After "All That"
By Lisa Gaston, Chaplain, Genesis Spiritual Care
After Mom's Death
All I could see was the suffering she had endured, and, selfishly, the toll it had taken on my own life. At that point in time, I had no idea what I would remember about my mom that might bring some peace. At that moment I was quite frankly at peace that the suffering for all of us was over and she was in heaven, rejoined with her legs. A couple days after her death, my husband dreamed she rode her bike past him. That is what gave me peace. When my mom died over seven years ago, my aunt told me that eventually I would remember my mom the way she was, before “all this.” I was horrified. My mom had been in ill-health for so many years, there had been so many surgeries, breaks, falls, infections, amputations, and you name it. When auntie said before “all this,” which health disaster did she mean? Before all, that? What was “that”?
For a long time the memories that kept rolling past were sad, maddening, and painful. There were “maybe I should haves” and “why didn’t I” questions, not to mention the unresolved feelings around our relationship; along with, the occasional poignant memory of quiet times, the movies we saw together, the laughs, and--slowly--the memories of before “all that.”
At first I cried at the drop of a hat for no apparent reason or because I remembered something. I cried for what she had to go through. I cried for what she didn’t get to go through. I cried for what I didn’t do or say. I cried for what was said, good and not-so-good. I cried from shear exhaustion. Any random stoplight might find me with tears running down my cheeks.
What I experienced was a widening of the times between tears. I wore her perfume and I could remember her wearing it. I purposely thought of her in the years before her decline; however, not too often. And there was a widening, a loosening of the perceived negative feelings that had me in their grip.
Gingerly, I began to realize that the days were getting back to normal, although, as we say, to a new normal. My time no longer included time at a nursing home or hospital. Outings were not based on when it was time to get back to mom. As a mom myself, I could set my clock by that of my children again. The new normal started to feel really good, and, well, normal.
I learned as a hospice chaplain that grief can be seen as a spiral, which keeps loosening and widening. What a great explanation for such a difficult time in my life. At first the feelings and memories are tied very closely to each other and it can be overwhelming.
Yet as time passes, which varies from person to person and situation to situation, the memories and emotions come at different times with different intensity. I felt more space and breath as time passed. There continued to be a widening and loosening of feelings and memories that left more of my regular life open.
Healing Through Grief
My grief became less prominent in my life as the spiral expanded. As I said, it has been over seven years since my mom died and, while I miss her still, tears are rare, the memories of the horrible times are blurry, and talking about her is easier and even enjoyable. Grief truly became a healing journey.
For help on your journey with grief, call the Genesis Grief Support Cooperative at 563-421-5000 or get additional resources online.