My father, brother and I recently celebrated my mother’s life surrounded by those closest to us. The service wasn’t exactly traditional – it focused more on laughs than sorrow – but then again, if you had known my Mom, you would understand that she wasn’t exactly traditional, either. It was a day exactly as Mom would have wanted it: friends and family coming together from near and far to remember the best times they shared with her. Thank you to everyone who showed their support.
In my original “For Mom” post, I talked about how complicated my relationship with my mom was, and how navigating her death was complex for me. Well, in the four months between her passing and her memorial service, I’ve learned a lot, and wanted to share those progressions with you.
Grief Part 3: Forgiveness vs Letting Go
When Mom was alive, I’d spend a lot of time inside my own head, dwelling on the past. I went through a lot of rough patches when I was growing up, and when I finally came
out of it, I still had a lot of pieces of my experience to try to put together. At first, nothing was clear – just old memories and feelings that had fuzzy edges, nothing that you could reach out and grab without everything slipping through your fingers. As I got older, those blurry edges became more defined and seemed to fall into place, but they turned more into blame than peaceful resolution. After what I’d been through, I needed someone to blame besides myself. Heaven knows, most of my emotional issues came from placing too much blame on myself, and I think part of my recovery was learning that it can be acceptable to put it on other people. Did I over-place that blame? Maybe. I don’t think I’ll ever know, and part of my journey is learning to be okay with that.
I’m okay with that because I’m finally at peace with all the grudges, anger, and blame I once felt. I think I’ve been able to overcome those negative feelings by realizing that you don’t necessarily have to forgive in order to let something go. “Forgiveness” (to me) is saying “you know what, I’m not angry at you any more.” “Letting go” in my eyes is saying “I still may be angry with you, but I’m not going to let it impact my life anymore.” Do you see the difference? “Forgiveness” neutralizes negative feelings, whereas “letting go” acknowledges they are present but chooses not to dwell on it. Is what I just said right or wrong? The thing with emotion is that more often than not there is no right and wrong – there is only finding a way to deal with it that keeps you going. And my mom definitely would have wanted me to keep going.
Grief Part 4: Accepting Condolences
In my original post, I discussed how strange it was to hear from people after my mom’s death that I don’t think I would have heard from otherwise. At the time, it was kind of disingenuous to me. It is obviously sad when anyone dies, but I felt like people were latching on to me not because they actually cared about me as an individual, but because they just wanted to feel like they had done something for the sake of it.
I’ve thought a lot about this over the last four-ish months, and I think I felt that way because most people sent me their condolences through social media. I know that for some people that was pretty much the only option, and hell, I’m sure I would have found a way to feel even weirder about it if people had called or used a more personal method. I’m sure people thought that a Facebook message was the least intrusive method of contact, but there’s something about social media that encourages cookie-cutter correspondence. Maybe it’s because writing something more personal was too much to type, but I felt what I read from most people was the same thing over and over.
When someone passes away it’s surreal, and at times you can wonder “were they ever here at all?” Especially when the person who’s passed hasn’t been themselves for an extended period of time. Did the person you think you remember even exist? Obviously the answer was “yes” in my case, but grief is a mirage that can play tricks on you. I understood that folks were sorry to hear about Mom, but what I was looking for in hindsight was something to hold on to as to why they were sorry – something to confirm that the Mom I remembered was still there for other people, too.
At the end of the day, my takeaway is more of a change I want to make in myself. I do far too much communicating about important events via social media and the written word, and my promise to myself is that I’m going to pick up the phone, or make more of an effort to see someone face to face when it matters most. I want to show that I care in the most genuine way that I can.
Grief Part 5: Putting Family First
I believe there are 3 things of which no other person can make you change your mind: politics, religion, and grief. Obviously this post isn’t about politics or religion, but I did want to make a point about grief. No one experiences grief in the same way. This might sound like a “duh” thing to say, but trust me, saying it and accepting it once you’ve experienced deep loss are two very different things. I wish that I could tell my dad and my brother how to grieve in a way that allows them to find peace faster, or that we could all feel the exact same things together, but it simply isn’t possible. As difficult as it is for me to see them struggling, I know that the best thing I can do is to be there to listen if they need me, and to try my best to understand their feelings, even if I might not feel the same way. My goal is to put them first when they need it, because everyone needs to feel like they are first at certain times in their lives.
I grew up seeing my Mom every single day. I lived with her, my dad, and my brother. We all lived in the same house, rode together in the same car, sat at the same kitchen table. Even if I didn’t enjoy those things to the fullest extent when they were happening, that was my every day life. Later in life, when I went home to visit or called on the phone, both Mom and Dad were always there. And now, that’s all changed, and it’s one of the most difficult adjustments I’ve ever had to make. I am incredibly thankful to still have my brother and my dad, and for the closer bond that’s been developed since my mom’s passing. I also continue to be thankful for the support my husband provides to me every day as I navigate Life Without Mom. Life was too short to begin with, and Life Without Mom feels like it’s even shorter, but you can bet I am going to live life the best I can, and I know Mom would be proud of that.
Thanks for reading,