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Monday, July 19, 2010

Dealing With Grief, part 1

My mother died about five years ago. She had cancer for almost two years before, so it was not a surprise to anyone when she died. We all watched her condition worsen and had many conversations with her about death and illness and what it would be like to lose her. (In a previous post I said that my parents were involved in our church - one of the ways my mom was involved was working as a bereavement counselor to families dealing with loss.) My mom had read all the books on dying and grief and loss. She wanted to talk us through this grief and get us through it. Well, none of us had read all the books on death and dying and grief, so these were strange conversations. Also, my mom and I have completely different personalities. She tried to engage me to talk about loss, but I really didn’t have anything to say.

My mom wanted to talk about my feelings, and my feelings were short, to say the least. “I can’t change this situation. It makes me sad, and I think it’s a terrible situation. But I can’t change it, so what is there to talk about?” It’s not like I could have convinced her to stay with a really good argument. Nothing I could say would have changed her cancer, so what good would it have done to spend my last months and weeks with my mom crying and telling her how sad I am? I told her that I was sad, that I would miss her and that I wasn’t ready to lose her. But saying it all the time seemed like it wasn’t the best use of our last time together. I preferred laughing and joking and talking together, as we always had.

As we all expected, my mom did die, and it was calm and peaceful for her and really for my whole family. We were all there with her and with each other. The week of her wake and funeral is kind of a blur now. We were busy all week, and there were tons of friends and family who came to help us. It was an oddly happy and comforting time. Surrounded by family and friends, I knew I was sad, but I was not really able to process grief at that point.

After about a week, the friends and family went home, and I went back to work. At some point, I stopped feeling sad all the time. I figured I was done with grief - after all, I wasn’t crying and feeling sad all the time, I had gone back to work, and I was getting used to life with a new normal. I was still sad, but I think I had a handle on it.

I got a grief book about dealing with the loss of mothers. I read it, but it seemed like it was aimed at people who had some animosity towards their mothers. I didn’t, so the book didn’t really help me. Or maybe it did, I don’t know. I started to feel better all the time, and as the holidays and birthdays and anniversaries without my mom piled up, I had kind of moved on.

I can still get going, if I’m having a bad day, or if there’s some emotional mother-daughter moment on TV or a movie (Tami and Julie Taylor on Friday Night Lights especially always get to me for whatever reason...) The other real trigger for me is thinking about infertility, adoption and becoming a mother. I really miss my mom then.

But the thing I don’t understand about grief is this. What’s the difference between avoiding and denying emotions and dealing with them? After some time, aren’t sad feelings supposed to go away? I will always miss my mom. I’ll always feel like we were cut short and I’ll long for those years I’ll never have with her. Will I always cry when Tami and Julie Taylor have a moment? And if I always cry during Friday Night Lights, have I dealt with my loss? It’s been more than 5 years already. I have a personal goal to not cry someday when there’s an emotional moment on TV. And then I might feel like I’ve dealt with this loss. I wonder what my mom would say about that. I also wonder what Tami Taylor would say about it.

1 comment:

  1. It's obvious how much your mom means to you. In those tearful moments, you honor her life and your connection. Sitting with your sadness, really being present to it, exploring what it feels like in your mind and in your body is part of the process of healing.

    Sure, it gets easier over time, but we can help ourselves in the shift from heartbreak to happiness. Suffering comes in the gap of what is and what we want. You want your mom to be there, in that moment, watching Friday Night Lights. Or you want what that TV mother and daughter have. It's not physically possible, so you cry.

    So here's something you could try: In that moment, acknowledge that. Really notice that she's not there. Get curious. What do you want to know about that moment? See what feelings and questions show up.

    I'd love to know what you find out.