My Mother's Grief…and Mine

For the last couple of days I have been thinking a lot about my beautiful mother. She was close to my age when my father was killed in a motorcycle accident rocking the very ground on which my family stood. I remember it as if it happened yesterday.

Up to that point, we had a great life. We were raised well by loving parents in a close knit neighborhood where we all thrived. All four of us, my three siblings and I, at the time were navigating through the world at our own paces. My oldest brother was married, working as a teacher and raising two children. My sister was married and at home raising three children, my other brother was figuring out his life and moving forward and I was married to my first husband and working in banking. I had not figured it all out yet. Life was pretty good for us all. No major problems. We were doing what everyone does. We were building a life for ourselves and had a great foundation on which to start.

It was May of 1984 and my father, an avid motorcycle rider, was out for a joy ride with a friend on a beautiful Memorial Day weekend. He had ridden through the countryside atop his favorite toy. He was on his way home to play tennis with his friend across the street. My mother was waiting for him to come home to plan dinner. He was a pretty active guy and always had something going on. He had retired two years earlier and was enjoying the life he had worked so hard to make for himself and for us. I always said, my father worked to live and not the other way around. I sometimes wondered if his stint overseas in World War II had something to do with this philosophy. He loved to “play”. He loved gadgets and photography and riding his motorcycle, which was a touring bike. He hang glided, skied, played racketball and tennis. He loved country music and dancing. He was funny, beautiful, and bigger than life. He even had an eight track player on his bike so he could listen to polka music while riding around. It made him happy. I have to add here that one time he took me for a ride on the back of his bike and we went through the city of Leominster. The eight track player was in full volume blaring that “lovely” polka music and I remember burying my face in his back, the rest of me hidden by my helmet, in case anyone I knew would see me. The music gets pretty loud when you are riding slowly through a town. At the time I was mortified. I was young then and not quite sure of myself, but if he were here now and had me on the back of his bike blaring polka music, you can be sure I’d be proud as hell and would probably be singing along with the eight track just as loudly if not louder.

So it is on this gorgeous day in May of 1984 that my father was riding his bike on his way home to play tennis that he came to a stop at a stop sign. Feet down. Bike steady. After looking both ways I am sure, for he was a cautious fellow, he launched his bike a little too slowly and was hit from the back by a speeding car. Someone who witnessed the accident reported that he was thrown off of his motorcycle across the entire street and landed head first onto the pavement. I won’t, nor can I, go into the details which followed. It is still raw and real for me all of these years later and bringing it up right now is too painful. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It will be forever etched in my mind. I will say that he died two days later from his head injuries and my life, and the lives of that of my family were never the same. It changed us. It changed me. The foundation under my feet had crumbled dramatically and left me unsteady and grasping for something to hold onto. My life had changed forever on that beautiful spring day.

But this story is really not about me. As I began to say, for the last couple of days I have been thinking a lot about my mother. My father was her world. They had been married for forty-two years. They were a set, a pair, like peas and carrots, salt and pepper, Al and San, Mom and Dad. Two beautiful souls moving through life’s dance with all of the ups and downs, and all of the love too. They were a wonderful pair.

She never saw it coming. Neither did we. No one ever does. My mother was lost for a long time.

I have been thinking about her a lot lately because it was not until I lost Paul that I realized what she had been going through. At the time I could only imagine what it might have felt like, but how could I truly know what she was experiencing in losing her lifelong partner? She was suddenly without the person she shared every day and every night with. This beautiful man whom she had met during war time and fell in love with and married. The partner she had raised four children with. He was gone. Plucked off the earth. Just like that.

I remember sleeping with her the first night she had to go home without him because I didn’t want her to feel alone. She was in shock. We all were. I remember wondering what she would do without him in her life, but I was dealing with my own grief at the time and didn’t fully understand what she was feeling. Nor could I. I was young. I didn’t even know who I was yet.

