Thursday, October 15, 2009

Anatomy of Losing A Loved One

Many of you who have been following my blog know my mom recently passed from this life on Thursday, September 3rd. A dear friend suddenly lost her dad this week, and I now know, better understand the experience she and her siblings will go through upon losing a parent. Each experience of loss is different for each of us, and depends on the kind of relationship we had with the loved one. And each of us will handle differently what transpires following the loved one’s death; but I’m sharing my personal experience of dealing with the loss in the days and weeks that have followed so that you who have not been through such a loss (blessedly!) can better understand in some small way what we who have experienced it go through. It doesn’t even begin to touch upon “living the experience” but I’m hopeful you can better appreciate why friends going through such a loss might withdraw, become non-responsive and check-out, become brooding and moody, not seem themselves and out of sorts for any given amount of time.

Upon my mom’s transition, my dad, brother and I were with her when she drew her last breaths. I have never seen someone transition, never having been present when another human being left this Earthly realm. It wasn’t what I expected; it has replayed in my mind many times, and now and again, continues to do so. It’s one of those moments etched in your memory that you will forever recall. The sound of the final gasps of breath. The gurgling of each breath. The body’s strain to take them. My mother’s face as she did so. It brings tears to my eyes to think of it, even at this writing, but I am grateful I was there to be with her, support her as she left this world into the next glorious Realm.

The week and plus days that followed was like being in a time warp, but it felt like we were on Novocain. We were all numb, and immediately after mom’s passing, there were final arrangements to attend to, which provided us with some distraction. But we also had time on our hands before we moved into the visitation and funeral service phase. In the time leading up to these events, we found distraction in the company of family members, loved ones, and DVD’s. We found comfort in the endless supply of food that people brought over. But the visitation and funeral service: I dreaded these two days for I knew it would be intense. The resentful human part of me didn’t want to do any of it. We are physically and emotionally drained from the loss. And we are not only managing our own emotions over this loss, but we are called upon during these times to support others expressions of loss, those who are also saddened. I didn’t want to hear words of encouragement and comfort that really didn’t feel helpful or comforting. We must also manage others’ discomfort with death, and their loss of their friend in mom. But in support of my father, and in honor of my mother, I resolved to open my heart and mind to the experience, releasing all human angst over to the Universe, and moved into being in every moment of the experience. I found the strength and energy from God Within to move through each moment with ease and grace.

Many people came to pay their respects to the family, and we were touched to learn just how well so many people thought of mom. I personally was touched and amazed at all who came to the visitation; people I hadn’t seen since grade school – teachers, family of childhood friends, classmates, and so many others. The days were long, but filled with the support and love of family, locally and from out of town. Sunday evening after the visitation, our house was filled with approximately 50 family members, young and old, to enjoy food and company. It made for a long tiring day but it offered relief in the form of laughter. It also helped us sleep through the night on the eve of the funeral.

The funeral service had been planned by mom prior to the deterioration of her health. One of the blessings our family enjoyed in all of this was mom getting all her ducks in a row around her affairs. This in and of itself was one of many greatest gifts she gave us before her earthly departure. Funeral arrangements and all the details had been previously made; finalizing them after her death was a formality and effortless. The funeral service she planned, down to the music and who would speak was beautiful, and we’ve received so many compliments. It was a relief to have that closure; but with one door closed, another door opens into the next phase of the loss.

The week following the funeral, we are all still slightly numb mixed with a bit of shock and awe. But we had more to do - thank you notes to those who sent flowers, contributions, etc. My brother and his wife, dad and I sat down and took care of the business. It wasn’t quite a week since mom passed but it seemed that so much taken place in such a short period of time. It seemed surreal. The one week mark hit on Thursday, and slowly, the numb feeling began to fade and the reality of mom’s absence made itself known, along the pain that accompanies the loss. I managed to distract myself much as possible through the weekend, but my fa├žade of being “okay,” along with my intention to “move on” began cracking under the pressure of grief bubbling to the surface. One week and a day after mom’s passing, my brother and his wife returns home to Frankfort and their lives, leaving Dad and I at the house where we’d been in service of mom for two months, and for Dad, even longer. One week after burying my mom, ten days after my mom died, all emotional hell broke loose for me; I crashed and burned for two days, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

