25 Mar Lesson on Grief from my Mother
My mother’s companion of 30 years died recently. Mom and Ken met when she was 50 and he was 64. She moved in with him when she retired and they lived together for 17 years. They traveled around the world, socialized with a large friend group, and laughed a lot! At home, the pair watched NCIS, cooked delicious meals, and played cribbage. It was a full life.
Mom was in a caregiver role for a pretty intense last year of Ken’s life. During this time, mom was in a car accident, ripped her rotator cuff, and in the last days of his life, she tripped over an oxygen tank cord and broke her nose. Frankly, just one of these situations would have caused me to take some time off and feel bad for myself. She did not let it stop her for a second. I asked her how she managed to keep going during this time. She said, “In a word – denial.”
Knowing that she has strong skills in the fine art of denial and a low-level belief in the wonders of self-care, I was worried about how she would deal with the death of her longtime mate. When I arrived at their home in California, Ken had died peacefully at home with family 2 days earlier. She taught me a valuable lesson about healthy grieving in the 5 days I spent with her.
First, It’s All About Connection
The lesson was all about human connection. Mom embraced it. She spent time calling each person that sent a card or flowers or food baskets. I was worried that she was doing this out of a sense of obligation. As I listened in, I heard her reliving his final moments and sharing special memories that were specific to the person she was talking to. My very busy mom actually sat down when she spoke to people. She didn’t rush. She spoke from the heart and listened carefully.
One of the sweetest moments came at their favorite breakfast spot. When mom shared the passing of Ken with Omar, the chef at the restaurant, he gave her a hug. Watching my 5′ 3″ mother engulfed in the tattooed arms of a 6′ 5″ man while they both cried unabashedly by the table was just so beautiful. The grieving was open and without apology.
Second, It’s All About Connection
Mom instinctively knew what renowned death and grief experts Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler recommend, which is that telling both the life story and death story of a loved one is crucial to the grieving process. Life stories bring meaning and assimilate our loved one into our heart. The death story helps make the pain and sorrow of the death event real.
Denial stagnates the grieving process. Denying her own pain helped her be present for Ken in the last year of his life. Her ability to let it go now is an important part of the process.
She has gone to lunch with and received calls and emails from friends who have lost a spouse. Mom said she has been comforted to hear friends relate how they felt at first and how things are for them now. It makes her feel supported and more normal. Those friends are able to share in a way that someone who hasn’t lost their spouse could not. That shared experience is so important to the healing process.
Losing someone you love hurts. It is heartbreaking. It is lonely to the bone. Unfortunately, it is unavoidable if we very wisely choose to love another human being.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
Kate Murphy, LMSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Berkeley Lake, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.