I used to love October, maybe someday we can be friends again. But this year, October is my enemy. A thief mocking me into the holiday season. October is breast cancer awareness month. Oh my how I am deeply aware. Breast cancer stole my mother. And before it took her for good, the disease wreaked havoc on her body, mind and spirit—not once, not twice but three times. Punches and blows until finally metastatic, triple negative—all worst case scenarios. Time is up. When people you haven’t seen in awhile ask, “How’s it going, how’s the family?” I lie. I lie because they don’t really want to know, even the most well meaning, sweet folks don’t really want to know. Because honestly it’s awful. During low points of a loved one’s disease or prognosis, you do think about it—how awful it could be but nothing comes close to the reality until they are truly gone. Vanished into the unknown, up into the big universe and all you want is to bring them back straight into your arms. But you cannot, you can dream about it—you can wish it but you won’t hold their hand again, you won’t hear them laugh in present day, you won’t see them hold and hug your children anymore. So October can suck it. My grandmother would not be proud of my phrasing but grandma you must understand, right now October is just too pink. And pink is my favorite color, but I am tormented in pink.
I want everyone to be aware, for women to keep up self-exams, mammograms (another word I hate) but for me everything October screams why why why? My mother visited us in Minnesota for many Halloweens, she would often even come mid October for my Max’s birthday and turn right back around for another visit mere weeks later to go trick or treating with us. She lived seven hours away, she never complained about the drive—ever. Minnesota Halloweens can be cold. Many years my husband and I trekked off with a determined toddler, frozen toes and all, while she snuck back inside with baby brother to warm him up and turn on the kettle for us. October used to be delicious.
Grief triggers are incessant yet sneaky and can turn a pleasant memory into a sad nightmare. Harsh yes, but the truth can simply be sad. It shakes and shocks you, so surprising for a moment you think it cannot be. You are not really walking and talking and laughing and crying and eating and loving and filling up gas. You are not really hiking and watching sunsets. You are not really witnessing the most spectacular show on earth—October, without her. This autumn seems especially colorful. Our backyard is a painting, hues so rich only your eyes can understand. No photo, no filter, no words. I talk to her all the time, I try and tell her what it is I am witnessing. The truest reds, the brightest yellows and crispest shades of orange, purple and green. If I tell her, if I will it to be—then for a tiny moment I believe she can see it too. She isn’t really missing all of this, it just cannot be so. Because her missing all of this is unthinkable, unfair and most certainly every kind of wrong.
My mother played the clarinet. One of her many instruments, but piano and clarinet were first. My son is attempting the alto saxophone and struggling. I played the trumpet so I am floundering to help him. I also sang soprano so my memory is very limited to reading the melody and a trumpet’s treble clef is a smaller range of notes vs. those complicated woodwinds. Ok I just geeked out music wise on you. My mother was a music teacher and extremely gifted musician from a tender age, I listened. Who knew a woodwind instrument would become the bane of my existence? Now this saxophone represents one of the many things my boys miss out on because super, music grandma isn’t around to help. I got a tiny slice of my mother’s musical ability. Max would be jamming out, impressing his band teacher and already have all his lines and songs memorized for the upcoming school musical. Yes he is also Schroeder in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. This started out as a sweet coincidence, he’s the piano playing-Beethoven loving-Lucy’s crush. My mom would be swooning over this and in the front row all times including dress rehearsal, which she would somehow sneak into and start semi-directing. Then upon discovering Max’s amazing grandma they would beg her to take over and bring her out of retirement. See how grief can be part daydream part nightmare? I told you so.
And now to the puppy. Our dog represents this pivotal shift and incomprehensible, cruel timeline. My mom got sick (again) and we finally ordered ourselves a damn dog. She loved animals, often more than people (smart lady). When my mom got sicker and full of meds, she was still just lucid enough to remember the puppy. And the dog could sit beside her without her wincing in pain, when a human might feel upsetting. So this super human dog is coddled and hugged more than any dog on the planet, I am sure of it. She turns one in November, we brought her home on December 23 and my mom held her on December 26. My mother came all the way to Minnesota to spend one last Christmas with our boys, to meet our puppy, to squeeze in just a few more memories. She was weak and nauseous from having chemo every two weeks for several months at that point, but she got here. In true Marilyn fashion she planted herself on our couch conducted the tree trimming, laughed heartily at beloved holiday movies and never let go of that devoted pup. That was the last time she saw our boys. I look back and realize she knew it would be so.
So I cry what often feels like all the time. Certainly every day. I know I won’t cry this much forever. I know grief is a journey. Right now feels pretty crappy. I have all this beautiful right in front of me. Three healthy boys, glowing and sprinting and charming their way out of trouble. But my view is cloudy, misted over by my own emotions and immense loss.
So October can shove it. I will press on a forced smile through Halloween night and try not to cry in front of the boys too much. They are unfortunately getting used to my tears. I finally got brave and reached out to start grief therapy. I was born so in touch with my emotions, I never imagined I would need to make an appointment with anyone but myself. But I know it’s time and it will be hard. Mostly I know my mom would be so proud of me for reaching out, raising my hand and lifting my voice. I am strong enough to know, I cannot do this alone. My mama taught me that, because for so many years, so many moments and memories it was us against the world. A marathon girls night in—my mom and I could solve it all. Oh now how I wish it could be just us again.