Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Many Faces of Grief: Losing a Mother In Law

I have never lost a member of an immediate circle. Yesterday, I was caught off guard by a feeling of "this feels familiar" and I suddenly realized I was feeling the same emotions as when I lost my baby. I am not going to attempt to even compare my grief to that of my husband's and his family. They are suffering in a way I can not fathom until I have had a similar loss- and even then we all grieve differently.

While each bit of grief is legitimate, watching my husband grieve has been it's own heartbreak. Losing a biological mom, and a very close one at that, destroys the soul into tiny fragmented pieces. Some of them will never be put back together. Other parts of the heart will slowly begin to heal over a massive amount of time but nothing will be the same again. The finality of death (whether you believe in an afterlife or not) is a huge loss on this earth. My husband was the last one out of her room two nights ago, after she passed. He started singing over her body, "I'll love you for always, as long as I'm living my mommy you'll be," and he laid himself over her non beating heart and wept with deep, gut wrenching sobs of loss. I had to tear him away after a bit of time. I had to stifle most of my emotions that night because it was appropriately his time...and he needed my strength. But inside something in me died too. His loss is also mine. He is a piece of my soul. Whatever he feels, I can feel it too, due to my INFJ~click literal sense of feeling for others...and yet, I can not travel the deepest depths with him. That story is his and will not show up on the rest of the post. Another aspect I will not cover in this post is how death also makes one face your own mortality in such a way as not dreamed of before.

This grief also feels a bit like after birthing a baby- the months of exhaustion and how everything is the same yet different...a change, adjustment, a haze...but with the baby comes many pains yet lots of joy...with a death there are many pains but only the joy of past memories which now is covered with sadness too.
"But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.”― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It grips my mother's heart that my husband's mom does not get to see the rest of his fireplace or renos she was so excited for. That she can not celebrate another milestone of her baby and his babies. That she will not see her grand babies children or weddings. Her maternal happiness is over and this touches deep fear within myself. For my children, losing their dear Grammy, the one person in the family who showed up for them in a way that mattered, who read about Autism willingly and behavioural differences at times, who tried her hardest to make understanding a priority of our different religious stances and respecting our children and the one who made everything funny with her quirky spirit, has been particularly tough in a completely different way. She would always comment, "Your children are so unique, well behaved and respectful. Even though you do everything differently with them like not going to school and believe differently, they are so well balanced which wouldn't be expected." I laughed gustily at this often remarked statement. In that way we were alike. She had a way of sticking her foot in it while making a compliment.

I never had to face a loss as a child. It feels too young to go through such loss. My youngest is eight with varied developmental delays. His spirit is younger than an eight year old, yet wiser in many ways. He has my husband's heart and ENFP lovability. Over the last 24 hours he has made statements like, "Grammy will always be in our hearts at least." "Mom, I just realized I will never hold Grammy's hand again, or hear her funny laugh, or have her suddenly yell in her funny voice, or hear her say 'oh good grief,'" he choked up. My daughter has been weeping for all and anytime one person get's upset, she is right there with tears, hugs, and comfort. She is my little nurturer, the ENFJ with a heart to help. My eldest son is a wise old soul with a need to process differently. Yet in grief he has become a little Gandalf, a prophet of soul, with statements that astound. My INTJ often shuts down his emotions, but he has processed and comforted and grieved as well. He broke down into gut wrenching sobs for half an hour, unable to breathe because he said Grammy was the only one who didn't blow up at him when he was different and her hugs were his favourite (from an Aspie that is a BIG deal) and how she was the only one who tried to understand Autism a bit more and gave him his favourite warm fuzzy meals ( another important part to Aspies whom for so much food is an issue). He had a safe place and now it is lost. That is so rare for an autistic child and it is heartbreaking for me to face that loss for him.

