75 In Women Now

Some things I’ve learned about grief since Mother’s passing three years ago

Brenda and best friend Pattricia

Mother put up with this duo for 46 years

 

It was a very busy weekend. The Sonoma International Film Festival was in full swing. We have festival passes so we were scampering from  It’s such a buzz to walk around town from film venue to film venue watching films and also hearing interviews with writers, actors, directors, producers.

What was really fun is that I got to share it with my best friend from high school, Patricia. She was out for a ten-day visit from Minnesota. Our weather did nothing to spoil her. It was rainy and cold! But nothing could dampen our busy and good times together.

Not even the anniversary of Mother’s death.

It was this past Sunday. We went out to Della Fattoria in Petaluma and had brunch. It’s a tradition to gather at Della on these anniversaries. We toasted our almond milk lattes to Mother and spent the rest of the day keeping her front and center in our thoughts. We checked out the fairly new Robindra Unsworth Home store on Kentucky Street in Petaluma. It was interesting to see the macrame wall hangings for sale. They weren’t very good but I only have Mother’s macrame art to compare them with. She was so crafty. She designed intricate pieces and had the immense patience to carry them out to perfection like she did everything. Oh, I wish I had them now. I wonder what happened to them.

 

Della Fattoria

Della Fattoria in Petaluma in their new space

 

Leading up to March 25th, I’ve had Mother on my mind and also grief. That’s a topic that was front and center for me for especially in the first two years. This third year has been gentler. Here are some observational snippets about grief.

 

Rilke on mortality

Rainer Maria Rilke, the German-language poet (1875-1926) wrote, “The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.”

What has surprised me about my mother’s death is how very much she lives on. My relationship with her continues to deepen. It’s in her passing that I’ve learned so much more about her. When I was the daughter interacting with my mother we had a certain dance. Everything I experienced or reacted to was from our mother-daughter relationship. But when she passed, I saw her as a completely unique woman which I couldn’t do when she was alive. All the while she was my mother, my dad’s wife, a daughter, and sister, she was Alma JoAnn Borgeson. That’s who I want to know, the core of her. It’s an interesting project but things come to me through letters, her poems, and accounts from her friends.

 

My mother Alma

She was Alma before she was Mom

 

Complicated grief and uncomplicated grief: there’s a difference

I was with my client who as a therapist has spent her whole career specializing in grief. She asked how my dad was doing. I told her what he’d said on his 92nd birthday:

Brenda, I have nothing to complain about and everything to brag about.

It nearly stunned me to hear him say that because I remember the pure agony he was in up until about a year ago when I started to see some changes. He was coming back to himself. You can read about that healing spirit of his in this post.

I felt helpless. I couldn’t take away his grief. All I could do was say, “Dad, the incredible gift you had was 64 years with the woman you loved. And that gift is now your immeasurable sorrow. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

My client said, “When people have loved each other as your parents had, grief is not complicated. It’s deep loss and you can’t take that away. It’s incredibly sad. But you can come back from sadness. When relationships have been complicated that’s when grief is complicated and it’s hard to ever recover from complicated grief.”

And that all makes sense. He is recovering from his sadness.

I understand the difference. The grief I have over my brother’s death at 53-years-old is complicated grief. The grief I have for my mother is uncomplicated.

 

Reiten Family pictures

Family pictures

 

Comfort food is very comforting

This same client who works with people going through grief had an avalanche of bad luck after falling and breaking three bones in her foot. She was on crutches and her shoulder got dislocated. Then a nerve in her neck got pinched and she couldn’t sleep in her bed for six weeks. She had to sleep sitting up in a chair. Oh, and she was scheduled to be on a long trip to Antarctica so now that was all up in the air. Needless to say, she was bummed, totally bummed. She said, “I used food to comfort myself for those six weeks.” The super cool thing about that is she didn’t say it in any disparaging way. She wasn’t making a thing out of it or putting herself down for it. She was just stating her coping method of choice.

I did the same thing for a few months after Mother’s death. After a while, I decided I needed to retrain myself about eating. I was ready. I decided to go back to WeightWatchers. Because I hadn’t been there in years, I stayed afterward with another woman to learn the new tools as they change something about the program yearly. We were to tell the leader what had brought us back to WW. I said the words out loud that I didn’t say to strangers which were, “My mother died and I’ve been comforting myself with food.” The other returning person jumped in to say, “That so does not work and it’s not sustainable.”

She couldn’t have been more wrong. It worked very well. Food was comforting when nothing else was. And I could have easily sustained that way of eating until I found other ways to comfort myself. The pain was so unbearable. Getting temporary relief from time to time with ice cream or saltines and peanut butter or bagels and cream cheese helped me stay in my body when all I wanted to do was run away.

I went to about three WW meetings, but then I stopped. I wasn’t ready to be in public with strangers.

