More Thoughts on Grief

29 Apr

IMG_20160429_082734It’s been over 2 months since my mom passed away, and it’s just now starting to set in that she’s really gone. I won’t see her again in this lifetime.

This awareness has coincided with most people going back to their own lives. The meals and cards have stopped. The questions about how I’m doing are no longer asked. I’ve heard this same thing from other people who have gone through grief. The true impact of the loss doesn’t start to set into your consciousness until the constant swirl of activity and people surrounding the loss quiets down, and you’re left with what your life was like before, except for that big gaping hole left by your loved one who is no longer here.

I totally get it. I’m as self-absorbed as the next person, and until I had experienced my mom having and dying from cancer, I didn’t truly understand or think through what that experience was like (and even now that I know, I’m still self-absorbed!). The Bible says that’s one of the blessings found in trials–we can comfort others with the comfort we have received from God, because we know. We get it. Sure, every experience of grief is different, but they all share similarities too.

A couple down our street lost their 3-year-old daughter to leukemia over a year ago. I read on either their Caring Bridge site or in a Facebook post their plea to be told memories about their daughter, that they loved talking about her and the things she loved, that it was helpful and healing to talk about it. I appreciated that candor because as a person who was once on the side of never having experienced devastating loss and who is now on the other side, I know that it’s hard to know what to say—on both sides.

In the days and weeks following my mom’s death, friends and family asked how I was doing. At that point, I was mostly in shock, with some peace and acceptance mingled in. Each time, I’d shrug my shoulders and say, “We’re doing ok.” That was easier and more socially acceptable than the long answer of, “Well honestly, I can’t believe she’s dead. I look around and everything reminds me of her, but I just think the thoughts and move on. I feel sad, but mostly I feel numb. I have also been listening to Good, Good Father by Chris Tomlin on repeat because I need the reminder that God’s ways are perfect, and He has a reason for things being like this. I also feel somewhat hopeful and expectant to see what God does through this, because I truly believe that this would not have happened if there was any other way for God to accomplish what He wants to accomplish here. I also feel a little anger and bitterness toward those who fall apart at the thought of a cancer diagnosis, or having surgery, and especially trials that aren’t medically related, because at least they’re still alive and fighting. At least they haven’t lost the battle. But I know that’s insensitive, and cancer and surgery and other crises are big deals, and I still make mountains out of the petty molehills in my life so I’m not any better.”

Even if I had felt the freedom to verbally vomit like that on those who sincerely and innocently asked how I was doing, it wouldn’t have come out like that. There were so many mixed emotions in my heart that I couldn’t even fully process them all myself, let alone put them into words to speak out loud. I think through writing—that’s the way I process things. (So if you think that I share way more on my blog than I do in real life, that’s why!)

Then there were people who didn’t say anything—maybe because they didn’t think about it, or maybe because they didn’t know what to say. Again, I get it. With no outward reminders of loss and no context of a hospice or funeral home, it’s easy to stop thinking about someone else’s loss. But if you’ve ever struggled, as I have, with not knowing what to say, or thinking that maybe bringing it up would open wounds that the grieving person would prefer to not deal with at the moment, let me offer this:

A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” means the world. There’s nothing you can say to make the situation easier or better, but a simple acknowledgment that that person’s world has inalterably changed at least lets them know that you’re aware, and you feel for them.

Those grieving the loss of a loved one are already thinking about them all the time. There’s no escape from the reminders, or the sorrow. So don’t worry that you are dredging up memories or opening a wound because those memories are comforting and the wound is already open. It’s nice to remember that loved one, and to hear other people’s unique memories.

Because try as you might to remember that person—how they spoke, acted, smelled, felt—your memories fade over time. But then you can have a dream of that person, and your brain remembers exactly how and who they were.

That happened to me about a week ago. It was a strange dream, and the details really aren’t that important, except that I hugged my mom, and she felt exactly like herself, like my arms and hands remembered the contours of her shoulders and the way I am just slightly taller than she was. And in my dream, she was laughing. My whole family was there, and we were all laughing and having a great time. Right before I woke up, though, my mom disappeared from view. My dad said the same words as he had said in real life, “She’s gone.” And I went to look for her but she wasn’t there.

I was roused from that dream by Annabelle crying. It took me a bit to wake up but after I stumbled to her room and sat in the glider that my mom was the impetus of buying, nursing Annabelle, I cried.

I cried because Annabelle won’t remember her. I cried because my mom was my go-to for advice on everything from parenting and wound-mending to decorating and cooking. I cried because I still have texts on my phone from her, and somehow that makes it sink in that she hasn’t been gone that long, and yet it feels like forever. I cried because that hug felt so. real.

I brought back some shirts and shoes of my mom’s that I found while going through her things. When I wear them, I feel simultaneously comforted and heartbroken. They’re like a tribute to her but also a reminder that I only have them because she’s not here anymore.

The Easter holiday and the girls’ birthdays were the first major holidays after my mom’s death. It was palpable that she wasn’t here, and I cried myself to sleep each night that my dad was here, because even though I love seeing him, his presence goes hand in hand with a very tangible reminder of my mom’s absence.

The evening of Good Friday, I lay in bed looking out the window at the tall, leafless trees basking in the faint moonlight. I could finally understand a little of what Jesus’ followers felt after His death. The sadness, the crushed dreams, the shock of what had happened.

Their grief only lasted until the third day, when Jesus came back in His glorious resurrected body, but before that happened, they grieved without hope. They did not fully understand what was taking place. And that is the difference between their grief and mine—and any believer’s. We do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thess. 4:14)

I won’t see my mom again in this life, but I will see her again. Nevertheless, “life has become a little less sweet, death a little less bitter, heaven a little more real.” (Puritan Proverb)

3 Responses to “More Thoughts on Grief”

  1. Kristen McGuire May 1, 2016 at 6:32 am #

    Hey this is Kristen (I used to blog at Confessions of a Not-So Domesticated Newlywed, but I haven’t done so in a million years haha). I still read your blog but just never comment. However, I felt the need to do so today. I never saw your initial post that your mom had passed away, so I didn’t know until today. I read this whole post with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I can only imagine the pain you are going through, as I have not lost my mother and just the thought of it brings me to tears. I am so very sorry for your loss. I will be praying for you and your sweet family.

  2. specialkkluthe May 1, 2016 at 7:47 am #

    Thanks Kristen. I miss reading your blog!

  3. Theresa May 1, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    ((((HUGS))))

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