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Herding Squirrels blog: Survivor's grief

(MCT) — "I just wish she'd hurry up and die," my friend says, staring into her coffee cup. It's a bold statement to which I find myself nodding sympathetically. I wasn't in the least taken aback by her "death wish." And though it made me desperately sad, through the course of our many conversations I have come to have deep empathy for her sorrow.

Here we were: A couple of gals escaping the heat and kids and the rigors of life in general, enjoying a cool Starbucky beverage. And, as often happens when women make such an escape, conversation quickly flows from congenial and into much needed venting territory FAST.

I'd seen this pain in my friend's eyes many times and heard this lament on previous occasions. Her mother wasn't ill, which is to say, she didn't have cancer or heart disease. Nor was she elderly, suffering away in some convalescent hospital.

Rather, my friend's mother is deeply sick, but suffers from a disease few have patience for or can comprehend: She's an alcoholic. Her mother's sickness has ravaged the life of my friend, the lives of her siblings and, quite truthfully, affects the lives all others with whom her mother makes contact.

To her credit, her mother is aware of her disease and has actively attended a 12-step program for several years. Yet, sobriety evades her daily.

I watch my friend describe the desperate pain she feels as her mother sinks further into the depths of alcoholism. She tells me of the mother she loves more than almost anyone — the woman who shares her ribald sense of humor and her can-do attitude. She tells me of the woman who would take her shopping and share heart-to-heart conversations and make the best tuna noodle casserole on the planet. This is the mother who exists in flashes, the dream mother, the mother who appears occasionally to lift her spirits and garner her hope. This is the sober — or, mostly sober — mom. And when she makes her momentary appearances in my friend's life, my friend has enough hope to keep her spirits afloat for weeks at a time.

Maybe she will stay sober. Maybe she will be a grandmother to her grandchildren. Maybe she will live to see 60.

Then comes the next visit. The "reality visit," as my friend calls it, the one where my friend realizes that her mother's sobriety was a small, momentary glimpse of dreams come true; a gift that her mother takes back again and again and again. My friend has come to despise these small gifts, because with them later comes the knowledge that all the words, all the assurances, all of my friend's sticky, love-laden hope has never been more than that: my friend's hope, tainted by empty promises.

It is at this point in our conversation that I am overtaken by tears. I know this lost feeling.

My mind traipses over a dream I've had many times, wherein I speak with my now-deceased father. In the dream, I'm ecstatic he's with me, so unbelievably happy that I'm sobbing and hugging him and begging him to stay. I tell him all the things I long for him to know; I hold his hands and look into his eyes and try to soak in every second, every bit of him. He tells me he has come home for good, and my happiness is palpable. And then I wake up. And my elation crashes through the floor.

The lost feeling is called grief, and my dear friend grieves her living mother.

I attempt to dry my eyes as we look around the happy little coffee shop. I want to help her. I want to save her. I want to give her sage advice, and lift the feelings that weigh her down.

And so I do, in the way we women always do for one another. I hold her hand, and I listen.

Traci Arbios is a mom, stepmom, and working mom. She lives with and writes about her blended family of seven kids, five pets and one amazingly patient husband at ———

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