The Stages of Grief: Four Months

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Thursday May 28th marked four months since mom passed from this earth. After taking care of her for so long, I still can’t believe she’s gone. But I have to correct myself. She may be gone in a physical sense from this house she loved so much, but she’s still here with me and always will be. Her presence, her spirit, is here, and in many ways it’s as real as the person I love and miss was during her physical existence. I created a book of photos of her so I can see her whenever I want to and to keep her with me. I wander around this house and innumerable, little things remind me of her: a wooden backscratcher, a small teddy bear, a piece of her fine antique porcelain, a floral teacup I bought her for Christmas 50 years ago.

Every night Mom used to take that teacup out of the cupboard and make a cup of instant decaf coffee with a spoonful of Cool Whip in it. One of my regrets is that I didn’t help her keep up this little nightly ritual when she could no longer do it by herself. She loved coffee and had a trusty, old percolator that she used every morning to make her coffee. I did continue this routine, and we shared the coffee I would make for her up until the last week before she died.

Grief is different for everyone. For me, it has primarily manifested itself in short, intense bursts of memory that can be horribly painful for a moment, given the content of the flashback, and then gone as quickly as they came. One of the reasons they are so painful is that, most of the time, the memory is of something about Mom that is so sweet and unforgettable. Although it brings the pain of loss into sharp focus, it also makes me grateful that I was privileged to experience life with her and reminds me that I did all I could to care for her and love her. I know that’s why she lived as long as she did. Despite her advanced dementia, she knew she was loved and cared for. She knew who I was even if during the last year she started asking, “Who are you?”

The last year of her life she slept very soundly and peacefully in her bed. I’d go in and get her ready for breakfast and she’d sometimes take a while to wake up. But eventually her eyes would open and that beautiful smile would flicker across her face and she’d say, “I love you!”

Torrey Curtis wrote this eight years after the sudden loss of his wife of 35 years: “Two blessings were critical for me in her loss. First, a conviction that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.' There were many days, especially in the first two years, when I would weep and scream in the pain of that loss. The scream was not, “why?” Just, “it hurts.” That is how it is with me. I’ll have a flashback to the last time I saw her, and I’ll hear my self crying out, “Oh, God, no!”

I can now begin to understand what someone in the grips of post traumatic stress syndrome goes through. My flashbacks are very intense and quick. Can you imagine what it would be like if those flashbacks did not to go away so quickly?

I wrote this in a long note back in February in response to a comment someone left at an entry written not two weeks after Mom had died:
“Grief is something I’ve only had to deal with once before in 2003 when an aunt I dearly loved, and who was like a second mother to me, died. I was in the hospital room when it happened. I deal with losses like that and the passing of my mother by steeling myself and not letting emotions have their way, what’s left of them anyway after years on antidepressants. Yes, I don’t get depressed, but I don’t cry or feel things as intensely as I used to. A huge trade off. But with my mother the grief has come in very, very intense little bursts of anguish, so deep and painful they are unbearable, but just for a very short time, seconds, a minute and it’s over. Then I move on. I don’t deliberate too long on what I’ve just experienced. Actually, I’m very grateful for that. It shows I can still feel grief. I’m human after all.

When my father died in 1992, I felt only numbness. I had battled him my whole life. How else could I feel at the time? I never felt any significant sense of loss after he was gone. I still don’t to this day.

I don’t think our loved ones would want us to be wailing and distraught. I really can’t imagine that myself. Maybe men are different in that regard, as they say. But I’m actually more relieved than sad because my mother’s suffering is over. She told us for so long that she was dying. I’d say, 'No you’re not, Mom. You’re living and we love you.' She['d] just reply with a kind of soft defiance and resignation, 'Yes, I am.'

It’s very strange, dealing with the dying process, which itself is very natural. We make it unnatural. When it finally comes for a loved one, we wonder how we’ll cope, as if we’ve never thought about it before.

For our immediate family, there was never any talk of embalming, caskets, pallbearers, services by the graveside, etc. None of that. Simple cremation and a memorial service, that’s it.

With my mother, I witnessed a long dying process for years because her decline was so incremental. She was 96 when she passed. In her last weeks, I was still thinking whatever condition she was in, she would go on and on like that, she’d be bedridden and I’d somehow adjust. But she and her body had other plans.”

 

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