<8 months later>
Oh, hey, hello there. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but since I last posted, my Mom died. She died, and it took me this long to figure out how I was going to write about it. And I finally decided I’d write about my experience with grief in the hopes of helping others, even if its just a reminder that grief is a personal process and we all do it differently. So here’s a few things I learned along the way about grief.
I have found that most people describe grief by attributing some sort of movement to how it works – “it comes in waves”, “it’s a roller coaster”, “sometimes it just hits you hard”, etc. And while being bowled over by a wave or punched in the gut are accurate sentiments when dealing with a loss, I think one important aspect of the “wave” or “punch” that needs emphasized is this – the element of surprise. If loss is anything, it’s a sucker punch. You’re not sure when its coming and there’s no way to prepare. And after the initial blow lands, you’re suddenly standing on a beach feeling the tide go in and out, wearing you down, burying your toes and your sadness in wet sand…until you hear a long-forgotten song or have a dream and the tide turns and the storm brews and a wave of grief crashes over you. And you realize that you were happy, with your toes and sadness buried, and you start to feel guilty that you forgot to be sad.
“Could I have done more? Could I have changed something? What were my last words to her?”
Everyone I have spoken to about grief seems to experience some sort of irrational (or rational) guilt after a loss. I personally had a complicated relationship with my mother so my guilt was, in part, rational. I did not go to her bed side when she got sick. I did not go to her bed side because she has had deteriorating health for ten years and if I went to her bed side every time, I’d have lived at her bed side. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty that I didn’t go the last time. Of course I do. Now my brain and heart both understand that I could not go every time, but that does not stop the “I should have gone THIS time” guilt. And that’s okay. It just makes me human.
3. There’s No Wrong Way
Speaking of being human – there’s no wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves differently and everyone grieves their own way. We need to stop being so judgmental as a society on this one – “her Mom just died, why is she going on vacation, when MY Mom died, I didn’t get out of bed for a week.” Well two thumbs up for you and your grief process, but everyone copes differently. Let them.
A description I wrote of my own grief and its many facets, a few days after my Mom died:
I lost my mother to her addiction a long time ago. Drug and alcohol use developed into a disease that stole her ability to parent me and our relationship became anything but traditional. So when I lost my mother last week to a heart attack, I know my loss was unlike many others who have lost a parent. I feel consumed with sadness at the loss of my Mum, partially because you only have one mother, but I am also mourning the mother I knew from childhood. I feel a huge loss of history – what did I wear on the first day of 2nd grade? What was my big gift from Santa when I was 9? These are questions only my mother could have answered and I am sharply feeling the loss of this history. I didn’t consider this aspect of loss and it has blindsided me. I also feel anger, as my mother unjustly isolated us from the rest of my family and thus removed all the witnesses I should have had to someday tell me some of these childhood stories. I feel hope, as I know there are future stories that are not yet written and I have a wonderful husband and family to help me write them. I feel relief, as she has battled her disease for a long time and is no longer in any pain. I feel peace, as in the last few years we had come to a better place and she understood I loved her and had found forgiveness. And I feel loved and more grateful than ever for the wonderful relationships I have with friends and family.
See? A lot of different feelings and emotions come with grief, not just sadness. Give yourself permission to feel and empower others to do the same.
4. Don’t Worry About It
It’s easy to start thinking about what you are “supposed” to be doing or feeling. I briefly got hung up on this fact last fall, as I worried what everyone would think. “Geez, she really does have that heart of stone, she barely seems fazed” or “She is such a hypocrite, how can she be so sad, she didn’t even go to her Mom when she was sick” or “Um, Cailyn’s Mom was the worst, why is she sad, it’s a blessing.” Yup. I had all those thoughts and felt so many unnecessary worries. And it didn’t matter for one second if everyone thought all of them or none of them. Allow yourself every minute that you need to feel and heal – but try not to concern yourself with appearances.
Chances are, at some point, someone is going to say or do the “wrong” thing. You might. Your best friend might. Your husband might. Since everyone grieves differently, no one really knows what anyone needs. Which unfortunately means that at a time in your life when YOU are hurting…you may need to have a little grace, both with yourself and with your loved ones.
Practice forgiveness. Because no one knows what to say.
6. There’s Nothing to Say
I wish there was something I could advise others to say that would help…but I can’t because what helps one person could be the absolute last thing the next person wants to hear. Due to my mother’s long battle with her addiction, it was comforting thinking that she was in a better place and pain-free. But expressing that same sentiment to someone else may result in them asking you “why isn’t the better place with me?!” Which is an entirely logical question to pose when you are reeling from the loss of a loved one.
If I absolutely had to say something, I think the safest sentiments are: “I’m sorry for your loss”, “I love you”, and “I am always here for you”.
Speaking of opinions, this entire list is my personal opinion on grief. Since grief comes in all shapes and sizes, feel free to disregard everything I wrote. I am totally okay with that. But. If me describing my journey helps anyone understand or remember that they are not alone in their feelings or struggle with grief, than this post was worth it.
Finally, to my Mum:
Thank you for teaching me to always be myself and reminding me that I can be anything I want to be. Thank you for turning up the radio and singing. Thank you for always choosing ice cream. Thank you for saying you were proud of me. Thank you for always reminding me to believe.
My childhood wasn’t amazing and your addiction was a powerful and cruel disease – But I am grateful for everything you got right.