Category Archives: Grief/Grieving Process

Divided Thanks

Thanksgiving…A time when we traditionally pause and reflect on life. Looking back over the previous year and giving thanks for our blessings…those we recognize and those known to only God.

Today, my heart is divided.

I went to bed at 2:00 am but not because of the usual pre-meal preparations. I was on a mission to finish a memorial video for my Grandmother’s funeral service scheduled for tomorrow. James and I arrived at my sisters’ house in Ohio at 9:15pm. We had barely finished carrying luggage in the house when we got the call that Grandma had just passed. We loaded back into the truck to meet up with the rest of our family at the hospital. Working on the video was draining. As I synced music to photos, I found myself flashing back to September. Back to when I was focused on the exact same exercise for my Mother’s memorial video. At 2:00 am, the final draft was finished…time for bed. Wiping tears from my eyes, I put my laptop to sleep and ascended the stairs to join my hubby.

I snuggled in and quickly drifted off to sleep. But not for long. My slumber interrupted by thoughts piercing my unconsciousness. Rising from bed, I looked out the open window…my gaze crossing the lawn…to Mom’s memorial statue. A silent conversation followed…known only to the two of us. Finally I uttered a verbal “Happy Thanksgiving” to Mom.Memorial Blur

My heart is divided.

I am deeply saddened that my step-father has lost both his Wife of 30 years and his Mother…exactly 11 weeks apart. I am saddened that two holidays will now eternally elicit mixed feelings. Mom passed at Labor Day – just before my brother’s birthday. Grandma passed just days ago – on my sister’s birthday and anniversary. These days have been added to the list of other special dates that we remember each year. My Mom and Step-Father’s anniversary also marked the day his father passed unexpectedly. My birthday marks the day my Father left this earth (though he was pronounced a few days later). On the calendar, they are just another day…marching along…leading way to the next. But in our lives, they cause us to pause, remember, and weep…sometimes uncontrollably.

My heart is divided.

When I allow myself to look past the grief, I am overpowered by an intense joy. I know Jesus welcomed Mom home in September. And I confidently visualize Mom and Grandpa, smiling ear-to-ear…standing arm-in-arm, behind Jesus…welcoming Grandma home. My Bible tells me to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV) I don’t know the reason our loved ones were taken from us. But I do trust that God has a purpose. And when I allow myself to look past the grief, I know that they are happier in Heaven than here…in this temporary world. Our grief will be replaced by pure joy when our time comes to join them…to be welcomed home.

And somewhere in the middle…the dividing line…is a bit of guilt. How can I be happy? How can I enjoy the holidays when we have empty seats at the table? Am I discounting their loss if I move on with festivities so soon after their passing?

My heart is divided.

Does our laughter betray the pain inside? Or do we honor our loved ones by finding a way through the pain to remember the love and warmth we enjoyed in their presence? Can we mourn our loss and celebrate their lives?

Better Living Through Chemistry

Nothing. I feel nothing. Numb. The intense emotional highs and lows of the Tilt-a-Whirl have been replaced with a pervading calm. Not the sweet calm of the acceptance stage in the grieving process. An artificial calm imposed by a new prescription to treat the depression triggered by the death of my Mother.

I started taking the new medication about a week ago. Some of the side effects were immediate…headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting…but have diminished to the point of being tolerable. These side effects were accompanied by a marked increase in fatigue which has intensified over the same timeframe. The fatigue has grown to an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. All I want to do is sleep. When I’m not sleeping…I’m yawning. The least bit of activity requires a nap to replenish my energy reserves.

I constantly feel like I’m in a fog. Thoughts lose their way along the path to my mouth. Perhaps they are drown out by the elevated volume of the constant ringing in my ears. Speaking has become riddled with pauses as I search for words.

Is this existence really better? At least with the pain, I know that I am alive. I feel deep, heart wrenching loss…but I feel. I still want to sleep…curl up in a ball…and sleep while dreaming of Mom. And I can think…of the sweet memories and the things I wish I had done differently.

Medications help us when we’re sick. But is it really “better living through chemistry” when your life is shrouded in the mist? I’m looking forward to the day when the only chemicals in my body are those found naturally in the foods I eat. Until then, I think a lower dosage is in order.

Featured image based on Beakers by Alex, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Perspective

It’s interesting how your perception of a specific circumstance can change when you experience a shift in perspective.

Perspective: a true understanding of the relative importance of things; an attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view; a frame of reference; the context for opinions, beliefs and experiences

I had dinner with a dear friend tonight. A friend who understands the pain of losing her Mother. It is comforting being able to talk with her and know she truly understands the level of grief associated with such loss. I came to realize that the emotions I’m feeling pale in comparison to the turmoil she experienced from the circumstances surrounding the passing of her Mother.

With this new perspective, I have found a small glimmer of closure. Yet, I know that it’s impossible to compare circumstances. And, you should never attempt to draw comparisons. Regardless of whether your circumstances appear more or less (insert whatever emotion or condition like grief, pain, loss) than someone else, the circumstances are yours…and the pain is yours. And when it impacts you…it will feel MORE than…even when it’s truly LESS than.

