GRIEF’S A FUNNY THING
Grief’s a funny thing. One minute you’re living your life as though nothing has changed, and then one day it hits you out of nowhere weeks, months, may be years later. And you wonder “Where did that come from?” That’s the way it happened with me when my mother-in-law died in 2009. Our family went through five years of watching her fade away due to emphysema and cancer. We went through the 3 day funeral, took care of her estate, and went on with our lives. Except, it wasn’t over yet. Her death left a gaping hole in our lives that has never been filled. Six months passed before I felt the effects of her death. As the heart of our family, hers was the place we went to during the holidays, or for Sunday dinners. Summer evenings were spent on her front porch eating butterscotch ice cream as we watched the world go by. We baked cookies together at Christmas, and canned fruit in the fall. Each season has its memories. And now that is all gone.
THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT:
And now it’s happening all over again with my mother’s recent death, April 20, 2017. Only this time, it will be different. At least I hope it will be. Her death came about rather suddenly. On Good Friday she was experiencing shortness of breath, so we took her to the hospital, only to find out that she’s had a heart attack two days prior. Her lungs were filling up with fluid which attributed to the shortness of breath. At 83, she didn’t want any interference, so the doctor sent her back to the long term care facility with instructions for the nurses to give her injections twice a day to help alleviate the fluid build-up in her lungs, so she’d be more comfortable. What they didn’t tell me, was they expected the heart attack to complete itself within a week. Six days later, I got a call from the home that she was losing oxygen and to call in the family. I arrived at 10:00 am, and by 10:20 am, she was gone.
I cried. Of course I cried. My mother was gone. I never dreamed she’d die of a heart attack. Her health had been excellent. In fact, she outlived her mother and grandmother by 30 years, who both died of kidney ailments. She was cognitive while at the home. All she needed was help getting to the wash room. I expected her to be around for a while yet.
A PAIR OF RED SHOES:
My first thought after her death was of a pair of red shoes she used to wear in the 1960s. They had pointed toes and 2 inch stiletto heels. As I wrote her eulogy, I started to think about the memories I had of my mother, and they were all of small things. The Kleenex she always carried in her pocket. How I used to ride on the back of her bike when we went to visit my Grandma. How she got up early every morning to start the fire so my brother and I would be warm when we came downstairs. Her Christmas trifle. Her red hair.
We had a lovely service for her at the home, where she’d lived for 8 years, so that her friends could be a part of the service. It was a simple affair as was her wish. When people got up to speak of her, I was gifted with another view of my mother. In the end, I feel like we gave her a good send off. She would have been happy. Maybe she was happy. She’s gone. I know she’s gone, but ever since the day of her service, I’ve felt like she is still with me.
THEY LIVE ON:
That’s when I started to think about the nature of grief. I began to wonder why we had to be sad when people we loved died. Yes, they are no longer here in the physical form, but their memories live on within those of us who knew her, and perhaps those who don’t. My spirituality teaches me that the energy that makes up the body never dies, it just goes on in another form. My heart tells me that my mother is still a part of me because we share the same DNA. Everything she has taught me is still with me and has made me who I am, and this, in turn, will be passed on to my children, and even to the people I come into contact with every day.
During the service, her friends mentioned a number of times how she was so grateful for all the things people did for her. Either with a kind word, or a small gift. Then it hit me. I’m the same way. Daughters try so hard not to be like mothers. No one is perfect, after all. But there it was, right in front of me. I too, am grateful for all the kindnesses people show me. This ability to find gratitude, despite the everyday struggles that we all must go through, is ours. It made me feel close to her.
Though my mother-in-law is gone, and along with it the connections that we shared, I’m really grateful for the time we had together. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion. And now my mother’s gone too. Each passing was different and didn’t follow a known path — and that’s OK. In the end, I learned an important message best expressed in the final words of a poem by Maya Angelou, When Great Trees Fall:
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
And they continue to exist, within each of us. In this way, our loved one never truly dies.