When the Grief Bus Runs You Over Unexpectedly … Again

Watching the funeral service for Senator John McCain this week was like getting run over by the grief bus all over again. Not only has it left me bawling like there’s no tomorrow, knowing his family will now have to deal with the “aftermath” that I went through (and still going through), but it has stirred up a lot of anger I have related to my mom’s sudden passing less than two years ago.

While I may not have agreed with McCain’s politics, he certainly was a good man who wanted to make an impact on the country he loved so much. He was a war hero, a husband, a father, a patriot. And like my mom, taken way too soon. (To me, anyone who dies before they’re 100 is taken way too soon!)

In grief, there are many stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They never come in any particular sequence, mind you. And you never know which stage is going to strike or when. (Grief is a personal journey, so how I grieve is different than you. And the sequence of these stages doesn’t always occur the same for everyone.)  I’d already been a bit weepy this week, thinking about and missing my mom (as I do every day) because she’s the only one who “gets” me and can talk me off the ledge when I go through difficult times. But now, thanks to McCain’s funeral, it’s hello, anger stage.

Why the anger? I’m angry that McCain’s family had time to say goodbye—had I known my mom was dying, I would’ve said more, done more. Angry that they knew how much time he had left (those with glioblastoma diagnosis usually don’t live longer than a year)—my mom was fine until a month before her passing when she suddenly got “the flu.” And angry that he had time to plan his own funeral—my mom never expected to die and didn’t plan anything. She kept saying, “I’m fine. I’ll be home. It’s just a virus.” No, Mom, it wasn’t a virus.

Once you’ve lost your person, witnessing the loss of someone else really hits home. Harder than expected. This week, it felt like someone clubbed me over the head with a baseball bat and I can’t focus or shake the grief. I walk around, shaking my head, “I can’t believe my mom isn’t coming back.”

However, listening to the eulogies and hearing other people speak so fondly of the senator—including those that opposed him politically—left me thinking back to my mom’s passing and what others thought of her. She worked at our town library, and everyone that knew her loved her. She was the person who never said an unkind word about another—not ever, not once. “You never know what another is going through or what they have to contend with,” she’d say. When she passed away, I received countless sympathy cards from people who loved her and were devastated to hear of her sudden passing. Library patrons sent me the sweetest messages. I didn’t know most of them. But as I read the cards, I remembered my mom telling me of them when she’d get home from work, and I could hear her repeating those stories in my head.

My mom touched many lives. Even now, nearly two years after her passing, I still run into strangers who stop me in town to see how I’m doing and share a fond memory of my mom. The best compliment they could ever give me is, “You look (or sound) just like your mom.” Since I always wanted to look and be like her, it makes my heart sing. Yes, my mom is gone, but she is far from forgotten by those whose lives she touched, especially mine.

Vice President Joe Biden said of McCain: “We have to remember how they lived—not just how they died.” And while I’m still angry that she’s not here, she will always be a part of me. Knowing that helps me, even if just a little bit.

Doggy Day Trips—Old Westbury Gardens

img_7860Old Westbury Gardens has always been my absolute favorite escape on Long Island. It is the perfect place to unwind, relax and enjoy nature. As a child, I would go off exploring all that the Gardens has to offer—the thatched cottage, East Lake, the Walled Garden, nature paths and everything else in between—pretending that I lived in Westbury House and the gardens were all mine! It almost felt like I stepped back time, especially when walking through the house.

As the years passed, my love for Old Westbury Gardens grew. Every weekend, my mom and I would take a couple of lawn chairs, pack a picnic and our favorite books and spend an entire day under the shade of one of the massive breezy beech trees or find the perfect spot somewhere near the lake.

No matter the season, there’s always plenty to enjoy—from chamber music in the Red Ballroom and the summer Picnic Pops concerts to yoga on the lawn and members-only events and more. Some of my favorite memories have been from Old Westbury Gardens.

When Emma arrived on the scene, my mom and I felt guilty we couldn’t bring her to enjoy our favorite getaway. Then, shortly thereafter, we were excited to discover the Gardens began a new tradition—Dog Days! Twice a year, visitors are allowed to bring their canine companions to walk the gardens, do some canine shopping, participate in fun activities, meet animal rescue groups, and more.

Last month, when I took Emma to the first Dog Days weekend of 2018, it was a bit more crowded than usual, as they were undergoing landscaping renovations. Portions of the Gardens were closed; but it didn’t deter us from having a fun time. We had perfect weather, which always helps to add to the joy of the day. (Dog Day Festival Weekends are usually slated for spring (April) and fall (Sept/Oct), so be sure to check their calendar of events.)

Regardless of whether you have a dog or not, spending a day at the Gardens is certainly worth the trip. There are year-round activities; and if you become a member, you’ll receive extra perks, discounts and members-only events. Old Westbury Gardens is easily accessible by both Northern State Parkway and the LIE (I-495).

Let me know if you visit—or attend the next Dog Days! Emma and I will be on the lookout for you.

White Rabbits—Carrying on the Tradition

pexels-photo-786273.jpegEver since I can remember, on the first of every month my mom would always say, “White rabbits, Heather!” And I’d answer back, “White rabbits, Mommy!” It was a fun game of verbal tag just between me and my mom. Sometimes, I would manage to say it before her and feel like I won the game!

I asked my mom how the tradition began. She told me, when she was a child in Scotland, it was her cousin who said, “white rabbits” every month. It wasn’t until I got a wee bit older did I ask her what it actually meant. Why did we go around saying that on the first of every month? There had to be something behind the silly expression, right? There was, but she said it had something to do with superstition and didn’t bother to elaborate. The Scots are known for being superstitious, but my mom never was. So, I decided to find out on my own and ask someone else in the family.

Turns out, the saying actually dates back centuries in Britain. People would say, “white rabbits” upon awaking on the first of the month to ensure good luck for the entire month. Works for me! Considering the way things have been going the last 15 months, I certainly could use all the good luck I can get these days.

Growing up, hearing “white rabbits,” always made me smile. It was something fun I shared with my mom. And I looked forward to the first of every month to see who would be the first to say it.

Even now, on every the first of every month, I’m reminded of our tradition. And while my mom is no longer here (she passed away a year ago), I still find myself saying, “White rabbits, Mom.” If only Emma could speak instead of bark, I’d have her carry on the tradition, too.

White rabbits!

Do you have a fun family tradition or childhood memory that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it!