By Erin, grieving daughter
Wednesday marked five months since my Mom died. Five months. I can’t believe it. It seems like yesterday and it seems like a million years ago.
I’m sure you all know about the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is how grief goes for most people. Of course, the stages are not in order, do not happen one at a time, and do not happen in a straight line.
I will add another stage – shock. Since my Mom died, I have been in shock. During the first week I experienced some extreme grief and anger, but mostly just shock. This feeling of numbness has buffered me through the past five months – it allowed me to make phone calls, plan the funeral, take care of paperwork and bills, go through her clothes and personal items, and all of the other things that you have to do when someone dies. It allowed me to get back to work and back to “living” as best I could. I have certainly felt grief, but it has been wrapped in many layers of shock and numbness.
During the first three months, I hardly cried at all. When I was able to cry, it escalated to a full blown anxiety attack with shortness of breath and vomiting – obviously, I pushed back the tears. Little by little, the shock and numbness are wearing off. Denial is entering full force, as are tears. I think I would prefer the shock and numbness.
The grief is so big, so deep, so wide, so sharp. Denial does not mean that I am trying to deny to myself that she is gone, but it has taken the form of serious disbelief. I cannot believe she is gone. How can she be gone? I cannot believe that I will never see her again, talk to her again, share my love for Isaac with her, laugh with her, cry with her . . . Disbelief for myself, for my family, for our child that is not here yet, and for her — She is missing so much.
I have come to a major realization about grief and tragedy since I lost my Mom. Since she died, I have been waiting for the “other shoe to drop”. I did this when Isaac came home from the hospital after his traumatic birth and three and a half month hospital stay. It has only been in the last year and a half that I was able to let go of the feeling that something was still going to go wrong. Since my Mom died, I have felt like something else bad is going to happen – I would have a breakdown, my Dad would die, I would lose my job, etc. Like my level of grief in and of itself just could not be enough – something else really bad would have to follow.
Now I realize my grief is long, long, long. Some days it is shallow and long, and some days it is deep and wide, all encompassing and rocky, but eventually becomes shallow and calm again. It will be there, with me, for the rest of my life, but it will have ups and downs. I can have happiness along with the grief. I don’t have to have a breakdown to properly grieve for my Mom. It was such a shock, and continues to be, that the grief process has been very slow and numb for me – it might always be that way.
I visited the cemetery on Wednesday, just as I have done almost every week since we lost her. I sat on the grass by her grave – the plot is filling in with grass. I talked to her a little, and cried a lot. In Jewish tradition, you do not put flowers on a grave; instead you place a stone on the marker to indicate that you were there. It is a strange tradition to those that do not practice it, but placing a small stone around the temporary marker has been comforting to me. (In Judaism, it is customary to place the head stone or permanent marker at the first anniversary of the death) I go to the cemetery, search on the ground to find a nice rock, and stack it with the other rocks. Sometimes I notice a rock that I did not put there, and I wonder who else has visited her (it’s not my Dad, he has not gone).
Just for your information, the tradition of placing a stone at the grave of the deceased has several explanations — when the tradition started, grave monuments were mounds of stones. Visitors added stones to “the mound” to show we are never finished building the monument to the deceased. Or, it might be to tell the visitors that followed that others had also visited the grave. And also, symbolically, it suggests the continuing presence of love and memory which are as strong and enduring as a rock. I think all of those ideas are nice. I don’t miss putting fake flowers on her grave, because I’ve always disliked silk flowers. I do wish, though, for a plant or a tree or a bush to commemorate her spot, but she is buried in the back of the cemetery in a beautiful spot.
So, I visited her on Wednesday. I sat on the ground and tried to talk to her – telling her about our lives. I normally cry a little bit, but on that day I just broke down completely. I cried and sobbed and heaved and wailed. It is a sign that the shock is wearing off . . . so hard, but so necessary.
I don’t know what else to say. Mom, I miss you and love you so much.
Erin – thank you for sharing this personal situation so publicly. I am watching my mother slowly die of cancer, and have already gone through some of the stages of grief before she’s even gone. Anticipatory grief I suppose. I’m sure I’ll go through them again after it happens… it’s just a long process, and at times I wish the waiting were over. Other times I’m glad for the few more months, weeks, or days we have with her.
Erin–on some level I can identify with your grieving experience. I hold things in too. I was very numb about Jack for a very long time, and I still have bursts of emotion that hit me out of the blue. And it’s been over 4 years! So everyone definitely deals with it in their own personal way, and my heart goes out to you as you work through it. I’m here anytime! love ya!