The years 2020 to 2022 were difficult for me and not for the reasons you might think. Yes, the Covid pandemic and the changes that came with it, put a dent in our way of life but it was just the glitch for me. In March of 2020, my mother-in-law passed from a long illness. In April of the same year, my dog was hit by a car and I had to watch her suffer and die on the way to the vet. In august, there was a terrible storm called "Derecho" that blew through Cedar Rapids with 150 mile per hour winds and destroyed our town. We had no electricity for 10 days and 60 percent of our trees were gone. During pandemic shutdown the only thing to do with my kids was to go hiking, but now all the parks were closed. Thank God for Netflix.
In addition, I saw my step dad's health deteriorate after his Alzheimer's diagnosis; while my mom, his prime caretaker, was in denial of his condition and would listen to no one about what they needed to prepare for. In the same year, I found out that my father had throat cancer and he lived in Arizona so I was unable to help or see what his real condition was. He died in January of 2021 and despite a purchased plane ticket, he passed before I could say goodbye. Less upsetting but still the "icing on the cake", one of our cats got out of our house and was attacked by a neighbor's dog. We had to put him to sleep and it was a family event. My step father, whom was just as much or more to me that any blood relative, passed away in June of 2022 with my mom in denial until the very end.
Until 2020, my experience with death had been with a few grandparents; ones where death was expected. I loved them dearly but it was different than with a parent. Parents are an extension of oneself - an extra appendage. In good ways or bad, they define you. I had never felt real grief before this and I was surprised how each one was different - artistically, emotionally and physically.
I was surprised how shaken I was with the news of my husband's mother's passing. Like my step father, it was evident that blood or birth did not lessen one's grief. Diane had been bed-ridden for 6 months before she died. It was an expected death, but when my husband texted me while I was at work that she had passed in the middle of the night, everything inside me fell. I felt bad for my boss who had to watch me break down while typing an email. The thought that her soul was no longer in the world hit me like the Derecho. I cried non-stop for a week or more and did nothing for a long time, except drink too much (ironic because that's part of what killed Diane).
When my father passed, I only cried for a half a day with a few tears here and there where something would spark a feeling. I became very active in the studio. I wanted to be creative but I didn't want to paint. That was too cerebral. I got out my shellac based inks and played with water color paper and watched the ink drip and spread like a Rorschach test. It was therapeutic and mindless.
The work that came from that purge felt just as exciting and as unsettling as my childhood. I honestly did not mean for my ink blots to look like Corona virus cells but was a relevant surprise. With my father's death my grief needed to produce something tangible (these are just a few). Two and a half years later, after watching the last Indiana Jones movie ( just a few weeks ago), I broke down in tears for several hours. Harrison Ford and his prime cinematic alter ego, remind me of my father. Yes, he was that awesome but perhaps even more dysfunctional. The return of grief was odd and unexpected.
My step father, Eugene Anthony Parker, came into my life when I was 13 and he gave me the stability of the "9 to 5 working" nurturing dad I only got to know in sitcoms. He also tried to tame my mother who still wanted the drama that my dad had promised but who married the marketing executive because she needed more. They were married for 30 years before he got sick, and he was the man who payed for my college, walked me down the aisle and was there for every milestone. When I found out he was released to hospice in their home, I traveled there for the weekend. He only said a few things before he became mostly silent. I stepped up as caregiver while I was there, cleaned him and help feed him and attempted to bridge things between my mother and my step siblings. It was all too much for one weekend and when I went to bed the next night, all came crashing down and I physically mourned with a few rounds of vomit. I'm prone to migraines but this event triggered a month long marathon of nausea, headaches and fatigue. I was practically bed-ridden myself. When he finally passed away 2 months after going into hospice, I didn't cry or feel the shock I had felt with the others. I guess I had already grieved and now I needed to be there for my mother - a relationship already strained. After his memorial, I vomited on the way to my mom's house which triggered another month of migraines.
Through all of this, I learned how grief can manifest in so many drastic ways. It's not the same from person to person, nor is it the same every time one person loses a loved one. My reactions ranged from sentimentality, to creative outburst, to physical disruption. The feelings that grief bring on connect me with life as much as it separates me. They are gone but I am still here. It will be the wrestling in my soul that I will experience until my own death.
Before I found the Orthodox Church, I wanted something different than the vanilla white christianity I was raised with, so I attended black churches starting in my mid 20s. In Savannah, Georgia it was First African Baptist, the oldest black church in North America; and when I moved back to Chicago it was Quinn AME (African Methodist Episcopal) where my husband and I were married. In these churches, I not only found amazing music, rich history and passionate people but I discovered the term "Home Going".
"Home Going" is how these ancestors of black slaves describe death. Life was hard for them and death took on a form relief and hope. God and heaven was the real home. I always loved the ballad they frequently sang at First African Baptist, "I'll Fly Away".
Some glad morning when this life is over I'll fly away To a home on God's celestial shore I'll fly away
I'll fly away, oh, Glory I'll fly away When I die, Hallelujah, by and by I'll fly away
Just a few more weary days and then I'll fly away To a land where joy shall never end I'll fly away.
Is death home or is it just "to be or not to be"? Does it feel as free as flying as the old spiritual anthem would suggest? The only way that I can sleep at night is to think of my parents as "gone home". Whether they were Indiana Jones, a household saint, a drunkard, a sociopath or any person consumed by the trials of life, I would hope that God would have mercy on them and to accept them into his home. - KNM
"I'll Fly Away" is a painting I made and sold 20 years ago featuring a dead dragonfly that I encased in epoxy resin that was inspired when I was a member of First African Baptist Church in Savannah (https://firstafricanbc.com/index.php).