After all was said and done; the wake, the funeral, our family all around her, there was silence. She was alone. We all went back to our busy lives as we should, checking in frequently, but for the most part she was alone in the home they so lovingly built together. Alone with her grief. Alone with her thoughts. Alone with her loneliness. Alone. Had I known then what I know now, maybe I might have done things differently for her. Maybe not. I don’t really know. How could I? So, I ask myself these questions over and over. Did I give her what she needed? Did I help her enough. Did I check in often enough? Would any of that have mattered? What she really needed was for my father to come home that day. What she truly needed was my father to come up those familiar house stairs as he always did, give her a kiss and come into the house so they could live their lives out together until they grew old. I couldn’t have given her that. No one could have.

One thing I learned from my father’s death was that the words you speak to someone when they walk out of your house or leave you even for a short time are so important. You never know what is around the corner. The night before he died I had locked my keys in my car while out shopping with my mother. He came to save us and for some reason I didn’t get out of their car right away. We chatted for a bit and he made us laugh as always. As I got out of their car I turned back and said “thanks for everything”. Little did I know that I would never see him again and those words would cradle me for years.

I love my mother so much and I wish I could see her again just to tell her that I understand better now. I want her to know that she has a kindred spirit who finally and unfortunately knows what she was going through all those years ago and beyond. The difference is, and this is so overwhelmingly important, she didn’t have a chance to say “goodbye”. That to me, is most unbearable. I had that chance with Paul. Closure is a necessity. Unfortunately, grief is too.

My parents circa 1940

My family circa 1966
I’m the one showing off my new Sleeping Beauty watch

Feeding My Soul

Fortunately, I had a couple of good days following a couple of bad ones. I guess this is the ride I’m on. I never asked to be on this particular ride. Didn’t purchase a ticket. But here I am. I am hopeful that more good days will come my way.

Last night taking down the Christmas tree, it was the ornaments we bought together that gripped me. Choked me. I had been in a great mood only moments before. Suddenly I’m slipping down that slope and I can’t seem to hold onto anything to curtail my decent. So I slip into the dark and wait to break through the surface. The break came later in the evening but left me exhausted. Just thinking about it in this moment, I feel the heaviness welling up in my chest. It’s physical. So I breathe.

I head into each day with hope for the future. I really do. Some days I keep myself busy and productive with matters of the house, writing, exercise, snuggling Daisy and seeking ways to feed my soul. At sixty, I know myself well enough to understand that being idle will only lead to a path of overwhelming sadness. I don’t want that for myself. Paul wouldn’t want that for me. He was worried about me before he died. I told him I’d be alright and I must be. So I am looking for ways to be “alright”. Writing helps.

Last week I signed up for a writing class at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. It’s a memoir writing class. I had never planned on writing a memoir, but the class sounded like something I needed right now. So I headed out yesterday morning and met a nice group of people who shared of themselves. I am quite social, so being in a group of writers was perfect for me. It was just the motivation I needed to channel my energy.

The very first assignment was to pick a decade in my life and write two pages about it. The stipulation was that every sentence had to be made up of only three words. Not two, not four, but three. It was very specific. I left the class wondering how that would work out. Particularly for me, since I tend to write very quickly and a lot comes out of me at once. .

I headed out to a nearby coffee shop with my laptop and joined the technological trend of “laptopping while coffeeing ” with the hipsters and it was thoroughly enjoyable. I was able to do the assignment quite easily and realized right away that the exercise was perfect for my writing style. I tend to want to say too much and this was a great way of harnessing my tangents and sticking to what is really important. I wrote for two hours.

I chose the decade which was the biggest decade of change for me in my adult life. 1985 – 1995. This is the decade I met Paul, Jesse and Eryn, married them, began a career in theatre, became a certified aerobics teacher, began directing plays and musicals, gave birth to Josh and Zack, performed every chance I got and worked with Paul side by side making theatre with youth. A lot happened in that decade. My life changed immensely and formed who I am as a person.

