It has been six months since we visited Aruba with Jessica, her family, our son, Jeremy, and our longtime friend, Nicole. Aruba has been a special place for our family for over 15 years. I have so many great memories.
Floyd and I recently were in Aruba again with family and friends. I brought along some “Jessica ashes” and scattered them in one of our favorite spots. I found myself emotional as I reflected on that trip last year and how it came about. (There is more info on http://caringbridge.org under Jessica Heath from the journal I kept throughout her last year+)
At her last MRI in late October of 2018, treatment was discontinued and she began Hospice care. One of her requests was to travel so we booked the trip for early November. I busied myself, updating passports and making the arrangements to accommodate her wheelchair on the plane and at the resort. I also booked a family trip for Thanksgiving in New Hampshire. It was only when we returned from both of those trips that I realized I had distracted myself with all the planning and not really allowed myself to absorb the fact that her condition was terminal. Funny how we protect ourselves living in denial even though I was so involved in her daily life.
Since Jessica’s death in January, I have only just begun to understand the immense life change that comes with losing a child or any loved one for that matter. There are numerous “secondary losses”. Taking on Jessica’s role in our family business has been a HUGE learning curve for me. So often I have wanted to call or text her a question as I attempt to piece together the work she did with what I do now. I am managing better overall. Yet, grief doesn’t have an expiration date. I am just beginning to accept that there are going to be days that are better than others.
The day began with tears and ended with smiles. I anticipated I would cry with the mere thought of not hearing from or seeing Jessica to celebrate Mother’s Day after 34 years with her. I had not planned on getting worked up watching the news in the morning. While the hosts sent video messages out to their mom’s thanking them and wishing them a happy day, it got to me. I took some time to let it out. That did make it a bit challenging to move on without welling up at times through the morning. I busied myself preparing lunch and when my mom and the grandkids arrived, once again, I welled up and also smiled.
The kids helped with planting flowers in pots. We made some artsy Mother’s Day cards for the three women not with us and burned them in the fire pit so the smoke could travel up to them. We placed the river rocks from Jessica’s service out in our lakeside garden. This is something we can continue for other celebrations as there is plenty of space to fill with these beautiful messages written in/on stone.
I believe we all felt the absence of these three losses;
Jessica, my mother-in-law, Betty and Eric’s mom, Judi. Speaking their names and remembering stories
about them was helpful for me. By the
end of the afternoon, my heart was feeling fuller and my eyes a little
Mother’s Day (Part 1)
In the past few weeks, as Mother’s Day 2019 approaches, I
made the decision to work on plans for the day in an effort to make this first
Mother’s Day without my daughter not quite so raw; hopefully. My son is out of town so neither of my
children will be with me. I will spend
time with my mom and am grateful for that.
Over the past year, our family has had 3 significant “Mother”
losses. I don’t want to avoid the day, but rather want
to include some things that will hopefully bring me joy. Fingers crossed.
I am particularly focused on how the day will unfold for
Eric and the boys. This will be the
first Mother’s Day for Eric without his mom and his wife as well as the first
for Aiden and Blake without their mom and one Grammy. This is also the first without my
mother-in-law. Even with a fantastic
support system, I suspect it will still be hard for all of us. This year of “firsts” is not like anything I
have ever planned for. So the idea of
giving myself permission to include some joyful things also reminds me to give
space for things to unfold. This is code
for creating some space for crying.
Ideally, my plan is to have an informal lunch including some
of my favorites and also one of Jessica’s go- to party dips. As always, I look forward to being surrounded
by the grandkids. We will make some
cards for our loved ones and plant some flowers. Their energy usually distracts me when I need
that and also brings a smile to my face and laughter to my ears. There will be time for reflection later.
To be continued……….
This is an article I wrote for the Windham Eagle Newspaper.
Go Gray in May for Brain Cancer
May is the month for celebrating moms on Mother’s Day and on
Memorial Day we honor those who died in active military service. It is my hope to bring more awareness to a
cause I am passionate about; brain cancer.
