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.