Face to Face with a Nine-Foot Polar Bear
It’s not every day one comes face to face with a nine-foot Polar bear…especially in suburban San Antonio. But I did. It caught me off guard and stopped me dead in my tracks. I cried for hours. I was a mess.
The bear was not an escapee from our wonderful San Antonio Zoo. He didn’t run at me or growl. Nope. This bear was the inflatable sort. A yard decoration. The bear just stood there, in his Santa cap, innocently holding his pretty Christmas package and looking off toward another neighbor’s house.
Just a year ago, my mother sat at our kitchen table sipping coffee when she spotted the bear for the first time. He wasn’t nine feet tall at the time, but was deflated. He looked like a long, white puddle in Kim’s yard.
“What in the world is on your neighbor’s lawn? Did she throw a sheet out there to protect her plants from the cold?”
I explained that it was a Christmas decoration that Kim had put out late the night before.
“I’m sure he’s cute when he’s inflated and standing up. But right now, he’s a mess.”
I laughed. She laughed. Mom had a great laugh. Every morning for that holiday season we would sit at the table and talk about that bear while we ate breakfast. Occasionally, the bear would still be standing there, offering his gift. But usually he was the ‘white puddle’. When we sat down for dinner, however, the bear was always standing at his post. Mom loved looking at that bear!
Those of you who have lost parents or others dear to you may be able to relate to this. I had completely forgotten about the polar bear until he showed up a few days ago. I was headed to the grocery store when I spotted him. Immediately, a flood of memories washed over me. I had trouble catching my breath as conversations replayed themselves in my head. And I heard laughter. My mother’s laughter. I was a mess. It was my turn to be the one in ‘a puddle’.
Mom died back in March. Dad died less than a year before her. Things are different now. Most days I’m okay. I know that I will see my parents again and the comfort that gives in indescribable. There is so much to be thankful for! But then, there are those days when I get my feet knocked out from under me.
Grief and love are two sides of the same coin. We lose someone near and dear to us. Someone with whom we’ve built treasured memories. When they’re gone, the emptiness is palpable. It’s that blasted flip side of the coin!
I’m still pretty new at this thing we call grieving and I sometimes wonder if other folks are as unprepared as I was For instance, it surprised me to discover that, at first, a loved one’s absence causes real, physical pain. There’s an aching inside your chest for which there is no relief. The pain of losing them is felt as keenly as the love you felt. They’re connected.
This Thanksgiving was the first time in my life where I was ‘in the driver’s seat’. Before, if we were with Mark’s family in Colorado, I would assist Mark’s mother in her preparations. If we were with my family, I helped mom and dad prepare for the day as they had always done it. This year, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I just knew that in order to make it through the day, it had to be different.
One day, someone you love is there, hugging you around the neck. Laughing. Eating. Living. The next day, they’re gone and there are no more hugs. No more hearing their laughter. *deep sigh*
I’ve always heard about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I have no idea who came up with these. But they’re very…misleading. In my limited experience, unless a person is in an accident or dies suddenly of a heart attack, grieving begins before a person has even died. And grief has no stopping point. No ‘finish line’. I’m quickly coming to the realization that my grief will be with me as long as my love for them is with me. The ’flip side thing’. Again.
I sometimes wonder if others experience grief the same way that I do? For me, grief is not a linear process. Grief is an unpredictable animal. I can go for weeks and feel like I’m getting on with life. Then, something catches me off guard. It can be something as small as a refrigerator magnet, for goodness sake! Or, it can come at you like a nine foot polar bear. Before you realize it, you’re back where you were ‘on the day’.
Grief gives you a newfound appreciation for life and the people we share it with. I no longer take people and situations for granted. Each day is a gift. I am learning to laugh harder, breathe deeper and to love fiercely.
Let yourself express and release emotions. Our minister refers to it as “letting yourself feel what you are feeling”. If you feel a good cry coming on, don’t stop yourself. Just sit down with a box of tissues and let go.
Talk about it if and when you are able. If you’re not a ‘talker’, start writing in a journal. You can keep it private or share it with others. This will give you a sense of control that you may be needing. Just find some way to express your emotions.
Preserve your memories. Record stories of times you shared on video or in a book. Put a photo album together or make a cd of music you and your loved one shared. Plant a tree in their honor. Give yourself some tangible way to remember.
Get support from some trusted folks. This support could be family, friends, church members or even co-workers who are also grieving. Many choose to join a support group, even temporarily, to help with their grieving process.
Remind yourself that the pain you’re feeling is connected to the love you had for this individual. The only people who never experience grief are those who never experience love. It’s the flip side, right?
If you’re in a season of intense grieving just now, I want you to know that as I write this post, I’m praying for you. Be patient with yourself. Be good to yourself and those around you. Imagine yourself, in due time, smiling through the tears as you recall a treasured memory. Close your eyes and picture your loved one at the table with a cup of coffee. Have a conversation with them. As for me, I’m gonna look that nine foot bear in the eye and laugh.
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