Grief Is…

This post is about losing a parent. Sharing these thoughts and feelings will help me move on, so I can soon get back to posting more book reviews.

My mother was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a kind of brain cancer, in September of this year, and passed away December 22. I never before had someone really close to me die. For me, grief is…

1. Surreal. I still often can’t believe my mom is gone. I wonder how long this disbelief will continue. Is it because she was so healthy, before she got so ill? Or does everyone feel this way when someone close to them dies?

I have been plagued with bad dreams my whole adult life. When I wake up, it’s often a relief to realize a scenario was just a dream. Early during my mom’s illness, I dreamt about her having a brain tumor. I woke and thought,”Thank goodness that was just a dream,” before reality hit me. When I got the news of her diagnosis I could hardly believe it; sometimes I still can’t believe it.

2. Uneven. I can go periods of time when I can talk calmly about her passing. Sometimes when I give acquaintances the news, their eyes tear up, but mine don’t. Other times such as when I see a photograph of my mom or a scrap of her handwriting, it’s like I’ve been punched in the gut and I feel doubled over with sadness.

3. Startling. My mother was first an older sister, then a babysitter, camp counselor, elementary school teacher, mother, volunteer at a preschool for children of teen moms, and finally a grandmother. She really enjoyed kids. Watching a recent video of her on the iPad she bequeathed to me of her playing in the pool with my kids, is so sharply painful. The sun is shining, the water is blue, she is so very healthy, and they are all laughing.

4. Tiring. Emotional exhaustion affects the body just as physical exhaustion, and I find I’m needing more sleep.

5. Lonely. Events occur that I wish I could tell her about, because no one else I know would appreciate the news as much. She was always fascinated by which books my book club chose in December for the upcoming year. She waited on the edge of her seat for this info. She would have loved the tweet, “I will take a look later. Much much later. Because I’m Ukrainian and we have revolution right now. Sorry.” She would have loved this interview with Kerry Candaele about how people are singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in many languages. Of course, I could never bore her sharing the minutiae re everything her grandchildren were doing.

6. Enlarging. It has expanded my view of the human experience. I know more about life, specifically, death. I do feel fortunate to have been present with my mother during her last days. I used to feel awkward and not know what to say to someone who had experienced a death in the family. I don’t think I will feel awkward anymore. Losing one’s parents is pretty universal. When I mention to someone that my mom has recently died, so many say to me, “I lost a mother/father, too.” Or, “My parents are still alive”. People seem to categorize divide themselves into two groups, a. “I know what that’s like,” or, b.”I’m lucky to not yet know what that’s like”, before and after.

7. Unyielding. I’ve stopped caring if my mascara runs, my eyes get red and my face blotchy. Because sometimes I feel I just have to cry, and if that time happens to be when I’m sitting in my car in a parking lot before shopping for groceries, so be it. On one of these shopping trips, the one when I had to return my cart full of food to customer service because at checkout I remembered my wallet was at home, a kind old man read my face and said, “Life is hard.” “Sometimes,” I replied.

8. Binding. It has drawn me closer to family members and friends. This has been entirely positive.

9. Repetitive. I know the pain will diminish in time. I know healing takes time, takes all the time it wants. Sometimes I wish I could get it all over, already, but I know that’s not realistic.

10. Bittersweet. I don’t know if there are many truly peaceful deaths, except perhaps dying in your sleep when you are 100. Usually there is physical pain associated with death, but in my mother’s case there wasn’t. We were all thankful for that. But having something foreign growing in your brain that robs you of your ability to speak, remember, walk, or control your bodily functions is not an easy death, either.

Yet, knowing death is inevitable and close has some advantages. My mom gave some art pieces away to people who would appreciate them. She called best friends from her community, old friends from childhood, and some relatives to say goodbye. They got to hear how great each thought the other was, one last time. A dear friend whom she met in fourth grade wrote my mom a letter after she called in which she said my mom was the best friend she had ever had. Saying final goodbyes is very sad; it is also a gift that many people who die don’t get. All the sympathy cards I have received from individuals touched by my mom are also bittersweet in that they make me happy she lived a life in which she was appreciated by many people.

Writing about my grief in the format of a list of ten points might strike some as a trivializing way to deal with the loss of a loved one. For me it’s an appropriate way to honor my mom. Perhaps this just highlights how different grief is for different people.


About Susan

I blog about middle grade and YA time travel books. I'm the author of Time Jump Coins.
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9 Responses to Grief Is…

  1. Jamie Brazil says:

    Thank you for writing this heartfelt post. Reminds me so much of what I went through almost three years ago when my husband and I lost our good friend on Jan 21st to brain cancer. We took care of him during the final months of his life, and you are so very fortunate that your mom died without pain, and that she had the opportunity to say her goodbyes in ways that were meaningful to her. The sadness never really goes away not completely, and sometimes it is so hard to comprehend that your loved one isn’t here physically. Even my mother-in-law sometimes catches herself absentmindedly talking to her husband who died ten years ago. Yeah, this is brutal time for you. You are not being trivial. You are being human.

    • Susan says:

      Thank you, Jamie. Your friend was lucky to have you and your husband in his final months. I’m looking right now out my window at some woods that are behind our back yard, and It’s very soothing. I didn’t mention it in my post, but for me, nature helps heal, too.

  2. Your expression of grief is beautiful. I read it and felt your pain, your tribute and your loneliness. All part of the grieving process. I wish I could hug you right now. This is when I feel the virtual world can be limiting. I’m so sorry you have lost your mother.

  3. thegourmez says:

    Your post is beautiful, and there is nothing weird about what you’re going through and how you’re processing grief. It all rings true to me. Keep letting yourself grieve–only time will tell you when to move on.

  4. I’m sorry to hear that you lost your mother. I have found, dealing with a recent loss of my own, that the best thing for ME (and everyone is different) is to think about it as little as possible. It’s good to know that my current level of fatigue might be tied to this, though. I hope that you are able to find some peace and relief during this difficult time.

    • Susan says:

      Good advice. Just on a practical level, it seems like it’s impossible to think about it very often if one wants to get through one’s daily tasks. My sympathies for your loss.

  5. Ms. Mosey says:

    Smazzy, my friend, this is truly beautiful. You have given a very clear picture of what grief is like for you. The surreality is something I’ve heard about quite a few times. From what I’ve heard, it’s not unusual to have dreams of talking on the phone to the deceased person, then wake up thinking it actually happened, until the reality of their absence creeps up on you. I find that pretty amazing, how sleep can transport us to a place between reality and imagination. I know you’ve been plagued by nightmares for years. Maybe you will be fortunate enough to see your dreams shift into a source of comfort, a place where you can stay connected with your mom somehow. I guess some people may see that as creepy, and maybe you do too, but it’s just possible that dream visits with your mom may bring you peace. I hope so.

    I have so much more to express to you, but would prefer to wait until the next time we can be together in person. I’ll fly down to see you as soon as this dreadful winter is behind us. In the meantime, you are most welcome to call any time you need to talk (I am your craziest friend when it comes to the hours I keep. I am rarely asleep before 2AM!) Sending you as much love as you can stand. ❤


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