How do we maneuver through grief and find some type of healing? I struggle for an answer. I’ve read some books on grief and dying. I‘ve talked to a bereavement counselor and a psychologist, but does that really give me the tools to cope with the loss of a parent?
Loosing a parent is like becoming untethered during a space walk. You suddenly are spinning out of control without gravity to bring you back to safety. You are lost, in a void and it is hard to catch your breath. People around you reach out their hands to help, but it is hard to latch onto the lifeline you need.
I suffer with the loss of my mother. I try to survive on a daily basis. The relationship that brought me unconditional love and grounding is gone. Perhaps it is a delusion that I live with, but I feel less protected and more vulnerable to the world now. I realize that I am an adult, but I was a child brought into this world by a person who is no longer here. I ask myself if I lack the strength of character that others have to survive the loss. I don’t think I am alone in experiencing the overwhelming sense of isolation.
It is a common phenomenon to have friends and relatives crowd around you wanting to provide support when a death first occurs. You receive cards, food, flowers and numerous “I am here if you need me” announcements. I don’t really think that is when you need the support. I was numb right after my mom passed away, so I didn’t need anyone to help me. I was gliding through it on my own nervous energy and sense of disbelief.
It is the weeks and months after the event that you need the friends and family to invade your space and to lend a strong shoulder. It is in those long days and dark nights that a hand should be reaching out to help. It seems that everyone figures that you’ll make it through, and if you need assistance you’ll ask for it. People go back to their own routines, and kind of assume that you are letting time heal the wound.
What if metaphorically the wound is infected and you don’t know how to fix it? There is no specific timeframe in which we should assume the wound would disappear. In fact, the wound will most likely always be there, but at some point it will be manageable. Death of a loved one changes us, and we can’t deny it. We have to take a journey to rediscover ourselves. I have found myself acting differently, thinking differently and relating to others in a different manner. Death leaves us feeling depleted and more aware of our own mortality.
I realize that everyone’s sense of loss is relative to them and it depends on the relationship they had with the deceased. When my father died, I was shocked and saddened by the sudden loss. I lost a great friend and a father who was the kindest, most caring dad I could have ever hoped for. I had the feeling of someone pulling the foundation of my sense of self away. With all the pain and experience of loss, I seemed to move through the grief process in a different manner than now. It isn’t that I loved my father less than my mother; it is just more finite to have both parents gone.
For six years I was a caregiver for my mother. I adapted to the role and felt the responsibility of providing care and support. When you’re left without that duty to fulfill and the person to whom you are providing the support is gone, there is a huge gap that needs to be filled. This is a time to take stock and realign what seems to be important. How do I want to live the rest of my life? There is a different perspective looking at it with both parents gone.
It is not about wringing hands, gnashing teeth and feeling sorry for myself. It is about trying to find the joy, purpose and pleasure in life, when it is entirely gone. How do you reignite that creative process, and find the color around you? It seems like everything is gray and black, and there are days when I just want to curl up into a ball and disappear.
People want to lecture you about how you should be feeling. There are studies about grief and how it affects the average survivor. There is no average with grief and loss. There is no study that will reflect my inner emotions. Facts and figures can’t change the reality for me. It will soon be a year since my mother died, and it is a difficult period to manage. The numbness of the loss is gone and the pining for her presence has begun. I can’t reach out and touch her. I can’t speak to her, or feel the hug of unconditional love. I can visit the cemetery and stare at a cold brass marker that bears her name.
A bereavement counselor told me that the first anniversary of a death is harder than the original loss, because the feeling of shock is gone. There is just the emptiness. I know that I am not alone, but I feel removed from myself. I need to find that connection that will bring me back to what causes me to be. I am not a religious person, so I don’t derive consolation that there is some fluffy cloud my mom is sitting on playing a song for me on a golden harp.
I do believe in a spiritual realm comprised of energy that surrounds us. I hope there is a greater consciousness that can help me through this difficult period. I know I don’t have the answers, but I continue to question the process. The pain is uncomfortable, the loneliness is encompassing and the knowledge of loss is devastating.
As a human, I do know that I am not alone in this process of suffering through grief. I can feel tattered, worn out and a memory of who I once was. I will reach deep to try and extract the purpose that drives me forward. When it feels infinitely easier to close my eyes and shut it all out, I will hold onto the love that I shared with both my parents. I can choose to believe that their spirits will shine brightly if I survive to achieve my dreams, to leave my mark on the world and ultimately learn to survive grief over time.