Trying to explain grief

I now realize how devastating it is to lose a parent, no matter the circumstances and no matter how long one has had to prepare for the death. I’m surrounded by people who know how this feels, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t more fully consider the depth of their loss until I experienced it for myself. I feel rather normal emotionally at this point, about six weeks after Mom died. I’m still a little more tearful than I used to be, triggered by unexpected things – most recently, the sweetness of two girls giving out free hot chocolate in my neighborhood. I also spent a lot of time feeling grumpy for the few first weeks I was back at work.

It recently occurred to me that rather than trying to summarize this period of grief, I can just quote myself – below are excerpts from emails I have written to people who have checked in on me since Mom died to ask how I was doing. They are loosely in chronological order. I am nothing special, but I have been in the blog business of sharing my thoughts and I suspect I will be thinking about Mom and what it was like to take care of her for the rest of my life.

So, I am functioning for sure and my performance at work is slipping only a little bit – I sometimes just feel like I’m missing a beat.

My work is now done, so there is lots of relief in that regard. Though I think my sadness is about all those years of illness Mom endured. 

I am doing OK. Occasionally weepy and frequently just plain in a bad mood. Surprised at how long it’s been since the death drama unfolded and then ended – time is going even faster than usual. I definitely let tears roll as needed. But I do hope I can get past being so grumpy sometime soon. I’m sick of myself.

I’m finding that my current frame of mind is that I was cheated out of more time with Mom during her decline. Isn’t that crazy? I feel like the death happened so quickly – it was so much more of a jolt than I think it should have been – or so I tell myself that must be what is going on. How great for her that she didn’t remain bedridden for weeks or months. And great for me not to have had to see her that way. And yet, I have this odd sensation – and an accompanying bad mood – that makes me feel angry at the way it played out. I swear I have a new frame of mind every day, and I’m mostly very grumpy. I like to have theories, and I think Mom was the closest thing I’ve had to a child, and so I am maybe feeling a dual loss of a parent and a dependent. It brings tears to my eyes just to type that. 

(I think that someday in this blog, I will explore this idea that I felt cheated out of part of the experience of her dying process – that it went so much more quickly than I had expected. Because this way of thinking does seem irrational and perplexing.)

I was surprised at how sad I felt, and how it has manifested as both grumpiness and tearfulness. I think, and one friend whose mother also died of Alzheimer’s has said the same thing, that something about the lengthy illness and helplessness associated with Alzheimer’s makes the death experience particularly painful because only then can we unleash the emotions we stash away while we are strong for our sick loved one. That makes sense to me, anyhow. … Though we are all different, of course. I cried for hours, no exaggeration, after my siblings left and I was alone with Mom on that Monday, the day before she died. I told Patrick it was a cry covering 10 years of grief and stress because I couldn’t think of any other reason for it to happen. On Tuesday, while I wanted her breathing to stop so this could all end, it was startling when it happened, and triggered another bunch of tears. All surprising to me, because it meant her suffering had finally ended.

(This was a message to a friend whose mother has dementia and is in a nursing home. I want to be clear – there is no contest here about who suffers the most pain when a parent dies, or that one kind of illness trumps another in terms of bad fortune. It just makes sense to me in my case that the stress and sadness of Mom’s prolonged illness took a toll on me that I have never – and still don’t, probably – fully appreciate. I’ve said so many times that my profound sadness about Mom’s death – after hating to see her live such a compromised life – has been a surprise to me, and for me, I think it’s because I need to recover not just from her death, but also from the last 10 years I spent so attentive to her life.)

I feel sad about how so many friends (you included, of course) have lost their parents in the time I’ve known them and I didn’t really give extended thought to what it was like for them. It is a shitty adult life event. That is my typical description of the experience.

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6 comments so far

  1. Barb Vogel on

    Well written. As an adult in my sixties I still feel like an orphan. There is more sadness around the holidays. Smells, sounds, and sights all bring back memories, the bad ones are filtered out.

  2. Jennifer Knowles on

    This is so well written and a stunning piece. I shared it on my Facebook page and I hope that is OK.

  3. momsbrain on

    Barb: It does not feel normal to not have parents, no matter how old we are.

    Jennifer: Thank you for sharing it – I am honored that you would do that!

  4. Janet Ciccone on

    I understand the feeling of being cheated. There are so many things I did not know as my mom was dying. I was told afterward that rather than hold the loved one’s hand, one should place a hand on the head–that it’s more comfortable for them and makes better contact as the body is shutting down. Also, I was not there when it happened. That was hard, although was told later that mother’s tend not to die in the presence of their daughters. A good friend was with her, so I take some comfort in that. So I hear ya,
    Emily. It’s hard.

  5. momsbrain on

    Janet, that is interesting about the recommendation regarding touch. I avoided Mom’s hands as the days passed because they were becoming puffy and discolored – which hospice staff told me was normal. It wouldn’t have hurt her, but I just kept her hands covered. I stroked her hair sometimes and tried to gently rub her shoulders. I honestly don’t know if it’s better to be there than not at the time of death, but I understand how a daughter would not want her mom to die alone. Thanks for commenting.

  6. 2011days on

    EXACTLY! That is how I have felt my entire life. I lost my Dad to cancer when I was ten years-old. I have lived 50 years in fear of being that orphan. I am sixty, and impossible as it may seem to some, I feel very much like a lost, abandoned child.


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