Today marks the 12th anniversary of my mom’s death. October has been a difficult month since 2006, but this year it has been especially tough. I’ve had dreams reliving the events of October 2006, more so than I ever have before. I’m still processing why that might be, and when I start to figure it out, I’m sure I’ll write a new post. What I share in this post are some brief reflections on the relationship I have with grief that tends to lead to productivity.

Approaching Grief

When my mom died, I was in the midst of writing my dissertation. She was in yet another cancer battle, her fifth in 20 years. She was undergoing chemo, which sadly, had become a bit of a new normal in our family. In early October 2006, I drove from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Marion, Indiana to be with my grandmother for her 100th birthday. On her birthday, October 10, my dad called to say that the chemo treatment had been successful. It was great news, and added a great sense of joy to the festivities. A couple of days later I was driving back to Alabama, with plans to stop in Louisville to meet a friend and her husband for lunch.

My dad called before I got to Louisville and said I needed to get home to Spartanburg, South Carolina. Something had happened over the last couple of days, and my mom was in a deteriorating condition. I got back to Tuscaloosa, got some clean clothes, my black suit, and headed home. My dad took me to the hospital, and I broke down. When I looked at my mom, and knew she was dying. I held her hand, and when I let go, I could see the impression of my fingers in her skin. I stayed home for a week, then went back to Tuscaloosa. On the morning of October 29, my dad called and said it was time to come back home. He didn’t say anything else, and he didn’t need to.

Productivity through Grief

What did I do immediately after I got back to Tuscaloosa following her funeral? I got to work on my dissertation, and probably worked on an article submission at the same time. Twelve years later, and this is still what I do to cope. It’s harder to dwell on and in the pain if I force myself to focus elsewhere. So, I write. I wish for feedback on submissions to come back so I have yet another project to work on. Focusing on my work offers an escape of sorts.

Productivity Can’t Mask Grief

It’s a bit of an escape, but as much as I try, it’s not an effective avoidance mechanism. No matter how much I try to fill my waking hours with other brain activity, grief is still there. That’s actually a good thing. Instead of hiding from the pain of grief, I have to acknowledge it. By acknowledging it, I have to make a choice. Do I focus on those hard and hurtful moments, or choose to draw on better memories?

While I attempt to answer that question, I’m going to work on another project.