Dealing with the Death of Mom: The First Year of Grief

A post reflecting on the death of my Mom and dealing with the issue of grief. This past year has been hell in many ways as mourning is difficult. In the aftermath of James’ Mom’s death on April 2, 2018, these are some lessons to James Crestwood and his family in Salina, Kansas based off what my family learned the first year. This is some practical advice as to what to expect and challenges that lie ahead. 

“Death is a distant rumor to the young.”

Andrew Rooney 

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.

George Elliot

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.[a] If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?[b] When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

John 14:1-4 NLT 

On April 1, 2018 I dealt with the first anniversary of my Mom’s death. That was a day I dreaded. A year to the day prior I watched my Mom die in the ICU of St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno, California. It was a day I wish I never witnessed. Standing there and watching the flat-lining, blood pressure decline and watching the physical composition change was awful. I was a mess due to weeping. I don’t want to see anything like that again. My mom’s illness was not supposed to go this way. After all I went to the chapel in the hospital and asked for 10 more years. 10 more years of hugs, a couple more trips, home cooked meals and conversations and memories that can be made. What happened at 6:24 in the evening on April 1, 2017 was not supposed to happen. It wasn’t in my mind. In a major medical crisis I clung so fiercely to hope it was what sustained me. Not only that I also had to the the cheerleader of the family. Encourage my sister, give my Dad hope and also keep this together. But what happened was very different. I wrote about my Mom’s death and what love is in, “What I Learned About Life From My Mom’s Illness and Death.” 

It breaks my heart that someone that I am close to lost his mother on April 2, 2018 in the Kansas City ICU. I have been close to James Crestwood for almost 15 years. From the days when he worked on Capitol Hill for Congressman and later Senator Moran. I was really in shock when I saw the announcement made by James’ bother on Facebook. I wrote an open letter to James for him to read. You can read that article in, “An Open Letter to James Crestwood (On the Death of your Mom)” Today at The Wondering Eagle I want to pause and write a post and draw from my past year of mourning pain and loss. I have felt like a ship bouncing around on the waves in the midst of a storm. A ship with a broken rudder and my compass lost. I have never felt more lost then now, with my Mom gone. So today I want to step back and write down what I have learned. This post is from one person in pain to another friend who is facing these issues and young in these challenges. Maybe I can offer some insight that can help navigating the start of a difficult year.  

 

What to Expect with Grief 

Grief is physical and emotional. Grief comes in waves and it will be hard to face. I won’t sugar coat it and say its easy. Its not…its hard and painful. I have had several people tell me different things. In one situation they will say that it will always be hard going forward. Others say it lessons in time but always remains. I am not that far down that road to be able to say with authority what I have learned. You will face triggers and reminders going forward. Seeing your Mom’s favorite food on a menu in a restaurant. Driving past her favorite store, hearing her favorite song on the radio and more will all make the process hard. There are other situations that will be hard…driving past a cemetery will remind you of your Mom’s death. Other time you wish you could hear your Mom’s voice or hug her. That is all natural. 

Grieving is emotional in that you will be somewhere and you can break down and cry over something that reminded you of your Mom. For me its happened in a grocery store or a bank or elsewhere. Thoughts and feelings overcome me in many ways. This will not go away and can happen in embarrassing situations. I had it happen to me this past Saturday morning in a public setting. I saw something that my Mom gave to me when I was younger for Christmas years ago. Like I said grieving also is physical and it can weigh a person down. It can leave a person with strong feelings that can be hard to process. I have felt more like a boat at sea that is tossing and turning. Some have told me that the physical side of grief actually lifts at one point. I had one person that said they remember the day it lifted from them when their father passed. It was several months later. One thing to remember is that each person grieves differently and handles this situation in a unique way. So to compare and say it will go like this would be quite unfair. 