My daughter, Jessica Heath, passed away in January at the
age of 34. She battled brain cancer
twice. Jessica was an advocate for the
National Brain Tumor Society. She went
to Washington D.C. to further support funding for more research and treatment
options. It is too late for her to
benefit from either of these. Jessica
did make it past the 5-year survival rate estimated for 36% of women
diagnosed. It was just after the 5 year
mark when her tumor returned.
It is estimated that over 16,000 people will die from brain
cancer in 2019. The most common brain
tumors in adults are:
which make up about 37% of primary brain tumors
which make up 81% of malignant brain tumors and include astrocytomas and
There has been little change in treatment options in the
past 30 years. Surgery, chemotherapy and
radiation are the most common treatments for brain tumors depending on their type
and grade (severity measured by 1, 2, 3 or 4).
Not all brain tumors are malignant (deadly). A lot depends on the location within the
brain. Some non-malignant brain tumors
do affect long term quality of life if they produce deficits in the patient’s
ability to care for themselves.
May is Brain Tumor/Cancer Awareness month. Like October’s Breast Cancer Pink ribbon, I
hope that more people will share information about the Gray ribbon and
ultimately find a cure for brain cancer.
I read a lot. It’s easy to have a library book downloaded to my phone and take advantage of those moments when I am waiting for something. Last summer one of the books I got so much from is written by Nora McInerny titled “It’s Ok to Laugh”. In it, she explains her story which includes losing a baby, her father and her husband all in a 6 week period. She is able to share with readers some lightness and humor through her grief experiences that also include, at the time, being a single parent to her son. There were moments when I was actually giggling!!
Her most recent book, “No Happy Endings”, just came out this month. I have already read it and recommend it. Without giving anything away, this is the story of how she was able to move on with her life and still include the memories of her husband. This left me feeling hopeful in so many ways.
Last night I attended my first support group meeting for parents who have lost an adult child; pretty specific. It was powerful to be in a room with other parents at various stages of the grieving process and to hear their stories. When Jessica was going through treatment last year, I vowed to myself that I could at least manage how I got through the experience. I knew it was going to be difficult journey, but ultimately I would be ok. I committed to be “up” when I was with her. (This was mostly successful though she did see me cry plenty.) I also mentioned to others that if they were having a bad day perhaps they could text or call instead of seeing her so as not to bring her “down” any more than she already was.
I now know that her mood was related to the surgeries, chemo, radiation and the fact that she was sick and tired of being sick and tired. At the time, I felt challenged to make her want to continue to fight her disease. We were all doing the best we could at the time. Now it is hard for me, a planner, to not look too far ahead in time. There are so many variables I am not able to control or manage (also I’m a recovering control freak). The best practice that kept me sane was being mindful and present with her. Now, I must continue that practice for me.
As I reflect on yesterday’s meeting as well as seeing news of a new baby born into the family of a friend of mine, I want to feel hopeful of the future. Sometimes the future is just getting through the next minutes and hours. Grief comes in waves which can make this tricky. Though the cycle of grief includes, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, I want to hold on to those moments of hope.
Recently I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen since last Fall. She immediately wrapped me in her arms and gave me a most comforting hug. Low and behold, I didn’t lose it right there in the grocery aisle. The grocery store is often a trigger for me, as well as many other public places lately. I am choosing not to stop going out in public, but if there is a way to be better prepared for meeting folks who want to acknowledge our loss, I am all in.
I realize this is a tricky time. News travels fast and sometimes we don’t know what to say to someone who has had a devastating loss such as ours. I have found that on my better days, it is easier for me to comfort others rather than have them comfort me. Grief is unpredictable at best and I find I really prefer things that are predictable. So there is a lot of room for personal growth here. Though I would rather be the supporter, I find myself needing to accept that people are going to stop me and offer their condolences. I want that. Even if there are no words to say to me, a hug does help.
I remember when my good friend was grieving the loss of her daughter. I didn’t know what to say so I went longer than I should have without saying anything to her. This was my bad. In my ignorance, saying nothing was not helping either of us. I can see that now. This friend has been a great support for me over the past year as we watched Jessica go through and then ultimately discontinue her cancer treatment. We have cried together many times, but we have also laughed. Though this process of grief can bring on many emotions, what I want most to remember from it all is love; love for Jessica and love for each other. So if you happen to bump into me out in public and you don’t know what to say to me, hugs are welcome.
