Tag Archives: stages of grief

Grief and Motherhood– Lessons Learned While Grieving as a Mom

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If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.

E. died in October.  She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me.  Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden.  She’d been ill.  I’d been in denial.  Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.

Sometimes I don’t make the time I should.  While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card.  I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people.  It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.

I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy.  And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”

I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.

E. was my first major loss.  It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma.  When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience.  I’m bumbling  through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.

Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.

When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin.  I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package.  We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled.  We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.

In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks.  As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves.  It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments.  I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”

It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.

Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me.  I’ll share what I came up with so far:

1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps.  A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.

2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been.  E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever.  There are ways we still connect and touch one another.  It is a time rich in wonder and affection.

The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.

I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom.  I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death.  Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now.  I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it.  Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .

3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away.  In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water.  It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable.  When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them.  I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.

These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.

Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain.  Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for.  It’s an apt analogy.  And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.

My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death.  I worry people won’t see the connection.

But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.

Being a mom is my most important role in life.  I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive.  But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need.  My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do.  It helps me integrate and  consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.

I have faith in myself and in the process.  Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process.  We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream.  Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff.  In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness.  Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.

 

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Good At Grief

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You guys.  I am nailing this grief thing.  Like, I’m getting super good at it. It is so my jam.

I am making grief my bitch.

I’m pretty sure I could get a job as a professional mourner, which believe it or not, they do have in some cultures.

No.  You guys, I wouldn’t just get the job, I would be the supervisor.  It would be my job to show everyone else exactly how “it’s” done.  The keening and wailing.  All of it.  Eventually, they would promote me and I would be the boss of the whole Agency of Grieving.

If you know me at all, and even if you don’t, you can probably (hopefully) tell I’m being facetious.

Is anyone really good at grief?  What would that even mean?  I have no idea.

It’s such a subjective and abstract thing.  Grief is not a one size fits all garment.  It looks and fits differently on everybody.  And on some, I suppose, it is just not flattering.  I mean, it’s not called “ugly crying” because it looks and feels amazing, right?

I’ve spilled my share of ugly tears over the past four weeks since my friend E. died.  Sometimes it has felt cathartic, and other times it has been just scary.  I can’t say it has ever felt particularly “good” or that I’ve felt even remotely competent while doing it.

But I’ve done it.

I’ve done it at her grave, and in my car.  I’ve done it at work.  I’ve done it as I fell asleep and as I woke up the next morning.

Grief has been a rather unruly house guest.  It wants all of my attention.  It wants to be carted about to see the sights and then complains about everything.  But I’ve done my best to be hospitable because hosting this thing seems important.  Necessary, even.

If I’ve been good at grief at all over the past month, it is only because I’ve made friends with it.  I’ve opened my arms to all of its prickly tendencies, held it close, and wept because it is so sharp and painful.

And if I’ve been good at grief, it has been because people have given me the space, love, and support to do it.  Friends and family have granted me access to sail off with grief into dark and murky waters, of which I am terribly frightened.  Even though they can’t go there with me, they have assured me that they will be there when I return, standing on the shore with arms ready to collect me.

Sometimes grief comes back with me, and other times it does some island hopping alone while I tend to vacuuming, shuttling kids to birthday parties and karate, and laughing at something with my husband.

It has helped to write.  It has helped to talk.  It has helped to cry.  It has helped to be hugged.  It has helped to be left alone.

Knowing that people around the globe have held space for me while I go through this has been a priceless blessing.

And you know what?  I’m feeling a bit better.  Maybe I’m even feeling a lot better.

Of course this could be illusory.  Remember a couple weeks ago when I felt amazing and was totally acing life and then I started to feel like crap again?  Yeah.

But there has been a shift.

Even when I am off on that rickety boat with my grief, I can see the shore where once it was just a dark mess of fog.  Sometimes E. is standing there on the sandy banks, and I am so happy to see her, to be reminded of all our good times, to feel her unconditional love which is so vast and strong it penetrates death and makes me feel intact.

From the great beyond, she inspires my heart.

I’m here, she says.  I’m here.  When you’re ready, you can come ashore, let go of the pain and I’ll still be here.

Her voice fills me with a mixture of hope and sorrow, but I hear it clearly.

I don’t think I’d have heard it had I not committed to taking this voyage to bond with grief.

So, as this self proclaimed expert who is totally winning at grief, what would I recommend to others?

I don’t know, guys.

I guess do what feels right.  Let it be with you and let it go when it feels appropriate.  Trust your love.

And tell yourself that you are crushing it in the biggest and best way possible.  It sort of helps.

Walking and Waiting for the Answers to Grief

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My friend died.

Over the past week, I have been walking down a shadowy hall.  It is dark and tight.  The walls press on me.  It makes me want to scream in claustrophobic panic.  I believe it is called grief and loss.

Every once in a while lights flash, startle me, and make me nauseous.  My heart races.  I think that’s trauma.

There are doors that open into little waiting rooms with chairs.  Films of memory play on vast, white walls.  But it hurts to go in and watch, so I keep walking down the narrow corridor.

I walk at a really slow pace.  My husband might call it moving at the speed of cheese.

How I’d love to call her up and talk about cheese.  She loved food.

See how that works?  I start to have a thought and then circle back around to her.   My head is so full.  Overloaded.  People are left staring and waiting around me, because my brain can’t move any faster.  It’s a slow computer.  God, that woman could not use a computer to save herself. . .  There.  I did it again.