 

Things that remind me of Mother

Mother is with me in Sonoma with roses, her teacups and the Rosemaling pieces we bought together

The difference each year makes

Fresh grief stays fresh for weeks and months. It’s like in the movie Groundhog’s Day. You wake up each morning and realize your loved one is still gone. Each day you have to pull yourself up off the ground and face the whole entire day with the full knowledge that she’s not here. The sorrow for me in that first year was relentless. It hurts so much because I loved so much. It makes sense to cry and cry. Who wouldn’t?

My friend Mariann is 11 months into the death of her beloved husband, Michael. She said with each day “I’m surprised all over again. I still think he’s going to come up the driveway with the groceries to make something wonderful.”

After a year of Groundhog’s Day grief, the novelty of the death is gone. It’s no longer fresh. The real work begins: living life each day bravely and courageously in spite of the loss. It’s no longer a daily shock. Now it’s about finding a graceful way to accept that loss will live alongside life.

By that second year, others aren’t thinking about your loss. They see you in action and they’ve forgotten about what you’ve been through. Birthday parties and celebrations continue. Work continues. To those on the outside, it looks as if everything is normal. But it’s not normal. I’m still busy with grief while being busy with life. That’s when it’s super important to have close friends around you who haven’t forgotten. Or maybe a counselor who knows more about grief than the average layman or laywoman.

 

A daughter's grief

Mother, I feel you near

 

Year three is bittersweet. The pain is no longer relentless. Energy has returned. When I wake up from a dream about Mother, I luxuriate in the details. It feels like she’s come for a visit and I cherish it. It gives me a buoyancy throughout the day. It puts a smile on my face. In most dreams, I realize she’s not well but she’s still Mother. She’s appreciating beauty and loving her family. In the dream, I can see that she’s going to pass but for now, she hasn’t and I let the joy of being with her consume me. When I wake up, I’m not sad. I’m so happy she came to see me.

For those of you who have experienced grief, I invite your wisdom! For those of you who are in the middle of it, I sure do have compassion for you. Grief is a powerful, poignant, amazing thing. I encourage walking through it.

Please share your stories, okay?

XO

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75 Comments

  • Reply
    Anon uK
    March 26, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    I lost my grandmother aged 96; my mother aged 74 and my beloved son aged 21 – all within 3 years. My son’s death from suicide, caused me not only immense grief but physical pain which, just writing about it 21 years on, I can still feel. People ask ‘how did you cope?’

    You just do. And I had to; having a daughter who was distraught and in so much pain at losing a brother only 11 months younger than she was. My wonderful husband (at the time we had only been married 5 years), held and cared for me. We both carried on working in high level jobs but spent every other moment with each other and my daughter.

    You don’t get over things but you get through them and hopefully others come into your life to heal. My wonderful twin grandchildren born 14 years later gave me back a family. And everyday now is a joy.

    More than I intended to say. But you do have small pockets of happiness which get larger as the years pass.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:29 am

      I am so very glad you shared every word you did. It’s so true what you said, that we don’t get over it, we get through it. You’ve had big mountains to face. I admire how you’ve found joy and so happy that you have your grandchildren in your life. I really take to heart your words of experience. Thank you for sharing them with us. xx

  • Reply
    Christine
    March 27, 2018 at 2:53 am

    Thank you for this, Brenda. My dear Mom died 6 months ago and I miss her so much. Your words give me strength.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:30 am

      Glad to hear that. All these shares are full of experiences of grief. I’m sure you found yourself in some of those as well. Sending you hugs.

  • Reply
    Ramona Puckett
    March 27, 2018 at 4:29 am

    Thank you for this. 2014 in our family we lost my niece in April from uterine cancer, my nephew’s wife drowned in June and on the first day of December, our mom. It was a tough year. We’re all talking, we’re staying open, dealing with grief.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:31 am

      Ramona! That all takes my breath away. It’s heartwarming to hear about your family being open and talking. I’m sure there’s lots of strength there. xx

  • Reply
    Trannies Q
    March 27, 2018 at 4:44 am

    What beautiful and brave words Brenda ! a long and painful journey that grief brings. Mine is a complicated grief, for a Mum who is still alive. I am not sure if this will make any sense, given I still have her, but my dear Mum has a form of autism, which coupled with her own traumatised upbringing; made for a very tumultous upbringing full of violence, cruelty and uncertainty. So, I grieve for a mother, or a type of mothering , I never had. that was never possible, and never will be. As I said, pretty complicated. But, at least I understand it more now, and have broken that chain, with my own beautiful children. sending much love from Oz

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:32 am

      So much complicated grief. You must give yourself extra love for managing to change the story about families with your own. It gives me chills. Much love from me in Sonoma.

