Over the Rainbow: On the Edge of August

Maybe it’s the accumulation of almost sixty years of living in this body, but I am feeling the weight of my existence. No, my survival. I feel like I have been in survival mode—consciously or unconsciously for nearly half my life. That takes my breath away. Yet the past three years have eclipsed everything that came before. The loss of my son Elliot three years ago on August 5, 2018, at age 26 is the heaviest of all.

With August just days away, I have been drilling down into my search for a sense of renewed purpose in my life. With my son Ian in the interactive thick of his gaming master’s program at SMU, I have been peeling back the layers of my personal onion lately—asking myself all those daunting and stupefying questions:  How do I find meaning?  Why am I  here? What’s next?  How did I get here? Where do I belong? What should I do? All the usual cocktail party banter. Oh, how festive a good cocktail party used to be . . .

Writing helps. But it can be both an astringent and a salve—like pouring hydrogen peroxide on a wound to make it sizzle with pain, then soothing it with a healing ointment. This is an inescapable reality of living in the ubiquity of grief—a curse and a blessing, pain and gratitude, light and dark—all about finding a way to carry both with grace and aplomb. Ah, but there’s the rub. I seem to be fresh out of aplomb, but that might not be such a terrible thing. Stripping off the hardened layers of figurative varnish, liberally applied over the years to make everything look good on the outside, is probably healthy. Authenticity is definitely less work but more vulnerable. I have found that being present, grounded and real in the moment has its advantages.

Feeling bravely. Letting go. Saying no. Intentionally noticing where I am—to calm my unconsciously triggered nervous system. That’s the work. I can try to override an event intellectually, but my body keeps the score and always wins (referencing a seminal book on the subject by Bessel van der Kolk.) That’s pretty much how I roll now. Simple? Not always.

Process. Trust the  process. But trust the process?

As another August looms, it’s getting harder to breathe, especially since I am about to mark six decades on the planet on the 15th.  I also am remembering my late Aunt Virginia, who would have been 98 on August 6, and my mother, who died on August 22, 2012. Her birthday is August 27, and she would have been 86-ish. I’m a little vague on this, because my mom fudged her date of birth for so many years that she could never authoritatively confirm it. Regardless, August is heavy, and nine years later, my heart breaks for my mother—charming and magnanimous in public, but resentful and insecure in private. And tragically, her devastating stroke snatched her flamboyant life away far too soon—after leaving her paralyzed, brain-damaged and bedridden for nearly two years.

Thinking of Elliot and my mother on the edge of August, I am wondering about the journey of souls and the nature of life. Are Elliot, Mother, Father, Aunt Virginia, Cousin Scott, and my beloved mentor Ann Abbe together in some parallel cosmic dimension watching me try to function? Sometimes, I think so, but I’m not sure. When I interacted with my mother, aphasic after her stroke, she could say only “bah-bah-bah” with no discernible meaning attached. Yes, she was awake and present, but she was not there in a way I recognized. I suppose the mask of her larger-than-life self had dissolved. Being with her toward the end, I learned that souls have nothing to do with speech, thoughts or cognitive function. Her body was a mere vessel, still containing her spirit, but the violent rewiring of her brain’s circuits caused by the vicious stroke had amplified the serenity of her core essence somehow. It’s a strange thing to say, I know, but she seemed blissful, even giddy with childlike innocence. I was grateful for that part and wondered: Was this a glimpse of eternity?

When I was a little girl with my eyes open wide in the middle of the night under the covers, I tried desperately to visualize what heaven would be like. Would God be there? Would we frolic with angels amongst the clouds eating chocolate cake and picking flowers?  Would the streets be paved with gold and diamonds? What exactly was heaven, anyway?

I am still wondering about souls.

While the human being consists of physical matter, the soul is quite literally a piece of God, the Divine. The teachings of the Quran tell us the soul of each individual person is located in the eighth chakra at the top of the head, above the crown chakra. The power is not visible to human eyes, but it’s like the flow of electric current. And New Agers conjecture, “Your soul is your conscience, energy with no form or location that is part of the whole universe. The meaning of life is to evolve your conscience to higher consciousness—the source of all existence.”

Hard to pin down. Even harder to find.

