Finding her way in grief

My mom’s fiance died of Covid on Saturday.

The man with whom she sang showtunes, read the New York Times cover to cover, shared meals, spent her days. They have been inseparable for eight long years.

It all started a year after his first wife died.

My mom, a woman who had been a faithful practitioner of the art of flirtation for 88 years, noticed a flock of widows fluttering around Ted, baking cookies for him, leaving dinners at his door. This is how octogenarians begin a courtship, mind you.

Knowing he was a good catch, she made an irresistible play for Ted’s affection. After bumping into him – first in the lobby, and later, the elevator – twice in one day, she announced “If you run into me one more time today, Ted Mann, you’re going to have to take me to lunch.”

He did, they did, and by Valentines Day, all the other widows fell away, and they were engaged.

To have received the gift of this love – at this time in their lives – was almost too much goodness for me, for them, for all of us, to process. She lives on the 18th floor. He on the 17th, in the apartment just below hers. They had many years full of operas, and concerts, and theatre, exquisite meals, foreign travel, and the pleasure of sharing their days.

So many of us are experiencing unimaginable loss right now. Loss of loved ones. Loss of jobs. Loss of the lives we used to live pre-pandemic. Problems with race, gender, disability abound. I do not know how to grieve all that needs grieving in this world.

My grief feels like an insignificant drop in a world that does not recognize sadness as sacred.

And yet my body tells me that the grieving makes me feel alive, matters. And to trust that place inside of me.

In the words of Martin Prechtel, “Grief expressed out loud, whether in or out of character, unchoreographed and honest, for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”

We knew it was unlikely that Ted would make it out of the hospital, and for a few days, we drew shallow breaths between phone reports on his progress.

When I heard, on Saturday, that he’d passed, I said to my mother, “I’m coming to you.”
She said “No. I need to be alone. To process.”

My body said no to her no.

But it was futile. She refused my offering to come.
She did not want to trouble me, or be a bother to anyone. She wanted to march on independently, and to prove she could do it alone.

I had a deep, gnawing sense that I needed to be with her, which left me feeling ungrounded and lost. I got in the bathtub and cried for two hours.

There is a strange trancelike place that happens after someone dies.
My mother makes good rational sense most of the time.
But the shock of loss is no place from which to make decisions.
And the more I felt into my body, the more I knew that she was just way more lost than I was.
She could not hold the loss – it was way too big to carry.

So many of us were raised to hide our feelings, to push away our sadness, our rage. My mother comes from a culture where feeling deeply is shameful and a sign of weakness. Where strength is viewed as stoicism.

My gift to her was my lack of stoicism.

My need to be with her – to hold her, to cry with her, to light a yahrzeit candle together in the kitchen, and look at the empty seat at the table that used to be Ted’s.

So, on Sunday, I jumped in the car and drove the four hours to my mother so we could soak in sadness together. To spend this time together, finding our way to mourn this loss.

Today, together, we are led by grief.

Trusting the irrational way she whips through our bodies, dropping us to our knees, taking us back to life.

With so much love and pleasure,

Regena is a feminist icon, a teacher, a speaker, a mother, a best-selling author, and creatrix and CEO of The School of Womanly Arts.

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