This month marks a year since my mother’s sudden death from a massive stroke. In this year I have found grief a strange experience. During, and the first few days after, her death I was superwoman, high on adrenaline and working through the endless list of things that need to be done following a death. Focused on my elderly father and his grief, I paid little attention to my own. Then the fog set in.
Those of you who have lived through the death of a close friend or relation understand what I mean by “the fog.” My brain just went fuzzy the day after the memorial service. I had trouble concentrating. I felt I was unfit to drive, I was that distracted. The tears crept in then, randomly. As when someone mentioned the word “hemorrhage.” Or when someone asked if I’d been terribly shocked by her death. Well, yes. She was fine until the moment the stroke hit. 24 hours later she was dead. I’d say I was shocked. Or when the realization of all the celebrations, weddings, birthdays, and shopping trips she would miss: the thing she loved most was being with her family and she leaves a gaping hole.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross helpfully mapped out her stages of grief in 1969. She proposes five stages to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are not linear and not everyone experiences each stage. I’m finding them to be a bit of a stew, mixed up together. One day I found myself weeping for Mom in the morning and feeling profoundly connected to her and in acceptance by the afternoon. It is a bit of a roller coaster ride.
While I am experiencing this roller coaster, there are also a few underlying spiritual convictions that are helping me. One is that my mother is fine. She is in a place where she is safe, content and useful. I even feel she is busy. Motivated by love in this life, I’m convinced she is busy spreading the love around in the next.
Another thing that is helping me is the feeling that she remains present in my life. She may be on another plane, one that I do not understand, but her love reaches me and her guidance is mine for the asking. With my whole heart I reach out to her and feel her near, continuing to always wish good for me. If I can let her presence in, she will offer her help, through my dreams and intuition.
Finally, and most importantly, is gratitude. My mother was tender and nurturing. The experience of this gave me the ability to recover from my own wounds. She was also smart and interested in the world and in those she loved. I am one of the fortunate few who can say that my parents were truly devoted to each other and I witnessed their mutual admiration for each other. This gratitude is deep, sustaining, and enables me to experience joy in the midst of my grief.
Grief isn’t really about despair. It is about memories, about loss, and about experiencing the vacuum created when a loved one leaves us. But it is also about the vibrant life shared, about the gifts given and received, and about joy. Because grief is so multi-faceted I am finding that I can embrace my own life, the life given me by my mother, even while I miss her terribly.