In 2017 I traveled to the US to attend a conference, to see a friend, and to spend time with my family.
My mother had died on January 13th, a Friday. It came five months after Jon’s death. To be truthful, I was still crying for Jon; now I had to cry for her as well. I was numbed by Jon’s death; I did my best. I knew I would be bringing some treasures home; I didn’t know just how much.
My mother loved green. Her bed had this lovely green quilt, and it was filled with many other colors as well. The tiny flowers that danced across it brightened up a room.
While at my sister’s, my sister and sis-in-law came bouncing in with the quilt: “You need to take this home, Gail!”
HOLD IT!! I don’t do green—I do blue. I didn’t have a bed that would work with that quilt. I took the quilt. What would I do? In December of 2017 I ordered a new bed with a blue headboard. The quilt would work with that bed. My mother would approve. Yes, I had decided to honor her with a bed large enough that the quilt would work. It felt good. It resolved something; seeing the quilt on my bed was just what I needed.
Had I tried to force emotions around my mother, the gentle peace that came to the process would not have happened. The fun and delight in finding the bed would have been stolen, and the crazy part of all of it, the part that made it my mother, would not have come into being. The memory of it all is delightful!
As I sit here writing this in 2023, my mind is taken back to the recent past. I’m thinking about the fact that grief does its thing on its own timeline. If we do our work with that in mind, things will surface when they are ready to surface. There was no need for me to “hack” it, or force anything to happen.
While I’ve done a great deal of work around Jon, I thought about my mother, who was ready to go when she went. It is the two most recent sibling deaths that I haven’t fully processed.
The Nightmare of 2021-2022
I was raised in a large family. I’m the middle child, the middle daughter, and now one of two living siblings. 2021–2022 is a time period I’d rather not relive. It was a time when I had to face the possibility that all three siblings could die.
April and May of 2021 played out like a horror story. It began with a phone message from my sister, Beth. I knew. I knew that this call was to tell me she was dying. She was hopeful, felt they could treat the liver cancer. But I knew. Over the next year, it unfolded until an ugly death scene played out as her husband witnessed the end in a period of fifteen minutes. By the time the hospice nurse arrived, she was gone. A year of sadness ended. I miss her but am glad her suffering is over. Writing this seems to bring insight that, in many ways, the year of processing was what I needed.
My two siblings and I understood the fact that my brother wouldn’t live to the end of 2021, and, mercifully, he died that fall. A call from my sister-in-law alerted me to the fact that he’d been admitted to the local hospital late on a Friday evening. He never regained consciousness, and around Sunday at noon he was gone. When I got the WhatsApp message, I yelled into the cosmos; I was so angry at him for not taking better care of himself. I was at him: crying, yelling, and making peace with it was all I could do. Singing at his funeral was also a good thing.
Returning to May of 2021, my younger brother had a heart attack. When the testing was done, he was facing a quintuple bypass. (As far as I know, the record is a septuple bypass.) I cringed. With that heart attack, and the surgery he’d face in July, I had to face the ugly truth, and I’d better face it full on. He might not survive it all.
I didn’t want to do any of this grief work, and yet, it stared me in the face like the ugly monster in the dark. I could become the only living sibling. Yes, I have nieces and nephews, and even great nieces and nephews. The thought of being alone, thousands of miles from family, was terrifying to me.
Fast-forward to 2023, I’m fighting the tears that for some reason won’t come, and need to come. There is no “life hack” for this. As much as I know I haven’t done all the work yet, I can’t force it. When someone forces things, the result is more work. If we allow our minds, our hearts, and our bodies to open to the process, the heart, head, and body will be much gentler in leading us to where we can release the emotions we’re holding safely. I find myself in a place of peace, patience, and willingness to sit with the stillness that whatever is needed will be delivered to me when it is needed. I don’t need to fight the unknown. It will find me. No hacks needed. This is super liberating.
Once again, I realize that sitting, writing, and reflecting does the work for me. I don’t need the tears: I need the time to build peace within myself. It’s a good place to be.
Support Sites at the Right Time
In this era of wanting instant gratification, the art of waiting is messing up the soul. When I first started this process in 2016, I waited to look at support sites. When I did search out a site or two, I was stunned to see that people were coming to these places so soon after the death had occurred.
It works differently for each of us. I sat with the pain; I had a friend who listened, and ultimately made my way through two years of hell.
I took knowledge from the sites; I came to a realization that the path into the grief process would become my unique journey: no two paths are the same. Each of us face differing life circumstances. While we might each want the tears to go away, they go when they’re good and ready to do so, and not a moment before they have done their work. Learning to wait, getting support for it, and learning to live in the present moment with all of it is needful. Trying to push it disturbs the process.
One of the gifts I took from the support group was that I was right where I needed to be. Being able to read someone else’s experience affirmed to me that I was doing well. The other gift of the support group was that I became less judgmental of myself and others. I learned to accept my own process. The online support groups served as a place of understanding and peacemaking for my own needs.
I slowly returned to life, rebuilt, and am still to a great extent doing the work of creating the new life I desire. What I envision for myself in year seven is so different from what 2016 looked like. The deep spiritual and soul work I’ve done is nothing like I would have imagined it would be. For me, knowing comes with the understanding that I’ll continue to grow, reflect, and reach upward towards new places. Yes, once again the spiral moves me upwards. It is good.