- Coming Clean -

COMING CLEAN: Love, Loss, and the Dark Days of Fall

Less light and loss of loved ones sent me into an emotional tailspin.

fall trees
It’s been a hard few weeks.

Generally, I love fall, with its cooler temps, warm sweaters, and crisp apples. It’s the time when we celebrate our anniversary, my and my parents’ birthday (my dad turned 60 in October!), and move to a mindset of introspection. We shut down the family cabins, swap seasonal wardrobes, rake loads of leaves, and, in Minnesota, prep our homes for the snowy months of winter. As we pack away another summer and consider the passage of time, it’s easy to feel pensive.

 

jack-o-lantern face
Historically, fall has been a challenging time for me and my family. It’s also the anniversary of my Halloween night car accident, which culminated in my December neurosurgery in 1999; we made the painful-but-right choice in re-homing our darling Ladybird two years ago; my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer after our wedding in 2006; my aunt Debbie died suddenly when I was in college; Kyle’s grandpa passed in the fall after we met; last year we hoped and prayed as cousin Jaime healed from a stroke; and late this summer, we hoped and prayed again as my grandmother recovered from a stroke.

And in these past two weeks, we lost both Kyle’s uncle and our cat Biz.

I’m a strong woman, but it’s been emotional hell.

Not to mention the waning light from the end of Daylight Savings and my struggles with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The past traumas have healed: my mom has been in remission for nearly seven years; the car accident haunts me less and less each passing holiday; Ladybird’s new mom has sent us encouraging notes so we know she’s OK; Jaime continues to inspire us, this weekend walking as a bridesmaid in her friend’s wedding, even though the doctor’s said she may never walk again; and Grandma and Grandpa just moved to a hip new space for seniors and Grandma seems as spirited as always.

As I’ve found healthier habits and make a concerted effort to spend more time outdoors in the fall and winter, the symptoms of SAD have vastly decreased. (Check out coworker Casie Leigh Luke’s post how she’s beating SAD and get more tips in our excerpt from psychologist Stephen Ilardi’s fantastic book, The Depression Cure.)

Still, these last few weeks have been a struggle. Waiting for someone to die is horrible. You want peace for them and their family, but you also hope for all the time you can get. A few weeks before Kyle’s uncle passed, we visited with him and his wife in their home. It was a sunny warm day, and Ken had been fielding calls and visitors since the news that the cancer treatments were no longer working. We had a wonderful chat, caught him up on our news and told him about our new home, and he shared insights on life, family, and the process of dying.

Then came the moment when we realized this may be the last time we ever speak, and a stillness hung in the room.

Death is terrifying, but these are the moments that are comforting. He couldn’t change what was happening, so Ken chose acceptance and love and gratitude. While the loss still hurts, this humbling is enlightened. My grandmother, Isabel, had a similar count-your-blessings attitude during her fight with cancer. She was taking visitors, picking her burial plot, checking off her funeral to-dos, and even made a list of people to call once she had died. I think it helped her cope with the finality of death, and for us, it was the one last gift from the Lewis matriarch: All we needed to do was come together in support and allow ourselves to grieve. She had taken care of the rest.

We said goodbye to Ken and drove home. A few weeks later, he passed away in hospice care, surrounding by his family. His funeral was held on October 29.

cat
The following week, on Wednesday, our cat died suddenly of heart failure. She was 10 years old.

I was extremely attached to her — she was that unique breed of cat that would actually come when you call its name — and these past few days have felt emotionally devastating. I found myself crying in the morning when I opened the bedroom door and she’s not there. Or when I’m brushing my teeth. For most of the day Thursday, I worked on writing and fact-checking at home, wiping away tears to see my computer screen. On days I work at home, Biz would keep me company by squeezing between my leg and the arm of the blue chair in my office. Even as I sit here now, I’m sitting on the far side of the chair, saving a space for her to join me.

My friends and family have sent me sweet notes and text messages, and I’m starting to feel better today. I know she was a cat, but she was a part of our family, and a great friend to me. Kind and sweet, she balanced out her brother Sids’s grumpy demeanor and palled around with our dog, Chloe, who in turn kept a watch over her.

While my recent grief pulled me into a dark and quiet place this past weekend, I think it was even more loaded because of the stress of the past few months, really kicking off with the moving process in the spring. It’s been a lot of handle, and I admittedly haven’t navigated the challenges with grace. Perhaps I’m being hypercritical, but there are many times when I feel like I’m treading water, hoping a big wave doesn’t roll in. Our lives and energies and emotions fluctuate, so I know I need to give myself a break, but this combined hysteria and decreased momentum are sending a bigger message: I need some TLC.

I need kindness and love. I need time to relax, time alone, time to connect.

On Thursday morning, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and started working and sending emails, including one to life coach Lauren. She offered some sound advice from the Handel Method: write a letter to Biz, and write a letter to death.

I’ll share those in my next posts.

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