July 15, 2009


Unexpectedly, I started to tear up while I was eating pho at lunch today (I pretended that it was the Sriracha sauce).

As of today, I have completed my first month of living on this planet without my mom.

It’s weird to get jealous watching sons rolling their eyes at their mothers at the mall, or watching my friends let their mother’s calls to their cell phones roll over to voice mail. Jealousy isn’t one of the 5 stages of grief. But so far, none of the other stages seem to apply.

Although it’s been a full month, my perspective of the events of the past few months is still coming into focus. And when I try to make sense of it all, it feels like I’ve shown up for the final exam without even glancing at my meticulously-written notes. I know the content, but the details have escaped me.

It may sound strange, but I don’t think that I really had time to absorb what was happening until after it had happened.  While people prayed, cried, processed and reconciled their feelings, the hospice situation required us to take a more pragmatic approach to my mom’s condition. We were always busy filling syringes with morphine and keeping her comfortable in any way that we could.

And we did it. Night and day. We did everything that we were supposed to do. And she still died.

It was like I had chosen not to recognize the meaning behind all of the flowers and the homemade meals from friends, the pills and and syringes that had filled our lives for some many weeks. Believe it or not, when she died, I honestly felt surprised.

I don’t think that this would count as the “Denial” stage. I think that my “grief whiplash” is a direct result of being so involved in my mom’s care. Like a doctor or a nurse who delivers compassionate yet objective care, hospice required that we set aside a lot of the emotional stress of the situation in order to be able to take care of my mom.

I am forever grateful for the opportunities that hospice provided to my mom and my family. But as I take time to process the journey that we all took, I am wondering if I missed out on just being able to spend time with my mom, or alone, with my grief. It feels as if the past month has been spent just catching up.


3 Responses to “Grief”

  1. I agree that mom was much more at peace than many of us who chose to resist, deny or postpone the impact of the impending loss.

    Now that it’s definitely hit me, I think that I am “comforted” by my grief in a way and also worry that the burden will someday become lighter. The intense bursts of grief sometimes make it feel like she is somehow closer, especially during those unexpected moments when I miss her the most (like when I am driving home from work…or eating pho).

    As for looking back towards those final days when we were trying to find that balance between pragmatism and optimism, I think that some of us may have been set off course a little by the timeline of events. It all happened so quickly.

    Reading back through the blog, on Mother’s Day my mom greeted me from her favorite chair in the living room as I arrived back from Dallas and we all ate Isaac’s caramel and banana pie.

    On May 23rd, my dad’s post to the blog was entitled “A Good Week”.

    On June 2nd I took mom out for a stroll in her wheelchair, and we visited with Ginny, our neighbor from across the street.

    On June 6th I wrote on the blog about a high note, when my mom’s friend Erin came by for a visit. Of course, things were becoming much harder by then…

    And right up through the end, she was always so composed. Her complexion never changed. Her hands retained their softness…and –as always — her manicure remained perfect.

    Up until just a couple of weeks before she passed, I would help mom with her morning routine…putting the toothpaste on the brush, that sort of thing. Even though she knew she would not be leaving the house, she always got dressed in a carefully planned outfit – with accessories. I can remember the day that she realized that she could not put in her own earrings. She asked me to help – not being very experienced in this area, I fumbled, fearing the horror of stabbing my terminally-ill mother in the ear. She looked up and smiled at me in the mirror and just softly said, “that’s OK”.

    Things changed so quickly. The progression of symptoms was not slow and subtle but rapid and devastating.

    As you say, mom definitely had an awareness of what was happening. And on a certain level, I think that we all did, no matter how we chose to recognize it at the time. As my dad recently told me, mom was very much in control of this journey, right up until the end…while we reluctantly went along with her as far as we could.

  2. Lydia Avina-Drayer Says:

    When Chole was in her last days I often wondered if anyone else realized the end was near. Everyone seemed to be making long range plans for extended care, extending into the summer and beyond. I wanted to talk to someone, anyone, and ask them if everyone was just trying to stay positive but really did know loss was eminent. But I couldn’t summon the courage, didn’t want to burst anyone’s bubble or seem morbid. Then, when I was sitting alone with Chole, I asked her if I could get her anything (meaning a drink, a blanket, etc.). She said, “answers”. Her speech was slurred by then so I repeated “answers?” to clarify. She nodded, “I know what but not when”. She communicated so eloquently that yes, someone else did know loss was around the corner. Really, the one who most vitally needed to know, did and accepted.

    Oddly, my surprise comes now, after Chole has left us. I’ll be going about my day and all of a sudden it will hit me that she’s missing. It seems so wrong. So illogical. Surreal. I worry that someday it won’t. Maybe that’s why grief is so hard to work through, because we hold onto it.

  3. As usual I can only second what my son has written. He is able to put into words the feelings I am also going through so elequently and with such clarity.
    This past Tuesday was our 41st wedding anniversary. I took some Calla Lillies to St. Peters and spent some time thinking and of course crying. The flood of memories was overwhelming as I expected. I had tried to prepare myself for the deep sadness that I would experience and told myself I could not go to a very dark place for a very long time; that I had to also keep focus on all of the wonderful blessings in my life and all the wonderful experieces Chole and I shared. I told my self that I needed to hold on to a broader perspective to my life than just the past few months. I told myself this, as of course this would be what Chole would want.
    As much as I was dreading July 13, 2009, it was in the end a needed and almost cathartic experience. It is the first milestone / holiday in my life without Chole. Strangely and surprisingly, driving home from St. Peters I felt better. And I was relieved that I did not go to the dark place and stay, as I had feared I might.
    I am being told by the grief counselor at Hospice not to deny or run from these feelings. The truth is – it is impossible to deny or run from them as they continue to be ever present everyday.
    I shared with Howard the issue of Chole’s dying that there was so much time spent on tending to her needs that the fact that she was dying was not really experienced, discussed or dealt with enough in a meaningful way. This is interesting in that from all my readings about hospice this is part of the process that they try to facilitate. I share with Howard the loss we now feel that we did not share and experience those moments with Chole and with each other enough.
    In part I think this happened because Chole did not want to really talk about the situation either. I remember when Chole was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 1988, we really discussed the possibility of her dying. She actually went through and wrote down her wishes for her funeral many of which we tried to incorporate last month. In retospect we really dealt with the issue of her actually dying at that time. However, this time she really wanted to avoid these discussions. This time of course it was not just a possibility but an inevitable situation. Because of the inevitability, I believe she felt the need to be strong and lead us gently down the path she was traveling. She wanted to protect us from the deep sadness that in the end was unavoidable.
    On Tuesday I told her how much right now that I missed walking more of that path with her, not just following and tending to her personal needs. And of course I told her how much we all love and miss her in so many ways.
    Love Always

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