There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Loss is hard. So hard. And loss comes in many levels, degrees, and circumstances and is experienced by many different types of people but it’s all loss. It’s a permanent separation of a person from your life, a final curtain close with no encore. It’s the end of a relationship, whether good or bad, it’s the end. No more words, reconciliation or exchanges of feeling or forgiveness. No more hugs, kisses, adventures, or arguments. When a life is lost to us, it often leaves us off balance and feeling unsure of what we should or shouldn’t be feeling.
I have grieved the loss of my mom many times over the last year and a half but she has only just left our world this week.
The first time was when she received her cancer diagnosis. When we got the word, all four of us kids traveled from our homes, families, responsibilities, and lives to gather around her and mourn the loss of a life without a cancer struggle. We mourned the loss of unnumbered years ahead. We processed the possibility of sudden or gradual death and we grieved because we knew the upcoming months would be physically and emotionally painful.
Mom’s cancer was rare. Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Rare, fast-growing and incurable. The question wasn’t when she will be whole again, but how long will we have with her before the cancer eventually won. No more than 5 years, we were told. That was better than we expected.
We prayed for healing. We hoped that the trial medication would be the cure. We celebrated when it looked like it was working… and we grieved again when her body just couldn’t handle the treatment anymore. Her spirit and mind were so strong. She fought so hard. But her body was weak. …but if she can just get her strength back up there might be another drug that could work. Hope. Pray. Believe.
We gathered around her once again. All four kids, dad, her sister, our families. She was in the hospital, so weak and sick. If she could just recover. Get strong enough. She can start treatment again. It’s only been a year and a half. We’re supposed to get 5 years.
We grieved again when her oncologist said that there were no more treatment options. Her body was too weak to handle any more. There was nothing more he could do. We wept. We wept and wept. This grieving was the most painful because our hope was removed. Aside from a miracle from God, this was the beginning of the end. Days to weeks, they said. She only had days to weeks left.
My dad and brother are feeling men but I rarely see them cry. Seeing their silent tears made my grief feel deeper and yet, not so alone. My middle sister used to say that she can’t cry. No matter how sad she felt, for years there were no tears. All those tears were stored up and they poured out that night and still haven’t stopped. My oldest sister has always been so strong. The get-it-done sort that sucks it in and just handles it and tries to be strong for everyone else. This was more than she could handle and she wept deeply.
And mom. She was strong. She didn’t cry. She took the news and nodded. I think she knew and at that moment, the one who was in bed, the one who was dying… she was the strong one. She hugged us back and kissed our wet cheeks and told us she loved us.
When I told my kids the news my 9-year-old daughter, the tender one, wept in my arms, and that was ok. My 12-year-old son had such a confusing stirring of emotions that he awkwardly smiled and chuckled, unsure how to express what he was feeling, and that was ok. My strong 11-year-old daughter sat quietly and watched it all. Later she said she was sad but she didn’t feel like crying because she knew her Nanna was going to heaven, and that was ok. We all did what we needed to do to express our grief, and that was ok. We were together in our sadness, no matter how we expressed it.
Then we waited. We watched and we waited. Some had to say goodbye knowing it was the last time and went home. Those of us close by sat with her as often as we could and saw her life slowly slip away day by day. My dad was her constant and watched the life he’d known for so many years slowly fade away. Knowing that they wouldn’t celebrate their 48th anniversary together this December. We watched and waited for 2 weeks and 1 day.
And then she was gone.
I’m grieving a new type of grief now that she’s gone. I’m not crying as often or as hard, not as distraught or upset. It’s an internal grief that I haven’t quite figured out yet. Can’t quite see my way out of it. It’s sadness and anger, it’s denial and bargaining, it’s acceptance and it’s hope for our reunion someday in heaven… all at different times and all at the same time. All mixed up and all distinctly separate. And that’s ok.
My friend who lost her husband in a tragic accident and my friend who lost her husband to heart failure grieved differently. My friend who held the stillborn child she had just delivered and my friend that buried her teenage son grieved differently. My friends that have miscarried, lost grandparents, lost siblings, and lost friends all grieved differently, and that’s ok.
There’s no formula for grief. No right way, no wrong way. You just have to walk through it, or trudge through it or crawl through it. The only requirement is that you have to move forward at some pace and some level and eventually you’ll reach the other side. What the other side looks like, I don’t know yet. But I’m sure the sadness will still be there. Tears will still sting my eyes unexpectedly and the memories will still hold a mixture of emotions.
What I do know is this. Families matter, friendships matter, relationships matter. We need each other even if that means we will hurt when we lose each other. We have to fight for each other, fight to reconcile, forgive and stay connected. We need each other in times of joy, struggle, and loss. It’s worth the pain to feel the love. We grieve big because we love big. And that’s ok.
I also know this. Though this is the end of my time with my mom on earth, I will see her again. Our faith in Jesus is the binding rope that has kept us held together and it is what will bring us all together again in the end. And for that, I’m thankful.