Since Elliot died, I have never reached a point of feeling better— just different, and sometimes surprisingly so. His absence is always present. It never goes away, but maybe I’m learning to accept it—little by little, moment by moment. Not how it could have happened, but the reality that it did. I cherish the moments of forgiveness—for Elliot and for myself.  And then, a wave of grief hijacks me again. Alas, sustainable peace is just beyond my grasp right now, like the elusiveness of a distant rainbow I saw engulfing the morning sky yesterday. For a brief instant, I thought it might be Elliot—gorgeous in its subtle palette but ephemeral in its existence.

Then, I noticed something I never had—the bitter sweetness of a rainbow. Yes, there is beauty in its vivid hues, but it’s contained in a grand arch of sorrow enveloping the sky, the earth in mourning for my Elliot. I stopped in my tracks and wondered if I were the only one transfixed in this moment of poignant beauty. For so many, the rainbow is the ultimate symbol of hope and happiness, the stunning surprise belying the sadness of its form. But this is the way I meet every day and every moment of my life—such an apt metaphor for living with the untimely loss of my flesh and blood, my baby Elliot. The only solace it that he will always be in my heart—and alive in the hearts of so many who adored him.

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4 thoughts on “Over the Rainbow: On the Edge of August

  1. Elaine, You blow me away! You have broken my heart more. I love you and your authentic honesty and grasp of language and images.
    I have read this just once now. I am looking forward to luxuriating and reading each paragraph deeply. Oh how you touch my soul!
    I mat even send you some detailed comments. Why not, that’s what you and I do for each other.
    Ahhhhhh ❤ Sue
    On Sun, Jul 18, 2021, 9:36 PM Elaine Gantz Wright wrote:
    > elaine gantz wright posted: ” Maybe it’s the accumulation of almost sixty > years of living in this body, but I am feeling the weight of my existence. > No, my survival. I feel like I have been in survival mode—consciously or > unconsciously for nearly thirty years. That takes my breat” >

  2. Elaine – thinking of you and your incredible loss of Elliot. I don’t have any way to truly understand what you are going through. I am not a Mother. But as a human being and a woman i can feel your pain so often articulated in your writings. I thank you for that work and your words.

    I have so many connections to the month of August.

    Both of my parents birthdays, one set of grandparents wedding day, my own engagement. My Mom died In 2012 also – just about a month before yours. She too spent the last four years of her life without the ability to use the left side of her body. Wheelchair bound and gradually losing the ability to speak she would wave to people. She clearly still understood and wanted to reach out to others – as was her nature.

    For me, each year i try to remember my Mother, by taking a new or old friend to lunch (pre Covid) or these days sending flowers to someone else – in August. My Mom was a connector. She tried to reach out to others. Maybe it was her nature. Maybe it was because she was not from Dallas and as such she had to reach out to others. Texans are friendly. But maybe they are not ones to include others. So my Mom took action to do that work – she included others. In her spirit, I try to honor her by reaching out to others – which is not my nature. But i am trying to learn from and implement her strong example.

    Today, i want to reach out to you and thank you for your writings. As i continue the grief process for my Mom, i am adding the grief of losing my Dad this past May. Some say that i have joined the club of orphans. But for me this is less of the feeling and not my intention to sit with that descriptor as much.

    Instead, I am going to start to look for a way to honor my Dad in a recurring way. It might be something simple – like always carrying a smile. My Dad had a lovely smile. And it is present in so many photos. He was friendly – maybe i could try that? He was clear about things and decisions. He didn’t dwell on mistakes or really the past much. Maybe i could try on one of those aspects of his good qualities. I’m not sure yet. So for today i am going to try out wearing a smile. It’s easy to do. I know i look better – it takes years off of my face! But mostly it is a way to honor my Dad. And carry him with me each day.

    So thank you Elaine. I may not have lost a dear dear son on the verge of life and all the joys it can bring. But through your grief and the beautiful expression in your writings- you are keeping Elliott alive for all of us.

    🌸 Mary 🌸 mclutts@sbcglobal.net

    1. Mary, I am profoundly moved by your poignant thoughts. My heart is with you in the gravity of your losses. As grief therapist David Kessler says, every grief is as unique as a fingerprint. I love your beautiful ideas about honoring your parents’ memories, and I am inspired to try some of what you suggest. The lunch gesture is so my mom, too. We definitely share that extra layer of living grief with our parents. I am nurturing some ideas for my Elliot, as well. Thank you so much for sharing so deeply, Mary. Sending love and light. 💜💔

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