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Print Posted 04/17/2017 in Afterlife

How I Dealt With My Grief

How I Dealt With My Grief

I was born and brought up in a fishing village on the Moray coast in Scotland. Our Sundays revolved around the church for sure. The After Life was acknowledged but we were firmly told it was something in which we should not meddle. My grandma was particularly intuitive and often as not, was able to confirm that someone had passed during the night, well ahead of the gossip ringing around the village. I remember when I was 5 being quite ill after my beloved Uncle Jock passed away. I asked my mother where exactly he had gone. She replied nobody knows as nobody has come back to tell us. I just thought this plain silly and illogical that nobody would know. As it happens I did have an experience around Uncle Jock but well, that is a whole different story.

I am a firm believer that you are never given more than you can handle (even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time) and help in some form always comes. I remember a friend once saying to me that losing a mother or father was the hardest thing she ever had to face. I remember agreeing, but at the time could not quite imagine it.

My father taught me much. He had a biblical quote or saying for every occasion. He loved the Psalms and would frequently quote them. He also had favorite hymns we would refer to a his “shaving hymns”. He would sing along giving a whole new edge to the hymn with the rhythmic zzzzzz of his electric razor. My father and I would sit long after the dinner table was cleared and change the world over a glass of wine. We had many philosophical discussions. He was an avid reader of religion and history and always interested in debating life’s most perplexing questions.

My father passed away 11 years ago now after spending two years in a nursing home. It was not my first experience of losing a loved one but it was of actually witnessing a passing. I will be honest and say that when he took his final breath, opened his eyes and looked at my mother and myself, I was hysterical and wailed uncontrollable. One minute I was watching the rise and fall of his chest and hearing the rasp of his breathing and the next minute, nothing but silence. My tears felt as if they were coming from the very depths of my soul. We left the room a short time later. I had the strangest sensation of peace. Walking out of the nursing home I instinctively held the door open behind me just as you would do if someone were walking out behind you. I didn’t consciously think to hold the door, I just did it and then thought, why did I do that?

The days that followed my father’s death were both challenging and comforting. My mother refused to leave the fireside so I had much to arrange and organize, including picking up his meagre bag of belongings from the nursing home. The day after, the family arrived including our dear cat Misty. She was well used to Mum and Dad’s house. It was during that evening that I started to notice things happening.  I was about to dismiss them as part of my fanciful imagination, when my daughter approached and asked if we could talk.  She said she knew I wouldn’t laugh at her and she needed to tell me that she was noticing things. The cat, I think knew it all along. Misty would be in the middle of the hall arching her back as she did when she was stroked except there was no one visible near her. She would walk around and rub the side of her head as if she were rubbing against something. My father loved her dearly. She took up residence on his bed, waking up frequently to look at the door.

Following a bereavement I think numbness is the only way you can describe the first few days. Doing what you need to do but feeling like you are walking through a fog. Raw emotion bubbling to the surface too when you least expect. The happenings above went some way to ease the pain. After all Dad was released from the nursing home where he had lain for 2 years. We as a family were released from the heartache of watching him and being unrecognizable to him. Those sentiments although they sound extremely pragmatic, set up their own feelings of guilt in those left behind. My final confirmation that Dad was “okay” happened on the third night after his passing. The family were watching television and it was a comedy and there was actually some laughter in the room. The cat sat on the couch to my left.  She leaned forward and looked past me at the living-room door. Just as you would if someone had come in. The next thing I felt was the sensation of someone tickling the back of my neck. Misty kept looking around me at the arm of the couch. Next day, day 4 there was nothing. It was as if all that had happened had gone. My daughter confirmed this also. I can only think his entrance into the room the night before was his goodbye.

The days following were hard. There is no way you can dress it up. It just has to be worked through and feelings released. I took a little comfort from the fact that I do believe Dad made contact.

In many ways my father’s passing prepared me for my mother’s which happened 5 years after him. I am an only child so no brothers or sisters to share in the responsibility. My mother’s passing was particularly traumatic. She was an active, healthy, 75 year old, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died some 7 months later. I spent much of those 7 months back in the UK with her, with short blocks of time back here in Texas. I felt divided in two. For a long time afterwards I felt guilty that perhaps I hadn’t done enough for her. I think however that we need to be mindful that we are where we are supposed to be. I think my time out here, gave me the strength and enabled me to cope with what was to come.

My Mum passed on 9 days after my final trip back. I was blessed to have a close friend of my mother’s there to ensure I ate and slept a little. I arrived back on the Friday and was shocked to see how much she had deteriorated in the few weeks since I had left her.  We spent the Sunday morning singing hymns and choosing two of her favorites. On the Tuesday afternoon I felt I witnessed something really profound. She had two friends drop by that day as well as her best friend and myself who were always by her bedside. She spoke to each of us individually and said her good byes. I broke down and sobbed that afternoon. I was promptly told to be brave and that as she put it ‘all that greetin just wouldn’t do.” She told us that day that grandma was there just outside the bedroom door. Indeed as I sat at her bedside for yet another night I had the sensation of someone dropping a warm blanket around my shoulders. The faces of family members long gone came into mind and I felt loved and supported.