Since this post is written from my perspective, I am going to now leave the grief of all those around me behind, which is a huge part of me right now. Not because I think mine is deeper, as I KNOW it is not, but because I want to focus on my relationship with mom to help process.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” - C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

The last 24 hours have been a haze. I was astounded by C.S Lewis' astute observation of grief. It feels exactly as he says above. I can't say it better. “I once read the sentence 'I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.' That's true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” -C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

Mom and I started out with a bit of strife. In the first few years I did not understand it because all I could wonder was why I was not loved or accepted. As I grew into my own role of motherhood and especially after I had my youngest son, whom is so like my husband, I suddenly realized it wasn't me she was opposed to. It was that her youngest, her heart in many ways, had been taken so young by another woman....and a woman who already was so different from anything she knew or had expected. As the years turned, we decided to make some efforts. We were vastly different in many ways. She took the personality test for us and was an ESFP- she said it was entirely accurate- she IS the entertainer with a big persona and I am an INFJ who is intensely private yet seems to give a lot of information away. I have mastered the art of seeming like I tell everything without telling important private reflections to most. We clashed in many ways. However, we were very similar when it came to being clumsy, sticking our foot in it, and saying outrageous statements. Once we started becoming comfortable with this aspect we had a frank conversation. I simply said, "Mom, we don't have to be friends if that is not what you want. We don't even have to be close. But can we agree to be honest and just not try to people please each other?" She surprised me with, "Oh good grief, what a relief! It can be so exhausting trying to figure out what you want and I would LOVE it if you gave me the blunt honest side of yourself that I know you have." And she meant it. From that point on, we were fairly honest with each other and started to become friends ironically.

The last few years were important milestones in our relationship. Five years ago mom read "Aspergirls" for me because she wanted to understand how I ticked and I asked if she would read it. She phoned me later astounded, "I thought that completely fit you. I am blown away. Here I thought you were simply sickly but now it turns out you were just Autistic!" Some would be insulted by that statement and for a moment I wondered if I was, but searching myself I realized, knowing mom, that she meant it in the sincerest way. She had her Aha moment and I was simply honoured that she was trying. After the shock of her statement settled over me I let out a laugh, "Well that's one way of putting it mom." Then she backtracked a bit and I said, "Mom, it's fine. I get it...and I know where you were coming from. Don't backtrack. I just appreciate so much that you read the book." She exaggerated her "PHEW!" in her endearing dramatic voice and then we spoke for an hour about autism and our past history. It was a pivotal healing moment. We finally started to understand why our history was fraught with misunderstanding.

Mom became my friend. She asked me what I wanted for birthdays and put her best effort into finding something completely different (which makes me smile.) My husband would always crack up at how hard she would try but how far she would miss when it came to my taste in most cases. I kept every single one. Because even though they were not my taste exactly, they came so deeply from the heart and with such intent, that I have the pieces of jewellery as decor around my house. I love them as decor even if I wouldn't perhaps wear them. She was very excited the one time she made such a hit with a beautiful fixture from Pier One she had found at a Garage Sale. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face and she was jubilant with glee that she had hit what she thought of as the jackpot- pleasing me. A humbling beauty. I adored that about her. 

Mom was also my advocate. She was the one person in the family, besides a dear aunt and one sister in law sometimes, who tried to see me from outside the typical box. She stood up for me at a couple moments. She would phone me up and ask for a little visit occasionally and we would get along quite well. We both knew to be careful in some aspects, we did not want history to repeat itself, but many times the guard came down and we had meaningful conversations. Mom would often say to me, "I don't know any other parent who strives to understand her children the way you do. The way you diagnose them and get them help...some things I wish I had done or had access to when my kids were little but there was nothing like that even if I knew how...but you search out their happiness. And it shows. Your kids are so kind, gentle and different than most I know. I am just so impressed by how you mother."  (I am sobbing as I write this.) She loved how I mothered...and she became a mother to me in that regard, by honouring and validating my role in her grandkids' lives.