The assignment has left me thinking about the early days of our relationship and it has left me both wistful and melancholy. A lot of beautiful moments have been brought to the surface and although I love going down that road, when I get to the end of the thought, I miss him so much more. We had a great life together. We never took it for granted. I can’t believe that it is over. Done. He won’t be walking in the room any minute. Never again. That truly is what I can’t seem to wrap my head around. I don’t think I ever will.

Here is a sample from my assignment. I thought it would be interesting to see how writing three word sentences works. It reminded me of a Shakespeare exercise I used to teach where you would take a Shakespearean monologue and remove all the words that were not necessary to understand what was happening in the text. It helps you get to the meat of the meaning.

Here is an excerpt from my assignment. This is based on 1995.

We teamed well. We never argued.  We led people. I was fit. I felt great.  Education was important. I taught classes.  I taught theatre. I volunteered nearby. In the schools. I brought theatre. The Pied Piper.  Life was full. We respected us. I loved Paul. Paul loved me. I loved children. Paul loved children. We loved completely.  We built foundations. We built programs. Summer Drama Workshop. Summers spent teaching. Summers spent learning. Summers spent loving. We were happy. We taught youth. We worked hard. Our moms aged. We helped them.  We loved them. We were helpful. We served community. We performed theatre. We sang music. We vacationed together. We loved beaches. Cape Cod dreaming. Kids loved school. Jesse finished college. He is intelligent. He is serious. Eryn in college. She is creative.  She is driven. Josh loved school. He is persistent. He is clever. Zack loved playing. He is animated. He is funny. He is two. We strengthened foundations. We loved endlessly. We liked us. We loved us. We were giving. We were unified.  We were beautiful. Paul and Lynne. Eryn and Jesse. Josh and Zack. We are family. Hopes were high. We never settled. We worked hard. We gave out. We accepted all. We loved endlessly. We built more. We lived life. We loved us. We built foundations.

I loved the exercise and will continue working on it. In the next part of the exercise I have to find one sentence from that whole piece that jumps out at me and write two pages about that. I am looking forward to the challenge.

I am proud of myself for taking this step out of my “grief space” to do something constructive. My hope is to keep writing and keep building new foundations for myself. I cannot sit by idly and deteriorate after all that we built together. I must keep moving and use our life together as a jumping off point. Oh, it won’t be easy, but I need to keep going. I have so much yet to do.

Paul and I enjoying life together

Tidal Wave

Dear Paul,

Today I woke up feeling fairly normal and started my day with a positive attitude. I kept busy with the usual things; coffee, a crossword puzzle, worked on a jigsaw puzzle with Zack, a cuddle or two with Daisy, a healthy breakfast and I surrounded myself with music. Josh and Zack were both off of work today. What a blessing. Things were going pretty well for a good part of the morning and then, like a huge tidal wave, it came at me from out of nowhere. It began with a small ripple of longing, picked up strength and entered my heart with such force I was nearly knocked down and dragged out. I picked myself up after the first wave hit and decided it would be a good idea to go for a long walk to escape grief’s wrath. I “saddled up” Daisy and began my trek, hoping the feel of sunshine on my face and salty wind in my hair would help me to retrieve myself from the onslaught of sadness.

I headed into the wind with strength and confidence, knowing that the air and exercise would feed my soul. We took a long walk in the neighborhood, our old walk, and then as usual, headed for the beach where I talk to you. I was looking for some peace. The last time I called out your name on the bay, I was lucky enough to find seven…SEVEN heart shaped rocks on the short stretch of beach I covered. My call was answered and I felt a sense of peace and love that day. Thank you!

Today, as I approached the beach and let Daisy run free, my joy in the moment turned to a darkened sadness as the next tidal wave approached me. As in the many nightmares I had as a child about tidal waves, this one came full force and there was nowhere for me to run. I was hit broadside and it smashed me against the rocks with such force, my chest and my throat were choking from the impact. I could not outrun the wave even if I had the energy and spirit to try.

