Have you ever applied for a job that you really wanted … only to be crushed and disappointed when you didn’t get it? Me too. Dozens of time. I felt frustrated when I didn’t get what I wanted. I’ve been fired and laid off, too. It’s painful. It hurt my feelings, frustrated my ambitions, and […]
My mother died five months ago, after more than ten years with Alzheimer’s. I was her primary caregiver for the last six of those years and we grew very close during that time. We had always had a close relationship over the years but there was something about the intimate nature of caregiving that drew us even closer. It seemed like she became my daughter and my mother – both in the same person.
In the months since her passing, the grief is more intense than I thought it would be. Since she was sick for more than a decade and I knew the Alzheimer’s would ultimately kill her, I had plenty of anticipatory grief in the years I took care of her. So I thought when the end finally came that I wouldn’t have any grieving left to do. I was wrong.
Grief has been my teacher as well as my tormenter. I’ve learned about love and loss – and about myself. I’m sure there will be more to learn more as the grief continues in the coming months, maybe years. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. That which is shareable is bearable. It’s helpful and healing to share my feelings with others – with trusted friends, with supportive family members, and/or with a support group (a grief support group, a 12-step group, or perhaps a support group at church). I try not to keep feelings bottled up inside – that only intensifies the pain or magnifies it in a way that might cause illness. We human beings are social creatures – we are designed to tend and befriend when we are under stress. We are built for sharing – the good stuff in life and the bad stuff too. We can lighten the load by sharing our grief with others.
2. Don’t go to an empty well. While it’s important to share my feelings, it’s equally important – or maybe even more important – to be selective in choosing the people to open up to. I wouldn’t go to an empty well for water; likewise, I don’t go to an empty well for emotional support. I know my friends and family – I know who the empty wells are and who the full wells are. I choose people who are good listeners, people who can be a loving witness to my journey. I turn to people who can hold a space for me. It’s important to find folks who will refrain from giving advice or telling me how to grieve. I don’t need anyone to fix me, save me, or rescue me. Grieving is normal and natural – it’s not pathological – there’s nothing that needs fixing.
3. Allow plenty of time. I give myself permission to grieve for as long as it takes. It can take months – maybe even years. There is no set timetable for grieving. And if anyone tries to tell me “you should be over it by now,” I thank that person for their opinion but avoid them after that. I don’t want anyone to “should” on me about my feelings. I honor my own process and my own timetable.
4. Go where the love is. There are a number of places to turn for comfort and love. Sometimes a cup of coffee with a trusted friend is the soul soothing I’m longing for. Other times, I just want to hug my cat for a while and bury my face in her soft fur. On some days, relief is found in the gym with my gentle trainer who guides me in moving, stretching, and working out the pain that abides in my body. Other days, the love I seek is in a support group with kindred spirits. And very often the solace I seek is to be found in prayer, meditation, journal writing, and/or spiritual books.
5. More shall be revealed. Grief is soul work. It’s a physical, emotional, and spiritual experience. It’s hard; it’s painful; it’s unpredictable and full of surprises. Each day presents its own challenges. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. And on those days when my feet won’t move, I just rest. For I’ve learned that when I’m depressed what I really need is deep-rest.