Grandmother's Roses

IMG_0721The dreams always recur this time of year: I’m with my grandparents or I’m grieving the loss of them, and I wake up with the weight of unshed and unarticulated grief sinking my bones. Without the spaciousness that used to characterize my mornings before I had children, I can’t drop into the dream. I’m up, I’m snuggling my little one, I’m washing the cat bowl and filling it with fresh food as I notice the snow or sun on our yard, I’m reading books to my kids, making breakfast. The sounds and movements of the day begin and the dream is lost in the ether of that other realm.

But it’s not lost at all. It lives beneath the surface, swimming in the current of psyche that has no words, the world of grief and heartache, loss and longing. It’s a slow, quiet world, but it does not disappear simply because I choose not to carve out time for it. It creates a pane of glass between me and my loved ones. It closes the petals of my heart. It sits, waiting like a child that needs attention. If I fail to notice, it will make itself known in other ways.

And this is how anxiety is born. I’m suddenly over-focused on the fact that Asher, our little one, has been tugging on his ear lately. We know that he has a build-up of wax, but my grief-laden-heart-turned-anxious mind now creates a story that he has a swollen lymph node and it’s the precursor of child leukemia. I have enough presence of mind to resist the dreaded Googling, but I leave for my yoga class with the anxious thought that something is terribly wrong. Before I walk out the door I whisper this to my husband, who looks at me like I’m crazy. We just had Asher’s well-visit check up and we know everything is fine. But my anxious mind doesn’t agree.

Once at yoga, I step onto my mat and breathe. I scan my body and become aware of the anxiety, aware of my closed heart, aware of the lack of clarity and joy that normally reside in my soul when the channels are unimpeded by unshed feelings. Is something awry with work? My marriage? My kids? Am I feeling the challenge of Asher’s frequent emotional outbursts? That must be it. No. Doesn’t fit; it came from my head. I keep breathing, keep moving, keep sweating.

And then I see her: my grandmother. She’s pruning her prized roses, standing in the dirt on the rise in the backyard of their Santa Monica home that my grandfather built himself. The majority of the garden is my grandfather’s domain and comes alive with dozens of fruits and vegetables year round, but the roses are hers. I’m twenty-one. I’ve just graduated from college. She’s teaching me about the roses, showing me where to cut. “Just below the third thorn,” she says. She picks a yellow one and two baby pinks. She gives one to me. We’re happy.

Ten years later I’m standing at those same roses, but she’s no longer with me. I’m at her memorial. The backyard is overflowing with their friends and family. I feel like a part of me has been removed, never to return: a petal of my heart that held our love.

The pain lives in my hips, in the spaces between my vertebrae, in my breath. It emerges when I slow down enough to release the memories from my body, where they rise up like apparitions waiting to be seen. She had surgery in March, a procedure that we thought would prolong her life for several more years. My first words to her when I saw her after surgery were, “You’re going to meet your first great-grandchild!”, for nothing would have brought her more joy. She went back into the hospital the night before Passover and we had the meal without her. It was a quiet meal; my grandfather, normally chatty and jovial at family events, didn’t utter a word. Three weeks later, on April 22nd, my husband and I were awakened by the phone call that announced her death. I screamed into the pillow and cried from a pain I had never known.

The body remembers, which is why the memories begin in dreams this time of year. It always takes me a few days to realize what’s happening, and sometimes, if I don’t bring consciousness to the grief and allow myself to cry another layer of loss, the grief morphs into anxiety or irritation. But as soon as the floodgates open and I allow the tears to wash my soul clean and connect me to the great love I have for my grandmother, the anxiety and irritation dissipate.

I return home from yoga and hug my kids with an open heart. And with complete clarity, I know that Asher is fine.

21 comments to Grandmother’s Roses

  • JEA

    Wow Sheryl, I related to this in so many ways. I had a big breakdown a couple weeks ago – I’ve been really facing my anxiety over the last 10 months as I start a new relationship, one that has legs and feels like it has the potential to go somewhere.

    I lost my mother to blood cancer 3 years ago on April 25th, she was diagnosed March 16th, started treatment, but weeks later, she died suddenly from a massive blood clot. I have never felt such shock, loss and pain. I was 28 at the time. She was my anchor, my cheerleader, my rock. I think as my two big sisters have since gotten married and started families (I have two amazing nephews now!), and as my life takes this potential turn as well, this year has brought a new level of the grief over losing my Mom. She isn’t here to see her grandsons, and she isn’t here to meet this man I can see a potential future with (despite the anxieties around that), and she isn’t here to keep Dad in line ;), and as we all transition without her, the grief just resurfaced.

    I broke down a few weeks ago, and sobbed for her, hard. I felt like I just couldn’t carry on without her, that I wasn’t cut out for adulthood, for taking risks and making my own decisions, for the responsibility of choosing a relationship and perhaps to eventually start a family, like she did. I read a journal I put together after she died – a book of her birthday, graduation, Christmas, and “just because” cards. I touched her words on the paper, and felt her presence with me, her love and hope and assurance that I am strong and can live my own life and steer my ship and “step up to the plate” as she always said. She always saw such wonderful things in me, and I am learning to remember to see these things in myself. I have been in months of therapy for my anxiety and terror that has surfaced, at standing on the brink of this doorstep to adulthood. But I read her words and cried, and knew that what she gave me will always be with me. As we approach the 3-year anniversary of her death, I am trying to stay aware of the grief and welcome it.

