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The Happy Outcome of My Journey Through Grief

MsDora, Certified Christian Counselor, helps grieving persons by sharing practical suggestions and by her personal expressions of grief.

The Yellow Bell (Tecoma Stans) is one of the beautiful shrubs my mother  planted.

The Yellow Bell (Tecoma Stans) is one of the beautiful shrubs my mother planted.

Writing: My Activity of Choice

“These four activities are essential to the process” writes grief counselor and author, Mike Tucker, in Tears to Joy. “Think, talk, write and cry.” Well, within the process of grief (the psychological, social and spiritual reaction to loss), thinking and crying happen whenever they will, even at opportune moments. Talking may take a little effort, and writing a little more. But, according to Tucker, these four activities are necessary, no matter if the bereaved joined a support group, an exercise or dance class, or any other activity to facilitate the process.

As the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death approaches, writing seems to be the appropriate activity for me. It is not that I am suffering intense grief. It is that having read a book on grief so close to her death anniversary, my curiosity urges me to investigate. How does my process of grief compare with the fundamental stages (also four) which Tucker proposes as the basics to help individuals “find joy and a renewed purpose for life?” These four stages are summarized under the subtitles which follow.

(1) Accept the Loss

Sudden deaths and deaths of young people are difficult to accept. It is easier to accept the death of an 85-year-old mother who lay in bed almost lifeless. That day, I recited to her (in case she could hear and understand) what my early morning prayer had been, in response to her seemingly less-than-human state. Then I added that she could also say her own prayer, to ask for what she wanted.

Alzheimer’s had destroyed her mental capacity and caused great confusion for her and for me. When she stopped recognizing me, I began to grieve my social loss. Spiritually, I was craving supernatural strength to endure the agony, to maintain sanity and for wisdom enough to deal efficiently with the end result. Sitting at her bedside, an only child, I watched her breathe her last breath and felt relief for both of us.

That did not prevent me, for months afterwards, from hiding the matches so she would not reach them. I still whispered in my phone conversations to avoid disturbing her. I still looked in when I passed her bedroom door, to make sure that she was comfortable. Despite what I had witnessed, a part of me had not come to terms with the loss.

No wonder we hear bereaved persons say, “It still doesn’t seem real to me.” No matter how many deaths announcements we read or hear, we prefer not to consider that the deceased could be a loved one. Then when we finally suffer loss, the brain does what we have trained it to do: reject the idea. After some recurring delusions, we have to (like I had to) reinforce the truth by intentionally reminding ourselves that our loved one is no longer here.

Grief is the transport from the tragedy of the loss to the reality of the future.

Grief is the transport from the tragedy of the loss to the reality of the future.

(2) Embrace the Pain

My mother and I lived apart in different countries for most of my adult life. We were not accustomed to spending time together, or visiting each other often. Consequently, the pain of losing her had little to do with the loss of physical togetherness, as it would be among family members who saw each other frequently. When I became her caregiver, four years before her death, it was too late to fulfill my dream of enjoying some pleasurable moments with her. After her death, my harshest pain was the pain of regret. There were several things I could have done differently. Why did I not (among other things):

  • return home sooner, to provide her with companionship which might have helped to keep Alzheimer’s at bay;
  • buy travel tickets instead of sending her gifts which could not compensate for my presence;
  • be more compassionate than defensive when I first became her caregiver, instead of responding to her mean words and accusations tit for tat, not understanding that these were characteristic of the disease;
  • given her a much grander funeral?

It hurt even worse to realize that none of these transgressions could be undone. I could not ask for her forgiveness. Still, I realized that it would not help me to punish myself with a running tab of all my no-good deeds. I eventually owned my shortcomings, and gave thanks that there many other gross mistakes that I had not made. Plus, I recall many ways in which I had expressed my love for my mother, and it has been pleasurable to dwell on them.

(3) Adjust to the Change

Life without my mother made me feel that I was more alone than ever. My children were already adults and living their own lives when she died. I looked forward to her being there whenever I returned to my childhood home. Now, I have assumed the posture of the old lady living alone in that house.

Some bereaved individuals crave company and go berserk over finding themselves alone. Some do foolish things like shopping excessively, or over-populating the house with dogs and cats. Not me. I’ve turned into my mother (which had been happening for a while), even carrying on her legacy of maintaining the beautiful outdoors around our home. “Just like your mother,” the neighbors like to say, and I have adjusted to being her double, with my children living abroad like I did, but we do visit more frequently than she and I did.

My Instagram page, a  pictorial tribute to my mother, the master gardener

My Instagram page, a pictorial tribute to my mother, the master gardener

(4) Say Good Bye

I still talk of living in my mother’s house and of keeping my mother’s garden. During the COVID-19 outbreak, folks came to the yard looking for plant remedies. They asked especially for lemon grass and for the vervine (also known as vervain) bush, and there was an abundance to give.

Knowing that my mother would have supplied whatever she could, and watching myself follow in her footsteps helps me keep her memory alive. I have said goodbye to her, but not to my memory of her. I do not see her image anywhere, except in photos. I do not hear her voice. I have not erected any secret shrine to her. The memory of her is etched forever in my heart.

I recently completed an Instagram post of 99 photos, featuring plants and flowers from our yard, and drawing attention to the ones I inherited from her. It was fun to do. After reading Mike Tucker’s book, I realized how healthy an exercise that was for me. He pointed out that we have reaped the benefit of grief when our conversation and memories about our loved one conjure up smiles instead of tears. So, I point to my Instagram page as one proof that I have lived through the four fundamental stages of grief and survived in good mental, social and spiritual health. My joy is real, encompassing and celebrating all that my mother was to me.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dora Weithers