Death of a loved one is certainly never easy, and grief can overwhelm us at any time with waves of unpredictability. Grief does not follow an itinerary or a play book; it is a roller coaster of emotions and feelings of emptiness and sorrow that we should honor and respect. We need to embrace the experience, allow sadness to be present, and give ourselves time to heal.
My heart will strongly continue to beat for my mother who lost hers to congestive failure on October 16, 2020. This failure was not sudden. Nor did it come as a surprise. Her past experiences of prescribed medications and diet plans, smoking, an unhappy marriage, and traumatic losses of both a husband (1965) and a daughter (1986) initially damaged her heart beyond repair. Moving in her cycle of grief, I feel, took a toll on her physical and mental health. Mom continued to silently grieve and medicate for many years, finally realizing her short-term symptoms of chest pain, indigestion, sleeping problems, lack of ambition, etc., had manifested into a long-term health problem … heart disease.
Losing my mom was anticipatory which emotionally supports my grieving process. I felt at ease talking with her on the day of her later passing about her funeral specifics (what to wear, who will do her makeup/hair, what music to play, etc.). Mom’s passing plus our shared tragic losses created a questionable void inside of me. My life’s compass is off track. On an emotional, physical and mental level, I felt driven to seek therapeutic guidance to move past the initial reactions to loss, repair and cultivate my familial relationships, and bring me to a place where I can live with my bereavement, past and present, in a healthy way.
Emotionally, I have gone through a mild shock and disbelief that she is no longer here. I will miss our catch-up phone calls, and her faithful loving comments on all my social media posts. Sadness has and will come and go, and tears will be shed. I don’t have any regrets or guilt. I do feel a sense of peace knowing my mom isn’t in pain any longer. I have some anger as I secretly blame her stubbornness for not going to the doctor sooner versus later to address her early signs of indigestion (a common symptom of heart issues). After losing my sister, and having two daughters myself, I worry and am fearful that something will happen to them. I am anxious about them losing one of us.
Physically, death of a loved one can impact our immune systems which could be compromised with increased inflammation, a flawed immune cell gene expression, and a reduction in antibody responses to immune challenges. Mentally, our hormones can be disrupted which can affect our sleep, loss of appetite, fatigue and anxiety. To nurture our systems, importance should be placed on incorporating daily activity on whatever level you can, and to mentally take time to either meditate, sit quietly to reflect, or journal to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Any of these mental practices will provide a present moment to grieve and grant you permission to release, let go, and take steps towards acceptance.
I wish I would have done this years ago … seek support for grief or loss. I am finding face to face support is vital to healing from my recent loss, plus, I can express my feelings from my past losses to continue on a healthy path of bereavement balance. Some other guidance steps to take: 1. Accept and take comfort in surrounding yourself with those who care about you (thank you my friends, you know who you are). 2. Draw comfort from your faith if you follow a religious tradition by embracing the comfort its mourning rituals can give. 3. Join a grieving support group to share similar losses. 4. And don’t hesitate to turn to family and friends and ask for help and accept their assistance in whatever way you need it.
Finally, I don’t want to get caught up in this vicious cycle of telling myself, OK, you are done grieving, now let’s get on with life. I verbalized this exact thing to my mom 34 years ago when she lost a daughter, and I lost a sister. I now realize my lack of openness and understanding regarding her grieving process which was much more difficult than I can ever imagine. My heart has expanded to accept self-love and grace along the way. I can embrace my grieving journey, be aware and honor my mother’s memories, and escape the addiction of feeling guilty for doing so.