Column: It’s high summer, and grief moves in again

  • C.S. Hammond. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 7/13/2019 10:30:07 PM

Summer comes in full and beautiful, soft and hot, and our valley turns into Shangri La and I think, oh yes, this is why I live here.

I love summer.

What was brown just a month ago is vivid green and everything feels like it is at the height, the zenith, of being alive — full and ripe and ready and all we have to do is enjoy.

But July, arguably the very middle of summer, is my “weird” time. I get weird in July and somehow every year I forget it’s coming.

July 1 is my mother’s birthday. Like all daughters who are close to their moms, we would often celebrate together. A nice lunch, a day at the beach, I would bake dessert, dinner with the family. As a December baby, I loved having this summer birthday to enjoy, to plan and look forward to. But in 2011, my mom was very sick on her birthday and exactly one week after she turned 69 she passed away of pancreatic cancer. And so July for me is the time when grief comes moving into my house, into my heart, and is the most unwanted of summer guests.

The first year after my mom died, my then-boyfriend and I went to Martha’s Vineyard. While he had never been, I grew up spending the month of August there. And I thought, in the crazy, packed Fourth of July week, wow, my mom was very fortunate to get to spend a month here every summer. But all the “it was nice then” didn’t ease the I-am-in-pain-now feelings. So the next summer, because it was still too hard to be in the Upper Valley at this time, we went to Maine. My brother, sister-in-law and two nieces, all of whom were very close to my mom, came too. We went to the beach to honor her, ate ice cream to remember her and, to thank her, enjoyed the family she had created. But I was still deep in my pain and all I really wanted was, in equal parts, to scream at someone and be alone.

The next year, my best friend got married on the Fourth of July and I was privileged to be her maid of honor. So, in the middle of my pain week, I was smiling and giving a speech and holding the bouquet as I stood next to my friend and watched her become a family with the man she loved. And it broke my heart that my mother wasn’t there to be a part of this joy, but it was the most life-affirming thing I had seen, this choice to love, to live and to celebrate when being in the darkness was so much easier.

That was when I realized I could and would bloom in the dark. I could let the grief take me, let it control my life, but I still had a life, a life that my mother had given me — and she did not do that so that I would live depressed. So I got down in the pit with my grief. I tried to control it, let it control me. I held it tight when I felt it start to shift and I let it go only to have it settle deeply into the person who I am.

I miss my mom every day. We were very close. I loved her very much. But I love the person who I am now, having known such deep pain and loss. And I would not go back to the person I was before.

My favorite author, Terry Tempest Williams, says that when we lose someone close to us we are gifted with “Death Eyes.” We now get to live on a deeper level of consciousness, we get to experience a deeper level of living, of knowing what life has to offer. I love my death eyes and I am grateful to know that I can make it through such pain, that I was lucky enough to love someone so much that losing them still now, eight years later, breaks my heart. But it does it in a way that the cracks and fissures of loss are weaving me back together again into a stronger, more resilient person. That is what I am choosing to let the love and loss of my mom do.

But still it hurts. We went to Maine this year, and if I listed all the things we did it would sound really fun, and it was and wasn’t because I felt weird. I felt angry. I felt sad, and maybe it is time I realize that no amount of mini golf or s’mores will eliminate my pain.

Maybe it would be better to not pack this week with fun and instead just let the tides of my loss and remembrance take me under for a little while. But how do I embrace my pain and not let it flood all back in? How do I not go backward?

What I realized just this year is that I must go backward again, just some, just enough to let myself bloom in the darkness a little more, each year a little more, the pain forcing open my death eyes to see what a lovely life I was given by my mother. And so I do that today with remembering the warm summer child she was, the dinners and home and family she made, her observation that living is harder than dying. I choose to remember the love, the light, the joy she was in my life and gave to my life.

And if I feel weird every first week of July for the rest of my life, I need to know that is OK, that is fine. I can heal and still return to a place of pain, because now it is just for a visit and I choose not to live there permanently.

C.S. Hammond lives in Hartland. She can be reached at cshammond36@gmail. com.

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