 

Your Life is Permanently Altered 

Your life without your Mom James will be permanently altered. The entire Lund family will be permanently broken in a way. And that is how it just is. After all how can you replace your Mom? She was unique, gave you life and taught you how to be the person you are today. Right now you are a month out from your Mom’s passing. But this will hit you more and more as time goes by. The role that your Mom played in your life was large. Things that will be hard for you is the following. Your children growing and wishing your Mom could witness that. Having a good day at work and realizing you can’t tell Mom. Not being able to call her or seek her advice for something. Right now you are dealing with shock but the reality is that the void grows in time. And regularly you can and will be reminded of your Mom’s passing. I wish this wasn’t the case. How I wish it could be different. Your Mom’s passing will also change your relationship with your brothers. You will likely draw closer and become more involved in. You will also witness how your brothers deal with this. They are going through emotions, thoughts and feelings as much as you.  But the fact of the matter is that your family has been permanently altered and this will be a hard situation to grasp as you adjust. The fact of the matter is that you may not adjust. The new normal is a broken normal. You learn to live with the pain. 

 

This Will be Hard for your Dad 

You and your brothers are adjusting to this from the perspective that you have lost your Mom. For your Dad it will be totally different, from the perspective of your Dad he lost his life partner of many years. This will be hard on him. Now one thing I do not know is how dependent your Dad was on your Mom. In my family my Mom used to help pick out my Dad’s clothing and would do the cooking and cleaning. My Dad was very dependent on my Mom, and when she died it became difficult for him. So the question that needs to be asked is how is your Dad with cooking, cleaning, laundry and more? Is that something you family might have to help him with? There is another perspective that came up in my family that I wanted to raise. One night several months after my Mom died the conversation came up. What about Dad dating again? One sister was opposed another didn’t know what to think, and I felt that if my Dad found someone that he liked dating would be fine. I have heard of several situations where when one person in a marriage dies in the course of time they can marry another person. Its a sensitive issue especially after death but it also comes up in some situations. One other thing I will suggest is that you and your family needs to look after your Dad. Pay close attention and make sure he is not dealing with depression after the death of his wife. Depression can occur. Draw close to your Dad during this time. I have drawn much closer to my Dad during this period of mourning. 

 

Shake up Holidays 

One of my family’s friends in Fresno gave a suggestion to us that turned out to be very wise. Especially during the holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Shake up the holidays to help get through the first one. My family went to the San Francisco Bay Area and spent it with our cousins. Holidays are going to be tough. What holidays? Mothers Day, wedding anniversary, Easter, the anniversary of your Mom’s death, birthdays and perhaps even July 4th, if your Mom did something for the family and neighbors. Shake up the holidays so that you can get through them, and plan ahead as well. Don’t let the anniversary of your parent’s wedding come up and not have a plan to get your Dad through it. Major holidays will be hard. Perhaps for Christmas or Thanksgiving your family can do something off the scales. Maybe you can spend the holiday in Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis or New Orleans. The more you shake it up the easier it will be to get through it. If you try and duplicate that holiday like your Mom did its not going to work. No one can duplicate what your Mom did and it will be painful if you try. Cherish and remember those holidays and hold on to those memories, but try and do a fresh start. 

 

Be Patient with People 

This is something you need to be aware of, but during this time be patient with people. Most people do not understand what this is like until they have dealt with a death of a parent. Its hard and more difficult than one can comprehend. Sometimes people may say something insensitive or annoying. It will get on your nerves, well forgive them. Other times  people will try and help but say something that will hurt. Forgive them. You can also have another situation that can pop up. You may lose one or two friends of people who you are close to. They will go silent on your and when you engage they may not respond or avoid you. Here is what I learned…some people fear death. They fear the prospect of illness or burying their loved one. They will pull back from you out of fear. They don’t want to deal with this issue and are trying to avoid dealing with it. When that happens show them love and be patient. Don’t get angry but embrace them. When they deal with this issue they will need help, and that is the time when you can help them. 

