Carolyn Wing Greenlee

Helps to Heal #1

This is the first of what I hope will be many musings on elements involved in what it takes to be hale and hearty, whole and healed.

Helps to Heal #1

I was answering an email from my friend Kim, telling her what a blessing it was that she could spend time visiting her elderlly mom, when suddenly my eyes were full of tears. Then I understood why I had been so sad when I woke up this morning.

It’s that time of year. My body remembers. A scent in the air, a salmon-colored flower, the song of a particular bird, a certain shade of sky, and I’m back in Claremont tending to my mom for the very last days.

Every year it happens. I get weepy. I tell my friends, “Just ignore me.” They know what I’m talking about. They have all lost moms. We go on with our work. After a few weeks, the feelings pass.

Not this year. For the next two years, whenever something comes up with great emotional force that covers or squeezes or presses or drains my present with its presence, it’s a sign to stop and Pay attention. It’s time to deal with it.

There were traumas and horrors in my mother’s last years. Sometimes I had to suction her all throughout the night. Sometimes my dad and I had tucked her in for the night only to discover that she had made a massive mess under the covers. Exhausted as we were, we had to clean her up and change her bed—not an easy task since she was unable to move on her own.

There were good times too, and that’s what I have dwelt on most. I figured the others would come up when I got around to writing ER4, the book on her illness and death. I had other things to do before that, including ER3. Those hard memories would keep. I’d deal with them later.

I guess this is later. The force of feelings this morning shows me I need to tend to them now because they are affecting me now, and also subtly at other times of the year.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lung meridian is associated with grief. In my scleroderma tests, pulmonary function was the one that showed most loss. Grief has overshadowed the last dozen years of my life. It hasn’t gone away simply because I’ve ignored it. Has my unprocessed sorrow dammed up the energy in my lung meridian? How do I even begin to “Deal with it”?

There’s no formula. God alone knows what it will take to release this trauma of many consecutive years. Perhaps I will have to admit to anger. What other feelings have I refused to cycle through because I didn’t think they were appropriate for the circumstances? If only Mom had not been so stubborn, insisting on walking when she was so unsteady. If only she had not fallen and broken her back. Why did she have to insist on doing it her way? And why did we let her? How could we have been so stupid?

Tears come again. There are no answers. These are the wrong questions. I will have to take the time to let the truth in my heart flood out before the God of the Universe, Who alone knows what it takes to redeem the terrible time and turn it all to good. If I had done this sooner, perhaps I would not have weakened myself to the point of autoimmune disease where my body has gone berserk, attacking itself. How fitting! Haven’t I been in years of emotional civil war?

Research now shows a connection between emotional trauma and disease, but who wants to go back and pick around in the pain? My sister, an MD, said illness can make you willing to be willing.

Today, this minute, I’m willing to feel it again. To my surprise, it does not hurt the same. The biggest change is I’m not who I was when my mother fell. It’s been nine years since her death and many more since she broke her back. I am sixty-six, not fifty. Today, I would have been able to tell my mother “No.”

As I write this, I have a sense that this insistent call back to the batholith of grief has not been to plunge me down into the pain I’ve been ignoring. Perhaps it is a gentle invitation to look at the things that hurt me most, bless it with complete forgiveness, and take a deep, sweet breath—the first of many.


  1. Mary E. Trimble

    February 12, 2013 - 8:21 AM

    This is a lovely piece, Carolyn. I was 20 when my mother suddenly died of a stroke. At the time I was living in Hawaii and looking forward to my mother’s visit to my first home (military housing, but home to us). She was only 52. It was a horrible blow–not only the disappointment of her not coming to visit, but to lose her forever. Even telling it now, 56 years later, brings tears to my eyes.

    Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your deepest thoughts with us.

    • Carolyn Wing Greenlee

      February 12, 2013 - 4:01 PM

      Mary, my heart just hurts for you! My mom was 82. I had her for many years longer than you had yours! What a terrible loss at such a young age!

      Now I understand better why I have always found such comfort around you. That early wound has brought out of you a most loving, embracing heart. The Lord knows what He’s doing. You will see your mother again forever, and the ones you’ve reached to in their pain as you’ve served in Red Cross disaster areas, plus all the rest of us who have been blessed by your sheltering love–that also goes on and on, touching into Eternity.

      Thank you, Mary. May God bless your sacred memories.


  2. Linda Tinkham

    February 3, 2013 - 11:00 AM

    I know what you mean, I did the same thing with my mom. It’s been almost 15 years since my mom passed at home. Here are so many emotions that are stuffed away down deep. Hang in there!

    • Carolyn Wing Greenlee

      February 3, 2013 - 6:03 PM

      You are so right! It’s nine years this March, and I’m shocked at how much is stuck down deep. I hope you’ll take the time to release your griefs and sorrows. One of my friends just reminded me to let go of self-recriminations. There were so many things I wish I had done better. I was angry with my dad for things he did and didn’t do, too.

      They’re both in heaven now, happy and with no regrets. That’s their reality. No need for me to continue to feel bad for my impatience and imperfections, or those failings of others involved in my mother’s care.

      Thanks for writing, Linda. Moms are special and irreplaceable. We will always remember them. The rest, including THEIR faults and failures, can go .

      Carolyn & Hedy

  3. kathie fong yoneda

    February 3, 2013 - 8:48 AM

    Thank you, Carolyn for your latest musing. I think the lesson we can all take away from this is that it is a blessing that as we get older, we hopefully learn more & we are able to process & grow emotionally & spiritually.

    • Carolyn Wing Greenlee

      February 3, 2013 - 5:55 PM

      The Chinese say the older we get, the more venerable we are. Maybe one reason is all we’ve been through. It gives perspective and the kind of growth you’re talking about. Wisdom seems to be the reward for all the struggles.

      Carolyn & Hedy

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