I’m not sure when it happens, I guess for everyone it’s different. What day was it when I stopped remembering what my mother’s voice sounded like? For a while, I knew I could call her old cell phone and her voicemail would pick up…but then the service shut off and it was gone. There are a lot of things about life and grief that don’t seem momentous at the time, but then when you look back on them it seems like they should have been more significant.
Like how many days after her death did I decide it was time to go back to my ‘normal’ life? I can’t really remember my decision-making process in the days following her death, I feel certain it wasn’t altogether rational. All I know is, I only took a week. One week. After that, it was back to life, back to a new job, back to a new marriage, back to my first pregnancy. This was my life and life had to move forward. “Time stops for no man”, isn’t that what they say? Time certainly doesn’t stop for grief.
Unfortunately for us, grief is more than willing to come along for the ride. It had become my closest companion during those first few years after my mom died. Grief was there when my first daughter was born. Grief was there every time my husband and I argued. Grief was there every time I saw a girl in her 20’s with her mother on the street. Grief was there every time I heard the word Cancer. Grief was ‘there’ so often it ought to have had its own place at the dinner table.
“Time heals all wounds” isn’t that what they say? Well, we all know that isn’t true. How many of us walk around thinking that by putting time between us and a death we are ‘dealing’ with grief? We figure we can put it away in a dark corner of our closet and only bring it out when we’re ready for a good cry. Eventually, we will open the closet and it will be gone…right?
In truth over time, things did get easier, but I was no less ‘over it’. At any moment I could be completely thrown off guard by the single thought of my mother’s death. Walking down the street I’d be knocked over by intense anger. It would come out of nowhere and then slowly drain out of me until I felt just a little sadder than I did 5 minutes before.
I needed to deal with my grief.
Thanks to the nature of my work I spend a good majority of my time surrounded by people who are incredibly supportive of grief no matter how it manifests itself. I also had exposure to what currently is (and isn’t) out there for those who have experienced a loss.
Of course, there are those things so often suggested – self-care, patience with oneself, someone to talk to; if you’re someone who is open to talk or group therapy, these can be invaluable and irreplaceable tools. But the methods that appealed to me were different than what I found in most brochures, journals, and books.
The things that I needed were more practical and specific suggestions, education that reached beyond generalizations, outlets for expressing myself that suited me, and opportunities for exploration. These were outlets that I wasn’t aware of back when I should have started dealing with the loss of my mother, back around the time I decided to get back to my ‘normal’ life and fumble through the darkness alone and blind. Why do so many of us do this? Sometimes it seems out of necessity. Grief is sad, it’s scary, and it’s way too often thought of like an awkward topic.
The last happy memory I have of my mother happened about a month before we found out she had cancer, one year before her death. She and some of my family drove from New York to Baltimore for my bridal shower. Ohh’s and Ahh’s over new pans and Pyrex were the order of the day. My sister-in-law passed around a little notepad for all the married women to write down their best ‘marital advice’.
This is the type of party detail she always remembers and I always forget. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that she was on the party planning committee because that little notebook is now my most treasured possession. Inside my mom wrote, on our last happy day together, “You can never go back, only forward. Go forward together…Keep singing. Be happy! You make me proud.”
Well, today that what I’m trying to do, go forward any way I can. We can do it together, all of us. That’s what this blog is about. We’ll be here when you’re ready.