Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Continued Grief Reflections

This is a continuation of my recent post about my father's death. It is also prompted by additional comment to that post from Boo, Beth, Flo and Cape Cod Kitty.

When I was in my early 30s, a co-worker's mother died. The co-worker was a grandmother and her mother well into her 90s but she and her mom were very close. They spoke at least three times a day on the phone and I know the mother had been very supportive to her daughter throughout the years including those spent in an abusive and difficult marriage. My co-worker was extremely grief stricken by her mom's death - her mom had been in good health up to that point and consequently she requested a two-week leave of absence. I found no problem with this but other co-workers raised their eyebrows in question. Why would she need so much time off?

As it turned out, my co-worker spent almost all of the two week-period of her time off in her attic going through her mother's possessions (I don't recall whose attic it was but it was an attic). I am reminded about this because of the response to my father's death, which was basically no response at all and Boo's comment that a death is a huge loss regardless of someone's age. Why do we not treat loss with more significance and compassion toward the grieving? I continue to struggle with this years after my husband's and then mother's and now my father's deaths.

My own mother was my rock throughout my husband's illness. She and my father could barely walk by that time, yet when I called them with emergency requests to watch my sons because I needed to get my husband to the ER, an hour away at the hospital he was being treated at, they came immediately and without any complaint. When my husband had his first stem cell transplant and had to stay in a special hotel for a few weeks in isolation he was unable to live there alone. My father ended up living with him because I had to be at home with the boys who were only 8 and 9. Again, no complaints at the hardship this caused my parents.

At the end, I would go into the hospital and spend the entire day sobbing. On the drive home to pick up the boys from the school aftercare, I would call my mom and talk to her about what the doctors had said, how my husband was doing (in a coma) and how I felt. She would stay on the line with me the entire hour drive home. She kept me sane during that period. And I have often reflected that I had such a hard time with my divorce because she was gone by then. She would have stood by me and probably said a thing or two to my soon-to-be-ex besides! Not having her support and love in my life made the divorce that much more difficult for me to get through. It has been about two years, and only now do I feel myself coming out of that fog of grief.

The absolute worst, most insensitive comment ever made to me about grief was said during my divorce mediation by the mediator who told me I had had so much experience with grief I should be better able to get over it more quickly. He also told me that since my marriage only lasted two years it wasn't really that much of a marriage and likewise I should be able to move ahead more quickly. I think of Boo's comments and say it didn't matter the marriage was only two years in duration. I adored my husband (he had saved me from widowhood) and I was absolutely devastated by the divorce and his rejection. Also, the fact that I had experienced the prior death of my husband and mom did nothing to brace me, strengthen me or make it easier for me to deal with my divorce. In the end, I think those events so close to one another actually made it far more difficult for me to face and deal with it. To this day I continue to miss and even love my ex-husband. Death, grief and loss don't always make us stronger. Sometimes I think they make us weaker.

And not having the support of my devoted mother only made it all the more challenging besides. I pay tribute here to my parents who stood by me in the darkest of my days. I wish my mom had been with me during my divorce but in some ways I think it is better that she died thinking that my life was okay and I had a husband to count on.

I have often said that I would never have started this blog if I hadn't divorced. This blog was my salvation from that event. I am a widow besides but it was really the divorce that plunged me into the deepest pit of despair and grief - unimaginable. I think some people think that I am still in some backward state of grief recovery because I am seven years out. But the loss of my beloved mother so soon after my husband and then my divorce was too much for me to bear. It was too much for my soul and heart to endure. There were some tough years following the divorce.

But I've survived, even after losing the house! I'm surely not thriving yet - life can still be a struggle. But I've gone on and even had another romantic relationship. And I've raised two boys totally on my own who've turned out to become pretty decent young men - I hear that in the apartment complex all the time - "Your boys are so nice," or "I really like your sons," or "Those are good kids there." Life has gone on but it has been hard and I'm not going to dismiss the challenges or heartache.

I wish it were easier for those of us on this road. I wish our society was kinder to widows and to anyone dealing with a loss. I have hoped these posts have helped others understand even just a little about what grief and loss do to the living. And you can be sure that I informed the mediator of his misconceptions.

Love and peace to all. And love and peace to those we have had to say goodbye to. Mom and Dad, I thank you for all you did for the boys and I. I probably never thanked you enough or conveyed how much I appreciated and loved you. I hope you know. Husband, know that everything I have done since your death has been for the boys and I know you must see them and be proud.

And now if I may add the wise words of author Jane Green here from "The Other Woman."

"I know that love isn't enough. You have to cherish the people you love, that saying I love you isn't ever enough, that you have to show that love each and every day, even when life threatens to get in the way.

If I may quote from someone else far more eloquent than I am, 'The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how much they love them while they're alive.'"


  1. Good post. Reading it felt like I was witnessing you going through a process mentally, where you had several lightbulb moments and also that you recognized what you have achieved and managed to do despite adversities. I hope it has made you feel a little lighter by writing it down. I have had several epiphanies myself recently. It was painful thinking it through but worth it because I felt lighter afterwards.

    Was that counsellor actually qualified? That is the stupidest comment I have ever heard from a "professional" ... grief is cumulative. Literally. So, if you lose your Mom, Dad, Husband then get divorced (and you grieve for loss of marriage too - it IS grief) ... you cumulate all those losses, so each time, the loss you bear becomes HEAVIER ... no wonder. Stupid man, he shouldn't be allowed to do that role.

  2. Boo - Thanks so much for sharing. I will have to get caught up with your posts as I'd be interested in any epiphanies you have had. The guy who said that was the divorce mediator, so an attorney and one who had handled divorces for many years. You'd figure that after witnessing so much heartache and pain he'd have had a clue. I did end up calling my attorney and talking to her about this (she was friends with the mediator on a personal level). And I asked her to talk about this with the mediator the next time they had lunch together. She promised to do so. It made me feel better to inform these professionals who were dealing with loss (divorce) how I felt. I'm hoping they "listened" and it made a difference in their approaches.

    Part of what I've really tried to drive home with this blog is how grief is cumulative. You get it. I just wish more people did.

  3. Boo - Just realized that you guys refer to attorneys as counsellors.

  4. Oh he was an attorney? Maybe I'm less surprised at what he said (even if it was stupid!!!). We call attorneys "lawyers" ... and we spell counselors with 2 x "l" (counsellors) - as in therapy/psychologist ... keep up the fight my friend x

  5. What a wonderful Mom and Dad you had, and no wonder you miss them so much. The shared history we have with loved ones becomes simply 'history' when they die or leave us. They no longer share our load and lighten our burden in real time. Yes, loss accumulates, as you've said so beautifully.

    I lost a huge support system when I lost my husband. He really understood me. I don't make friends easily, so when I meet someone I click with this is such good fortune. When fortune doesn't smile back, as with romantic interests, I'm thrown back into the grief I felt from my original loss, my husband dying. I keep my heart open, through tears sometimes, because one of these days a new friend will walk into my life and we will share each other's loads.
    Thanks for keeping this blog.

  6. Such wise words... "The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how much they love them while they're alive." Made my day!