Mom was also our glue. She was the reason we showed up, as much as we did, to family events the last few years. She was the one who tried to pave the way for us and also with the other siblings to us. She tried her hardest to understand, especially in the last few months. When we changed our name she had a beautiful reaction, then went through a stage of hurt and anger, but then she read my post about it and that morning I woke up to a text that said, "Morning (insert my new name here)! Was praying for you this morning and thanking the Lord for you." I wrote a bit and then texted, "and thanks for using my new name before…made me teary as I thought it may have cost you but I appreciate it that once😊" and she wrote back, "Why would I give up a wonderful relationship because of my pride, shame on me." And I cried. She told me she finally understood what it was about and though it hurt of course, she got it. I loved that about mom. She always came around and tried so hard with us even though we made such odd non conformist choices. My husband explained our spirituality to her quite a few times and sometimes she found it tough, but at others she would astoundingly say, "That actually makes sense. I don't want to question my faith at all and don't want to think about it too much, but I respect where you are coming from." To us, in a situation where we often would receive a lot of flack from others in this area, she was full of grace and TRUE respect. She gave us dignity.

We are finding it hard, in that regard, because the funeral and the grief of the family is centred around faith stances we do not completely share. We have had comments said to us, “Through her loss people will believe.” While this does not hold value to us, it is one more aspect we have to deal with. Mom just lived- she didn’t use every moment for a vendetta. She was concerned about our faith but she apologized for statements like that. We have lost our tender soul and advocate. The night by her bedside was particularly tough at one time when a prayer was like a sermon asking for the people who do not know God, to come to know him through mom, when everyone knew that we do not believe the same and were the only ones in the room in that regard. At the same time though, faith gets people through grief and they all share the same faith and it is important to respect that. We respected the prayers and the hymn songs and will respect the rest of it too, but that point was the only point where we felt our essence was not seen. Mom would have probably said something to us after, as she always did, to comfort and bring peace. Because she adored her youngest and knew what would isolate him from the rest. The other point that was very tough was when a person spoke of mom's impact where mom worked and told a story about a "unbeliever" mourning with all the other believers and someone piped up, "How many sinners will it take to make you believe? How many christians do you have to trip over on your way to hell?” This person was proud of this hurtful story. My husband was at the table in the corner at the moment and he said he would have walked out if he could have moved. He didn't want mom to be used in manipulation for a belief to someone who was also grieving. While she had faith and she DID want everyone to come to similar beliefs, including us, she also respected the essence of a person. In our grief, it is hard when a bit of anger is suddenly induced by ignorance. We are trying to remember Grace...grace to all those who think and act differently but in grief it can be tough to control. My husband is going to visit this poor lady, who was ganged up on to believe in heaven, on Monday.  (Post note: He went to see this lady and she was gracious. She said she gets those statements a lot in this town and understands it can be the way of faith. That even though it hurts at times she lets it slide off her back as she knows who she is. She was a wonderful lady full of human dignity, love and laughter. She may not be a believer but by her actions she was the grace filled one.) My husband acted toward this lady what mom would have done the last few years- validate who she is, her choices and make her feel human again, even if she felt strongly about her heaven.

Dad knows that we will not be joining in on some aspects of the funeral, but he is a priority for us right now, for mom and for him, and we are overcoming many of our differences FOR him. We respect his right, after 43 years with his wife, to grieve and make faith statements. He needs to hold on and we know he is not intentionally distancing anyone who may not believe the same way. Our hearts are with him too. (Post edit: My husband offered to attend the first church service with him after mom passed so he would not be alone. Dad was so wonderful. People came up excited that my husband was "returning" but after a few statements dad put his hand on my husband's arm, smiled and said, "no he is just here for me." We both thought that was a beautiful moment with dad. We may share vastly different beliefs but we still LOVE each other in our different ways.)