This post is actually accomplishing two things; it’s an update as well as an assignment. I recently read the book, “It’s OK That You’re Not OK”, by Megan Devine (thanks for sharing, Sharyn). There are some good tips for expressing creativity during grief. The author also offers an online writing e-course which I am currently taking and one of our assignments is to look through a newspaper and pick out some random words that call to you and make something from that. This is the result:
Imagine embracing this heartbreak
Surrender to this pain
Allow, with your heart and soul
Mostly happy memories remain
Imagine the chance to build new
Let your breaking point go
A future not empty, but opened
Just imagine it so
On this Valentine’s Day, I woke a bit confused as to how “to be” today. I have been writing a lot though I haven’t yet posted much of that as I continue to process all that took place this past year. However, I did open an email that inspired me and I felt it necessary to share.
Recently, I was introduced to Mel Robbins, a motivational speaker. In today’s email she, of course, talks about love and that it doesn’t matter so much “who” you love, but rather, “how” you love. This made me take a moment to ask myself if I have truly shown those people in my life that I love them. I sure hope I have done that.
Knowing I will NOT have a call or get a text from my daughter today only briefly makes me sad. What I want to remember most is that she loved fiercely. (I hope she got that from me!) I can visualize the church where her service was held and how it overflowed with people who loved her. I also believe she knew she was loved by so many even in those moments when she was pulling away from us these past months. She was loving us all as she was doing her own work to let go. With all she was going through, she was protecting us when she didn’t want to talk about things I/we felt were important to talk about.
Back in June, I made the decision to be “up” when I was with her. Yes, she did see me cry a few times and I talked about my feelings with her. The only thing I regret is that we didn’t have more time together. I did my best to respect where she was with her illness and that I wanted to be part of her journey.
So getting back to the email from this morning, what stood out is Mel Robbins’ suggestion to be deliberate with those we love. Her idea of doing something on purpose to make someone feel they matter to you. This could likely be something you choose to do more often than just on this special day. Let love be an action.
At 6:45 January 2nd, 2019, our daughter, Jessica Heath, passed away from a brain tumor at the age of 34. In the days and weeks since, a lot of tears have been shed. After her service my husband, Floyd, and I traveled to warm and sunny Mexico to visit with family. (Thank you Jim and Tawnya.). This was a particularly special time away for us to rest, reconnect and reflect over the past 14 months since her rediagnosis.
I recently sat with a friend over several cups of tea and many tissues. She shared her spiritual message with me that included signs to look for that Jess was thinking of me and I was thinking of her. Not surprisingly, I was already experiencing these signs. While we were in Mexico having dinner at an Italian restaurant there was a musician playing an electric keyboard. We heard not one, but two songs from her service. Several times when our group was talking about Jessica a butterfly appeared. It didn’t just fly by, but once it hung on to the side of a cup as if it was part of the conversation.
The most impactful message for me was on the flight home from Mexico. To back up, I must include some background info from October on the day Jessica had her last MRI. It was that day she was told that there was no more treatment the doctor could offer and she was referred to Hospice. This was the day after my birthday when Floyd and I were traveling home from Florida. When I got the news I cried all the way home. The flight attendant quietly asked Floyd if I was alright. He replied that we had just gotten some bad news.
Due to some winter weather at home during our trip to Mexico we decided to extend our stay an additional two days which required changing airline carriers. On our connection from Mexico City to Detroit we had the same flight attendant that took care of us back in October. At first when I shared this info she didn’t remember that day. I was not surprised as she sees so many passengers. A few minutes later she came back to us and recalled the day, remembering us. I went on to explain that we had just gotten the news about Jessica’s condition in October, that she had recently passed away and we were returning from a restful trip with family. She was incredibly attentive for the remainder of the flight. When we deplaned, she passed me a beautiful note of sympathy. I felt like I closed a circle; explaining for her why I was emotional on that day. We don’t always know the reasons why people do what they do and I felt this was important to put to rest for myself. After all, we weren’t scheduled to be on that flight and yet “somehow” we were meant to be on that flight.