It’s just been six weeks since mom crossed over. Two weeks after her death, I left town and headed to South Dakota and Colorado for a getaway. Several Interstates experienced my tears as I sobbed like a baby whenever I thought of my mom, saw something that reminded me of her, or I felt my mom’s presence around me. The emotion purged up uncontrollably steamrolling through me, at times. I cried even more upon my arrival to Colorado, and in the nurturing and loving arms of my spiritual family and support group. The trip was good, for it allowed me the space to process mentally, spiritually and emotionally the loss, and my life without my mom in it. Upon my return, I finally crashed physically, as all the energies of the grief manifested through a head cold, forcing me to stop, sit still, rest my body and sleep; it was the most I’d sat still since I came home in July to care for mom.

Life goes on. Each Thursday, I feel a heaviness come over my heart, for mom was Thursday’s child (born and died on Thursday). I watch a DVD and see someone losing a loved one, and in hypersensitivity, I break down in more expression of grief, thus missing several minutes of the movie. I’m feeling more myself, but then I’m touched by another’s personal loss, such as my dear friend. My heart aches with an understanding of what she’s experiencing, and her sense of responsibility she’ll feel to forge ahead as a pillar of strength for the family and the community, when you really just want to curl up in a corner and cry like a baby. And lately, I experience “what if” moments, when I wonder, what if I’d been home more often to spend more quality time with her, what if she’d met my Beloved, and what if she’d gotten to do more of the things she’d wanted to do. It’s part of the process; and I gently think the thoughts, and then gently let them go. This is the key to moving through the grief and keeping one’s sanity within it.

As for supporting those of us experiencing such a loss, just listen to us share our feelings, and acknowledge them. Don’t tell us what we need to do to get through the grief; even if you’ve been through it personally, remember we each handle our grief uniquely. Tell us you are available for us to call and talk to you, and that you’re happy to listen and share your own experiences if we want to hear them. Hold us when we are crying, tearing up, and even when we are being unreasonable and irrationally out of sorts for the situation at hand. Just a simple hand on the shoulder or back to reassure us we’re not alone in this is helpful. Be patient with us, understanding and just asking “what can I do for you?” Tell us it is okay to be sad and to cry; don’t tell us “you’ve got to move on.” When its appropriate, help us get out, keep busy with a project; there’s an appropriate time for us to wallow in the emotion, but help us move out of it by bringing over supper, a DVD and popcorn, or an art project. And ask us questions about the loved one, especially if you didn’t know him or her well. We love to talk about our loved ones we’ve lost, for it helps us stay connected to them in a different and new way; don’t think it’s too painful to bring the loved one up to us, and yes, we may even cry when we do talk about them, but that’s okay. You just need to be okay with it if we do. Know that we are in pain as we watch other family members left behind go through this loss too. Watching my dad move about this house, alone and without my mom for the first time in 45 years is heartbreaking. He relied on mom for a great deal, and he misses her presence, her company a lot. We all do. So know we are feeling empathy pain of another’s grief, which leaves us feeling helpless to our loved ones, as well as our own grief.

For me, I’m feeling more like myself, but I still need support. I have a wonderful man who catches me when I collapse under the heartache, but I also need to know what I’m feeling is normal, healthy; so I’ve found a grief support group to connect with so that I’m feeling less alone in this muck. If you are not sure how to support someone in grief, get educated. There’s a wonderful Grief Library at Owensboro’s Glenn Funeral Home’s website,, by a specialist who resides in Colorado. Or go to a grief support group with your friend; he or she will appreciate your support in this way.

I’ve never lost someone so close to me before until the passing of my mom. I’ve lost dogs, grandparents, even an uncle, but this relationship was the greatest loss I’ve experienced. I appreciate the support I’ve received; but I’m not done grieving. Just know we appreciate your love and support continuously, even if we look like we’re doing okay.

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