I never saw this one coming. Once up for air, the pain and agony left in my soul was unbearable.

Grief is a tricky entity. It comes when you least expect it and yanks you out of your foothold. This morning I had a strong and somewhat confident stance and by this afternoon, I had been tossed around and broken into a million little pieces. I lay there like a limp piece of dead seaweed sprawled over the sand.

By evening, exhausted, I had mellowed and spent time with the boys playing Rummy. Anything to take my mind off of the afternoons’ incident. I didn’t share all that happened to me today with them, but it felt like the end of your life had happened today. I felt as battered and bruised as I did the morning of November 12th when you left this world and my life changed forever. That’s how powerful this wave was.

So, here I am picking myself up off of the ground again and putting one foot in front of the other. I imagine the waves will keep coming for a long time. As you know, I am a fighter, and it will take a lot to break me completely…I think…I hope. Today’s wave was insurmountable. I fear what tomorrow will bring. I have a need for hope, but today any hopes for recovery were dashed amongst the rocks on our favorite place to be. I will return to the bay to search for hope tomorrow, and will see whether I have headwinds or tailwinds in store. I’m seeking a calmer sea, soft smooth sand, and a small gentle ripple of peace. And perhaps a heart rock or two. That is all I ask. Can you help me??

With everlasting love for you,

Lynne

Happy New Year

Happy New Year Everyone. My wish for you is that you find all the happiness and love you are seeking this year and always. I also ask that you please take a bit of advice from me. If you have a dream in your heart and you are keeping it at bay until the “time is right”, I urge you to shift your gaze to the near future and focus on what’s important to you and go for it NOW. Don’t wait! Make the move now, even if it means unrest and a bit of turmoil to get there. No-one ever realizes their dreams and full potential by standing still in the same place. Time will eventually run out and what will you have accomplished? Will your dream be just that? A dream? A mental film reel that plays over and over again in your mind but then you wake up to reality? Is your dream a job or career change? Do you dream of starting your own business? Maybe you have always dreamed of driving across the country or moving to your favorite place? Maybe you want to go back to school or travel to Europe? Maybe you want to learn to paint or write? Whatever it is, no matter how big or small…do it! We have one life to live and we have to live our best life. If I learned anything from Paul’s passing, it’s that time is precious. Give it everything you’ve got. Paul and I made a lot of choices together that I will never regret. Moving to Cape Cod was huge for us, but we did it four years ago and it took all we had to do it. It was a dream of ours for years and years and fortunately we had at least two great years together living in a place we love. The last two years were very difficult and I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t realized our dream. We were living our best life.


I want to thank all of you who have reached out to me and my family over the last year or more. The love and support I’ve/we’ve received from our extended family and friends, as well as some people whom I don’t know very well, has been tremendous. In a world where there is so much suffering and unrest, I found that love prevails and the human heart is giving and beautiful. The last two years have been such a test for me as a human being and I have been able to stand on my two feet with a strong backbone because of love. Both the love that I/we received and the love we have/had to give.


I am facing a new year with half of my heart, but I still have love for so much and so many. Paul is with me in everything I do and even though sometimes I want to curl up into a ball and hide, I won’t let that happen. I am here and I will do whatever I am able to live my best life. It will be challenging, but I believe that I have the strength to carve out a new path for myself. I don’t know what that looks like yet, and it may take a long, long time to figure it out, but I will focus on positivity and passion for the people and things I love. I am still taking things an hour at a time and the grieving process is monumental some days, but I hold the time I had with Paul in my heart very closely. Sometimes I smile instead of cry and that makes me think it’s possible to heal. The human spirit is an amazing thing. I know so many who have suffered losses and even in pain we move on.