 

Embrace Your Mom’s Memory 

Carry your Mom forward in your memory and heart. Shop at stores she liked. Adopt her routine into your life. My Mom loved musical theater so I went and saw Ragtime in honor of my Mom. One thing I started to do subconsciously is that I started to make my coffee the way Mom did, I never liked cream in my coffee now I do it non-stop. Find ways to keep your Mom’s memory alive. Have talks with your kids as they are growing up and tell them about your Mom. Your Mom will live on in different ways and that is something that you need to also remember. Your Mom is gone physically but in your mind and heart she is still there. Your memories can’t die. Be thankful for those memories and reflect on how you are a better man and father because of your Mom. One last point I want to make, if necessary see a grief counselor. I have been talking to one about my Mom’s death and that has been helpful. Learning to process those thoughts and emotions is important. During this time pay close attention to your brothers, as they may have a difficult time with this was well. 

 

Sharing a Part of my Mom with you….

My parents were very big into arts, science, theater and more. My Mom took my sister to see The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in Chicago in 1979 or 1980. My sister recalled seeing that when she was young at my Mom’s wake. For me my parents took me to see Les Miserables in Los Angeles, California in 1988 or so. Then a year later we saw The Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles with Michael Crawford who was the original Phantom. My Mom adored musical theater and loved The Phantom of the Opera. There was one song that my Mom once said caused her to reflect on her parents. Its when the main character Christine Daae is mourning her father’s death. Its sung in a cemetery at his grave and Christine sings of how she wishes she could hear her father’s voice once more. Its called “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Knowing how much my Mom loved this musical play now I associate this song with her. The feelings and emotions capture how I feel. You met my Mom James, you know what she was like. For me the concept of her being in a cemetery is cold. What I would do to hear her voice again and hug here. To have another conversation with her. I’ll leave you with that song. I love you James, your family is on my mind. 

2 thoughts on “Dealing with the Death of Mom: The First Year of Grief

  1. I think it important that when Christians die, we who are left do not have to grieve ‘as those who have no hope’. It is not the end.

    My own mother died over 20 years ago quite suddenly and unexpectedly, although she had been getting frail. That really hurt because it was so unexpected. Yet it was something she was looking forward to – she actually said this to me a few days prior to her death, but it only made sense after she was gone. She knew it would comfort me. How kind and loving she was, even in the face of death. She didn’t quite make it to 70, which seemed too soon.

    My dad died in January this year, aged 95, and wanting to go. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt inside when you get the final telephone call that you know is coming but don’t want to have. This death was a lot easier to cope with, partly because dad had had a long life and was ready to go, the loss of dignity with increasing physical frailness I think led him to want to go. He too was ready, in the sense of having decades of a Christian faith that fanned back into flame in the last few years. (He never stopped being a believer, but “church” got him down over the years.) He didn’t seem to have any fear, even though death even for Christians is the final enemy we all stlll have to face, and not something to be glib about.

    I do take great comfort from the second half of 1 Thess 4, in a way that is not glib, and I commend it to you. Paul tells us to comfort one another with these words, something that would be pointless if mourning were not part of life in a fallen world, and a legitimate expression of the loss of a loved one.

    As for those who never made any profession of faith in Christ, ‘will not the Judge of all the earth do right’. We have to leave it there, with God, and I have had close relatives to whom this applies.

    The loss to us in this life is of course permanent, but I don’t think the intense grieving has to be. Time does help to heal, but the most important thing is the hope of the Christian faith and the God that it reveals. The forgivenness of sins and the life everlasting, much more important than your best life now.

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  2. Ken,

    Words like yours might be comforting to someone who is already a christian. But then, they are probably already getting those same words from their church. To somebody who is not religious, pushing a religious viewpoint like this would be the opposite of helping. So it’s very important to be sensitive to the grieving person, and not take advantage of their pain.

    I notice that Eagle’s advice above doesn’t involve religion, or a lack of religion either, it’s about humans helping humans, and can be useful for anybody, regardless of their beliefs. I think Eagle mentioned that he knew James in connection with a church, so your religious expression is probably fine in this case, but I don’t really know for sure.

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