How many of your loved ones have you lost? I've been a bit quiet on this blog the past two weeks because my mom recently passed away. It was the first time I'd lost anyone close to me, since I was really too young to have much of a relationship with any of my grandparents before they died. This experience has brought up varying feelings, and I wanted to share some things I've learned in the process that I hope will help you, too.
Timing makes a huge difference
My mom had been sick for a long time, with severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). She was on hospice, and when she finally did pass away, it was quick and peaceful. I had been praying that I'd be able to be with her.
My husband and I spent Christmas with my family, and it was hard to see her struggling so much. We knew she'd pass soon, but didn't expect it to be quite so soon.
My dad called late one night, and the next afternoon I was with my family. Later that same night, my mom passed. She left this world right about the time the super blood wolf moon eclipse started on January 20, and I can't help but think that there was some significance in that timing.
Although I felt sad at her passing, I also felt happy and relieved. It's so nice to know that she is no longer suffering and is at peace. I'm thankful I have been able to prepare, even a little bit, for her death.
I think when we know someone is dying, we take the extra effort and time to connect in ways we might not otherwise. We reach out more and let them know we care more.
My dad had been a devoted caregiver for a number of years for his wife, and he was ready, too. The week I was with him, we cleaned out her closets and donated all of her clothes. He was ready for that and it's what he needed.
A dear friend lost her mother-in-law suddenly a year and a half ago. Her father-in-law still hasn't been able to clear out any of his wife's things.
It takes time to mourn the passing of our loved ones. When someone is chronically ill, some of that mourning happens when they're still alive.
Let go of guilt and allow the feelings to come
When I flew to Atlanta, I went with the intent of being present and of holding a heart full of love for each of my family members. I was reminded by a dear friend that this was my mom's journey - her passing was for her, as part of her return to home.
I did my best to be present throughout all of the phases of that week - the last time with her when she was alive, her passing, cleaning the house, the funeral. And allowing my dad and brother the space to express whatever they needed to.
We all had, and continue to have, varying responses to my mom's death. One of the most important thing we can do is to allow whatever feelings arise to come. And to let go of any judgment about them.
At one point, the day after mom passed, I started to think about things I wished I had done differently in the past two months. I quickly stopped myself - there's no point in going down that road. It's important to remember that we're doing the best we can with the knowledge and awareness we have at any point in time.
Guilt has no place here. There's nothing that can be changed now. Revisiting that past and thinking of things we "could" or "should have" done differently keeps us stuck and in negativity.
A few days after I returned home, I was just dancing and moving to music. I love doing this to let whatever is stuck in my body to get moving and to enjoy the feeling of moving. I had feelings of being happy that my mom was gone, feeling freed from some of her persistent fears and the effect her fears had on my own life.
Again, I let go of any guilt around those feelings. I love my mom, she did the best she could. And so did I. Those feelings were ok and needed to be acknowledged and expressed.
Cherish the time you have today
My parents are Catholic, so we had a mass for my mom. I chose to give the eulogy. As I thought and prayed about what to say, I was grateful to realize that the list of good I had to say about her were all things I had already shared with her.
Like most (if not all) loving parents, my mom expressed feelings that she wished she had done some things differently when we were kids. I always reassured her that she did a great job raising us, because she did!
I'm grateful to have the perspective that my parents truly did do the best they could in raising me and my brother. I know enough about their upbringings to know some of their struggles and where they came from. Knowing about their own childhoods also helps me to see more clearly how incredible they both did, and the good things they chose, as our parents.
Make sure to tell your loved ones today why you love them and what you appreciate about them. Learn who they truly are as human beings and what they need to feel loved from you. Take the time to really be present with them when you're together.
I'm so thankful that I have talked with my parents almost every week for the past 25+ years. We've progressed from talking on a land line when I was in college to getting on FaceTime, and now my 77 year old dad and I even text.
Instead of judging your parents or siblings, get to know them. What was your father's and mother's childhood like? What was your sibling's experience of growing up? Just because you're in the same household does not at all mean that you came away with the same perspectives on life.
The more you get to know your parents as real people, the easier it becomes to have compassion and love for them.
Everything is a process
Everything is a process, not a singular event.
My mom's death was a long process.....especially since she was sick for so long. She slowly faded away. When I saw her hours before she passed, I knew that she wasn't really there any more. The veil between heaven and earth is thin at death, just like it is at birth. Sometimes the spirits of our loved ones come and go, until they make that last final transition to the other side.
Grieving is also a process, and it's different for everyone. My faith and understanding of this life and the afterlife have made this process much easier for me. For my brother, who lacks those things, it's been a lot harder.
Everyone lets go at their own pace. Let them have their time. I've learned that you never know what might trigger deep feelings of loss or bring on the tears. Even with a strong faith, being the one left here can be quite difficult.
Being alone is different for men
For me, it's a bit of a challenge to imagine my husband getting remarried if I would die before him, especially if that happened sooner rather than later. But I learned a lot about the idea of being alone as a man or a woman from being with my dad for just that one week after mom died.
It's different for men than it is for women. As women, we're the caretakers of the home. It's our feminine space. When we were in Atlanta, I automatically cooked and cleaned and just took care of those things.
My dad is completely capable of doing the cooking and cleaning, too. He's been doing everything by himself for some years now, and even when we were little he would make breakfast. But I got a strong impression that being widowed is not the same for a man.
It seems to me that it's easier for a woman to live alone after her husband passes, especially if she's older. In fact, it seems that many actually choose to do so (not just because of the lack of older single men). But I think it's much more difficult for men to do so. They seem to need that companionship even more, and need someone else to be there in the home with them.
This impression shifted my view on remarriage after the death of a spouse. As humans, we need companionship, and I hope that my dad finds someone he can have that with. And yes, also a blessing on my husband that he too would find someone else if I died before him.
Time stops for no one
Although a death can have a large impact on us individually, time doesn't stop. The world keeps moving along, ever birthing and growing and dying.
It's an interesting experience, to feel that time has in one sense slowed or stopped, and yet at the same time to feel like it just keeps whizzing by, oblivious to this loss. Was that it? That bright light that came into this world, and now, just like that, it's gone?
As I read my mom's obituary in the paper (which she herself had written), I stopped to think - what do I want my obituary to say? I'm familiar with the exercise of thinking about what you want others to say about you at your funeral. But an obituary is short and sweet and to the point. Given a little space in a column of some newspaper, how do I want my life summed up?
How do you want your life summed up?
I love you mom.