To those of you who have suffered a loss recently, my heart hurts for you and I know what it feels like. I also know that you are stronger than you realize and with time and love you will survive. So 2020, here we are. For 34 years I passed through New Years celebrations with Paul by my side. This year I passed through it without him and it felt empty for me. He was the first kiss of the year. I really missed it but I have no choice but to continue on without him. I never saw this coming. I really didn’t, but I think God has a plan for me and I will do my best to live up to it, whatever that may be.

Peace and love to you all as you approach the year 2020. Live your best life and realize your dreams. Don’t put it off any longer. What are you waiting for?

Who Will Cradle Me When the Darkness Falls

Who will cradle me when the darkness falls?

When his last breath is offered and he slips through my fingers like grains of sand

       becoming part of the beach we once shared as our own

When his loving light no longer shines

When my heart falls to pieces on the ground like a difficult puzzle which I will never put back together

When my eyes no longer watch his every move, his smile, his eyes…his face…his…face

When my soul is crying so loud it becomes silent

When my hand reaches for his and only air passes through my longing fingers

Where will I be then?

Who will I be…then?

I hold him carefully in my arms as we lie together

wondering where has it all gone?

The time, laughter, energy, music, the life…the life… we shared so vibrantly

I am part of him with all of my heart, all of my soul 

I give him all that I have to give…unconditionally

So I wonder…when the darkness falls all around him…all around us…who will cradle my heart as I cradle his? 

Who will be there when I fall?

I will be wrapping my loving arms around my family…keeping him with us…always

Reminiscing…remember the time when…remember when he did…remember when he said…remember when?

The darkness will fall at the end of each day and I’ll be alone in my empty bed still wondering…

How did we get here?  How did I get……..here? How will I survive when half of my loving heart is gone…

Who…who…who will cradle me when the darkness falls?

by Lynne Johnson 9.23.19


Grief Is Unbearable

I haven’t written since July because it was too difficult. Everything has changed. Everything.

Paul and I have walked an arduous path over the last year and nine months. From the moment the words “mass” and “cancer” entered into our daily vocabulary we have been on a journey like no other. I could give details of the ups and downs on living with cancer, but for the moment, I cannot. You see, Paul succumbed to his cancer on November 12, 2019 at 4:45 am. I was by his side holding his hand as he drew his last few breaths. It was the most difficult experience I have ever been witness to and I wish I could go back in time to have him with me again.

I have said over and over that cancer is a thief, but oh my God, so is grief. I can only say that the pain is unbearable when it comes, and it devours me whole. I am crippled by it and there is nothing for me to do but wrap it around myself and bear the unbearable. It feels like my chest is going to explode from the agony of losing the person I have been a part of for over 34 years. I CANNOT wrap my head around the fact that I will not see his beautiful face and smile again for the rest of my days. I will not hold his hand or hug him…kiss. How can that be possible? I feel gutted. As I write this now, I am feeling a physical heaviness in my chest that actually hurts. Physical pain. I feel like I am dying. And then, there is a part of me that wishes I were.

I cannot stop wondering who I am now. Who am I now? Who am I now? Our lives together were so intertwined I felt his pain. I was his round the clock caretaker for so long and up until the moment he died. Now I’ve been cut off. I’ve been cauterized. I’ve been rendered useless. Who am I now? I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. I truly don’t know who I am. I look at myself in the mirror and see a stranger. I can’t help but wonder what will become of me. What do I do with all of that love? I love him with all of my heart. And yes, I love my family, but the love for Paul was so incredible. What do I do with all of that love? I’ve been closed off, discontinued, amputated, disconnected…cancelled.

Grief is confusing. It is always there…simmering…and when you least expect it, suddenly it wells up and envelopes you like a rogue wave, sweeping you off your feet. It tosses you around and you are, helpless, disheveled, overwhelmed, out of control…not knowing where to find the surface to catch your breath. You splash around unprotected, vulnerable and powerless against the current. Then, you wash up on the shore again, depleted, exhausted…spent. After a time you get up slowly and put one foot in front of the other to journey on…until suddenly there you are again seeking the surface to catch that life sustaining breath, all the while wondering why.