Good grief


Grief comes in many forms: there’s the grief over your spilled coffee when it was the last of the package of Red Velvet coffee from World Market, there’s the grief over the loss of a pet, the grief over the loss of a once-possible future, grief over the end of a relationship, grief over the loss of a loved one, a parent, a friend, a child, a sibling, a grandparent.

I’ve known many of these, and today I am re-experiencing the grief over the loss of my mom.

My mom died in her sleep last night after struggling with pneumonia and problems swallowing and a whole host of other medical problems. She’d been on hospice care for about three weeks after being dismissed from the hospital, so it wasn’t unexpected.

However, it hit me anew today.

I’d already been through a grieving process because my parents had disowned me a few years ago. They had lied to me, sent bill collectors (for their bills, mind) after me, cut me out of all communication, hidden their whereabouts from me, and then… used me. Used me as a way to store their hoarder’s house, used me as a way to deal with all their messes, used me as a permanent address when they didn’t want to give out their nursing home address.

My brother tried to use me as a way to take care of Mom and Dad over the holidays, tried to use me as a responder when they had a health scare, tried to use me as a way to not have to deal with their hoarded stuff.

Last year, my dad asked if he and my mom could come back to live with me.

I had to tell them no.

No, I couldn’t open myself up to that much hurt any more. No, I couldn’t expose myself to the lies, the deceit, the recriminations. No, I just physically and financially couldn’t take care of them any more (I am still paying off their stay in the first nursing home).

And in all this time, I grieved.

I racked myself with guilt for not being the dutiful daughter, for not pursuing them, for not maintaining a relationship with them, for not giving of myself, my time, and my resources to support them. I felt guilty for placing them in a care facility even though it was ultimately their choice. I felt guilty for a number of things. I felt guilty for the angry words I said. I felt guilty for living in their house when they disappeared.

I realize I grieved for the loss of a trusting filial relationship.

Some of that guilt stuff was just a mess, just something I didn’t really need to take on to myself because they could have made different decisions, too. They could have told me that they wanted to move back into their house and take care of themselves and send me back to my own house. They didn’t. Instead, they lied and conspired and treated me as a contemptible outcast – until they needed something. I was a tissue – to be used and discarded – and maybe used again if there were no other likely tissues when the need arose.

I have lived with that guilt, that resentment over the situation, and the grief for the loss of my parents for years.

And now, today, I have good, clean grief. It’s honest grief. My mom died, and I grieve her loss.

But it’s odd because I’ve already been in the grieving process so long that it’s not hitting me like a sledgehammer. It’s not knocking me out and incapacitating me.  Instead, it’s just stealing in and quietly mugging me, draining me of energy here and there, sporadically making me exhausted.

Oh, I had my ugly cry this morning. I cried and sobbed and snot ran down my face. Then I got over it. I got up, started breathing again, and finished out my yoga practice and went home and got my kids ready for school and got dressed for work and showed up on time and did my job. Yes, I took a nap over lunch when it snuck up on me, but otherwise, it’s not this overpowering darkness today.

Perhaps it helps that, in reality as well as in my mind, she died last night. It wasn’t today. There was nothing I could have do. There is nothing I can do. So there is no reason to get overly worked up over it.

It also wasn’t sudden. She’d been on hospice care.

We also weren’t close any more. She’d done more than distance herself from me over the past few years.

I think the saddest parts are when I think back to how close we were. When I think about how she helped take care of my daughters as infants, when I think of the phone conversations, how she helped me go to college, to Europe, to get my braces done, how I took care of her after her heart attacks or stroke, when we were best buddies, those are the times when I feel the loss.

But in the end, we weren’t. We weren’t best buddies. We were distant acquaintances. She knew nothing of my life and I nothing of hers.

I’m not going to kid myself and think her death will have no impact on me, but I think I may now be over the messy, guilt-ridden grief. I may now know how clean good grief feels.


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