  • Reply
    Trinnie Q
    March 27, 2018 at 4:46 am

    Misspelled my name. Auto correct ! Trinnie Q

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 12:04 pm

      I knew it was you! xo

  • Reply
    Diane
    March 27, 2018 at 5:37 am

    Well, it is 5 months since mom died, and I too took a turn towards food for about 4 months. So comforting and I just didn’t care. I kept going to the phone to call her, or thought it was her calling me. The unexpected thoughts just pop up at the strangest times. I have finally got a grip on the food thing I think, but then it was the anniversary of dad’s passing on the first day of spring and it was rough. I used to love the coming of spring, but now I just remember the hole in my heart and life. I do finally feel like I am coming back to myself but in a different way and I know it will continue to change. Strange thing, when I look in the mirror now I can see mom looking back more than ever before…rather disconcerting at times. I know it will soften over time, but I guess we have to work through the pain first. Thanks for sharing Brenda.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 12:03 pm

      Diane, I think you’re right. And what you say about the mirror and seeing your mom, I relate. In my younger years when someone said, “You look just like your Mom,” I silently groaned. I wanted to look like me, not her. Now with all the pictures people take of me for Instagram and blog posts, I get many, many opportunities to see her in those pics. You’re so early in your grief. Be gentle on yourself, my friend! Grief sort of changes day by day. Sending hugs.

  • Reply
    Bev
    March 27, 2018 at 5:38 am

    Beautiful piece, Brenda. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      Thanks, Bev.

  • Reply
    Sandi McDougall
    March 27, 2018 at 6:04 am

    As usual, your article is amazing. The one thing that stands out to me is to realize who my mom was before she was my mom. When I visit her today at Memory Care, I will think of you, Brenda, and stop and remember who she really is, a woman just like me.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      Boy, that’s a strong thought. How good that you can think of that woman in her now. I know you’ve lost a lot of her already but you can begin to think of her that way. It took Mother’s passing for me to see that about her. Hugs to you!

  • Reply
    Vicki
    March 27, 2018 at 6:30 am

    My mother died almost 27 years ago at the age of 56. I didn’t realize how very young that really was until I turned 56. It hit me hard to realize everything she had missed in those years. I’m 63 now, and I still miss her as much as ever. When a mother dies she takes the heart of her family with her. I have no problem using food for comfort, either! I would give anything to comfort myself with some of my mom’s cooking!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:59 am

      That is so true. When you’re in your sixties you realize how very young 56 is. I mean VERY young. What a lost to you in your young adulthood. I love that memory you’ve shared about your mom’s cooking. Do you make some of her recipes? Every time I make ginger cookies I think lovingly of mother. Thanks for sharing, Vicki.

  • Reply
    Mary
    March 27, 2018 at 7:12 am

    You are so lucky Brenda, to have had such a wonderful mum and so many great memories. She will never truly leave you.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:53 am

      You’re right about that! She’s as close as my thoughts, Thanks, Mary.

  • Reply
    Mary Ann Doerzbacher
    March 27, 2018 at 8:02 am

    My mother passed away 24 years ago. 24. I can hardly believe it has been so long because in so many ways I feel her with me and in me. I still grieve that she left my sisters and me at age 76–all her sisters and family lived for 20 more years and died in their mid-90’s. But mom’s spirit just withered when my dad died 2 years earlier. As someone here said, we don’t get over a parent’s death; we get through it—eventually. Life will never be the same because we are not the same. I cherish and hold close the memories and rejoice in the 45 years that she was with me. Thank you, mom.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:52 am

      I appreciate your share about your mom. I can imagine feeling almost resentful that other members of her family lived longer. That’s probably something I should have kept inside my head instead of outside but as a daughter, I know that would have been confusing to me. Why, why, why? I wouldn’t be able to stop asking that until I came to accept. I watch my dad without my mother at his side. I can totally understand “withering away” at the loss of one’s partner. Mary Ann, thank you for sharing this with us. xx

  • Reply
    Mary Beth
    March 27, 2018 at 8:31 am

    My mother died slowly, word by word, thought by thought, cell by cell, over a period of five years. Living at a distance, I witnessed how insidious Alzheimer disease is as our conversations devolved from hour-long exchanges about any subject to 5-minute bursts of confused hello and good-bye. At 65, and nearly four years after her death, I find myself still crying over the void in my life. I so miss her intelligence and presence. As she always said, love you lots, Mom.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:49 am

      How crushing it must be to witness Alzheimers in a loved one. That’s not in my realm of experience. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Much appreciate. Sending you hugs.

  • Reply
    Liz
    March 27, 2018 at 8:35 am

    Three years ago my Mother’s death was crushing. She was my first true love. The person that built the foundation that I took out into the world. The reason I can love and be loved today. The recovery from this loss will continue the rest of my life. You see I want to retain that love in my Soul. Its part of the gift God has given me. The ability to Love and be Loved.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:48 am

      You inspire me. Grief does make us come face to face with the love in our hearts. You said that beautifully, Liz. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Kathryn
    March 27, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Thank you Brenda. And to everyone who responded to your words. I am waiting for an appointment for a camera to find the cancer that everyone believes is in my body. I hope it is good news. But I am not expecting it to be. I don’t know if it will be treatable. I am a Mother to two boys – 13 and 10. I worry how they would remember me. The last eight years have been full of difficult events. We have not had an easy time of it. I wonder what they will take forward in their lives of me and I hope that whatever it is, it lifts them up and encourages them. I don’t know what the following months will bring. I know if it is cancer, not every day will be good. But I will try hard, if it comes to it, to make sure there are moments where they are very sure I love them. I dont want the complicated greif that you speak of, for them. There are no accessable grief specialists here. What a gift it is to experience straightforward love.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Kathryn, will you check in with us? I’m sending prayers to you and your family. Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. If it was, I’d have had a couple of deaths already. Sending you my love. I know we all are. If cancer has taught me one thing, it’s to stay in this moment. I scare myself if I stray too far from that. It’s the hardest thing and you’re in the hardest part right now. I found that once the diagnosis came it was a relief to have a treatment plan. There was something to “do” now. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here. I am wishing you well and maybe there was good news in spite of the concerns. Either way, you have support.

