It’s been 14 years since the abrupt loss of my mother. Here are a few thoughts on the deeply personal process of grieving.
Thinking about mom. How I started out for my run that morning but felt compelled instead to check in on her. Finding her still in bed, a bleeding cut on her forehead. Her skin bright orange from the jaundice. She was so weak. Afraid, but still stoic. Taking her to the emergency department. The crash cart outside her room. The day in the ED. Not really knowing exactly what was going on, but knowing it was serious.
As they prepared her for transport to Norfolk General I said, “I’ll see you later mom.”
Those were the last words I ever spoke to her.
Seeing her on life support. Thinking, “Man, she would be pissed if she knew this was happening to her.” Mom was fiercely independent, and the idea of being dependent on anyone, ever, terrified her.
The hum of the machines pumping oxygen into her lungs. The dialysis technicians chatting as they worked around her. I wanted a moment alone with my mom, but they wouldn’t stop talking. They seemed oblivious to my sorrow.
Leaving with my sister Melody to take a break for lunch. Coming back and being told she passed as soon as we left. “It’s common, it happens a lot,” the ICU nurse told us. “It’s like they wait for the family to leave before passing on.”
It’s strange the random thoughts that pass through your mind when confronted with sudden death. Feeling so detached, and then a sense of guilt. “Shouldn’t I be crying, weeping, overcome with grief?” Of course in the moment, you manage as best you can.
In the following weeks and months, I had real difficulty with expressing my grief. Each time it took hold of me, it felt so overwhelming I thought I would drown in it. So, I would try to let it out, a little at a time, but always quickly squashed it back down.
Part of this was practical reasons, after all I had young children to care for. Between work and family, I didn’t feel I had space for my grief. I had to “keep my shit together.”
And so I went on with life as usual. My coworkers noted how little affected I appeared to be (knowing intuitively that I was suffering.) And of course, my husband found my grief to be an inconvenience. (This would turn out to be the beginning of the end for our marriage.)
All these years later and I still haven’t properly grieved for my mother. I suppose I don’t really know how. It’s uncomfortable. There are other emotions I would much rather experience. Things I would prefer to focus on. But I know it’s not healthy. I need to honor my mother’s memory, respect my grief and the mashed up mix of emotions I have for my mom – love, respect, admiration, disappointment, anger, sadness, loss, confusion…
“I think I will take some time and do that now,” I think to myself. As if grief is something you schedule time for. Turn it on, then turn it off. Is this right? It is my brain trying to control something that is by nature uncontrollable. It’s like trying to control water or air – it always finds ways to escape and go where it wants to go. Sometimes in trickles or puffs, sometimes in torrents and windstorms.