Before Valentines I texted mom, "In case I miss it tomorrow…Happy valentines day. I am thankful for your continuing kindness this year and I appreciate how much you show up to our (must be) very baffling table of life. Thank you for your love, for loving my kids so much and bringing up the love of my life in safety and a warm home. He feels like the other part of my soul infused with belonging…I have NEVER experienced such a connection and i have had amazing connections in my life- but with your youngest son it exceeds my very princess, naive expectations of my youth sometimes. I am very thankful.💗" She wrote back, "Bless you and thank you for your kind words.  Soon (not really soon but before you know it) you will know what it means to a mother to has her child sooo loved by another.  It means the world and I thank you."

Mom and I shared health struggles and anemia the last few months. We spent many times phoning or texting commiserating about our ailments. As she was struggling with bowel issues before the surgery and complications that took her from us, I sent her recipes and baked her treats within her diet. In her typical big personality way she wrote, "Oh mylanta those are allllllll delicious.  Bless you a thousand blessings!"

Besides my mom's sister, mom and one sister in law, were the only people to occasionally receive blog posts by email that I thought would be of interest. I only do this to the people I really like or whom I have a heart for at times. I will miss sending her updates, emails and recipes.

Most of all, though, mom became a nurturing presence in my life. Something I am resistant to in most forms and do not really let many people do or take on that role for long. In the last few years, and especially this last one, mom became a spirit of comfort. One of mom's last texts to me was, "Going to bed for the night. My pain is not bad and I'm comfortable.  Hope surgery will be tomorrow.  Just wanted to tell you how much I love you all.  Hope you are all on the mend. 😘💕"

After that we visited her in ICU many times. I suggested to my husband that we read to her from "Beauty the Invisible Embrace" by John O Donnohue. I didn't want her alone in nightmares or dark thoughts sleeping. My husband remarked as we left, "When she hears your voice her heartbeat steadies- it must be your high pitched tone and loudness that gets through." I laughed but the nurse also mentioned the fact. I think it probably was the tone but I am happy that the words seemed to placate some of her discomfort. My husband sang to her and she had tears slip down her face. She wanted to live. She fought so hard. She fought for her husband, her children and grandchildren. Every one of the family came alongside to help her fight. She was well loved.

The last conversation we had with her, she was off the drugs and able to speak. She smiled at us, even joked to make us comfortable (another aspect I loved of hers) and seemed touched that we read to her even though she could not remember. I brought a video of the kids talking to her. The kids did not know that I had a gut instinct mom would not make it, and that the video was for them to speak their final wishes and for her to hear them, to bring closure. I did the video in such a way that if she did happen to make it, it would not be like we were wishing her away, but the video worked. I set it to music with a few pictures and my husband singing to her at the end. She loved it and teared up a little. That was a moment to cherish.

Scrolling through my texts today, I sobbed my heart out because I realized how positive our relationship was the last two years...the text feed said it all. She adored and understood (or tried her best) my children (so rare!.) And she would often compare my love for my youngest with her love for my husband. Rips my heart out. 

“This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.” ― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

My very last text to her was, "sleep well. xo." Her last text to me was a kiss face blowing kisses.

Mom- I loved you a lot which is so rare in my world to give so much and invest so much. I think you knew that. You were an amazing Grammy- one of the best I have ever witnessed and you put so much effort into cards, gifts, time and words. You are irreplaceable. And you were a fantastic mom- especially to my husband. You gave him a gift no other has given him in immediate circles- dignity, understanding, and actual respect for all of whom he is. And oh how you loved. You were ok to be messy and accept messiness. You were authentic and recognized the harmony factor I live for instead of the discord many often mistakenly see. You saw me. That is so rare. You were part of us. Part of me. I love you.

Sleep well mom. xo

Post Edit: My youngest asked to blog and when he showed me what he had typed so far titled "I loved Grammy" I had to add it here "its sad that grammy's died but she stel levs in ur hurts. i loved her nyes smile and her cute laf. this death will haret us oll. i will mis her so mech. My birthday is coming up and is not going to be the same with owt her. i will miss her." 