  • Reply
    Patty
    March 27, 2018 at 9:22 am

    My mother died this past June at 98. She lived her last 2 1/2 years in a nursing home after suffering a massive stroke that left her unable to sit up or even hold her head up. So, in reality we lost her at the time of the stroke, but we continued to care for her by feeding her most of her meals, doing her hair & nails, putting lotion on her face, hands & feet, etc. When she passed away all 6 of her children were there to say good bye and to rejoice that her suffering was over. I miss her terribly, but I did not grieve for her. You see I lost my 17 year old daughter 2 weeks before her High School graduation. I still grieve for her everyday after 22 years. The difference is that my mother lived a wonderful long life and was able to realize her dreams, my daughter did not. We grieve for the life she would have lived, the family she would have had, and the relationship we lost.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:42 am

      You’ve really experienced such hard grief. The loss of your daughter is something everyone hopes never to experience. I was very moved by the care you gave your mother until her dying days. Wow. Patty, thank you for sharing this with us. I’m really quite speechless. It means a lot.

  • Reply
    Mary
    March 27, 2018 at 9:39 am

    My mother died 40 years ago. I was 23 and she was 53. I am now 63. I have friends who still have their parents at my age and I marvel at that. How wonderful it would have been to have her these last 40 years. She never knew my son and more importantly he never knew the love that only she could give. I still miss her and am often overcome with sadness that she is gone. At first the pain of missing her made me double over but now it is just a sad feeling that comes over me as I imagine all of the wonderful memories we would have made. The grief never goes away it just changes over time.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:40 am

      Mary, I can imagine that layer of loss that you have that your son never knew your mother. That’s given me pause. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. At 23, your whole life was ahead of you and I can imagine how much you’d have wanted to share it with your mom. xx

  • Reply
    Jacqueline Herouxj
    March 27, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Brenda, for my whole life your mom was Aunt Girlie. After I moved to the cities we didn’t get together as often as I’m would’ve liked, but visits were always special and fun, I miss the ,opportunity to go to the lake and see her and Donnie. I think of her often. My husband Dick.passed away last year. I understand grief.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:18 am

      I love hearing about the memories you share about Mother. And yes, indeed, you do know about grief. Hugs to you, my dear cousin!

  • Reply
    Cathy Bonnett
    March 27, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Brenda, thank you for sharing your journey. My mom died May 20, 2016. She had been fighting a form of dementia for several years after a major car accident that caused traumatic brain injury. As an only child I bore the burden of decision making and responsibility for Mom, and it was draining. Yet the grief was sharp and I still miss her deeply. I am thankful that I was forced to spend the time with her that I did. Still my grief has been complicated.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:21 am

      Cathy, thank you for sharing this with us. Grief comes in all packages, doesn’t it? I’m amazed at all the ways it comes to us. Sending you a virtual hug today.

  • Reply
    Lori
    March 27, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Brenda. We must all cherish the time we have together with our loved ones.

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    March 27, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    We lost our oldest child to leukemia when she was five. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other because I had a three year old and a newborn, but I remember almost nothing of the first six months after she died. At about that point, I remember being so angry that everyone else’s life had simply gone on as if nothing had happened and mine was so painful. Time is a gentle healer, however. Losing a loved one, especially a child, is something you never really get over. Life is forever changed and even almost 35 years later there are still bittersweet moments.

    My mother passed away almost four years ago. She was 92 and had been suffering from severe dementia for quite some time. She was totally blind, and wheelchair bound so in some ways it was a blessing when she simply went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. I think we had done much of our grieving before she actually went as she had reached the point where she didn’t even know who we were. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of six weeks of radiation treatments at the time which complicated matters greatly. I wasn’t able to travel and I’m very grateful to my father who delayed her memorial service by several weeks so that the whole family could be together.