By the next day Mum was no longer able to talk to us. We sang hymns, we prayed and talked to her in the normal way. It suddenly struck me what I was watching. So much suffering, almost too hard to comprehend but in a strange way I felt like I was witnessing a birth. My mother was changing and growing much like the caterpillar who builds its cocoon and bursts forth free as a beautiful butterfly. The only thing I knew was I didn’t want her to fly just yet. I had to acknowledge though her suffering was great. I often think the greatest love you can have for someone in such a situation is to let them go. When I look at the events that transpired I can only marvel at the Divine hand at work. The sheer synchronicity of events made me feel truly blessed. In spite of medical predictions, Mum lingered for the rest of the week. We carried on talking to her as normal and sitting by her bedside. My husband called on the Thursday. He was due to be in London the following Monday for a meeting however this call was to say he had booked a flight leaving that night so he would be in Scotland by morning. He explained that he just had a very strong feeling he should come. He arrived in Aberdeen some 60 miles away from Mum’s at lunchtime on the Friday and was anxious to head North to be with us. I suggested he wait a couple of nights. It was my daughter’s birthday on the Saturday and I felt that she needed the support to keep going with her plans as best she could. Of course I told Mum the news that he was in Aberdeen. For me this was her cue to exit the stage. The final piece of the picture was not thousands of miles away but standing by an hour and a half away.

In the very early hours of Sunday 27th March my Mum passed from this life into the next. I was reminded of the phrase my grandma used when I was pregnant. She said’ when the apple is ripe it will fall from the tree’. I guess just as birth comes at the appointed time so too does death it seems, often defying all medical predictions. As with my father’s passing I was numb with grief. Why did she have to go? It’s a common thought isn’t it? Let’s face it, no time would have been the right time, ever. Despite the trauma, a part of me felt that I had been privileged to witness something wonderful. My Mum died at home in her own bed as was her wish. I was left alone with her for a couple of hours before the undertaker came to take her away. I remember going back into the room to speak to her for the last time. I kissed her on the forehead and said goodbye and told her I was going to shower and dress because there would be people coming and I had to be ready to receive them. She had brought me up well. I closed the bedroom door and went to my own room. I could see the church spire from my window and behind it there was a beautiful pink glow in the sky. It was a very still and beautiful dawn. My attention was drawn to the most enormous seagull I had ever seen sitting on the shed roof. He suddenly began cawing loudly and creating quite a rumpus. As I watched him, a wind suddenly came from nowhere and seemed to sweep around the garden, then all was still once more. Everything was back to the calmness and peace it had been before. It was at that point I had the feeling that Mum had indeed gone and the freak wind had signaled her departure.  The undertaker dutifully arrived by 9am to remove her body to the funeral home. Seeing the coffin being carried out the front gate was my breaking point and all my previous bravery deserted me as I sobbed uncontrollably. I had no experiences in the days after as I had done with my father but there were signs of comfort nevertheless. A single feather stuck out on the headboard of her bed. Two little white feathers chased each other around the porch in the breeze. Finding poems of comfort and faith among her things just when I felt it was all too much to bare. Little winks and touches from heaven I think, to try and bolster my strength and faith.

The feelings of grief do indeed run deep. Feeling like you’ve been run down by a truck for the first few days seems a good analogy. No matter how prepared we think we are, I don’t think we ever can be really. I find too, people will often make reference to the age of the deceased as if that makes it more tolerable. At their age what can you expect? Had a good long life is another phrase frequently trotted out on these occasions. When it becomes your loved one, age is immaterial in easing your loss. It’s still a shock and feels as if our closed limited little brains can’t quite take it all in. Perhaps it is a shock to be reminded of our own mortality. I do feel that funerals are cumulative. You’re never just there feeling for the friend or relative that has passed, but it’s often as if the whole lot that have gone before catch up with you.

In losing a loved one I feel we all have a tendency to turn inward. A necessary part of the grieving process I guess, to want to be quiet and alone to reflect. We can become lost in the silence of our precious memories. We must be mindful though not to indulge in self- blame and find ourselves overcome by the “what ifs”. All the regrets, the anger, the guilt, the hurt and the blame doesn’t change the situation. It will merely make you feel even more wretched in your loss. It is wise to remember I think that it is what it is. We did the best we could at the time, with the knowledge we had at that time. The old cliché is worth repeating, help in some form does come and just when we need it. Our only job, is to be open to see it and willing to receive it. I truly believe we are never left to cope alone.

The days and months after losing a loved one are hard and yes years later a song, a journey, a birthday can catch you and you find yourself once more crying for what might have been. Perhaps the greatest thing we can do is to accept that there is a Divine hand at work and nobody goes before their time. Although we feel their loss deeply and wonder at times how we can ever fill that great void, we must learn to let them go. For them, we must live our own lives to the full, in firm faith and belief that nothing is truly lost and all is well.

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