Shortly after my mom passed, at the urging of a friend, I subscribed to daily emails from GriefShare. As one might expect, I’ve found that some of the messages touch me in a deeper way than others, and today’s fell into that category. It provided just the validation I needed to assure me that my confusion was natural and to be expected.
Time to Prepare
One of the things I have struggled with is the fact that I thought I was prepared. After nine years of steady decline, I certainly knew how the story would end. Over those years, Alzheimer’s had stolen a little piece of Mom each day. Grieving began long ago, and I expected after all this time that I had moved beyond it. I’ve even felt twinges of guilt because I had time to prepare; imagine those who don’t have that time – those for whom it all comes as a tragic surprise. Do I really have any right to feel such deep sorrow NOW, after years of grieving?
Shades of Gray
Well, I’m realizing that I have a lot to learn. Like many things in life, grief isn’t black and white; it’s tinted in a million hues of gray. The loss I’m feeling now is very different, and it reaches depths I’ve never experienced. It cuts like a knife and oddly, in some ways, it seems to be getting more difficult with each day rather than less so. Yesterday, on my way to work, my head suddenly filled with sad, painful memories of those last weeks. Seemingly out of nowhere, images flooded my mind faster than I could push them away.
I found myself driving along that all too familiar route with tears streaming down my face, and the only thing I could think to do was turn the radio up as loud as I could stand it. I desperately needed a distraction – something to shut out the agonizing memories.
Skydiving: A Fitting Analogy
When I read today’s message from GriefShare, it confirmed that these emotions are common when death follows a long illness. Anyone processing grief under similar circumstances may find this helpful.
When a person you love is sick or suffering, you begin to grieve before the actual loss. In some cases you may think that most of your grieving is already done. But despite your preparations, the grief that occurs after a person’s death goes beyond all your expectations.
Dr. Jim Conway lost his wife after a long battle with cancer. He says, “…I thought that because we had talked so much that there would be no grief. I really thought that I had resolved all that.
“But it is not like that at all. It was like looking at a video about jumping out of an airplane, freefalling, and finally your parachute opens. All of the previous stuff was just preparatory information, but it was not actually going out of the plane; it was not experiencing grief.
“When Sally died, it was as if somebody pushed me out of the plane, and now I am free-falling–this is what grief is like. You are in free fall. You wonder if the parachute is ever going to open. You wonder if you’re going to hit the ground at 120 miles per hour.”
Conway’s skydiving analogy paints the picture in a way that makes perfect sense. His words assure me that I’m not alone and that the experience is unique when grieving begins long before the loss.
Can you relate to these feelings? Feel free to share your own thoughts in the Comments section.