Moving through grief…

I woke from a dream about my Dad this morning.  He looked exactly as he did in the weeks before his death eighteen months ago.  He looked tired.  When I was fully awake, I knew (again) that he was gone and I sobbed.  I miss my Dad – the Dad who had been a superhero, as my Mom had been, throughout my life.  Crying seemed the only way to release the sadness, so I cried.

I used to think that grief came in waves, but that is not how it feels to me now.  I love standing at the water’s edge and watching the waves come rhythmically to the shore.  Some are bigger than others, but you see every one of them as it approaches.  Grief does not work that way.  It is unpredictable.  You do not see it coming.  Grief is like a bolt of lightning, fast and furious and striking out of nowhere.  That is how grief feels to me today, all of these months after my Dad’s death.  

The moment Dad died, our family immediately focused our love and attention on Mom.  We shoved our own grief deep down, choosing to be strong for Mom and for each other.  Or at least that is what I think we did and why we did it.  But maybe not.  Maybe the grief was too hard to face into.  Maybe I pushed my grief away and focused all of my attention on Mom because that was somehow easier to do.  I cried a lot, of course, but I did not allow myself to feel the full weight of Dad’s death.  I was determined to be strong, and to do that I put most of my grief “on hold.”

Eight months later, Mom fell and was very badly hurt.  She was in the hospital for five days, and then we brought her home for the final weeks of her life.  A few days before Mom died, she told us that Dad had prepared a beautiful garden for her.  Mom said, “He keeps pestering me to come but I told him, ‘Not yet.’”  Three days later, she was ready.

When Mom died, our family grieved heavily.  We grieved for her and we grieved for Dad, and we loved each other through the pain and loss and sadness that came with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Mom and Dad’s birthdays, both in June.  We gratefully received the love and many expressions of sympathy and support from dear friends.  Then we emptied and sold the home where Mom and Dad had lived for over sixty years, the home where they crossed from this life to the afterlife.  And we cried through it all. 

Just last week I thought I had cleared the last remnants of grief, but this morning I realized I was wrong. Lightning struck again, sparked by a dream, and I felt the raw, jagged pain of missing my Dad.  A week or a month from now, it is possible that some song, some dream, some something will spark a deep feeling of missing my Mom.  What I am learning though all of this is that my usual way of dealing with things, my lists and schedules and careful planning, mean very little.  Lightning strikes when it will.  All I can do is promise to try to see the beauty of my grief, the proof that my love for my parents, and their love for me, is as strong as ever.  And maybe even stronger.

Related posts on this website… “She Gave Us The Moon” and “Celebrating Dad”

12 thoughts on “Moving through grief…”

  1. I’m so very sorry for your loss Sharon. Many of us (including me) have learned to avoid difficult emotions like anger and sadness. I’m learning to accept (and even welcome) them recently. I’m reminded of this poem by Rumi which I keep close and is of great solace to me:

    The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    As an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whoever comes,
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

  2. Oh Sharon, this has touched me so. My mother lived with my older sister out of state and had been declining over several years. At a certain point, my sister called to tell me that Mommy had been put into hospice and was likely to pass very soon. The next morning I woke up from a dream I had about her. In the dream, she was getting ready for a big party and was putting on a beautiful red dress that she asked me to button up for her. As I buttoned her dress up, we both marveled at how beautiful the dress was. Red was always my mothers favorite color, and I was so happy that she was wearing that special color for her “special party.” When I woke up from the dream, I knew that something had happened. About an hour later on my way to work, my oldest sister called me to tell me that mommy had died about 3:00 a.m. that morning, right about when I had that dream. I knew that it meant that she was was happy about death, that she was ready to go to heaven (she was very religious) and I knew that she was at peace. It was very clear that she was going to a celebration and I was so struck by how happy and free she seemed. She had been bedridden with Multiple Sclerosis for many years, so the freedom she experienced in my dream was beautiful and filled me with joy. When I think back on that dream now, some 13 years later, I well up with tears of grief that she isn’t here to see my own children as they grow up and I wish I could tell her all the things I’ve experienced over the years, and how much she shaped me to become the woman I am. Much love and hugs to you for sharing this beautiful post with us. xo

