One week ago Monday, my nephew and my brother watched as the woman they loved breathed her last breath.
She was 43.
SHE WAS 43.
And she was brave. And she was optimistic. And she was kind. AND SHE WAS STRONG. And she was faith-full and loving. But most importantly, she was a Mom.
She battled cancer for nearly 2 years. And when I say battled; I mean knock down, drag-out, fought cancer.
Oh, [stupid/horrible/despicable] cancer.
I write this post knowing full-well that this is not about me in any way, shape or form. It’s about my brother. It’s about her children. It’s about her.
Still, writing is how I process. You may know this, as you went through it all with me when I lost my Mom.
So, here I go. Processing about about death and dying.
1. Grief is personal.
There’s no wrong way to grieve and there’s no right way to grieve.
As I stood next to my brother at the funeral home, as he stared at her face, touching her hand, her chemo-short hair… I had no words. Me! I should have had WORDS! But I didn’t, because there isn’t comfort in words when you lose someone you love. There’s comfort, I think? In being present for the ones you love. There’s comfort in simply breathing, quietly, steadily behind and next to the person who is heartbroken.
That’s all we can do because they need to do grieve in their own way.
They need to make jokes.
Or curl up.
Grief is personal.
2. It’s terrible to watch others grieve.
When my little sister told me that our Mom died, the excruciating pain in her voice was more than I could bear. That feeling – of seeing your sibling hurting so deeply – oh… It’s like the empathy meter is completely pushed past the breaking point and you can hardly sit still.
I wish I could jump in the car with my brother, my niece and my nephew and DRIVE for the next year. I wish I could chauffeur them past the firsts, the anger, the disbelief, the despairing… I wish I could say to them, “I’ve got this. You close your eyes, take a nap, and we’ll be there before you know it.”
But I can’t.
They’ve got to do this.
And it is going.to.be.so.hard.
And all I can do is stand by…. and support… and watch. And remember.
3. No one knows what to say when someone dies. No one.
My dad is dead. My Mom is dead. I still don’t know what to say to someone who has lost someone.
I know what comforts me… but will it comfort someone else? I know what comforts me now, but I know what I HATED hearing then; after my Mom died:
Hated then: “Don’t worry, she’s always with you.”
Reason for hating: BECAUSE SHE ISN’T “WITH ME”. SHE IS DEAD. I WANT HER HERE.
Thoughts now: I get it. She is with me. It’s true. I feel it. I feel her. I legitimately feel her with me.
Hated then: “…but she’s in a better place.”
Reason for hating: That may be true, but it would be BETTER if she was still in THIS PLACE with me.
Thoughts now: She is in a better place… heaven is suh-weet. But, it’d be pretty incredible if I could call her again. But it’s true…heaven is better than Missouri.
Hated then: “…at least s/he’s no longer in pain.”
Reason for hating: Of COURSE I don’t wish for my parent to be in pain, but if right now you asked me to chose between a little bit of pain or DEATH – I’d go with the pain, thankyouverymuch
Thoughts now: It’s true. No one wants pain for their loved one. [lowers eyes and nods in agreement]
Hated then: “Everything happens for a reason.”
Reason for hating: Really? Because when your parent dies you just can’t SEE A REASON that makes sense.
Thoughts now: Everything happens according to a plan and that plan is what is meant to be. And even though we don’t know the reason, beauty comes from ashes.
So what do I say?
I nod. I rub backs. I hug. I stand by. I sit quietly. And I say, “That makes sense…” And I say, “I’m sure…”
It’s my opinion that grieving people need to be heard. A piano was just dropped from a 15-story-building directly on to their hearts. It was fast. And it made no sense. And they need to process.
4. We all have regrets.
When someone dies, we think about the last conversation, our last interactions. We over-analyze. We regret. We blame. It’s human nature.
We all wish we would have said something else.
Asked more questions.
But none of that matters. No one can ever prepare for the end of a loved one’s life.
We can’t beat ourselves up for what we did or didn’t do.
We can only be proud of what we did have; the times we did share. The impact we did make.