    Thank you for what you wrote – your story touched me, and it is very affirming to have support in recognizing and welcoming all our emotions and experiences.

  • jasprika

    This is so timely as I just lost my grandmother. Thank you for writing this out so beautifully. 🙂

  • amaryllis

    Ladies, I offer my condolences. JEA and Sheryl, though I have yet to experience this kind of loss your story was very touching. It brought tears of happiness to my eyes. I am so happy and proud that you all are able to acknowledge the difficult emotion and moving along so well.

  • Denise

    I cried as I was reading the article because I also lost my grandmother almost two weeks ago. I feel like this was written for me in some way. When I read the title of your article it reminded me of the roses I brought her at the funeral… “I feel like a part of me has been removed, never to return” was also part of a letter I wrote to her 2 days after she was gone… Her love to me is a pearl that will always live inside my heart forever. It feels so unreal what just happened. I’m also 21 and I somehow cannot imagine the rest of my life from now on without her. Her biggest desire was to see me at my wedding and keep a great-grandchild in her arms.

    Thank you for your articles, Sheryl! They always speak to me in so many ways and help me identify the ways I can heal my inner world!

  • hopeful

    This just left me with chills. It’s always nice to read about stories that are personal to you, Sheryl. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you so much for your beautiful sharing.

    I am reminded by your words to remember that our bodies are such exquisite teachers and healers, if we follow her prompts and cues and engage with the invitation that she constantly offers to us to engage, feel, release and let go.

    I left Ireland 2 weeks ago for Australia. My body is prompting me to stop to shed deeply so that I can find new roots, thank you for the reminder to give her and me that space.

    Blessings in abundance,

    Catherine x

  • V. Kerr

    This is so beautifully articulated. You are such an incredible writer. This is what I have experienced with the loss of my best friend, 2years on April 23. Thank you for reminding me that we need to give our grief space.

  • CaroleRae

    This is awesome that your theme of facing pain and finding the root cause is exactly what I was thinking about before seeing your emails. Often if I am in emotional pain, I think ‘something is wrong’. But just like physical pain… it happens. I love your words in “Conscious Transitions” today about working through the pain with compassion and curiosity for healing. Also, you helped me see that anxiety can come from repressed pain.
    Thank you!!

    • You’re welcome! I’m glad it was helpful and that you were able to make this connection: “you helped me see that anxiety can come from repressed pain.”

  • Gabrielle

    What a gift your personal experiences are for your readers, myself included. Thank you.

  • Sarah

    My grandma has been gone 8 1/2 years, but I still cried as I read this. Our first baby is due right around her birthday and she would have been so excited. It felt good to remember her and feel the grief. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Sheila Spremulli

    Thank you Sheryl, and all who left comments,

    I am a 65 year old mother of four and grandmother of 9 who has a history of motherline loss. So your story stuck a resonant note in my heart.

    I’ve been discerning how following one’s “heartbreak” (Andrew Harvey) can lead to finding one’s “original medicine” (Gail Larsen).
    I am in trained in Biodynamic Craniosacral therapy where I was introduced to the work of embryologist Jaap Van der Wal, MD, PhD, from Holland. I began putting together what I had learned as a birth professional (LPN in L&D and birth doula) with what I began to learning about embryonic development, epigenetics and the possibility of transgenerational imprints and the importance of the perinatal period in supporting the inherent intelligence and resilience in a healthy human.

    Your personal story of motherline (Naomi Ruth Lowinsky) loss acknowledges the need to consciously address greif and loss. Therefore, I am seeking permission to cite this blog and the comments it generates in a presentation (via my work, In-Tell-i-gynt-sia™) which will address Motherline greif, transgenerational depression and the importance of healing the same before conception and during the prenatal period through story, art, poetry, etc.
    Thank you for being transparent,

    Sheila Spremulli B.A., C.K.C, BCST., CD(DONA), L.P.N.
    In-Tell-i-gynt-sia™
    Living embryAdult Performance: Midlife Origyn Storiessm
    PreNatal StoryOur: Co-Making Firstnesssm

  • Sheila Spremulli

    Thank you, Sheila

  • sahmpaw

    My dad died a year ago and my sister got us all the book Hello From Heaven! By Bill and Judy Guggenheim. It brought me so much comfort, happiness and healing knowing my dad is ok and I will see him again when I transition. I have been reading a lot of the heaven books this year including Poppies From Heaven by Faye Schindelka. I even asked my dad for a sign and he provided one. I am opening up more and more to the divine because of what I’m learning. It is helping me not be afraid and to have faith. If you believe in heaven and read the first book you may be convinced your loved one will be at your wedding and will see their grandchild.

  • Bruce

    I lost one of my close friends around 10 years back. Somehow what made the loss more difficult to bear was the fact that he had lost his sister a couple of years before his own untimely death. His death shook my faith in God and brought about a fresh wave of anxiety in me (I lost my dad when I was 11 so have always had bouts of anxiety). Reading your article made me realize that I have never let myself grieve fully for the loss of my friend. Maybe thats why I still get this feeling of fear and dread when any of our common friends mentions him.

  • Brianna

    I often feel great after I cry. It makes me know that I do love my boyfriend and gives me hope that everything will be okay.