What 4 Deaths In 5.5 Months Have Taught Me
In the past five months, I’ve lost four loved ones—people I cared deeply about and who influenced my life in uncountable ways, including my mother who died of COVID-19 on December 7, 2020. Before now, I didn’t know grief could stack up the way it has, and I’m not the only person grieving. Millions of people are aching with me.
As you read my thoughts below, you or someone you know might be in mourning. If so, I’m sorry. This letter is for you and yours.
1. Grief is a Grab Bag
It’s impossible to prepare for or anticipate how losing a loved one will hit you. Death-to-dos are distracting at first. From day to day, hour to hour, I can feel depression, anger, denial, and relief.
2. Grief Lurks
Similar to the above, it’s also impossible to expect when the loss will hit. One minute I’ll be grocery shopping and fine, the next I’m crying over prawns at the frozen seafood section because I’ve recalled the first time my mom brought home fried pawns from the Golden Dragon in Carson City where she was a server. Other times, I laugh at something funny she did or am reminded how strong she was at times in her life, and I feel empowered. My mother survived two husbands, her parents, and brother. I will survive her death.
3. Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect
Spoiler alert: losing a loved one doesn’t get easier. There is no process unless “no process” is a process. Each death is unique because each relationship is unique. Where you are at in your life, your age, why the person died … everything … switches up the experience and healing.
4. Everyone Grieves Differently
How you grieve might not be how your friend, sister, brother, mother, father, or partner will grieve. I woke up one day after my mom died and became a quilter to feel closer to her by finishing a project my mom started. That I know of, my brothers and sisters haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time online at Consumer Affairs researching the best sewing machines. Nor are they watching PBS documentaries about the quilters of Gees Bend. Be gentle with yourself and your loved ones. Try not to judge their feelings and memories based upon your own, and ask them to not judge you for yours.
5. Sometimes You’ll Forget
Okay, maybe this one is specific to me. But sometimes I’ll think, I wonder why Mom hasn’t called, then I’ll catch myself. I got used to her calling every morning at 6 a.m. her time to tell me how she slept. Also, my mom was compulsive. If I missed her call, she’d call five more times. She was hyper vigilant about spammers and hackers and would call me to look into any suspicious emails. Recently, I was closing one of her online accounts and the organization said they’d email her to confirm. I actually thought, Oh, crap. I have to log into Mom’s email and delete it before she sees it and freaks out. Then I cried when I remembered there was no urgency; see above, #2 “Grief Lurks.”
6. You’re Never Alone
Especially due to COVID-19, millions of other people are heartbroken and grieving their loss of their loved one(s) too. You’re not alone.
7. We Can’t Rewrite History
Regret and guilt can be sneaky. I find myself wondering, What if I had asked the doctor this … or What if I had asked my mom why she slept in … It’s natural to run through narratives that might have changed the outcome—we want a new ending that doesn’t involve losing our loved one. But the fact remains, we can’t change the outcome. Nothing I say or do will change the fact that my mother, uncle, father of my heart, or ex-BIL have died.
8. The Pandemic Complicates Closure
An exceptional lesson I’ve learned these past five months is that the need for safety and social distance has changed the way people are used to saying goodbye. We can’t rush to someone’s deathbed and stay with them to the end. It’s not safe to gather in large numbers for a celebration of life. Traveling is a health risk. Closure has been put on hold. There’s a TO-DO hanging in the horizon. Our mother died in December, but we probably won’t bury her ashes until we are each vaccinated.
9. The First Year is the Hardest
While there is no process (see #3 “Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect”) and no one grieves the same (see #4 “Everyone Grieves Differently”), I have a feeling that the first year will be the hardest. There are “firsts” to experience. A first birthday without someone. The first holiday without someone. You get the idea.
10. Love Has a Cost but it’s Worth it
When a loved one dies, it suuuuuckkkkkkkkssss. It’s messy, murky, and life-changing, but I’d never forfeit a single day of the love to avoid the pain. Life goes on and the world continues to turn whether a person is ready or not. Daily, I remind myself that the best way for me to celebrate someone’s life is to live my own, even with the ups and downs.
And speaking up celebrating life, below is the latest installment of my mother’s audio memoirs. I have been enjoying listening to her stories again. I like hearing her voice, when she’ll pause to laugh, or make fun of herself.
At some point, I should make an out-takes and bloopers clip of her recordings. Many times, she will stop her story to speak directly to me and say things such as, “Teri, this writing business is harder than I thought it would be,” or “Teri, I’ve been rehearsing this in my head for days and now it makes no sense.” Oh, I know, Mom. This writing gig is tough!
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Thanks for being you and for being here. If you’d like to share what you know about grief, please send me an email. And please feel free to share this newsletter with a friend.
Until next time, please stay healthy and happy.