What You Oughta Do Is

Several thoughts for today’s post had been churning around in my head all day. I couldn’t settle in on what to write about. Each topic will eventually bubble to the top and make it to the page…but today…none of the ideas were firing off the neurons in my head…none were awakening the impulses that normally produce a tsunami of words pouring out through my hands. My fingers usually racing over the keyboard in a vain attempt to keep up with the thoughts transported by the synapses. I frequently struggle to get the images in print before the electrical impulses discharge somewhere along the way. But NOT today…today I just wasn’t “feeling it.”

Over dinner, I shared a few of the top contenders with my Hubby. When I speak my thoughts out loud to him, a crystal clear clarity forms out of the nebulous void. As soon as this topic emerged, he did not hesitate to make the decision for me. He exclaimed (as if a matter of fact)… “That’s it! You ought to write about…What you oughta do is!”

So, this blog will be the first of many random “Mom-isms”.

When I originally considered this topic, I could feel a spark but just couldn’t figure out how to explain the complexity of the relationship that made this “Mom-ism” such a sensitive issue. Most likely it is one of those things inherent in the Mother-Daughter relationship. At first we emulate our Mother, attempting to learn everything she has to give. But as we grow…older and questionably wiser…we begin to develop opposing views to most (if not all) subject matter that we once took as fact. From how you wear your hair…to how you dress…to who you date…to your beliefs…to who you marry…and THE LIST GOES ON.

It was as if we were on opposite sides of a chasm…shouting across the distance between us…the intensity of our words building like waves crashing on the shore…churning out of control…trying to convince each other that our side was better…that our perspective was the right one.

Discussions, debates, and heated arguments all emerge from these differences of opinion. Some relationships have only minor “fender-benders” but others have full-out “head on” collisions…as was true with me and Mom. At first the phrase was subtle. Over time it grew to become the single string of words that immediately raised the hair on the back of my neck and caused my very core to brace for an argument. Those five little words packed such a punch…and have brought me such pain. “What you oughta do is…”

As I grew older and more mature, I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t as smart…or as wise…or as (insert any number of adjectives)…as I once thought. When I began to see more clearly, I had to admit to myself that my Mother was right WAY MORE that I gave her credit. To borrow a phrase from my Husband – The older I got, the smarter my Mom got!

Even though my perspective changed, I still found it difficult to hear those five words strung together in that specific order. They just set me off when anyone (especially Mom) uttered them. Today, I yearn for the sound of her voice…I long to hear Mom say “What you oughta do is…” And this time, I will lovingly listen and respect the wisdom that follows those five little words…the wisdom she felt important enough to share.

Do you have any “Mom-ism” that you care to divulge?

Tilt-A-Whirl of Grief

Since Mom’s passing, I’ve been trying to understand the grieving process. I guess I’m looking for a plan…a list of tasks that I can complete…so I can “finish” grieving and move past the pain.

Yes…I’ve searched the web and read articles…perhaps WAY TOO MANY ARTICLES…on the stages of grief and the emotions associated with the grieving process. I’ve also read material provided by Hospice*. I’ve talked to counselors. Through all of this research I have come to understand that the grief process (and time needed to grieve) is different for EVERY person. No surprise here…I’m sure many of you already knew this fact.

The Stages of Grief
There are varying opinions on the number of stages in the grief process. Further, the names of the stages and explanations for each stage are different based upon the specific source you are reading. (I will leave you to research and choose the list of stages and definitions that speak to you.) I prefer the following list provided by Mercy New Life Hospice* because it includes the common emotions associated with grief. They emphasize that the stages/emotions occur in no specific order.

ACCEPTANCE
SHOCK
HOPE
DENIAL
SADNESS
CONFUSION
RELIEF
BARGAINING
DEPRESSION
ANGER
BLAMING

Now that I have this information…what’s next? Well…I’m a visual person. So, I’ve been attempting to come up with a metaphor or image to help me visualize what the grieving process looks like. What I’ve come up with is going to sound kinda “out there”. So…I’m asking you to  hang on…hear me out…before you stop reading.

I think the grieving process is like riding a Tilt-a-Whirl.

Yes, I’m talking about the amusement park ride that we’ve all braved at some point. It can be really scary (and make you sick) if you get the car spinning fast…TRUST ME on this. Here’s how I see it…

Platform:
The platform represents your grief. You’re elevated where everyone not dealing with the grief can witness your progress…AND often judge whether you should be back to “normal”. You feel on “display” for the world.

Cars:

  • Each car represents one of the stages of the grieving process or common emotions of grief.
  • When you step onto the platform, you don’t know which car (stage) you will encounter because they all look the same.
  • Each time the ride starts, you could encounter the same stage all over again or experience a different stage.
  • While in each stage, your actions are erratic. You spin out of control…forward and backward…sometimes slowly…sometimes fast…never knowing when the ride will stop.

