Losing a parent while being a parent to small children myself, in my experience, makes the healing process especially difficult. Grief comes in waves that you never sure when they will hit. In addition to your sadness, your children are suffering through their pain, and you find yourself temper your own emotions for the sake of them.
Knowing you are not alone at this difficult time is one of the more important ways to heal. With the support of my family and friends, the last few months has made this new stage of my life bearable. While my journey is far from over, it has brought me a new perspective. Painful? Absolutely. But I remind myself when days are dark; it’s the love that you had that made that person so special. I hope that if I can help even one person who just suffered a loss, then baring this personal side of me will be worth it.
The rain pelts the window next to me. Cold gray skies match my mood as I realize the date is two days away. Not a day to rejoice, but an anniversary, nonetheless. On this journey, I have learned so much about myself, but the road has not been easy. Plenty of tears have fallen. Anger. Sadness. Frustration. These have all been my companions during this time. But as the 6-month anniversary draws closer to my mother finding peace and moving on, my inner peace has been less than obvious.
Relationships with parents are never meant to be easy. In our complicated dance, we switch positions throughout our lives between the teacher and the student. Raising two children of my own is proof of that. They have taught me numerous lessons in their short lives. It’s funny really- I didn’t realize at the time what those lessons they were preparing me for exactly.
For each time I struggled with my emotional turmoil the lessons, the scrapes, and bruises I learned from my path of motherhood was giving me the strength. The strength to push through. To know what I am capable of doing. To persevere. There is no “tap out” in motherhood. As much as we all joke around about a mommy time out all of us know there isn’t one. Sure we have mommy moments- or we would completely lose it- but those are only small moments in the scheme of things. Once we signed on to this job, we are in it for life. And that is what our job description is- to guide them to be the best they can be. Or so I thought.
The True Strength of Motherhood
I didn’t know I was saying goodbye for the last time. Sure I knew the outlook wasn’t good, but I was planning on coming back in a few short weeks. Seeing my mother look up at me, like one of my children, in those last few minutes I knew. She knew. Our days were limited together. Those soft jade colored eyes were resigned but questioning.
And in those moments a role between us shifted. I was no longer the child. I had become more than just my children’s mother, I had become hers as well. In her eyes, I saw her looking for guidance when I was at a loss myself. So as I have done with my children countless times, I pushed my fears aside and became the strength she needed.
It was the hardest thing I have ever done. But as I kissed her goodbye for what would be the last time, I didn’t show her my fear- only my love for her. Instead, I hugged her as best I could and told her I loved her and gave her permission to be free from this pain. Knowing that from that moment it was my turn. My turn to show my children and my family who we are. What made my mom smile. Her idiosyncrasies. Her strengths lie within me.
To keep her memory strong with all of us.
At that moment I didn’t realize the burden I had just placed upon my weary shoulders. While her journey was ending, mine had just embarked. Perhaps that ignorance was what kept me going- that I could be strong enough to say goodbye. My inner strength, I trusted, would hold me together like it had countless times before. This journey, however, was
The 5 steps of Grieving
The first month after she passed I couldn’t think. People moved by me and waved, introduced themselves to me, carried on conversations, and I would nod sitting muddled in a blurry haze. My fight for normalcy was my only mindset. To get back to where I was safe. To where the hurt of my loss didn’t exist. Or at least my pain could be manageable. I tried not to think of her to keep myself going.
My main focus was of my children and keeping their lives on track and running smoothly. I wanted to let them know I was there. Like I always was- even though I was crumbling inside myself. I had always been their strength- I wasn’t going let them down now. Their grandmother had just died. In typical mothering fashion I pushed my needs aside so I could be there to take away their hurt.
By month three the effects of my denial were starting to take their place. I kept having dreams of things being destroyed. By fire, by flood, or my children were being taken away from me or kidnapped. I would wake at 3 or 4 am with my mind racing in a cold sweat. Tears would fall at inopportune times and I would get angry at myself. My protective walls were beginning to wear, and the weight of my emotions began to surface.