As a clinical social worker (which by the way my friend also was), I know all about the stages of grief:  Denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance.  It sounds so tidy, laid out like that, and yet it is more of a mangled wreck than anyone could imagine.  On one level, I understand that the so-called stages are more circuitous than linear.

I know it was normal after I kissed her cold forehead to feel a surge of anger well up inside me as I left the funeral parlor.

Anger at her.  Anger at myself.  Anger at the universe.

Why couldn’t she have taken better care of herself?  Why did she have to go and deprive the world of herself?  Why did I not know sooner how truly ill and tired she was?

In addition to knowing it is normal, friends have assured me it is normal.  So a part of me can accept this anger for what it is.

But there is another part of me that is just her friend, a mere mortal who is still alive, and doesn’t know what to do with the thread of anger in this tapestry of pain I clutch at my throat as I walk down this hall.

Her head was so hard under my lips.  Like marble.

I know it is totally understandable to feel rational and accepting one moment, and then to circle back to denial and depression the next.

Bargaining is another “stage,” but it doesn’t seem necessary to bargain. Dead is dead.  But oh god (who by the way I don’t believe in), if I could just get one more minute. . .

And what would I do with that minute?

I’d ask her what to think.  I’d ask her what she would say to me upon learning of her death.  I’d ask her if she loved me as much as I loved her.

I’d ask her if she had given up, if the taste of death she’d had a month ago had made her want the real thing.  I would ask her why she didn’t call me back when I called her a week before she died.  Was it because I had been so adamant about her following the doctor’s instructions, and she didn’t want to?  Did she not want me to harp?  Had she accepted a fate that she knew would be too difficult for me to support?

Was I a bad friend for nagging her, for not being ready to be in the world without her?

At some point, I recognize, my heart will probably tell me the answers to these questions.  That after I get through the dark passageway and back to the land of the living, I’ll be able to see more clearly.

I’d spent so many hours sitting and chatting with that woman.  She listened endlessly to the minutia of my existence.  Birds in my yard. The fox. My children.

She looked at my pictures.

She kept my secrets.

She always took my side. Always.

Her patience and wisdom were never ending.  I’m sure at some point during those many times, she gave me all I needed to know, but until it is clear, I am left waiting, scowling, tapping my toe impatiently, for answers.

One more minute couldn’t scratch the surface. . .  but I’d give some teeth for it anyway.  One more minute to thank her for championing me when I felt like I had no one else.  One more minute to tell her I love her.  One more minute to ask her if she is ready, if she feels okay about this transition, if there is anything she wants me to do for her widow.

My friend had dozens of friends to whom she was close.  She was amazing that way.  She didn’t have casual acquaintances.  If you made it into her circle, you were under her wing of family.

I am sure they would all wish for another minute or three, not to mention her beloved of over 30 years, or her BFF of 54 years. . .  what makes me so special that I should feel hypothetically entitled to be granted one more imaginary minute?

Was I special?

What is it about death that makes me doubt my special-ness.  Does it die with the one who was loved?  Does it disappear behind the veil with their persistence and laughter?

Or is it, perhaps, if I believe I wasn’t special, then it won’t hurt as much because it didn’t mean so much?

I believe in love, and I think I believe that love is a bond that cannot die.  I think I have to believe this about love, because if it is not portable to the great beyond, then I don’t think I could really get out of bed again.

Enduring love is the only “afterlife” in which I believe.

My friend was elderly, and yet, there must have been a rather foolish part of me that thought she would live forever, that believed I’d never have to face a world without her zany humor.

Somehow, her voice continues to fill my head.  I hear her make those noises she’d make when she was amazed or delighted by something, the oooohhhs, and gasps of wonder.  Despite seeing over 75 years of the world, she never ceased to be amazed by the smallest gestures of tenderness, by the beauty of nature, by the majesty of animals.

I did the stuff you’re supposed to do.

I cried.  I brought food to her wife.  I went to the services.  I cried more.  I got piss drunk and fell down.  I collected all the cards and little treasures she had ever given me and looked at her sloppy handwriting and laughed.

I walked in the woods.  I sat at her grave and talked to her.  I patted the freshly rolled out sod, crumpled into a ball, and cried again.

I started to feel better, as though the hallway were lit with skylights.

Then I felt like shit again, and it was dark and I was bumping into stuff.

At the burial, one of the funereal directors plucked roses off of the arrangement on the casket and passed them around.  She said we could place the rose with a prayer on the top of the casket to go down with my friend, or we could keep it in memory of her.  I clutched at mine while everyone else kissed theirs and placed them on the casket.

I thought of the red rose corsage I wore a year ago at her wedding, how I’ve kept it tucked into my mirror in my bedroom.

How could it be?  How could all of this be real?

It’s confusing how my brain is trying to fold around this information and digest it like a carnivorous plant.  I suppose the good news is that I don’t have to completely get over my grief for her today.  It’ll take time.  One minute at a time; one breath at a time.

I’ve never cried such fat, wet tears.

If I were sitting with her, she wouldn’t hug me.  I know that sounds weird and kind of cold, but it isn’t at all.  It’s perfect.

She listens to me with her hands on her thighs, fingers curled in towards her thumbs.  She breathes and nods slightly while I cry.  She gives my space and lets me have my feeling, my dignity, my rage.  

Then she pushes a box of tissues toward me.  She tells me with a wry grin that she has examined the woman before her, and she does not find her lacking.  She hands me a candle.

I dry my face, and plod forward.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/waiting/