Those Phases of Grief Didn’t Quite Prepare Me For A Couple Of These
It’s getting to that time late in the year when I remember “that day”. My mother died in December, not long before Christmas, and while I never was too fond of the holiday, I became more apathetic to it. It’s been more than 10 years, and I have no problem saying that Christmas is officially not my favorite holiday in part because of her death.
When someone dies they tell you that you’ll go through the phases of grief, but not in any particular order. I get that. But, what they don’t tell you is how you’ll fundamentally change because of this type of loss.
At first I questioned it, because it didn’t feel “right.” That was when I realized there is no right or wrong way to feel, you just feel it, and there’s no reason to be ashamed of it. It’s been a journey that I can look back on and see it for what it was: a catalyst.
I Felt It In My Soul
Despite being secular, I believe each of us has a soul. There are few times when something in life touches us at that core. Losing my mom felt like a soul-quake. My earth was fundamentally shifted to the point where it was disorienting. I lost my axis, I was cracked open and felt like whatever I had was drained, leaving me empty with this gaping void.
Her Words Held New Meaning
Memories are precious, but sometimes they don’t tell you the whole story. At least not at first. Months after Mom died, I remembered things she did and said not long before. At the time I either discarded them, or brushed them off as odd. With time, I looked back and realized that she knew what was happening, but wasn’t about to let on. Perhaps it was her way of protecting me, and, by extension, protecting herself from me going through the pain of knowing. Either way, it seems that when we are close enough to death, we may realize the weight of knowing is better handled by the dying than the living.
Death Doesn’t Seem Like A Stranger
Life is ephemeral. While we’re living, we get it, but only when Death comes to visit do we know. It’s a Damoclesian existence, but we choose to ignore that. I think it’s normal, because if we live knowing we could die at any time for any reason, what kind of living would we do? Losing my mother, brought the thought of death closer. We’ve crossed paths, and I’m more aware now. I’m not going to lie and say, I’m okay with dying. I know it’s my fate, but I do wonder which is worse: dying or the thought of being dead?
I Saw Her As Human
When you’re a kid, your parents are these deities. We see them as the authorities, the truth, the reason, the why…As we grow older, some of us still hold on to that, but the little cracks start showing up. When my mom died, I realized just how human and fallible she was. She was prone to stupid behavior, had a depth for compassion that made her gullible sometimes, but when she figured you out, she was right on the money. I got to see, know, and understand just how human my mom was, which was refreshing…and in some cases hysterically disturbing.
The Smallest Reminder Triggered Me
When I was in school, they would send us home with something for our parents to sign. Nothing bad, but my mother was like, “Just sign for me,” because she read it and knew it was no big deal. I could sometimes get her signature down, but most of the time, no. After she died, I got this book of vocabulary words and when I opened it, it had her writing in it. It was a moment that made me mist. Instead of fighting it, I let it happen, because it’s good to know that I still have that little reminder sometimes.
I Saw Her Death As Okay
This was the one that threw me. After a few years, I saw her death as okay, even necessary, in some ways. I wasn’t expecting that, and I had to sit down and ask myself how the hell I came up with that. And one answer was, that it’s the natural order of life. My mom is supposed to die before me. The other part is that cancer is a bitch. It will kill anyone and in some cases, before it does, it will drag you and everyone you love down into the depths of suffering. She didn’t go that route, at least not for long, and I’m glad about that. Seeing her suffering would have left me bitter. That’s no way to go through life, and I know that’s no way she would have wanted me to go through life.
I Became Less Filtered
I found myself less able to contain my dislike of certain things anymore. I had this need to be honest, and sometimes, I was a little too honest. In some cases, it was considered ‘not nice’ or ‘inappropriate’ to speak my truth. I decided to care less about that, because the pain I had felt may have broken my heart, but it sharpened my sight. There are some things that need to be said regardless of their inconvenience.
I Was More Accepting Of My Body
We forget just how forgiving out bodies are. We take for granted how that little sound it makes, while disgusting or embarrassing, means it’s working. When things started heading south, the doctor said something that I’ll never forget. He put the stethoscope up to her gut and listened. You know what he heard? Nothing. That was a bad sign, because a gastrointestinal tract that’s working makes sounds. I fought my body in the most accepted way, by beating it into submission 5 to 6 days a week in the gym or at bootcamp. For the most part, it forgave me, but I forgot that a functional, strong body was more important than having a butt like J-Lo. I reconciled more with my body after her death than before.
I Am Less Tolerant of Certain People & Behaviors
I was already intolerant of certain people and their “idealogies,” but after she died, I did my own “cancel culture” routine. I had no time or desire to deal with racists, homophobes, bigots, religious zealotry…those whose beliefs were more enervating that energizing. Some people could grin and bear it, but those who brought their “shoulds” and whatever guilt-ridden language that was meant to bend me to their level of tolerance were made to understand that they needed to look elsewhere for miserable company.
I Grew Up
I was surprised at just how much I leaned on my mother and her counsel, even though I was an independent person, and always had been. But in losing her, the woman who gave birth to me, I felt an obligation to rely more on myself and my own counsel. At the end of the day, my actions will always beat a path back to one person: me.
Maybe that’s what “the void” was about. We grow up with our cups full of what our parents do or don’t say, know, feel, think… When they die, something unlocks, and we learn that we need to keep our own cups full from now on.