  • Reply
    TJ Smith
    March 27, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Dear Darling Brenda, this piece really touched me. I could feel being in Sonoma with you and your friend. I often get as much out of the comments that other readers leave as I do from your article. In this instance, it is Trinnie Q. My mother died almost 16 years ago at the age of 56. She had a form of MS and was diagnosed some 25 years prior. Our family was not a happy one. A few months after her diagnosis, my father left us for another woman, one of a series. I was about 13. Mother not only had a debilitating disease, she also had an unrecognised mental illness that swung her moods rapidly. She was self centred and mean, and took her suffering out on me. I left home at 16 because I literally couldn’t survive and stay sane with her. Not only that, but a year later, she married another man who also had MS. When he died 6 years ago, he left most of our mother’s estate to his adopted son who promised to share it with my brother and I so that we would not contest the will. Double-crossing by both him and my step-father. You can guess what happened. We never saw it. But their trip to Disneyland from Australia to California apparently was grand. We never want to see him or hear about him again – he also is dead to us. So – complicated grief? Oh yes, plenty of that here. My solace is because of my mother’s behaviour, I became the woman I am – strong and independent – too much so at times, and oh my how I mother my own children and lavish love and comfort and care on them, may they never feel alone in this world and they know they will always have a bed and a kind word here in my home no matter how old they are, for as long as I have breath in me. Bittersweet: I would never have learned the lessons and become the person I am had I not had the suffering, so I am grateful for that. But the rest was a mess. I learned many lessons: mainly not to mess with adult relationships because of the impact it has on children. So I have stayed married for 30+ years to the same man. Like Trinnie, I grieve for the father who is still alive, yet dead to me and my family in so many ways. It is a bizarre and complicated relationship and one that his current wife cannot, and will never, understand because she does not know the history, the appalling abuse and neglect that my brother and I suffered from our parents. Such complicated grief. I don’t think about it every day, I have too much else going on, but it is the wallpaper of the room inside my head, it is my background. I have had many happy times with my own children and bask in the joy we have had together and the joy that is to come as they make their own families, but at the same time, I am damaged from my past. I only write this because I hope it will resonate with others, not from self pity or the need to share. You invited us to tell our stories. I am happy for you Brenda, that you had such a wonderful platform of love from which to spring out to the world. Perhaps that is why you have so much joy to share with us all. And don’t ask me where I find my comfort, it is not in another man, heaven forbid. And it is not totally in food either, but I do appreciate the honesty in sharing that. Xxxxx

    • Reply
      Trinnie Q
      March 27, 2018 at 7:01 pm

      Oh my goodness TJ, how absolutely brave and touching and terrible your story is. Thank you so much for sharing it , i know we aren’t alone! i have found in life, such consolation in sharing stories and marvelling in the strenghth of the human spirit . Yes, what doesn’t kill us makes us strong ! Sending much love to all of you x

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 8:28 pm

      TJ, you have absolutely been a teacher about complicated grief. Thank you for sharing your family story. Yes, I believe shared stories will inform us and connect us. When I first heard the word “complicated” grief, it was already helpful. You describe well the wallpaper of your mind. A client of mine has shared much with me about her mother who was not present due in large part to mental illness. I see that it is the wallpaper of her mind and she is raising four beautiful children and being the mother she never had. It’s all a fascinating puzzle. Again, thank you so much for sharing! Hugs to you.

  • Reply
    Ann
    March 27, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    One must be cautious when describing their grief experience to suggest that it is a map for others to follow. Likewise, one should not imagine that the losses of a parent, a soulmate, a child, or a friend are greatly similar. Our relationships and the quality and magnitude of our losses, following the death of those we love, vary greatly. Likewise, our resources and our vulnerabilities around each loss we suffer may make each of our successive grieving experiences unique in response to the many aspects of that relationship. At least that’s how it looks to me at the age of 72 after having lost all my grandparents, aunts and uncles, my father when I was 38, and my mother when I was 68.

    And now, less than three months ago, my husband, the love of my life, my soulmate, my best friend, my partner in all things, died. My grieving for him thus far has been indescribable, which is the only word I’ve found to even approach what I’m experiencing. My grieving has not been made any easier by countless dead mama stories, the most common response to the announcement of my new widowed, told to me in often gory detail by well meaning friends, acquaintances and complete strangers from their perspective of assumed empathy for what I’m going through. I don’t want to hear their stories. I don’t think they’re very similar. And most of all they’re not my story.

    And that’s another thing about grief. Nobody wants to hear about my grief or yours. To really hear about the grief. I say that based on my observations this winter. Frankly, I don’t think anyone will understand my loss, even if I could somehow manage to describe what I’m going through when I’m going through it. No one, that is, except someone who’s undergone the loss of a long-time soulmate. When I’ve (rarely) encountered a person who’s been through that, they already know their story is irrelevant to me. They already know that words are meaningless, unhelpful, treacherous. Because they, too, went through their own indescribable experience of swinging wildly out into space when their twin star evaporated.

    I don’t know what the end of my grief looks like or how it will evolve. My husband never died before. I don’t find that grief maps help much. Thus far, the whole thing has felt like a midnight slog cross-country. I’ve read books, articles, joined grief and widow message boards, talked to my doctor and to my therapist, and the only thing I know to be true at this point is that I’m really on my own journey, not a tour group, that I have to feel all my feelings as they appear, and that I must figure out how to assimilate this brutal new reality into the shared reality he and I had conjured before he died.

    Like all of us, I’m a work in progress. So very sadly, he no longer is.