Intensity:
As the platform revolves, the position of each car moves from the top to the bottom of the orbit. You feel less intense emotions at the top and overwhelming (No…debilitating) emotions at the bottom.

When the Ride Stops:
There can be a different outcome each time you take a ride. And, each time the ride stops…

  • You could be off-balance and confused as to what just happened.
  • You could be sick – emotionally or physically sick…nauseous, even throwing up. Been there, done that while grieving.
  • You could feel relieved…as if something has been calmed…you’ve found peace.

Exit:
In this analogy, you exit the ride after you have been in each car and dealt with (processed) each stage of grief.

Unresolved Grief
Of course, there is nothing to stop us from getting off the Tilt-a-Whirl before we’ve experienced the stage represented by each car. We can go on with life as if everything is OK. But unresolved grief will make an encore appearance sometime down the road. Yup…guilty. I realized through grieving the loss of my Mother that I never fully grieved for my divorce or my cancer. The grief for all of these losses combined is overwhelming…making it even harder to process it all at this point in my life.

Guess that means I won’t be leaving the amusement park any time soon. Good thing I have a pass for unlimited rides!

*The material referenced from Hospice is “Crossing the Creek – A Practical Guide to Understanding Death and the Process of Dying” by Michael Holmes, R.N. of Mercy New Life Hospice. His list of the stages/common emotions of grief are based upon the list identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

Tilt-A-Whirl image based on “7143931913_6db906f8d6_z.jpg” by Random Bullsh*t at nohope.org

Frozen in Time

People often use the “seasons” metaphor to describe life. I get it. We we all have images of what each season means. And though its Fall on the calendar, my life is stuck in Winter. Over the past 2 1/2 years, I’ve been experiencing the longest, harshest winter of my life.
Frozen Melody

A blanket of heavy, wet snow envelops my heart. Joy has been suspended…No…frozen in time. The music of my life…silenced, yet again. This time from the pain of my Mom’s passing.

How did I get to this place?
How do I dig out?
How do I move on with life?
How do I end my self-imposed isolation?

After Mom’s passing, I kept myself distracted by all the “tasks” that needed to be handled. I avoided the attempts of friends (and most family) to reach out with words of comfort or empathy. Conversations that triggered emotions had to be avoided… At. All. Cost!!!

Now that I’m back at home and in familiar surroundings, I’m supposed to be moving on with my life. But I can’t get the images or sounds of Mom’s final days out of my mind. The visions fill the darkness behind my eyelids when the lights go out. The interrupted rhythm of her breathing…and then silence…drowns out the otherwise constant ringing in my ears*. During waking hours, I erupt into sobs of despair over seemingly insignificant reminders of Mom.

In the midst of this season (the dead of winter), I feel paralyzed. Frozen with grief. Clinging to a life that used to feel “normal” while a blizzard of emotions swirls around me. I can’t make time move any faster…I’m trapped. Trapped while waiting and praying for the weather to change and reveal the melody of Spring.

While I wait…
Do you have any insights or suggestions on the grieving process that you can share?

*The ringing in my ears started during chemo and never stops. The intensity increases with my fatigue level.

My Mountain Mother

In the hills of West Virginia, she began her life
the daughter of a coal miner and loving housewife.
Born at home in Plymouth Bottom, the coal mine town
where the company required they settle down.

Blind to the poverty of the coal dust streets
her joy was shared with each person she would meet.
She eloped at 15 for marrying young was the custom
and within two years, a new life she welcomed.

Mom and Me
Mom and Me

Blessed twice more in rapid succession…
her family complete, a smile her permanent expression.
The love story continued with a promising future
until tragedy struck and left her a single mother.

She moved to Ohio looking for work
for she couldn’t support her family as a restaurant cook.
Nights in a factory were difficult and tough…
we didn’t have much extra but always enough.

Her children grew and built lives of their own
leaving her proud of their independence but feeling sad and alone.
Out with a friend, one night she chanced to meet
a smooth talker that swept her off her feet.

Thirty years ago she married her second love
and while taking a new name, she gained a daughter and a son.
The new couple sped through the years enjoying each day
as they laughed and loved in their own special way.

Graduations and weddings and grandchildren, now eleven
drove her empty nest to yearn for attention.
Looking through the window, she found her calling
to rescue stray kittens, now her life had new meaning.

As the years passed, her heart began to weaken
perhaps drained from the love she shared without hesitation.
We felt her embrace and affection in everyday actions
for saying the words, didn’t often happen.

She learned as a child to keep her feelings contained
and limit expressions of emotion, the reason unexplained.
It was sometimes difficult to see through her tough exterior
but we knew she loved us deeply, and that’s what matters.

I held Mom’s hand as her breathing became shallow
and reminisced of a vibrant woman, who was now only a shadow.
I wished to go back in time for a long sweet embrace
to tell her “I Love You!” and “You can never be replaced.”

We said good-bye as Jesus welcomed her home
and rejoiced in knowing we would never be alone.
For we see her smile that continues to glow
in every sunset that graces the heavens, both above and below.

Mom Smiles from Heaven