Grief – we all experience it. There is simply no getting around it. Just like there is no way to get around it, there really is no way to prepare for it.
I lost my mother recently. Her death came very suddenly. One night, I was getting off of the phone with her, telling her I loved her. The next night, I was flying to Maryland to get to my family because she had passed so suddenly.
My mother was always the stability in our family. She pulled us all together. She made sure we went on family vacation together (all twenty-four of us including extended family) every year. She never wanted anyone to go without. So, she was more than generous with her gifting to all of us over the years. If we needed help with a car, or tuition, or in my case, new countertops, well, she would chip in. My mother was also the one person who I could call any time of day or night when I had a problem. I knew she would listen.
She listened when I went through a divorce three years ago. I left a thirty-two year marriage, one that was scarred with verbal abuse. It took me so many years to work up the courage to leave, and when I finally did leave, I relied on my mother to listen. I called her everyday. Since my mom was eighty at the time, I would pray, “God, please don’t take my mother before you bring me a husband.” I knew when I left my first marriage, I wanted to experience a love that was not abusive. I knew I would remarry; and, I also knew I could not bear the thought of losing my mother without someone to help me navigate the grief. Three years after I left my ex-husband, I married my second husband, who has never uttered an unkind word towards me. Six months later my mother died.
Just like that she died. No warning. No laying sick in the hospital for a few days. She just died. She fell over at the pool and had a heart attack. They could not save her. I got a text message saying she was going to the hospital. I headed home to try to book a flight. I got a second text message saying she coded. I got another text saying they stabilized her and were trying to work out the clots in her heart. I thought, “Oh great, I’ll go up and ask her if she went to heaven when she coded earlier.” I was on my way to the airport when I got the last text from my brother. “Mom passed,” was all the text said. In that moment, my world as I knew it changed forever. The scream I let out driving down GA-400 was one I will never forget. The scream was one of utter pain, anguish and despair. The person who brought me into this world, who was there to prop me up whenever I needed it, who always believed in me, was now gone.
I think I was in shock for the first couple of weeks—shocked she left so quickly. Why couldn’t I get there in time to say goodbye, to hold her, to tell her how much I loved her, she was not supposed to go that soon. I had no control. I was powerless.
For the first several days, I went between wailing and sobbing. They say grief comes in waves. In the first few days, my grief came wave after wave. Grief is relentless. Grief knocks you off your feet, keeps you awake, steals your joy.
A symphony of emotions – labeled as – the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Just when I thought I accepted it, I found myself sobbing at a stoplight. Over the days and months, the waves of grief have become fewer in between, but I am not sure they will ever go away. What was particularly hard for me was what I call the “what if and if only” stage.
I had recently started talking to my mother again every night, after spending some time working through some issues and hurt from my childhood. The Tuesday before she died, she got off the phone quickly. I told myself I would speak to her longer the next night. I thought to call her the next day driving home, and then thought better of using the phone while driving. I made up my mind to speak with her for an extended time that night instead. But, when she called that night, she only stayed on the phone for a couple of minutes and then jumped off.
I grieved over a missed opportunity. If only, I had called her back and told her I loved her. If only, I had called her on my way home. If only, I started talking to her every night sooner than I did. The guilt I felt was almost as overwhelming as the other emotions of grief.
I know my mother is in a better place. Before my father died, I asked him to send me a butterfly. He did. A big yellow butterfly came and stayed with me after he died. My mother knew how special butterflies were to me. She knew my sister and I always thought blue butterflies were extra special. Since my mother died, she has sent blue butterflies to sit with me on several occasions. I know she is never far away. I know that as much as I love her, she loves me. As much as I forgive her for hurt from my childhood, she forgives me for pulling away from her for a time in my life.
Grief is overwhelming. We have to find a new normal. There is however reconciliation. We learn to live with it. We learn to make peace with it. We learn life does go on. We embrace our loved ones around us and look at them with new eyes, a new appreciation of how precious life is, and how much we need and want them in our lives.
– Melanie Massie
If your grief is too overwhelming, if you are having trouble finding your new normal, if you are feeling like it is too much to handle – reach out. Reach out to a friend, a family member or a professional.
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