Song Choice: Yesterday - The Beatles ( "Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly I'm not half the man (gal) I used to be.
There's a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Why she had to go, I don't know, she wouldn't say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday."

See you on the other side- Ozzy Osbourne "Whispering, The Time Has Passed For Choices
Golden Days Are Passing Over, Yeah

I Can't Seem To See You Baby
Although My Eyes Are Open Wide
But I Know I'll See You Once More
When I See You, I'll See You On The Other Side...Grieving, I Hate To Say Goodbye
Dust And Ash Forever, Yeah

Though I Know We Must Be Parted
As Sure As Stars Are In The Sky"


Rae said...

I am so truly sorry for your lost. :( This was a beautiful tribute and I hope writing all this out has been helpful for your processing. Because like C.S. Lewis said, "sorrow turns out to be not a state, but a process." I loved that you quoted so much from A Grief Observed in this post, since that has always been my go-to in times of grief and suffering. He nails grief in a way that I've never gotten from another author. I also love this quote, and I thought of it when I read the part about the funeral and faith stances you don't adhere to: "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand." that is how I've always felt when people have tried to use Christianity to comfort me. that they don't understand. Please know that I'm here for you. Here to listen if you want someone else to process with. Here to offer support, here to do whatever I can do. I'm also here as long as it takes, because I know that Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape."
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I love you. I'm holding you and Phil and your kiddies in my heart.

Anonymous said...

I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I know this time is not easy. Your words are so heartfelt & moving and born from the depths. I know she would be so honored and blessed to read them and you are a gift of a daughter to her. Sending love to you and your whole family.

Anonymous said...

Makes me sad but thankful to hear your insights on how you're doing and a glimpse into your relationship. Love, C.

FlutistPride said...

I am SO sorry. This post was heartbreaking to read. Please give everyone hugs for me!!!!!!! "Pain" and "grief" do not do these events justice. I feels like getting pierced in the heart with an icicle. I am a Christian that hates the Christian platitudes. They don't really help at all. The song "Jump" by Laura Shigihara perfectly expresses why people say those things. It's a way to give an answer without really having one, when the only true thing you can say is "I don't know." I'm going to go buy a new heart now...since the one I have has since been ground into powder.

nyssa said...

omg- my heart goes out to you and your family and your husband. just omg. it is brutal and the waves that crash and recede and the hollowness and just the all of it. I am holding you all in my heart. all of you, every single one. what a beautiful tribute. gorgeous and honest and so very real. ♥ may she rest in peace and also may you all find peace through the treacherous waters of grief. xoxo

Anonymous said...

Our thoughts are with you guys.

As we go down a similar path, we'll be thinking of you and sending good vibes your way.

Your mom was really great when my Dad lived at the G.H.L, and we had some great chats. We're sorry that we didn't know her better.

-C & V (& E)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your heart within the depths of your grief. The ways in which you just are, wholeheartedly for your amazing family are so evident. I am here.- R

W.L. said...

Thank you for writing within heartbreaking pain, the wholesome grief. Eloquently watching and sharing how your dear loved ones are absorbing the shock and sorrow in their own loss.- A

Anonymous said...

This blog was so beautiful-so much love was evident. You and your family create so many beautiful spaces in you're relationships and with your genuine hearts❤️- Keren

S said...

Kmarie, please accept my sincere condolences. I could see your mom in law through your eyes in this post, a person whom I knew very little about. The way you understood her and she understood you, speaks volumes about the value of humanity on this earth. May God bless her soul. May God guide both you and your husband in this difficult time. You can write to me anytime if you need any help ( in case you need to express something or talk about something )in this difficult time.
take care,

Kmarie A. said...

