Her absence is like the sky

Her absence is like the sky

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.

You are not alone.
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