I fought against myself to persevere like I always do, but the burden was starting to take its toll. As I pushed myself harder in the gym, on my bike, or on my own personal deadlines, I could still feel my frustration and anger boiling beneath. Which only elevated it. If I missed a day at the gym my emotions and anxiety would start to seep back into my day. I had held it back for too long. I knew I had to address it- but I wasn’t ready.
Even with the support and love of my family, I was mad at myself. Angry at the world. My patience with everything was short. All the trials and tribulations of my life up to this point I was able to manage and persevere. For the first time in my life, it frustrated me the most not being strong enough to keep it together. Especially when my children and family needed me the most.
I would find myself during these first few months wondering if there was something that could have changed. Watching my mom go through her battle with both her mind and her body, my heart knew she was in a better place. The pain and anguish were something no one should ever endure the way she did. But is there something else I could have done
This was the woman who was my frontline. Through heartaches, frustrations, trials and setbacks and she would fight. Fight with tooth and nail to protect me. She was a force to be reckoned with when she was in this mode. As she repeatedly denied herself the proper care as she dwindled before my eyes the question that would plague me was “Why didn’t she fight for herself?”
The most frustrating part is I knew she had it in her.
Those thoughts led me to if she would have only taken medicine,
Doesn’t she know how much I still need her?
As those thoughts swirled in my head, I could feel myself spiraling. My anger at myself, as well as my frustration, began to mount again. And off I would go to find some distraction at the gym, a full wine glass, art project, or book to distract me from reality. Anything to keep my head above water.
Three days before Christmas the walls broke. My stomach clenched and turned as the wave of emotions finally broke free. It refused to hold anything in. I thought I was lactose intolerant or had IBS. But the symptoms kept getting worse. Tears were inches away from falling or pouring freely. It was the first Christmas without mom. My small family of my sister, dad, and nephew were coming to my house to join us and I didn’t know what to expect. It had been a while since we had been together for Christmas and the expectations were high for me.
I wanted it to be “normal.” To have Spritz cookies baking in the oven. Frank Sinatra crooning in the background while we open presents. The laughter. All the traditions and memories that made up a Wininger Christmas. I wanted it to be something special not just for me but for my family. But I knew something was going to be missing. And that would be Mom.
The next few weeks I found myself in a deep state of depression. The understanding that we will have to make new traditions without her and new memories hit me hard. In addition to my mounting anxiety, my stomach still riled and rocked. I knew I had to do something or I would only make myself sick. With the advice of a close friend, who happens to be a nurse, she shared with me her own paths through loss and how therapy and talking about it helped her. At this point, I was willing to try anything.
Two days later I set her photo down on my lap and began to talk. I let my emotions, both good and bad, flow freely. All the things I had gone through. All the feelings I had pent up rushed out of me. I cried and screamed for a good half hour. And you know what? As the result, for the first time in almost a year, I felt better.
Admitting to myself to have that moment of weakness was not only ok, but allowed was the hardest thing for me. It was necessary for me to find my strength again. Am I cured? Absolutely not. Each day without her doesn’t lessen the feeling of loss, and I’m learning that its ok. It’s ok to feel this pain. It’s ok to talk to her. It’s ok to talk to a professional. It’s not a showing of weakness by saying you need help, but a sign of strength. And inspiration.
Yes, the last six months have been terribly difficult. But if it weren’t for the love we had together, I wouldn’t have felt the way I do now. Love is strength. With strength you need growth. And growth is never easy. Remember when you are grieving it is because of love- it’s giving you a path to a new strength. It’s all part of the process to make you hold on to things that are precious. To provide you with the perspective to hold onto the memories, laughter, and smiles with your loved ones. Both the ones that are gone- and the ones that you have with you today. Allow yourself time to go through the process. Yes, there will be dark times but the strength you will gain as a person is invaluable. And that love you shared with your loved one will help show you the way.
Needing help? Here is a U.S.A National hotline for Grief: Grief Recovery helpline 800-445-4808