Although my though process post my mother’s death has been understandably debilitating, I have not been diagnosed as having a complicated bereavement. If you are looking for information about clinical treatments for this disorder to help someone you know check out The Center for Complicated Grief website.
There are many dimensions to grief, many that we will never truly understand because they require intimate knowledge of the person going through the process. If we didn’t pay attention to who we were before our loss we will not be able to identify how the event has changed us let alone define how we can create a new normal that works with our remodeled self awareness.
I was watching the show A Million Little Things (ABC) in which a seemingly successful father, husband and real estate tycoon, Jon, kills himself without leaving an explanation as to what he aimed to achieve with his demise. One of the characters, Maggie, is inserted into the aftermath of Jon’s wake and as an outsider, provides insight into the dynamics of the mourning process of those left behind. As a PhD in Clinical Psychology she offers up the concept of complicated bereavement as one of the factors that hinders the group’s healing. How can we subtract our own past experiences and disappointments from the equation when the moment vividly inflames all of our past grievances? It’s a daunting process.
In my case, once my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, the path to emotional success was aided by all the previously complicated grieving processes that preceded her departure. I had a miscarriage and consequently lost the hope of ever becoming a mother. My mother had made peace with not being a grandma years before she got ill. Friends that had been murdered or were accidentally dispatched from this planet, earlier than we were prepared to live without them, had primed me to accept death as a reality of life, as a loss that could be overcome. My life went on even after all these failures. We had better times and worst ones too, but we survived. My perspective was completely altered by how far we had come after in spite of the traumatic effect of these experiences. I grew resilient, strong, brave and even a bit too optimistic under duress. Very few things would phase me, especially having to adapt to the fact that I would never see my mother again.
It’s hard to explain to people why I can still find joy at this dark time. Many assumed I’d be a wreck, a ball of goo, despondently looking at the horizon, not being able to take care of myself because that’s how they would react if this happened to them. I’ve had to shift from griever to consoler a few times in order to move people into the correct mindset, one of perseverance and hope. In my case the conflicts and complications of my bereavement came from dealing with strangers and outsiders that came to me for guidance and assistance when they should have been helping me. Pulling myself from my bootstraps wasn’t ideally my priority. I had to set aside anger, regret, despair and other emotions to live up to a standard that had been set my by mother’s character, not mine. I had to be the person she had made me up to be, not whomever I was at the moment. Retreating within, to the point I had to pretend everything was fine and could be handled. That I was in fact fine.
I wasn’t. To me, my relationship with my mom had been contentious and one sided with her exigence driving me in a direction I never wanted to go, but me putting up with it anyway to keep the peace. She knew I didn’t value happiness as a metric of success, but she insisted I make them a priority because that is how she measured her value as a parent. My mother, a Colonel in the Army National Guard, was my hero in the truest sense of the word due to her disposition and grace, and aplomb when facing adversity. I didn’t love her just because she carried me to full term and gave me a good life; I loved the strong willed, badass woman who reigned supremely inside her heart.
All those things that made her a bad mother were the traits I admired: her career driven ambition; her ability to detach from us and let us roam independently; and knowing she didn’t have to bake or cook or clean to please anyone other than herself. She was amazingly stubborn and could make you do anything you wanted against your will with a smile on her face. I always thought we were one argument away from never talking to each other but she’d surprise me by acknowledging compelling arguments. She was malleable, even more in her later years and learned to sway and yield to my “ridiculous” demands. We were definitely a very picturesque modern family.
The moment she got sick I had to bury all my hatchets. It wasn’t the moment or place to revisit every wrongdoing or shortcomings. If my grit and persistence were seen as bad traits, as she always made a point to state about my assertiveness, I’d have to reconcile that with the realization that she was proud of me regardless of her initial opinion of my self. My personality was contrary to the one required to be a good wife, homemaker and mother, things I never wanted but she desired for herself and for me. Never understood not asked why we must fit into this mold. My grandparents loved us more because we didn’t anyway. My mom somehow wanted to raise beauty queens not soldiers, and as a soldier herself I never was keen enough to ask her why. Eventually she saw the light and accepted more of my non-traditional pursuits and outfits. Guess she wanted us not to be ridiculed which I never worried about since she taught me to be bold, brave and come up with logical rebuttals to shut down naysayers and party poopers. 🤷♀️
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her, and it has been hell to do the feelings justice. I have to keep going: work, play and the MBA won’t stop because I am going through the mourning phase. This is the main reason I am looking forward to changes in WA state law that will grant time off with pay to deal with illnesses in the family and other FMLA scenarios. No one should have to ignore the pain they carry to function; to continue to earn a living and survive without being able to process every piece of emotional baggage. As I overcome the ups and downs of living without my mother, and for her, those who are left behind ride the waves too. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish for strength and clarity for all of us involved. We are strong but we can and should afford some emotional and psychological maintenance down time once in a while.
Hugs to y’all! Hang in there! 💞💪