It’s been a few months since the two important umbilical cords in my life were cut: my only child, Jazlyn, went to college and I lost my mom, Rose, 89, to Alzheimer’s.
After years in the trenches caring for these amazing women, my identity and purpose shifted.
The weeks following Mom’s passing were a blur of making memorial arrangements, finalizing her affairs, and gathering with family. Then I plunged into writing projects I had fallen behind on and started conducting a yoga teacher certification program. The accelerator was still wide open on my central nervous system and I was weary.
Jazlyn came home for fall break and we enjoyed our time together. Although affected by the loss of her grandmother, she was happy and thriving at East Carolina University and I was grateful. After I kissed her goodbye, the solemn reality finally sunk in that I was alone – completely alone for the first time in many, many years.
With my 49th birthday approaching, I knew how much I would miss my mother and her annual telling of my birth story that I never tired of. I could happily recall her and her friends at her memory care facility singing “Happy Birthday” to me last year and her lovingly patting my face and telling me how much she loved me. There would be a deep hole without the presence of both my girls to share cake and laughter.
Realizing I was exhausted and heavy hearted, some of my yoga clients presented me with the birthday gift of a week-long trip to Kripalu, a yoga retreat in The Berkshires of Massachusetts. I could relax and also earn continuing education units with one of my favorite teachers in the field of somatic mind-body integration.
I was touched by the love and concern from these friends who had been supportive for the challenging steps of the journey I endured as Mom moved through the stages of Alzheimer’s.
The retreat gave me something to look forward to and my mood lightened as I anticipated what it would be like to be away from the constant reminders of the good times Mom, Jazlyn and I had created as members of The Sandwich Generation.
As I walked into my retreat dorm room, a friendly woman whose bunk was beside mine struck up a conversation. I asked her what her name was and she said, “Rose.” Of course, this caught me off guard, however, I wrote it off as a mere coincidence.
But then she pulled out a Butterfinger candy bar and waived it under my nose asking if I wanted it. This familiar gesture took me aback. Mom’s favorite candy bar was Butterfinger and for years she bribed me with them in this same manner. I smiled and took this as a sign that my Rose was letting me know I was in the right place.
This nurturing week of eating wholesome food, receiving comforting massages, soaking in a whirlpool and hiking in the vivid fall colors proved to be just what I needed to start decompressing from years of running on adrenaline and prayers.
The somatic workshop provided therapeutic exercises that helped me to begin unpacking the grief that had occupied my heart as an unwelcome houseguest. There were moments of deep release and glimmers of peacefulness that gave me hope and emotional nourishment.
Upon my return, I felt refreshed and better able to cope with the grief that unexpectedly comes in roaring tidal waves or sneaky, subtle ripples.
Some days are so heavy that I wish I could don a black arm-band to show the world that I am in mourning, while other days I feel like I have it all together.
I know it is impossible to wring the sadness from my cells or press the fast forward button to more quickly move through this agonizing process.
Grief counseling and support from my friends help me cope one day at a time.
As I stand at the threshold of a new direction in my life, I realize I have two things now that had been practically foreign to me: time and space.
I am gradually getting used to the fact that I don’t have to rush to get Jazlyn to her bus on time or oversee her school projects and extracurricular activities.
I no longer have to worry about how I am going to fit Mom’s meal times into my busy schedule or feel guilty that I haven’t spent enough time giving her the care she deserves.
My days are still full but in a different way now.
I’m enjoying two-hour lunches with my girlfriends. I’m curling up with a book and reading it cover to cover. I’m taking long walks with my dog and planting flowers.
And I’m rediscovering something that I hadn’t considered in a long time – me.
Editor’s note: Lisa Moore’s first column, “Generations,” dealt with her life as a caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s and raising her teenage daughter. Lisa recently lost her mother, Rose, to the disease and her daughter left for college. Here’s what happens next.