  3. Moving through grief. I don’t know about moving through it as much as riding that wave. Dad died back in 1992 and Mom left us in 2008. Wow, it was just yesterday. We fill our lives with many more moments after their passing, but the waves of the memory of them return and we ride them. I would say it feels terrible to feel the pain but it doesn’t. I’m so blessed to know that they were both such a positive and great force in my life that their everlasting presence is still near me and I love to feel for them still. I’m so happy when I feel them. And I feel them. Their warmth, their love, and through it all the compassion they taught me moves through me to shower upon others. And that’s when I feel them the most. We all go through grief in many ways, but knowing you feel for them is the most precious gift if all. Thank you Mami and Dad. I miss you still and I love and treasure feeling you always. I miss you.

  4. Like most things in life (progress, careers, relationships), grief isn’t linear – I have felt this acutely at times, too, although the causes of grief have differed. It sounds like you had profound love and respect for your parents (and vice versa!), and a close connection with them both, which makes the loss feel even more raw in some ways. Your post is beautiful, as are the comments. Sending love and hugs, Sharon. xx

  5. Sharon, you write so organically and it means so much to get to experience your journeys with you. Thank you for sharing this. It is so relatable for us as Martin went through similar experiences having lost both his parents over the recent years.

  6. Dear Sharon,
    Thank you for sharing your very touching journey. I think we all experience grief differently and in many different ways. We feel grief for the loss of our parents, friends, relationships, pets, even the loss of a job. The funny thing is that you never know what will trigger those emotions at any time. I think it’s important to let the feelings come as they will, embrace them for they represent such an important part of your life, then let them go and continue living and enjoying this ever changing journey of life. Sending big hugs to you.

  7. Sharon,
    When we learn to embrace our grief and sadness and not resist them, the healing begins. We will always miss those we loved the most and who loved us first, teaching us all about love. What a gift and one that keeps on giving. You are who you are in some measure because of them and so, enormous gratitude for the time you and they had together. Time does make it better and sometimes it takes longer than we might wish but that’s how life is.
    We learn from every experience and so the journey continues. Please know there are those of us out here who hear you, who care about you, and who are glad you are among us.

  8. Sharon – How right you are. I find that the loss of my father hits me at quite unexpected times. I was reminded of that last week while participating in a meeting in Kansas City – when a discussion ahead of a planned visit to the WW1 Museum made me weep, thinking about how much my father would have enjoyed a visit there.

    It never leaves you, and though my mother does drive me crazy some days, I know her time on this earth is short (she is 82), so I am working to treasure every frustration and every joy!

    Much love to all!

  9. Thank you for sharing your experience Sharon. I agree with many of the comments here that it never goes a way, maybe less frequent and less intense over time, but never goes away. To this day, 7 years after my mother’s death, my eyes would still be filled with tears just thinking about her and the last few days of her life. I remember seeing this quote about loss of loved ones and burst into tears because it sounded so sad, then start smiling because I now know why I feel the way I feel and I am not alone in this. So, here it goes, “Grief is really just love. It is all the love you want to give but can not. All of the unspent love that gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hallow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

  10. Lots of hugs to you Sharon. You are exactly right, grief does come in waves, sometimes rollercoasters, and shakes us to the core because its coming is so unpredictable.

    We can’t manage, control or change it, only experience it. Sometimes our brain is helpful by putting aside the worst for later if we have things we need to do. After all, we are the living, and our Loved Ones are gone. We have to cope, somehow.

    I lost my dad when I was 19, and didn’t know how to process that grief. A ‘nervous breakdown’ in my late twenties was, I believe, the time when I really let in the fact that he was gone.

    When I lost my mum in 2010, the pain was intense but because I had small children I just kept on working through it. Still the waves come though.

    Lots of light

    Sarah

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