    • Reply
      TJ Smith
      March 28, 2018 at 3:33 am

      Dear Ann, I would just like to say, that I am so very sorry for your terrible loss and that I am actually interested in how it feels, because it is a scenario that losing my mother has made all too aware of – the brevity of life – how any one can be taken from us without warning. I cannot imagine for one moment what you are going through, and my own experience of grief is a totally different animal to the one you are experiencing. I guess as humans, we long to comfort one another, and all I can say is that maybe those people who have shared their stories of loss are trying in some way to connect to you, that they sense you are out there all alone and in their own, albeit limited way, they are trying to reach you. Sadly, no one can, because, as you say, this is your Journey. Your own unique private grief. No-one knows how it feels to be you. All we can share is part of the common that makes us human beings. I don’t know you, but I feel your grief. It is real. Your world has been rocked. I just sit and appreciate that with you for a moment. And we are all works in progress. We all just do the best we can. Each day. With what life dishes out to us and given our level of growth. That’s all we can do. Xxxxx

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      I’m stunned by your articulate account of grief, unique losses within different relationships and particularly the loss of your husband/soul mate/love of your life. We can’t possibly know your experience but you’ve done much to show us. Ann, thank you for sharing your experience with me, with us. I know I’m with many who are reading this and are sending you love. Just love.

  • Reply
    Laurice Gilbert
    March 27, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    I have lost loved ones, just as everyone else has. When My Dad died I thought I would never recover, and my (adult) children thought I was going to spend the rest of my life at the computer, blowing up groups of bubbles. There aren’t words to describe that loss, and for me mindlessly blowing up bubbles was more helpful than eating, which I couldn’t have done for hours at a time. I couldn’t tell my children what it’s like to lose a parent – it’s a thing children avoid thinking about, for very good reasons. When it happens it’s not like anything else, ever, and even knowing it’s going to happen (my Dad had melanoma) doesn’t reduce the grief when it does. But at least I had the opportunity to spend every moment I could with him before the disease finished him, and for that I’ll always be grateful. It’s been 9 years now and I still think about him every day; the things I’d like to share with him, the jokes I know he’d enjoy, the kind of unconditional love I’ll never have from anyone else, not even my dear beloved husband. Grief might be different for everyone (and I send my heartfelt love and sorrow to Ann), but it connects us all. Hugs to everyone.

    • Reply
      Ann
      March 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      Laurice, thank you. And you are right that grief does connect us all.

      FTR, the first few weeks after my husband died my favorite solace was — no sense at all to it — watching Jerry Seinfeld’s little 20-minute episodes of “Comedians in Car — Getting Coffee.” Like I said, no sense at all.

      • Reply
        Brenda
        April 7, 2018 at 8:06 pm

        I’d like to pop in just to acknowledge the little episodes of TV you watched. One thing I did was read a mystery novel which I never do. It made sense at the time.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      It’s such a cliche to say it but nothing prepares us for loss. Trying to imagine what it would be like doesn’t prepare us. When it strikes, it strikes and then it’s easy to understand how no one could have prepared or said or expressed it in such a way that we’d understand. Thank you for sharing your experience. We certainly learn from each other.

  • Reply
    Christine
    March 27, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Ohhhh honey, I’m so sorry that happened at the WW meeting.

    Sigh, sometimes you need a kind word and people don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. Sometimes, you’re just barely holding it together and they say the wrong thing. Thank goodness for those angels who envelop us in their empathy.

    My dear brother Harry just passed away. And I wish the world could just stop for a minute so I could catch my breath. But it just keeps turning.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Christine, so sorry to hear of the loss of your Harry. In my mind’s eye I am grabbing the world-one hand at the North Pole and the other at the South Pole-and I’m holding it so you can catch your breath. Take the time you need.

  • Reply
    Donna Maurer
    March 28, 2018 at 6:27 am

    It’s been 18 years since my mom died at the age of 67. It sent me into a 5 year funk which impacted all of my relationships. I find myself doing the math in how much time I have left. Grandchildren have helped tremendously. Nice to see traits of my mom in some of them . Wish she could have met them. Every life event brings thoughts of her and wishes she could be with me. I also know the pain my death will bring to my daughter whom helped me get through my pain. A mothers love is unconditional (most times) . Thanks for your blog. I enjoy it.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 17, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Thanks for sharing your story of grief with us. That is such an early age to lose your mother. My gosh, that’s nearly my age now. I am glad you get to see glimpses of her in your grandchildren. Her legacy lives on.

  • Reply
    Nancy in Germany
    March 28, 2018 at 7:37 am

    So many comments and all of them are from our odd sisterhood of motherlessness! I want to go back and read them all but right now I need to share an anecdote about my mom, who passed away in 1997 at age 77, three years after Dad died .
    Mom lived with my sister for those last years, and often when I called to ask how she was doing, she’d say with a bemused sigh, “Oh… surviving.” For many years earlier, in fact, that was her favorite word.
    Now that it’s many years that she’s been gone, and I have lost friends and family through death and divorce, I understand that word differently, in a non-sarcastic way, in fact.
    How to get through the grief?
    Just survive.
    You won’t be the same as you were before. The joyful entanglements of your life will be a little looser; you are a bit untethered. The mellifluous voice is gone. Those hands that cooked are gone. The favorite sweater is no longer needed.
    The only thing to do is to keep… “surviving.”

