My husband’s mother died July 30. I helped him care for her as she made her passage as she wished, in her own bed at home. It was an incredible experience. A privilege. And it ushered in a now-familiar visitor: grief. A part of life. But always so difficult because though we all die, every loss is as unique as the individual now gone from our sight.
You don’t heal. You do, in your own time, get to a better-feeling place where smiles come more often than tears. Oh, those tears. Still coming at random. I accept them as a form of honor to her and an expression of letting go to myself. And once I stop crying I laugh, because in all honesty I was not her favorite person and she wasn’t like a second mother. We frequently irritated each other. She’s probably really surprised that I’m so affected. But how could I not be? As many of her colleagues note, she was quite a lady. I’m married to her only child.
Who was it who said our mothers are like the sky? What do you do when the sky goes away?
My own mother will die. I will die. Other skies will be swept away. It’s hard.
Gratitude helps me through. It always does, for everything. But I find it especially useful as I process the passing of Scott’s mother—and help her son and grandchildren adjust to this shift.
Here are some of the things I’m grateful for:
– Thank you, every restaurant and deli we called who cheerfully (or dutifully) recited the soups of the day. She really liked Scott’s soups but sometimes craved something different. She liked to eat out. When I worked in restaurants, we used to marvel: why in the world do people call to find out what the soup is? Who cares? How could it be that important? Well, when you are struggling to find something that will taste good to your ailing loved one, something they’ll be able to digest, something that might really hit the spot, the soup of the day is everything. She especially liked the smoked fish chowder at Four Suns, and wanted to “save it for special occasions.”
– Thank you to the Michigan Bell Girls of Calumet, who motivated Jo to get out of the house and socialize. The real-life Golden Girls showed up in full force first thing at her service, handing out hugs and telling us how terrific Jo is. They are independent, beautiful, generous, compassionate, and living life to the fullest. True friends and liberated women who like her worked as telephone operators and supervisors to bring home the bacon. Also Nonnie, her bestie since high school. They argued like sisters, but always came back together.
– Thank you to our children, who did not ask if they should come, just how fast they could get here when Grandma Jo took a rapid turn for the worse. I can’t fully articulate how comforting it was for our family unit to be together. There are those who say presence doesn’t matter. It does. Not so much to the dying—they are moving ahead into another realm. That poignant death scene straight out of a Hollywood movie often isn’t reality. Being there is for the ones left behind. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it won’t make a difference whether you’re there or not. If your heart and gut tell you to be there, be there.
– Thank you, hospice! What would we have done without your guidance? These angels know the practical, emotional and spiritual implications of death. The signs. The way to prepare. The way to help your loved one make that passage with comfort and dignity. How to accept. What a blessing.
– Thank you. Whether you sent a card, came to the service, offered your sympathy or empathy, thought about us, or are reading this blog, it’s deeply appreciated.
– I am grateful for Scott’s music. While he was taking care of his mom, he didn’t have the time for it. He poured all of his energy into being her Meals on Wheels, her medical advocate and her chief companion. He would have liked to play for her at her memorial but didn’t think he’d be able to get through it.
The music is coming back. As he plays, I hear his soul soothing itself. I can feel equilibrium returning, scales tipped in favor of happiness. Every day the emotions are different. That’s how it is when someone you love dies. We let the tears flow and the smiles follow. We reach for the good feelings by acknowledging losses and legacies.
We listen to the music and open our tender hearts to life. To inevitable, incredible beginnings and endings. And to all the joy in the middle.
Bonus Inspiration: I’ve written previously about the Akal chant to help loved ones transition, and to help those who grieve find comfort and stability. If you want some help working through the transformative experience of death, try Jack Kornfield’s meditation for grief. Seane Corn’s yoga for heartbreak sequence is one of several you can find simply by searching the internet.