It has been six weeks since my mother left. 44 days. Life has been a blur of sobbing emotion one minute and excruciating emptiness the next. Just as nothing can prepare you for the rigors of caregiving, nothing prepares you for what happens when caregiving ends.
My shock has subsided since that night but I am still bewildered it shocked me when I knew mom’s death was coming. I knew it; I felt it, I could see it, it still knocked me off my feet. In that space, I said what I wanted to say, was completely with her, and it still left me rattled. Even if she would have said, “yes, I heard you, everything is okay, we are where we need to be, you have done everything correctly, I love you too, now I’m going to go” I would still have felt shattered.
She was my touchstone, and I was hers. She was the one who made everything feel okay. Even when I was bleary-eyed and stressed out of my mind, I knew when I saw her, everything was going to be okay. I was okay.
Now when I go into her room and sit on the couch, I still sit and cry, but now its heartbroken tears of loss, not tears of regret and turmoil. Those last days that haunted me when I closed my eyes, that I played and re-played in my mind, have subsided. The questions of what did I miss? What could I have done differently? Was there something I could have done better? Before they were ping-pong balls bouncing in my mind. Now the answers are nothing, nothing, and no. Thank goodness I have gotten to that point. My heart's open, gaping wound has formed a scab, albeit a thin one.
And I can say, it’s only been six weeks, I have to give myself some compassion, some grace, some time. But as a society, we don’t do well with grief. No one likes to see grieving people, I think it makes them uncomfortable. Platitudes of “she had a good long life” or “look at all the time you had together” or “she knew you loved her, that should make you feel better.” I understand the sentiment but I don’t feel any comfort in them and what’s lost is the fact that you can’t will your grief away. I can’t get up in the morning and say, “okay I’m going to feel better today,” it doesn’t work. Believe me, I have tried.
My entire schedule has not only changed, it has evaporated. My days begin when I am startled awake, (an annoying new phenomenon), and end when I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Waking up not thinking about what my mother needs or how can I help her is a brand new concept to me.
Right now I am struggling to find my place in my house. Being unsettled is my new normal, my muscle memory just won’t let me relax. It tells me I have to go upstairs and check on mom or it’s time for me to…no, no it isn’t. She isn’t here.
The only Peace I find is outside on the deck. Outside I can breathe a little, I watch the birds and listen to them sing, and I just sit there.
Being around more than three people at a time is too much for me. I can’t stand the chatter. Can’t seem to keep up with the topics. Everything feels like it’s moving too fast. Like I am drugged, and everyone else has had three cups of coffee.
I now understand why people used to wear black for a year after their loved one died. It was a sign to let other people know you were in mourning and needed some space or support. When I do leave my house I wish I had a sandwich board that said “my mother just died,” or “my mother just died, could you just move out of the way please” in flashing lights.
But why do those of us who are grieving have to hurry up and feel better? Why is there a time limit? I loved my mother my entire life and now she’s gone, aren’t I allowed to be sad? If I can’t be sad when my mother dies, when CAN I be sad? What is the metric? Here’s the thing, I’m not asking for anyone’s permission.
I am doing the best I can, and if that means eating bagels and ice cream everyday and watching old tv shows, so be it. The surprise for me has been finding moments in the permission. Moments of peace, of comfort, of acceptance.
In those moments I remember I am Rose’s daughter and Rose had this incredible way about her. Even in the deepest depths of her own grief, she allowed herself the time she needed, and then she carried on. I try to remember that, and sometimes I can hear her words in my ear, “okay, that’s enough.” It almost makes me smile.