The inspiration for this blog comes from wanting my journey of grief to inspire and help you on your journey of grief. I want to pioneer more therapists sharing their own life stories and reflections because those of us who have been through it to be a guide for others have much to offer from our personal experience. We can speak in a universal way in order to connect with others on the healing path and to release muck from the collective unconscious.
On January 9th it will be one year since my mother passed away. The experience of her death is a treasure in my memory as my sisters and I sent my mother into death with our words and comforting presence. A rare opportunity. This was my first experience of sending a human into death. I did this with a doggie and the feeling was similar. Peaceful. My mother was not scared to die. She was ready and trusting. She felt spirit and soul to be real, not in a religious way, in a way she could feel on a personal level. Her felt experience gave her inner peace. She was only scared of the actual passing moment and she called her daughters to be witness and help her transition.
Although the few days she was in a coma prior to dying were two of the hardest days of my life, I am beyond grateful to have been a death guide for my mother. I asked her in the hospital, days before her death, how she wanted to die. She said with certainty, “at home, surrounded by my family.” I told her we would make that happen and the conviction in my body was so fixed nothing could stop me. I learned a lot about that feeling of fixed conviction. I learned that it is a transpersonal and archetypal force that rose into my ego to make my mother’s death be as she wanted. We have help from the transpersonal/archetypal realms whenever we need it.
Her year and half battle with cancer was brutal toward the last six months. I have thought a lot about it since her death. I have thought a lot about my behavior. I worked very hard to accept her battle and accept how she wanted to proceed through it. I remember distinctly learning the lesson of letting go of trying to control her in order to make myself feel better. The lesson of surrender is deep and life long. I did the best I could and I don’t harp on myself. I showed up with a lot of presence. I also recall all the times I was irritated with her, angry with her, wishing she made different choices and all the ways I reacted without presence and surrender. Part of grief for me has been going through each memory and forgiving myself for every time. It’s a process.
I also have needed to go through the awful memories of her vomiting and in pain with me as witness. I have felt so much pity and pain for her when these memories rise up. I then hear my mother in my head say, “I am free of that now, don’t dwell on the pain,” and I know she is right. This is a hard lesson for me because I feel so strongly how she did not deserve to go through all of the pain she went through. The anger for her having to endure cancer and the battle to kill it, flares up strongly in my heart. I then tell myself all the crone wisdom: life is unfair for everybody, life is suffering, life is dark and light… and it helps. I make the intention to release the anger. Again, this a process and it just takes time.
What is important about grieving is that every step is treated as important. You cannot rush grief. Everybody grieves differently and for different amounts of time too. I cannot control my father’s grief and my sisters and I grieve each in our own way. Grief control us, we don’t control grief. You must let grief have its way with you and not judge others for how they grieve. Grief will teach you to endure loss, surrender and become much more aware of time and the shortness of life if you let it do its magic. If you resist grief you will become more addicted to the things you are addicted to: shopping, hustling, working, drinking, eating, controlling, whatever it is. People resist grief all the time and dive into doing all the things and escaping in all the various ways.
I have learned that grief comes in waves. I have cried the hardest for missing my mom about ten months after her death. In the beginning, the tears were more violent and deluging storms of shock. Once I accepted my mom’s death (stages of grief) about six-seven months later, the tears have become about missing her versus being shocked she is gone. I did not think about it until these new “missing her” tears…about how the longer the loved one is dead the more you miss them because the longer time passes without them. A very logical thought that I did not consider. Grief is not logical. I miss her presence so much.
I miss my mother’s voice, her scent, her sayings, her mannerisms. Grief has taught me that love for others is much more about their particular essence and much less about compatibility or beliefs. My mother and I were very opposite personalities but we found connection when shopping, watching television, having morning coffee, sharing our love of animals….but it’s not the connecting I miss about her. I miss her. Vivian. I miss her being in this world. The lesson this teaches me is so potent. I realize that love really is about love. It’s not about what I get or give. Sure, I miss how she nurtured us with her domestic ways and I miss giving her my love too but what I really miss is literally her presence as a living human being existing in this world.
I come from my share of abuse, dysfunction, and trauma like most of us do. Yet I am also very lucky that my family knows and gives unconditional love. I got very close to my mother over the last twenty years and we healed our stuff. I know me being a healer had much to do with it as I stubbornly pushed for healing in the early years. Yet also, my mother was open and healthy enough in her psyche to go through the healing journey. Many mothers do not have the capacity to heal or even relate. Many loved ones are so mentally ill that their children and siblings need continual distance and hard boundaries at all times. Grief may be very complex with the pain and mental illness involved in family systems. This still does not tell you how you will grieve though. Grief will surprise you.
