Apr 18, 2021
July 16, 2020 caught my family off guard.
About 9am I had just pulled into the driveway from playing tennis when I got a call from my brother. The VA Care Center where our Dad was living had just called Mom to tell her that Dad was dying and that she should come as soon as possible. The place was under quarantine lockdown due to COVID-19. We considered it a great blessing that they invited her to be with him.
He passed away the next morning, by himself, holding a photo of he and my mother.
My brother took my mom to the VA again that day and recorded the beautiful moment the mortuary took my Dad down the hallway of the Care Center, the American flag draped over him, playing Taps. Other veterans lined the hallway, many in wheelchairs, and saluted him.
As I watched that recording, I just couldn’t believe it was MY Dad that was in that body bag, under that flag. What was this strange new numbness I was feeling?
Now it’s been 9 months and the numbness has left. Now I like to think of his laugh and the way we used to jab at each other jokingly. I loved his beautiful bass singing voice and I miss hearing it. When I see photos of him, I want to reach through them and touch his face. This feels like grief to me too. It comes in waves and it changes in dynamics. It comes less often, but it still comes.
I attended a webinar this week on Grief and Pain and I was reminded of an experience with my Mom the first few days after Dad passed and at his viewing.
People would call to offer condolences. They would say, “I’m so sorry”. Mom surprised them with her response: “I’m not”.
They would be taken aback and she would explain, “He was miserable. I’m so happy for him that he isn’t suffering anymore.”
His death was a relief to her. She no longer worried about him sitting alone all day in his room, growing more and more confused. She no longer had to call the nurse’s station to get him the help he needed when he would call her with problems.
One friend who called to offer comfort to my Mom ended up crying about her own husband’s death 6 months earlier. Mom then comforted her instead.
Mom’s grief looked much different than her friends’ grief did. Mom’s grief looked like sitting in her recliner and staring into space. It looked like going to work on the paperwork and thank you notes that follow death, then allowing herself to fully prepare for her own, which happened just 4 months later. She sold her house to my brother, she visited with friends, she ate a Big Blue cheeseburger. She missed him, especially the healthy version of him. But her grief did not involve many tears. She just grieved her way.
It is understandable to express our apologies to someone when they have experienced a loss. But is it possible that that isn’t the most helpful thing to offer?
Let’s offer them space to grieve exactly how they need to. And since we don’t know how they need to grieve, we must engage and interact with them. We must ask them what they are experiencing, and then LISTEN and allow them that experience.
When my brother lost his wife to Leukemia at age 41, people seemed terribly uncomfortable with his loss. So they left him alone. That was exactly the opposite of what he needed.
When I was grieving after Mom passed away I needed to talk about the experience over and over again, but I could tell I had to be selective with whom I could share it with. Some physically inched away from me when I brought it up, it was too uncomfortable for them. And that’s ok too. I just needed to talk about it.
We cannot assume to know how another person is grieving, even if we have experienced it ourselves. We can be a safe place for them to share with us how they are feeling, what is difficult, what is scary, and even what is easier without their Loved One here.
The first step is just showing up.
P.S. I had the opportunity this week to host a Caregiver support group, so I took it! We will begin this Wednesday April 21st at 7pm MST. I’m excited to offer coping strategies to a group of Caregivers at a very affordable price AND have a place where we can learn from each other. It will be held weekly (every Wednesday at 7pm) and cost just $76 per month. With that cost I also offer access to me between sessions via the app Voxer, where you can ask me questions and get support throughout the week. It’s going to be AMAZING!! Click the link to join us https://meredithgcoaching.as.me/