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 7:59 pm

      Nancy, those are wise words. So true! Thanks for sharing your family story with us.

  • Reply
    Tgchi13
    March 28, 2018 at 10:11 am

    I, too, have learned that I have the same three year grieving cycle and now feel blessed when my loved ones come visit me in my dreams.

    I also agree about the difference between complicated and uncomplicted grief, and the different ways to cope and try to heal with each.

    Blessed be

    • Reply
      Tgchi13
      March 28, 2018 at 10:13 am

      Oh, I almost forgot: When a save your posts nearly as many are filled to health as to style.

      Stay wonderful, and you, Brenda.

      • Reply
        Brenda
        March 31, 2018 at 2:28 pm

        Wow, that is so interesting! I feel like an expert at fashion and style and a mere wanderer in all these other areas.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      March 31, 2018 at 2:29 pm

      It’s interesting to hear you share this. This sure has been a learn-as-I-go experience.

  • Reply
    Barbara Kraus
    March 28, 2018 at 10:49 am

    I am blessed to still have my parents, husband and children, yet Brenda, I am so grateful for your beautiful and sorrowful posts about loss. And for each person who opens up and shares here. I am brutally aware that loss can come at any time, having seen children die when I was young and friends a little later. And yet I am well aware that intense grief is ahead of me, and I really don’t see it mentioned much.
    At this time watching dementia affect my dad while knowing there is still much more to come.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      March 31, 2018 at 2:27 pm

      I doubt very much if there is a way to prepare for those tough times ahead. For me, there were many lovely blessings—kindness of strangers, cards that meant so much, shared poems. I don’t mean to sound Pollyanna but I do feel like loss has opened the door to understanding more about life and humanity. I accept those lessons even though they hurt. Perhaps if we lived in a society where loss is spoken about more it wouldn’t be such a shock. Just thinking out loud.

  • Reply
    Barbara Kraus
    March 28, 2018 at 10:59 am

    Katharine, I am so sorry to hear what is ahead for you. Of course I am hoping for the best but understand that that might not be. Right now take care of yourself. This also is not a journey I have been on. But I do know that kids can thrive after profound loss. If you want to know more, at any time, Brenda knows how to reach me.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      March 31, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks, Barbara for giving me that permission. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Kathy
    March 28, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    I couldn’t write a response when u first read this. Mom has dementia and I’m wearing my grief on my hips and across my abdomen. My face looks pinched and tired most days. I’ve lost her but she’s still here..trapped and miserable. We plug on and I done some peace with my sibling in sharing memories and finding one good thing to be grateful for everyday. Life is tough….thank you for sharing.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      March 31, 2018 at 2:23 pm

      Kathy, that sounds like the hardest thing. I just can’t imagine. I want to throw my arms around you and give you a hug. I know it’s a small offering. Just know I care. Thank YOU for sharing.

  • Reply
    Jbond
    March 28, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    First time ever, I have responded to any blog,and yours is the one I have long been drawn to – so hear goes. I am 74 and one would think mylife’s act would be together. Not so. My father died of colon and bladder cancer is 1992, with my mom there screaming at him to get out of bed and take here to dinner. Simply put, she was not a nice woman. And i, the only daughter with a 6 year younger brother suffered my whole life. Graduated with a B.Sc and then Education. Became a principal in a system of 204 schools and at the time only 2 female ones.Nothing was every good enough for my mother and I tried right till the day she died. I went on a rampage after her death in 2006 and gave away everything she had given me. Hate and rage are 2 words always coming to mind with both parents – way too much to tell. I have not found any peace whatsoever. But my best friend, hubby, soul mate has been right by y side through all of this so I am truly blessed. So many times I wish there was something I did for her that’d she recognized as a gift only for her. Brenda, can you help or direct me to help. Please keep doing what’s you are doing. It all resonates with so many of us.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      March 30, 2018 at 5:09 pm

      I would call this complicated grief for sure. It sounds like cruelty was going on. I am so thankful that you have your best friend/hubby at your side. That alone has to be good medicine. I wish I had more wisdom in this department but I only have my experience to draw on. I had a client who had a very difficult mother who also suffered from some mental illness. She had spent a lot of time in therapy. I met her after her mother passed and she was determined to start living her life for herself. She knew what she wanted: to look pretty. It hadn’t been tolerated that anyone get attention other than the mother. It was such a pleasure introducing herself to herself after all those years of being “nothing” as she said. I wish you well and know that could sound meaningless but I do. Give that husband a hug from me for taking good care of you!

  • Reply
    Cindy Scurry
    March 29, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I enjoyed your blog and could really relate as my son died at the age of 22, 11.5 years ago. He was my only son and I was devastated to say the least. It took me some time but I got to the point where I was happier for what I had than for what I don’t have. I miss him so much. Thank you for writing about grief.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      March 30, 2018 at 4:20 pm

      I like how you described the progression: Happier for what you have than for what you didn’t have. Gosh, Cindy, I just could never imagine that kind of loss. I look up to you!