With each death that touches us, our heart gains a little post-it note flag that says, “Remember, every person in this world has value. Be sensitive. Be kind. Have empathy.”
My heart breaks that a mother had to say goodbye to her 16-year-old son and her 12-year-old daughter.
My heart breaks for their profound and life-changing loss.
My heart breaks because I know that who they are has just been impacted beyond measure. I know that the trajectory of their lives may not be altered, but it will definitely be affected by this loss.
My heart breaks for the conversations they will never have, for the graduations she won’t attend. The weddings, the broken hearts, the newborn babies she won’t hold…
My heart breaks because my heart has broken before.
Yes, my heart breaks for them because my heart has been broken before.
I am able to relate because it happened to me.
And maybe that is the beauty in life.
It happens to us >> we feel it >> it happens to others >> we empathize >> we support >> it happens to someone else >> they empathize >> they support.
And the chain of love continues.
My sweet nephew and my sweet niece and my strong brother will be able to relate to others because it happened to them.
It is my nature to find something optimistic about the situation. I have to find something to hold on to, because if you start scanning back over what just happened to my family, it will be easy to get lost in anger and sadness.
So, I chose to put all of my eggs in the strength and empathy basket. Losing her will mean that they’ve gained a whole new perspective that may help others one day. It may give them confidence and show them how strong they are. It will make them resilient. And kind and loving.
But for now, my heart is broken because two more children have just joined the club...
…the dreaded club.
—The Story of Loss. On Losing my Mom.
September 25, 2013 :: The Call :: Post here.
September 30, 2013 :: Slivers of Sunlight :: Post here.
October 6, 2013 :: That first week.Those first days :: Post here.
October 14, 2013 :: 14 days after :: Post here.
October 20, 2013 :: I found a treasure :: Post here.
November 4, 2013 :: She’s been gone for 4 weeks :: Post here.
November 13, 2013 :: I smile and drive and cry and smile and cry :: Post here.
November 17, 2013 :: Weekends aren’t easy :: Post here.
November 26, 2013 :: The holidays, the firsts :: Post here.
December 1, 2013 :: 8 weeks :: Post here.
December 10, 2013 :: The Dream :: Post here.
December 19, 2013 :: Vulnerability and Moving Forward :: Post here.
December 22, 2013 :: The reminders. They’re everywhere :: Post here.
December 29, 2013 :: 2013 :: Post here.
January 1, 2014 :: The New Year :: Post here.
January 7, 2014 :: 2 days from 4 months :: Post here.
January 17, 2014 :: Another Gift :: Post here.
January 25, 2014 :: She would have been 60 today :: Post here.
February 9, 2014 :: Five months :: Post here.
March 6, 2014 :: Almost six months :: Post here.
March 27, 2014 :: One of the Best Gifts Ever :: Post here.
April 1, 2014 :: We’re all in this together :: Post here.
April 24, 2014 :: 7 Months, Easter and Nope, I’m still not normal. :: Post here.
May 6, 2014 :: Mother’s Day without a Mom :: Post here.
June 1, 2014 :: Moving “forward” :: Post here.
July 6, 2014 :: Denial & acceptance & blah, blah, blah :: Post here.
August 20, 2014 :: So, I’m 35 :: Post here.
September 2, 2014 :: 7 days :: Post here.
September 8, 2014 :: The Day Before a Year :: Post here.
September 9, 2014 :: Hello, one year :: Post here.
October 11, 2014 :: The brain is funny :: Post here.
November 6, 2014 :: Love :: Post here.
November 30, 2014 :: Post here.
December 4, 2014 :: Another feather. Post here.
December 28, 2014 :: All was calm, all is bright. Post here.
January 18, 2015 :: They’re always with us? They’re always with us. Post here.
January 25, 2015 :: And today I remember. Post here.
March 8, 2015 :: A year and a half later. Post here.
April 16, 2015 :: And here I stand. Post here.
April 29, 2015 :: Joan & Shirley. Post here.
August 26, 2015 :: Perspective. Post here.
September 9, 2015 :: Two Years After. Post here.