And Then Grief Shows Up –

The one thing I’ve noticed on my morning commute train route is that every once in a while, a beautiful white birch tree pops up along the way. This reminds me of that morning about 4 years ago when I walked into my mom’s apartment and found her sitting up in bed looking out at the beautiful white birches just outside of her window (the ones pictured above). As she usually was still asleep whenever I would arrive, her being awake threw me off.

“I’m trying to figure out how to tell my friends why I don’t drive,” she said.

I went and sat next to her while she recounted that morning she had a tia (transient ischemic attack) while driving my dad to an appointment. She told him she wasn’t feeling well. “Pull over!” He said. But there was so much traffic, and it was moving so rapidly that she couldn’t. So she pulled into the middle turning lane (they were on a very busy road in Florida) and just sat there.

Initially, when dad told me this story, he said they sat in the turning lane for about 10 minutes. But as mom recounted it to me that morning four years ago, she said it was more like 45. In a turning lane, with the engine off and the hazards on for 45 minutes.

Mom said that at the 30-minute mark, she felt better and thought she was okay to go. But dad said, “no, let’s wait,” so they sat there for another 15 minutes before turning around and heading back home.

As an ER nurse, my mom had that “we’ll get through it” mentality that most of my ER buds have. But as she sat next to me in bed, staring out of the window at the white birch trees, she quietly said, “I never wanted to drive after that; I’d never be able to forgive myself if I ever hurt anyone.” So my brother and I did all the driving, and when she returned to Rhode Island, she had additional help from our friends.

Here are my points:

1. It’s so cool when you see that compassionate side of an ER nurse (retired or not) show up like that (yeah, that one – the one that’s buried underneath the 90 mph “we got this” mentality).

2. Even after four years, grief has a way of showing up – a little more gently, in the form of a white birch seen from the window of a train on a cold, rainy November morning – not as overwhelming, a little more reflective – but with the memories and insights that go with it. No matter where you are – work, home, or venturing out and about- sometimes grief will just show up and catch you off guard.

My suggestion is not to push it away but to be mindful of it so that you can navigate through it and cope accordingly.

My favorite books on grief are here:

  1. It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand
  2. Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss
  3. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One (A Compassionate Grief Recovery Book)
  4. The Sad Dragon: A Dragon Book About Grief and Loss. A Cute Children Story To Help Kids Understand The Loss Of A Loved One, and How To Get Through Difficult Time.
  5. Grief Journal for Kids: Guided Prompts for Processing Grief & Finding Emotional Healing

Question: How do you handle those unexpected moments of grief that show up for you?

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