  • Reply
    Heather
    March 31, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Brenda, thank you for this blog post. I lost my husband, the love of my life, my soulmate, suddenly in July, 2001. The detective said it would be like eating an elephant – one bite at a time. Then he asked who could pick me up from the station in the early morning hours. My friend ‘E’ collected me and sheltered me that night. I was a rudderless little boat cast on the turbulent sea for a long while after. I cannot feel your pain, Ann, but I do know your pain.
    My mother passed away just before last Christmas. She was 93, widowed at 44 (I was 11), and we were very close in those ensuing decades. She never remarried, created a good life for herself, and had a peaceful death. Uncomplicated. I called and texted ‘E’ to let her know, but never made contact for ‘E’ had passed away unexpectedly the same day; she was 57. I miss her terribly. I seem to spend some days now stumbling aimlessly.
    You do temporarily lose IQ points. Your mind is overwhelmed. If you feel you are making mistakes, or perhaps not as quick on your feet as usual, remember to be kind to yourself.
    Your life will find new balance. Several years ago another soulmate came into my life; reader I married him.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 7:55 pm

      Wow, Heather. You’ve shared so much, been through so much. How you describe the stumbling aimlessly is so memorable. I appreciate you sharing these chapters of grief with us. It’s like looking through a prism. No one’s experience is the same. However, when you speak about it there’s a knowing place and it’s that feeling even if there are no words for it that brings comfort. Thank you, Heather.

  • Reply
    Karen Hill
    April 5, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    My Mother Patsy died when she was 54 after an awful four year battle with sickness. I was a new wife and mother of two young daughters in my twenties at the time. For years I just couldn’t seem to find my way. My emotions were everywhere longing for my best friend/mother. My personal turning point was when I prayed for some Godly women to come into my life, they did come over time (one by one with all different kinds of personalities, talents and giftings) each of those ladies taught me so much about how to go on and survive the life I had been given. It has been 32 years now sometimes I find it hard to remember her face, when I look at a pictures, I wonder what it would have been like to have her longer. Appreciate the time I had a Mom, she was an amazing.
    If any one knows a younger woman without her Mom around, take the time to reach out to her in a little way. I am proof it will help her out!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 6:35 pm

      Karen, such great advice! I’ve been thinking this week of a client I have. It was her birthday. She’s about 10 years or more older than I am. Her mother passed away when she was four. My client had a very public, very high profile life. She cherished our appointments together because she got to play. It was like playing dress up. She often brought up her mother and what she didn’t have with her and how I was a substitute now later in life for a chapter missed. So in a curious way, it can work at either direction age wise. You were a very wise young woman to send out those prayers and have them received so bountifully. I know your share will make an impact on others. Thanks so much, Karen.

  • Reply
    Sandy Thornton
    April 7, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you for this post. My elderly parents lived with me and both died in their suite with hospice care., Dad had heart problems and mom had dementia. The one year of his death anniversary is next week – he was my best friend for the past twenty-odd years as I raised four children as a single parent. I miss him constantly… Mom passed away six weeks ago but in many ways the kind and loving parts of her had been gone for years….I appreciate your comment about it being too soon to be out in public with strangers. People are so quick to make comments about how they were old, it wasn’t unexpected, etc. I am more comfortable nurturing myself at home right now. Even friends do not understand why I am still just physically and emotionally exhausted. Two or three years ago, I saw none of this coming even if others did.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      April 7, 2018 at 6:23 pm

      Gosh, Sandy, I take to heart everything you have said. Your sentence is empowering to me and I’d think to others going through grief: “I am more comfortable nurturing myself at home right now.” I do think volumes could be written about grief. Actually, I’m being naive as I imagine volumes have! I just wasn’t looking for books like that when loss wasn’t in my life and even then it took a while before I could even open a book about the subject. I wish I could sit with you and have tea one day next week. I’d like to hear stories about your father. I feel like I can call you friend so hugs to you, my friend. xx

  • Reply
    Joan
    September 18, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    My mother died a month ago and that day I felt like a child at the zoo who has just lost sight of her mother. I just wanted to stand in the middle of the road and scream “MOMMY”. Four weeks along and the pain remains so visceral. I now feel like a baby who has been dropped off with a caregiver. One moment I’m happily engaged in whatever it is they have to entertain me and then without warning I realize my mother is not with me and I begin to wail. I feel like the loss of a beloved and nurturing mother takes us back to our earliest memories of loss of her presence. I am as inconsolable now as I was then and those who try to comfort me seem to just make it worse — the only one who would do it successfully is the very one I’m grieving. Someone told me that grief is the first loss you go through without your mother. So true. Thanks for sharing the hope that this pain will ease with time. I know that to be true, but it feels like there will never be a day to come when I am able to remember her with joy that is not laced with the cruel cut of loss.

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