Everything I need to know (about death, dying and loss), I learned in the year after my mom died

It has been almost a year since my mom died. What do you learn from this awful situation? Is there any wisdom to be gleaned? Any silver lining? I think there might be.

Everything I need to know (about death, dying and loss), I learned in Kindergarten the year after my mom died.

I didn’t know what a real, hardcore, can’t stop, ugly cry was. Crying is therapeutic. Relieving. But, I’m telling you, cucumbers on your eyes can’t cure the “my mom died” puffy eyes.

Children don’t understand the social norms around dying. This is a wonderful thing on one hand. They make you push through. They play in the aisles at funerals. They throw dirt in the grave at the cemetery because it is fun to do. They give you an excuse to talk. Who else am I going to constantly remind that my mom’s favorite color was red, that she loved Scrabble, and Kit Kat bars?

And, on the other hand, they ask and say things that cut right to the core. I’m not saying it is a bad thing. It just forces you to confront the things that you might not want to deal with right at that moment. My youngest daughter has been on a tangent where each night she approaches me with the question, “where is your mom?” and I say, “You know where. Where is she, Ginger?” and she replies, “in heaven.” And your heart breaks just a little bit.

The best therapy can be dinner with a friend and a couple glasses of wine. And you end up spending less than you did on your copay for a shrink. I think the one major point in all of this is that grief is normal. It is part (one that our society has tucked secretly away because it isn’t easy or pretty) of the human experience. I have news for you: you’re not getting out of here alive. And no one else is, either. When my mom first died I was sad. Of course. But, I figured out that grief is actually normal. I was sad. I was happy. But, I wasn’t depressed. I, personally, didn’t need to see a therapist. But, a good friend and a glass of wine was just what the doctor ordered.

You make new friends. Maybe not new, but you have a new connection. Unfortunately, death is inevitable. People everywhere are dealing with this. I’ve made connections with people, new and old, who have helped me on this journey. They are dealing with the death of their own loved ones. But, it is a club. A truly horrible club. And one that I think everyone going through this experience needs.

Driving in the car can be horrible and wonderful. Something about the car makes me cry, laugh, and remember. I think it is one of the times I am alone. I am often listening to music. And I have time to think.

I am glad to work where I work. I happen to work for a membership organization filled with people who are working with patients in the ICU, patients with sepsis, and see death a lot. I’m thankful for their friendship, guidance and support. I’ve learned a lot about sepsis by reading research studies, listening to lectures at our annual meeting, and through conversations. I’m in no way an expert, but I think just knowing that people are passionate about the subject, research is being done, and advances are being made, I feel a little more in control. And a little more hopeful.

Everything changes. No, I mean everything. Relationships. Experiences. Holidays. Perspectives. How you react to otherwise benign things. This has been a hard one for me. I never cared about my birthday. This year, I did. I was horribly sad. I am grateful for the perspective my mom’s death has brought to my life. I don’t think I am a better parent (in fact, I wish I yelled a whole lot less and had a ton more patience), but I think I really try to take little snapshots in my brain of my kids doing everyday things- dancing around the living room to Lady Gaga, for example. I don’t want to forget these things. I think I took for granted that I’d have my mom around for a good long while.

People really don’t know what to say or do. I find myself often saying, “it’s ok, what are you going to do?” It doesn’t seem like the right thing to say. But, I never know what to say either. I get asked a lot how I’m doing and how my dad is doing. We’re doing ok. You can still experience happiness, but there is always this tickle in your throat that kind of underlines your life.

If you are looking for a really meaningful way to reach out to someone who has lost a loved one, here is an idea: send them a message (an email, a text message, whatever) and tell them you’re thinking of them and the loved one they’ve lost. And share a memory you have, or a funny story. I love hearing about my mom from other people’s perspective. I got an email out of the blue from my mom’s co-worker asking for a photo of my kids on Halloween. I guess my mom would send a photo to her co-workers each year of the girls dressed up. I didn’t know this. But, it was nice to hear and I’m glad she is not forgotten.

Oh, and food never hurts, either.

Grandmothers are really special. They just are. Often overlooked in the entire spectrum of who lost who, are the kids. Grandmothers dote. They see no fault. They think your kids are fabulous. They buy your kids Halloween cards. And make them banana bread. This is the hardest void to fill. And right now, at least, it isn’t a void for them because they don’t really understand. But, more of a void for me. Because I know what they’re missing.

Social media on certain holidays should be avoided at all costs. I learned this on Mother’s Day. Between Facebook suggesting I get my mom a Mother’s Day gift, and the beautiful posts from friends and family declaring their mother to be the best ever . . . it was a pretty hard place to be.

Writing is therapeutic. I write for work. I write for school. I’ve always written when I have to. But, never been a big writer otherwise. I think I would have exploded by now if I hadn’t written in this past year about this experience.

People are in your life for a reason. My husband’s mother died in 2008. There is something about having a person who has been through this experience by your side that makes you so grateful. It completely sucks that it has happened to both of us. But, he gets my gut wrenching cries, listening to completely random voicemails my mom left on my cell phone, and the importance of seemingly unimportant photos, trinkets and thoughts.


I could probably write 15 other things I’ve learned. But, I’ll stop here. Have you lost a loved one? Any valuable lessons you’ve learned from the experience?

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