Grief is not a linear path to follow nor is it circular. We don’t go through each stage of grief as if they are steps, jumping to the next one once we complete the previous one. Sometimes I found myself in two stages at the same time or going back and forth between them. Death and Loss are extremely personal and singular, only you can know how you feel. Yes, other people can be there for you, but your grief is yours. We all grieve in our own way and there is no “right” way to do it.
It’s been 3 years since my mother passed away and I’m finally ready to talk about it, although I did everything to avoid sitting down to write this blog post (and may have cried while doing it). My mom and I didn’t have the best relationship, there was yelling, name calling and fighting. I kept this to myself for years out of shame and also to protect her. Even now I’m careful with how I speak about her. This complicated relationship contributed to how I dealt with her dying.
In complete honesty, I hadn’t spoken to my mother in over a year when I received a call that she had days to live. The guilt of that has plagued me ever since, I was already in the Bargaining stage right from the beginning. If only I had figured out a way to help her with her issues and her drinking. By the time I arrived my mother couldn’t get out of bed and I spent the next month helping to care for her. In that month I thought she might get better which was of course me being in Denial. This turned out to not be the case as she passed away on May 12, 2016.
I was able to have that final month with my mom, but we didn’t repair what was broken. There wasn’t any final discussions or amends or apologies. There was me taking care of my dying mother because that’s what a daughter does. We watched tv together as that’s what she loved, and she slept a lot. I thought about bringing some stuff up, but what was the point, it was too late to go back and change anything, so I just sat with her and cared for her.
She passed away in the middle of the night and from then on it was hard for me to understand how this could be. I catapulted into Denial and Isolation. I didn’t want to believe she was gone, and I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. Remember I had the guilt and shame going on. I moved passed this stage pretty quickly and into Anger. I was angry at her and myself, so Bargaining decided to hang out with us too. I wondered why she didn’t stop drinking, why hadn’t I been able to help her? Instead, after years of listening to the screaming and yelling I stopped answering the phone so I could heal myself, but then in the end I didn’t heal her. So yeah, that guilt stuck around for a long time, just about 3 years actually.
I sat in Anger, Bargaining, and Depression for a really long time. As I said earlier these stages of grief were not a straight line for me. I took those stages and lived in them, wallowing in the shame and guilt of who I was and who she was. I felt anger for both of us and depressed I had lost my mom without really making the amends I should have. I didn’t want to talk about it, this was different. Other people had good relationships with their mothers and couldn’t understand mine, so I kept silent.
I also learned that people don’t know how to talk about death or help you with it. Many people aren’t sure what to say or how to listen, so I didn’t bring it up and sat alone with it. I don’t blame anyone for that, death is not easy and we aren’t really given the tools to deal with it.
As time has passed, I’ve worked my way through my guilt and anger. I wrote in my journal, talked with some close friends, read some books and generally spent time thinking. I’m no longer angry or depressed, the guilt has mostly gone away, and I’ve slowly worked my way into Acceptance. This stage doesn’t mean that it’s all okay, it only means I accept that I have a new normal. I’m not going to be able to talk with her or see her one more time. I’m grateful for the time I did have that last month. I love my mother and in her own way she loved me. I have forgiven her and myself and I have to believe she has done the same and is resting in her peace.
If you are going through the stages of grief, take all the time you need, don’t let anyone rush you and know, it is a complicated business.