Grief transforms you, a friend and fellow therapist told me. He has been through a lot of death. That sentence sticks with me. I have witnessed myself transform over this past year. Solitude is something I need much more of since my mother’s passing. It may not always be this way but for now, I don’t feel like being very social like I used to be. I have become a ghost friend. I know those who love me and are closest accept me for my ghost phase and those who cannot accept me, I let them go. I need a lot of space around me and a lot of time to go within. I don’t feel like doing much of the “fun” things either. I don’t want to go out much. I go to bed early. I am more serious, somber, and internal. I am sure this will balance out over time but for now, I need what I need.
One of the biggest transformations is that I no longer care what other people think of me, for the most part. I used to be much more concerned, as many of us are, about being liked and accepted by others. Now, I don’t care. I have an attitude that feels like, “if you don’t like me that’s fine, whatever.” All shame about being me has vanished. I feel a major increase of self love. I also feel more shit cutting, pragmatic, and honest with myself and everybody. I am not trying to people-please and any ideals carried over from my twenties have dissolved in the grief journey. I want to continue to dream, grow, and live with fulfillment but it comes from a much more grounded place inside now.
Again, my friends who are close honor this change in me. The people who count allow me to change as I give the same allowance to them. If we need to grow apart, that’s ok too. Those who needed me as I was before, I release. It feels really wonderful to be free of needing to be liked or to hold on to relationships that don’t serve me or them anymore. The self love increase is nourishing too. I am so much more gentle with myself. It feels as if my mother’s soul went into me and is helping me to become more gentle and balanced.
I feel that when the soul leaves the body, a piece of it enters those who were close. I feel the piece of my mom that went into me is her dignity, her shit cutting attitude, her grace, her pragmatism, and her love for fashion. Not all of these traits lived in the conscious world of my mother’s personality but all these traits lived in her being nevertheless. I feel these traits mix with my own and make me new. I have worn more make-up since her passing, feeling her love for make-up and being lady-like in that New York city way. I feel her quiet grace and earthy poise become a part of my former stormy celestial sparky self. I feel her shit cutting wisdom permeate my ethereal attitude. This makes me feel close to her too as I transform.
As we approach the year marker of her death, I feel a sense of joy. I feel joy that she is free of her body and her life here. I have connected with her on the other side. She is actively becoming a spirit guide and very happy with her life choosing to not reincarnate but to be a soul guide for the incarnated. Not every soul gets this choice. You have to die with enough peace in your heart to see the choice in the first place. How we live in this body continues after we leave it, with the same continuity of emerging into unknown possibilities and choices whether we are human, in another kind of body, or not in a body. But I will save the esoteric for another blog. I feel joyful for my mother’s happiness.
At the same time, I feel sorrow for my father being left without her. This is the dark side of love. Somebody will grieve the other when you get into these long partnerships. The lesson returns of not controlling. I cannot control his grief. I cannot control his life. I have learned so much about how we want control others when they are hurting because it hurts so much to feel their pain. Through my mom’s cancer battle, her death, and my father’s journey now, I see how much I want to take away the pain of those I love with my solutions, my way of seeing things, my way of healing. The lesson is to let it go. Allow others to experience life as they need to and only show up to help as asked. Pain is not bad and pain should not be avoided. Surrender.
Surrender means making peace with what is. Making peace with what is means making space for what is. Making space for what is means not saying or believing things like, “this should not have happened” or “this is wrong and unfair.” To make space means to allow all of it. ALL. I have discovered how to allow life to be grief, pain, hurt, and loss just as much as growth, pleasure, gain, and expansion. It means letting all of life express itself, the good, the bad, the ugly as they say. It means letting go of controlling the cycles. Paradoxically, you must put effort forth to self-care, heal and grow to allow yourself to let go of controlling the natural vicissitudes of life.
I always recommend the book, “Dark Nights of the Soul,” by Thomas Moore. He inspires me to find the richness in the dark night, whatever it may be. What bothers me is the collective ignorance of “turning the frown upside down” or bypassing the stages of grief (denial, bartering, anger, depression, acceptance) with sayings such as, ” don’t be sad, she’s with you in spirit.” These sayings are so the sayer can control your pain so they don’t feel afraid of it. It is vital to go through the grief journey with all the frowns, tears, stages, and for as long as you need. The difference between getting stuck and moving through the stages is that the former comes from resisting the stages of grief and the latter happens when you surrender to the stages and allow them to pass through you.