I don’t tend to get this personal in my blog posts, but I am using this space to write as self-therapy and I am sharing just in case someone is going through a similar experience.
My mom died a week ago. Actually, it hasn’t been a week yet though I have been grieving for much longer. What experts call “anticipatory grief” began when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and in a way my mind has been unconsciously preparing for the “end”. In a culture that turns its back to death and the unknown, I am paving my own way through grief, aware that it is as individual as life itself. By no means is this a theoretical article on grief, but an open-hearted and vulnerable post about my own experience. I believe our culture is thirsty for the conversation about loss and grief, and I am just dipping my toes in it right now.
I could write a whole book about the suffering and emptiness I experienced when she was in pain and how her deterioration and weakness has taken me to darker places than I could have ever imagined. However, with the diagnosis and the excruciating uncertainty of her life came an amazing gift. A gift of presence, gratitude and indescribable unconditional love. Aware that her time was limited taught me to be absolutely present for every instant we spent together. Every hug, every laugh, every cry and every stare had a magical taste of presence and love to it.
The illusion of infinite time can be a barrier to understand the preciousness of ever single moment. Approaching death also taught us about impermanence. As grief expert Neimeyer said to me in a course I enrolled two weeks before her death, “we are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence.” As true as it is, this is hard to assimilate it. Even though I am working every day on accepting my loss, my world is being shaken by the fact that I will not be able to see her again. Falling into a deep well of pain and surfacing back to peace and surrender is part of healing. After all, going back and forth emotionally is my unique way of finding peace in my loss.
Grief is complex. I am grieving my mom’s loss as well as many other losses that has come with it, including: the loss of my old “me” as I will never be the same person again; the loss of the time we spent together; and the loss of the beliefs, hopes and fantasies built around her. The adjustments I am making are not to one but to many losses, and that makes grief complex. In essence, every change involves loss and every loss involves change.
These days I am asked what I do to deal with my loss and, to be honest, one of my greatest releases is crying. I feel that uncried tears have a way of pulling our bodies and souls deeper into sadness. And I learned that you have to cry your own tears, no one can do it for you.
Writing is also one of my preferred forms of externalizing the pain that sits in me. Writing the “story” of my loss helps dissipate my pain, puzzle my narrative together and opens me up to new terrains yet to be explored.
An inevitable consequence of facing her illness and death has been a strengthened spirituality. I have connected to a force that goes beyond the body and disease. In a symbolic or spiritual sense, I now understand that death doesn’t exist. Life continues beyond the physical body, and her soul will never die. She now lives within me, but in a different way. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once said “death is but a transition from this life to another existence where there is no more pain or anguish. That knowledge helps me, in my own losses and grief, to know that those I care for are okay.”
And while miss her terribly, I do find solace in knowing that she has found freedom from pain, no longer bed-bound or hooked up to tubes. She left her body as a butterfly leaves her cocoon. And through this release, she was set free, achieving absolute peace. Now she has become my greatest teacher, my guiding star.
For me, grieving is not about letting go, but about redefining a new meaning around my loss. It is not about overcoming the loss either, but integrating the experience of loss into my life and learning to live with it. My journey still continues and I have confidence that I will keep readjusting and rebuilding myself around this loss, feeling whole again, but never the same. Nor would I want to be.