Grief and the Color Pink.

10676275_895411431685_3273988775137810797_nMy Aunt Lucille loved pink. She wore it quite a bit. She also wore Keds. As long as I can remember, the only shoes I ever saw her in were Keds. Until recently, when my mother started buying her slippers. She needed special slippers that would hold onto the backs of her heels, so they wouldn’t slip off when she was in her wheelchair. She had been in the nursing home since a bad fall about 5 years ago, and ever since, her mental, emotional, and physical state were on the decline. When I found out that she had passed away on Saturday morning, I felt relieved. She had been suffering since her fall, and her life wasn’t what it was when I had known her as a child. She was in a state of torment, and it was painful to watch. Knowing she had died meant no more torment for my Aunt Lucille. And I felt relieved. Happy even. Then, like a wind that sweeps in before the first sign of Fall, I began to feel it. You know the feeling. It’s that feeling you get…the one that happens when someone dies…no matter the circumstances, it awakens…and it grips you from the inside…

Grief isn’t fun. I’ll be the first to say that I will feel almost anything before I will allow myself to feel sadness. Mainly anger. Anger is my go-to. Something’s scary? I get angry. Someone I love is hurt? I get angry. All is lost or uncertain or just plain sucks? Anger, anger, anger. And this is a place I’m comfortable living. Most of the time. Until the appropriate emotion is grief. And then there is a cage match inside of my soul. Grief vs. Anger could be a Saturday night special on HBO, duking it out to see who wins. I’ve gone through this cycle enough to know who will come out on top, everytime. Anger is going down. Like, out-cold down. And it will be bloodied and bruised and crying for it’s mama. This is what the grieving process is for me.

From watching her last years of life, I could wager a guess that my Aunt Lucille had the same cycle with grief, surrender, and acceptance. I don’t mind telling you that in the last years, she was PISSED. She would have made Dylan Thomas proud. Her rage against the dying of the light was nothing if not admirable. She was always complaining that she was bored. She didn’t seem to understand her condition, her limitations, her age, her situation, and was she livid that she wasn’t free. Like many elderly patients in this circumstance, she slipped into periods of depression. But what remained was her fight. Conversations with her were like listening to a tape on repeat, one that demanded to be freed, and put back in her old house, and given the keys to a car she could no longer drive. She didn’t understand, and she didn’t accept that she was 95, and injured, and incapable of living the life she once had. And it killed her. It killed us, too. Watching someone you love live a life of imprisonment and being able to do nothing about it is awful. Particularly when it’s a prison of the mind. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other mental afflictions tear people apart slowly, and it’s beyond painful to be a loved one to a person experiencing mental anguish. All I wanted was to give her some comfort.

Growing up, my mother worked and my Aunt Lucille was my caretaker. Some of the first memories I have are of her. She held me, and taught me, and fawned over me like I was a precious little princess. She had no children of her own, for reasons I’ll never be sure, but I received the benefit of this need to pamper and spoil and love a little girl. I was that little girl to my Aunt Lucille. She’d often take me shopping, and we’d pick out dresses and shoes and pretty much whatever I wanted. Although she liked salads and I liked outings to McDonald’s, there was one thing we could always agree on; the fabulous feminine power of the color pink. I wore a lot of pink in those days, as did she. I’d watch her powder her nose with her fancy Estee Lauder powder, and she’d fill me with confidence on my beauty, my preciousness, and my worth. She was my ┬ápink-loving, fashion forward, confidence boosting, and attention-giving Godmother. As long as I could remember she was lively, and fun, and kind (especially to me) and full of life. Her last years of life were nothing like the fun we had back then, and I found myself wishing I could give her the back the gift of pink.

The last time I saw my Aunt Lucille was the day after Christmas. My mother and I went shopping to get her some presents, but we knew she wouldn’t recognize us or understand why we were there or when Christmas was. I picked out a shawl for her. It had fun, spirited flecks of pink in it. I knew it would keep her warm, and I was sure to pick out something I’d feel comfortable wearing. I had a feeling it would be coming back to me shortly. It was an extremely painful day that day. Lucille’s conversation tape was much more sad and desperate today. There was much less fight, and it was hard to take. She begged us to take her home with us. She kept saying “Why can’t we all be together? I just want us all to be together.” It struck me in that moment, how incredibly cruel life can be. It was a torturous scene, reminiscent of the scene in the Exorcist when Linda Blair’s demon starts speaking to the priest as his mother. There was nothing we could do for her. Except to be a witness to her pain, and a loving smile and nod, and a warm hand across her forehead.

My mother was feeling it that day. I told her to go ahead, that I’d be out shortly. Lucille had mentioned my Grandmother several times in this visit. My Grandmother died a few years back. And I’m of the mindset that there may be some cross-over action for those who are close to death, seeing loved ones on the other side. She mentioned she had seen my Grandmother. “Vera was here earlier.” she said. “She will be so sad she missed you.” then she became desperate again. “Why can’t I go home with Vera?” she pleaded. “I just want us all to be together.” I patted her arm as she softened. She made a confession, “I’m a very lonely person.” she said. I looked her straight in the eye. “No you’re not, Lucille. You’re a very loved person.” She inhaled and sighed. “Thank you.” Then she looked outside and pointed. “Do you see those birds? All day long I watch those birds fly.” I was impressed. It was the single most mindful, soft, and unfocused thing I’d ever heard her say. Then she began complaining again. I touched her hand. “Lucille,” I said, “You wanna know what? I bet if you keep looking out that window, and if you relax and keep watching the birds, I bet Vera will come back and take you home. In fact, I’m sure of it.” I began to make my goodbye. “I have to go now. But I’ll be back. If you want to go home before I see you again, you can. If Vera comes back, and Jesse comes back to take you home, you can go with them. I love you.”

In an era when the word “blessed” has become little more than a hashtag, I feel comfortable saying that this was one of the most authentic moments of my life. And I do count myself as being very “blessed”. Because there was no part of watching my Grandparents die that was easy. There was pain, and there was sorrow, and there was the putrid stench of Hospice care and nursing facilities. There was anguish, and strife, and uncertainty, and an education on the shittiest part of this amazing life. But we saw it through. In order to truly love, we must remain present for all the moments of our lives. The suffering comes not in pain, but in the denial of pain. In the rage and the resistance and the denial, my Aunt fought her last days wanting to get back what she had lost. And I sat with her as she began to learn to let go. To be a witness to that change is something I will never take for granted. And I only pray that in time, I may learn the same lesson.

So here’s to life, and the color pink, in all it’s comforting fabulousness. For all the dreams and wishes of little girls, and the women who raise them to love. Here’s to the comfort of being held, and the discomfort of holding on. And for the hope that all of us may experience anything that brings us together.

 

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