It has now been a year since my mother died. I’ve tried to be healthy in my mourning. I’ve seen a bereavement counselor a few times. I’ve tried to focus on the wonderful gift that my mother was. In general, I’ve done very well. I’ve been sad, but functional. I’ve been mournful, but also hopeful. I feel that I honor and celebrate my mother every day by the way I live my life. Still, there is a facet of my grief has been stubborn and uncooperative. It holds on relentlessly. On the other hand, the grief isn’t nearly as sharp or as devastating as I thought it would be.
During the months of my mother’s illness, part of my daily terror had to do with how I could possibly withstand the shattering blow that I would doubtlessly experience when she died. I was so sad and in so much pain while she was still alive, I couldn’t see how I would be able to handle her death. I read the hospice information about anticipatory grief. I think I might have been the poster child for the condition. The research said that many people traveling with a loved one during a long illness do experience the grief of loss long before the final ending. They may experience the exact same grief cycle as most people do when a loved one actually dies. I absolutely understood that and I knew I was experiencing it. The bitch of the matter, though, is that experiencing anticipatory grief in no way guarantees that the mourner will be any less shattered when the death does occur. I dreaded and resented having to experience the rawness of grief in duplicate.
When it finally happened, I found that my grief, though profound and prominent, did not feel as raw and septic as I feared it would. I think there are many reasons for that.
At first, I thought the reason that my mom’s death did not devastate me more was because of the long road we traveled together during her illness. I started grieving long before she left me alone in this world. After her stroke, her decline was so treacherous and unforgiving, I lost her step by step and piece by piece. As her brain gradually crumbled in the last year of her life, my heart crumbled along with it. By the time she died, my heart wasn’t shattered because there was nothing left of it to shatter.
It was also hard not to feel some relief that my mother was finally whole and healthy and happy again in God’s dwelling place. The foundation of my life is a belief system that encourages me to rejoice that my mother is living more abundantly in Heaven and is waiting there for me to join her. I do find some joy in that notion. That belief does take some of the pain out of the grief now, but it still does not prevent me from missing my mom every day in this life.
I think I also came to understand, in my mother’s last days, that I wasn’t losing everything I thought I was losing. A blog reader once left a comment that said, during the end of life, everything burns away except love. This was absolutely my experience. In my mother’s illness, there were many times when she would look past me or away from me as if I wasn’t there. There were also occasions, though, when she would look into my eyes with such intensity and meaning that I could feel her loving me to my very soul. That love, maybe the biggest and best part of her, will never die. She loved me with a love that I can never lose.
I am sure that all of these reasons played a part in my milder mourning experience. There is something else, though. I had a model for grieving. My mother gave me that.
When my father died, everyone worried about my mother. She was always an emotional person who loved extravagantly. She felt with the people she loved. She rejoiced easily and cried easily. People sometimes took that heart on her sleeve as a mark of fragility. Not so. When my father died, she did everything she could to mourn in a healthy way. She cherished her memories of my father. She continued doing activities they enjoyed together. She helped herself and her children heal by loving us and letting us love her. She joined an online support group for widows and widowers. She kept working at a job she enjoyed with people who uplifted her. She mourned him deeply and permanently. I don’t think there was a Thanksgiving after his death when my mother didn’t cry when we gave thanks for the people we loved who were no longer with us. Still, in the midst of that mourning, there was a renaissance. My mother moved towards a life of her own crafting. She set her own priorities. She pursued her own interests. She indulged her gift for happiness. She set out on a path of continual learning and grew in every way. She reveled in her independence. She turned her grief into something good.
In my mourning for my mother, I think I have been experiencing my own renaissance- almost without even realizing it. Without thinking too much about it, I find that my experience with my mother’s end of life journey has prompted me to nurture my own life. I’ve identified several attributes in my own personality that may be holding me back from experiencing as much joy as possible in life. Almost unconsciously, I’ve been examining those personal barriers and experimenting with strategies for knocking them out of my way.
Good grief may be the last gift my mom gave me.
What have you learned through the process of grieving a loved one? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a blessed day!