• A long-time friend, Lori, has taken an active interest in my younger sister. Lori lost her mother when she was 16. So she has a lot to offer us in terms of experience & guidance during this season of our lives.
One thing I picked up on, that Lori said when she visited yesterday, was how this is "a unique experience in (my) life." That is a really good way to describe it. Some folks say it's "tough" or it's "hard." And it is, but that language is somewhat imprecise. It is really just a unique experience. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
• Other folks say, "Nothing prepares you for it." I sort of think that is imprecise language as well. In a sense, I was prepared. I have a faith that sustains me, and I had plenty of time to say goodbye. But when that loved one (in this case my Mom) is gone, there are a FLOOD of feelings that come over you. That's part of the uniqueness of this experience for me -- the amount of raw emotion I'm dealing with. And I think that's what folks mean when they say, "You can't prepare for it." The inevitable raw emotion comes over you like a wave. And there's nothing you can do in advance to buffer yourself from the intense nature of this sorrow.
• This raw emotion comes out for me in a number of ways. Seeing others cry (like my sister, or like I talked about a couple day ago with my grandmother) can get the water works flowing. When my sister, Katie, voices some of these grieving realizations while crying, I can't help but get misty myself while trying to comfort or console her.
Also, seeing Mom's old possessions around the house is difficult. I've heard folks talk about that -- I never knew what a truly big deal that was. I've often heard folks mention, "It's like they just up & left. They're gone!" Mom's coat is still hanging over her computer chair. Katie brought Mom's shoes to me last night with tears in her eyes. At one point yesterday, she was crying over a hat that Mom wore. Mom lost her hair with the chemotherapy, of course, and was insecure about showing off her baldness in public. So she had these cute little caps. And whenever we spot an empty hat, it just serves to remind us of the emptiness in our lives & in our hearts. I'm sure we'll be putting all those things away soon, but for now they evoke a very visceral emotional reaction.
As I typed that last paragraph, I got a big lump in my throat & a little teary-eyed. Some of my younger readers may not understand that element of this grieving process yet, but I suppose you will eventually. I've hardly ever been one that clings to physical possessions. But now even small things are important keepsakes because they represent Mom in some way. Even down to the charts we had on the wall where we tracked Mom's "pain spikes" and when we gave her her pills four times a day. Those now seemingly meaningless pieces of paper are precious. A keyboard Mom bought only just a few months ago means a lot to us because Mom loved piano music. It always sounded irrational to me before, and it might even sound that way to some of you. But for those who have experienced intense grief at this level, you know precisely what I mean.
• My Dad is grieving, too. Even though he & my Mom were separated for the better part of a decade, that doesn't erase the 22 years they spent together as close companions. It's a big loss for him, too. In some ways it is bigger for him than it is for my sister & I. And he's been a rock through it all.
• I had a conversation with Lori & my Dad about the ways people die. Lori lost her Mom suddenly at age 16, so she never got to say goodbye. She also never got to experience her mother's love as an adult -- she never got to be "just buddies" with her Mom.
My Dad lost his mother just eight years ago. Her decline and death was a prolonged & drawn out experience. My Dad lost his Dad (Philip Wesley Cunningham, Sr. -- the original!) suddenly when he had a heart attack. One of the worsts parts of it was that Dad should have been with him -- they had planned a fishing trip, but Dad had to cancel for some reason, and he had the heart attack on a Saturday morning.
Dad says that he would prefer the experience of his mother's death over his father's sudden loss. Lori, though she hasn't experienced it, says that she couldn't imagine going through a long, drawn-out death experience. I think that it may be a male/female thing. Being a man, we enjoy playing the hero. And so being there for Mom for everything little thing, no matter how tedious, can be fulfilling for us. And it was for me. I have no regrets for how I was there for Mom since her illness began over a year ago.
• I got to watch my Dad be there for his mother through her decline & death. I said at the time that I learned a lot from him about how to handle a situation like that in a positive way. And many of those lessons helped me help Mom through all of this.
If I could share one lesson that I learned, I would say that it is good to keep a light personality & sense of humor through this kind of a trial. In her final months, my grandmother began to think that Dad was her boyfriend. So he went along with it, and would joke, "So where we going for our date." And so on & so forth. In like manner, I would joke with Mom. I think it's comforting for everyone if you can make light of things from time to time.
• When my Mom got out of the hospital a few weeks ago following her seizure, she got on the computer only a couple of times. She used to spend hours on the computer -- reading & sending E-mails. She was known for her very long E-mails. But she didn't have near enough energy for that after her seizure.
One of the very last E-mails she sent, when I look at her account, really gets me:
seizure & hospitalized for a week
I had a rough week this past week.
The shortness & directness of that E-mail says it all for me. Didn't have the will to capitalize the subject heading. I just hate that she had to suffer like that. I'm glad that part is over for her at least.
• You never know when your last moment will be with someone. My last real moment with Mom was on Thursday afternoon on the day before she died. I was very simply changing the sheets with the hospice nurse -- a difficult chore when Mom became immobile! Anyway, I was rolling her over in the bed toward me, and she woke up from her nap. She said, "HEY Bubba," and gave me a big hug. She was very sweet in her last week.
Right then, I didn't let the moment linger because I knew the nurse had other things to get to after we finished. I thought, "Well, there will be a few more moments." I didn't know that that would be the last moment we would share with her in a conscious state. It will always be a tender memory.