On June 8, 2014, the unimaginable happened in my life. My sweet Mother, Caroline Latimer, who was turning 90 on June 13th, fell and broke her hip. Now, you’d think that’s not really unexpected of someone that age. But let me tell you a bit about my Mother.
She was more active at her age than many people who are half her age. Really. She was so involved in her Church and community. The morning she fell she was getting ready for Mass, to be followed by the first of a week-long series of lunches and dinners to celebrate her milestone birthday. She still lived alone in her own home and drove herself around town. Five days before she fell, she worked at the election precinct in her community. The photo of us on the left was taken on Mother’s Day this year (2014). It was taken with my iPhone, and it’s untouched (because I have no idea how to do that!). Does she look like she was 90? No, in large part because she stayed active and lived every day of her life to the fullest.
I met her at the hospital and basically never left. She had surgery late on Monday. At some point, she had a stroke. She broke her right hip, and after the stroke she was paralyzed on her entire left side. If she had survived, she would have been bedridden, and that was something she never wanted. Fortunately, she had a living will and had told the doctor the Sunday she fell that she wanted no life support.
My sons, grandson, and some close friends came to the hospital to celebrate her birthday on Friday evening. All three priests from her Church came to see her. She was aware enough to say hello to one of them, and when my grandson said “I love you, Granny” she said “Love you.” She knew we were all there. We prayed, we sang Happy Birthday to her, and we had cake.
I stayed up most of the night, talking to her and reading her birthday cards to her again. The messages we had all written were beautiful and so full of love. At one point, a tear ran down the side of her face. I knew she heard me.
At 8:00 the following morning, surrounded by my sons, two close friends, and me, she softly took her last breath. My life changed forever in that instant. I spent the following week surround by family and friends preparing for her Memorial Mass. On Friday, June 20th, over 150 people gathered in her Church to celebrate the life that gave me life. The life I will miss for the rest of my life.
Since then, I’ve learned about grief in a way I never experienced before. My Father passed away over 20 years ago. I loved him dearly and miss him every day, but losing my Mom has been completely different. It has cracked me open in ways I never imagined possible.
Here are a few things I’ve learned that I hope will help you in whatever experience you might go through that causes you to experience grief, whether it’s the death of a loved one, a divorce, death of a beloved pet, or numerous other experiences we have in life that lead us to that place of deep sorrow and grief.
1. Get A Therapist. Many of us think we can “get through it.” And while we very well might do that, we often do it by using our friends and others close to us as our therapist. It’s also tempting to turn to drugs or alcohol. A therapist can help you process the range of emotions you’re experiencing, leaving you time to spend with loved ones and friends reminiscing, as well as dealing with the logistics of the situation. Just don’t use your friends and loved ones as your therapist.
2. Cry. I say this to my clients all the time: you have to feel it to heal it. So many of us live our lives holding our emotions inside, not wanting to appear “weak” or “needy.” But let’s be real here. Loss of any kind brings with it trauma and pain. So go ahead. Give yourself full permission, and do what Oprah calls “the ugly cry.” Let it all out. And trust me, it won’t just be a one-and-done kind of thing. It’s going to come at you in waves. So ride those waves and release it when you feel it. Tears are a way of releasing our emotions. If you don’t release them, they’re going to stay bottled up inside of you. And just like a simmering pot with the lid on it, eventually all those stuffed down feelings are going to explode. It’s so much better, and healthier, to release it a little at a time as you feel it.
3. Have a strong support system. While you should not use those close to you as your therapist, it’s so important not to spend a lot of time alone during these times. Don’t get caught up in a cycle of talking obsessively with others and getting into the drama of what happened with friends and family (remember #1 above – that’s what your therapist is for). Instead spend time connecting with others and remembering the good things in life. Also, it can be very tempting to sit home alone and shut yourself off from the world. While you do need some time alone to reflect and grieve, spending too much time alone can be a slippery slope to falling into a state of deep depression, or turn to drugs, alcohol or countless other things to numb the pain.
4. Ask for and accept help from others. It’s easy to think we’re a burden to others during times of grief. But people love to help others in times of need, so let them! Let people run errands for you, let them drive you where you need to go for a few days, let them cook for you. I’ve been amazed at what people have done for me since this began, and I’m grateful in ways I’ve never known before. One friend kept my dog for me for over two weeks, so I knew he was being loved and well cared for, and I didn’t have to worry about feeding and walking him in the midst of everything else. That was priceless to me.
5. Live. Get back to your life as quickly as possible, but ease into it if you need to. Notice I did not say your “normal life” because nothing will ever be normal again, not in the way it used to be. But the sooner you can get back to your regular activities (work, clubs you’re involved in, health-related activities), or start new ones, the sooner you’re on your way to healing.
6. Be Grateful. There’s so much in life to be grateful for! Every night before you go to bed, write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for – and don’t repeat anything. It can be something as simple as waking up, getting dressed and brushing your teeth one day. Then, at the end of each week, read back through your list and you’ll see that even in the darkest of times, there is so much to be grateful for in this life.
My life will never be the same. Losing my Mom has been harder than anything I’ve ever experienced. So many people have told me how strong I am and how strong my Mom was. She taught me how to be strong. But in the past month I’ve learned that even strong people need help at times. I have more love and support in my life than I realized before this happened.
How have you experienced grief in your life? Leave me a comment below so we can share ideas. I truly believe it’s in times like these that we’re given opportunities to learn from one another.
Much love and gratitude to all of you. And God Bless my Mom up among the angels. xoxo