As many of you may or may not know, I sadly lost my mom to pancreatic cancer on December 3rd. Every single day since then, I have been struggling to pick up the pieces of my shattered self. For anyone who has experienced loss of any kind, you understand that task to be one that is time consuming, painful, and can derail you at a moment’s notice. Picture yourself being shoved out of a moving car onto a street in a town you’ve never visited. You’ve been given instructions to get back home, but you have no maps, no phone, and everyone around you speaks a different language. Now imagine experiencing that scenario every day while still being expected to function as a partner, a parent, an employee, a sister, a friend. Yep, that’s what it feels like. Not so long after the funeral, when all the condolences have been sent, the meals delivered, prayers and thoughts from others have been conveyed, I am left with a massive hole in the very core of my soul with which I am forced to learn how to function.
How did this happen? How did I become a member of I club of which I never wanted to become a part? I wake up daily thinking it was all a nightmare. As with any loss, some days are better than others, but every day I experience some level of grief. With all things in my life, I search for meaning, value, and the lessons woven throughout this devastation. Searching for lessons is therapeutic for me. It gives me purpose and provides me with the strength I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Here are a few I’ve found:
1. Grief does not have a single definition. Grief means something different for every single person. There is no timeline for it or measure of it. It can be all encompassing or it can be put neatly in a box to deal with later. Grief comes in all shapes and sizes and is does not correlate at all to the type of loss you experience. One moment it can be quiet, hanging out in he background, and the next minute it comes crashing over you like a tractor trailer. Grief is its own being and must be respected and allowed, without shame, to have its place in your life when necessary.
2. Be kind to yourself. You will have days where you don’t ever make it out of your pajamas. You will have days where you can’t handle talking to anyone. You will have days where you can’t stop crying. You will also have days where you will laugh, feel normal, end enjoy life. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty about any of it. Most importantly, do not allow anyone to impose their opinions about your grief on you. You are on your own unique journey – surround yourself only with those who can support it.
3. Be vulnerable in front of your children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with breaking down in front of your kids. When you have experienced a loss, everyone around you is impacted. Acknowledge your sadness, and communicate to your kids that it’s normal and acceptable to be sad and emotional. It might just give them permission to be sad as well or to ask questions that might have been on their minds, but hey were afraid to ask.
4. Embrace your anger. Sometimes, I find myself walking through the grocery store, and I become so irrationally angry and annoyed with people just being people. “Why does she need to go so slow? I just lost my mom.” Or I’ll be among a group of friends, and they’re all chit chatting about something, and suddenly, I’m thinking about my mom and become so full of rage – “How can they all be just standing here, talking? My mom is gone.” I know. Pretty crazy, right? Well, I’ve learned that despite how off the wall it sounds, the anger is a normal and necessary part of the process. Name it, acknowledge it, and own it. You will be stronger for it.
5. You are not alone. When you lose your mom, you also lose your witness to your entire life. No other person knows you so completely in that way. There are so many questions that will forever go unanswered. The feeling can be very isolating. For me, I suddenly felt like I became an adult – and not in a good way. I’ve realized that while I may at times feel very alone, I’m far from it. I am blessed to have an incredible network of people around me who love and support me every step of the way – sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t – and that’s okay. The loss has led me to more deeply appreciate some of the connections in my life that I might have glossed over or taken for granted in the past.
Most importantly, losing my mom has helped me to see everything differently. I’m trying to look at the big picture more often, and love myself more. We can be so critical of ourselves and others in this process of life that we forget to embrace the gifts that each of us brings to our families and to others. Nobody shares all of the same gifts, just as nobody shares the same challenges. The best we can do for one another is to try and support the challenges, while always making sure to bring the gifts out into the light.