The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread all over everything.” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Though C.S. Lewis was writing about the death of his wife Joy, his words describe how I felt during the first year after my mother’s death. In fact it was only after passing the third anniversary of her death from pancreatic cancer that I felt like I was finally recovering the full use of my brain and body. [Though after recently turning 53 and finding myself unable to remember the simplest nouns, I do wonder about my brain!]
I can’t speak for other daughters who lose their mothers during what one would consider the normal course of events — I am an adult, my mother was 79 — yet I felt consumed by grief. As if I wouldn’t be able to speak for a year after witnessing her suffering and her death. My cheek against hers, breathing with her as she took her last breath. To this day I cannot think of her illness and death without weeping.
Why and how could I be so bereft? I remember saying to a board member at the time whose mother had died the year before, how caught off guard I was by the depth of my sorrow and how I was so utterly immobilized. “She was your mom,” he said. “There is no one like our moms.” I can still hear him saying that, giving me permission and understanding that no matter our age, when we lose our moms it hurts.
I thought I knew what grief was all about because my dad died when I was 14. I thought I knew from grief! I thought I knew what it was like to lose a parent. But until my mother died, I only knew about death through the eyes and heart and mind of a child. I had known my dad for 14 years but I knew my mom for 50 years.
And noone could have prepared me. I remember someone saying to me that at least it would be easier for me because of the work I do. I wanted to laugh! As if knowing about grief in my head would lessen the grief in my heart. I told a friend about that and he laughed out loud and asked if I were a funeral director should I perform my own embalming because I know about it?! I laughed out loud too.
But in a way I was prepared. I knew that my experience was ‘normal’ and that I wasn’t going crazy when all I could do was lie on the floor and cry. That I wasn’t going crazy as I became forgetful and unfocused, as I kept tripping and bumping into things. I’m amazed I didn’t end up with stiches! Driving was the worse when all of a sudden my vision would blur with tears or I would be as clumsy with my driving as I was with my feet. I call this driving under the influence of grief.
Eventually I got my balance back. What helped was the passage of time combined with talking, talking, talking, to anyone who would listen, and support from my group, professionals, and writing. I will miss my mom for the rest of my life, as I will my dad. But as I did with my dad, and now with my mom, I have learned to live with the sadness and joy of life side by side.