast.

My friend, Brandon, who lost his mother a few years ago, suggested that I do something to break my cycle. So, I decided on something pretty small by helping out with my son’s karate classes. Every week his karate class is happy to have parent helpers, and each time I take him I can make a choice: Do I sit on my phone and wait for him to be done, or do I volunteer to help a class full of newbies learn martial arts?

I decided to help, and it’s been a good decision. Last Monday I was at his class and was helping out, and I found myself … smiling. I was having fun with these little learners, and it all happened by accident.

I still have my rough moments. It sounds so tempting to just give up and let things fall to the wayside. But I’m not going to do that. My family depends on me and wants me to be healthy so we can make our own memories; so we can live our own life.

Mom would have wanted that. She was a wonderful woman, who loved this life and would have wanted her family to experience life in its fullness just as she did. So, I will press on. I’ll keep at it. One day I know the sting will be less than it is today, just as today it is less painful than it was one year ago today.

I miss my mother. I love her greatly. I will honor her memory by persisting, and doing what I knew she would want me to do: pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.

During the last year, I made a couple of playlists: one for when I was really down, and another for when I started to get better. Their meanings may be elusive, but they really were helpful for me, in ways you can never imagine.

But the song that really gets to me even still, I leave here: “Please Tell My Brother,” by Golden Smog.

“I feel your love and I feel your ghost/Listen dear mother I miss you the most.”

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