Rae: this comment meant so much to me.Writing it out was very helpful. I do love many of his quotes - even though I have some VAST differences to CS Lewis - I find his observations on grief and his healer deeply feeling personality nailed the emotions involved. I agree- I have not heard insights put such a way from most...
I like that quote too...I listen gladly to people who are genuine about their faith and celebrate that with them if they live it in love...and as for duty- I will sometimes stay silent out of respect and sometimes speak up if it is interfering with relationships that are crucial but I completely agree with the comfort phrase! YES! Thank you for being here for me. I feel that cushion of love and I know we will be having a conversation too...
Love you

Kmarie A. said...

Wild Rain:
Thank you so much for adding your beauty to this conversation. This time has not been easy and thank you for validating the depths of my words. I think she would have loved it...I made her cry a lot in a good way the last few years with my words...she would be baffled at how I would say something so touching..LOL- I also KNOW I made her cry in a bad way the first few years...oh mom...but thank you - your comment also made me cry in a good way.
Thanks for the love.
xo love you too

Kmarie A. said...

Thanks. Love to you.

Kmarie A. said...

Flutist Pride:
Thank you for your thoughts, hugs and condolences...You are right- it feels like a haze of weeping and numbness and pain. very beautiful description of the icicle. I respect your faith and am glad to hear you dislike the platitudes. That sounds like a good song. Yes...sometimes there are no answers...
I am sorry I caused pain in that regard but I am also glad my tribute to mom moved you. xo

Kmarie A. said...

Nyssa: I know you just went through this too and I am so sorry to re awaken it...I know you is brutal and hollow and crashing all at once. Thank you- I knew you would hold us in your heart.
Thank you so much...crying again because you see me without judgement and make me feel heard and that connection is beautiful...and you saw the real in the post. Yes to rest and peace. xo love

Kmarie A. said...

CV and E- I am sorry you are traversing a similar path. Yes she was great! That big personality made big waves:)

Kmarie A. said...

R- Thank you for being there. xo
W.L. This was beautiful and validating. Xo
Keren- thank you for being here, buying us supper, hanging with us, watching my children...and thank you for see in that we have genuine spaces and hearts. Means the world. Love you.

Kmarie A. said...

I do accept:) I am so glad you could see her through my eyes and that you could see the understanding...yes the value of humanity- mmm love that. Thank you for all your beautiful well wishes. and your offering of help...I know we will connect at a future date as I always appreciate your astute insights. Love to you beauty.xo

Ashe said...

For her to invoke such strong reactions in her family with her passing is a testament to the kind of woman she was. I'm glad you had such a woman in your lives. :)

Digi-hugs to y'all as you get through this.

Quiet Contemplation said...

I am so very sorry for your loss. Your post was a touching tribute. What a lovely lady your mother in law was. Sending you lots of supportive hugs.

Kmarie A. said...

Ashe: Yes it is...she was very vibrant and was different with us than with most - especially the last few years- we knew a side that most did not...thank you for your support and kindness

Quiet contemplation:
thank you so much. I am glad it was touching and I SO appreciate the comment and the support...the funeral was today and other than one large part, it was beautifully done with meaningful tributes and heartfelt feeling...but it was still a tough day...glad to be over with that aspect though so we can get on with life yet still grieve the way we need to without constraints. thanks for your beautiful comment.

Anonymous said...

It was beautiful to see your blog again. I'm so glad you are keeping it up - it is your gift to the world. And you obviously had a special connection with your Mom. She is/was beautiful and I was privileged to work with her and see her in action at the lodge in all the ways you described above. I often heard her before I saw her :) singing in the halls or calling to someone. She lived large and beautifully and creatively - so she had much in common with you and your family. She told me she'll miss me terribly when I left and I knew she meant it. It meant a lot. She was very honest that way.
Btw, I found a note you gave me the other day - when I used to attend meetings at your place, that hit many touching places in my heart still. Thanks for all you put into others. May some of that come back to you.
Love, miriam

Kmarie A. said...

Hey Miriam!
I have tried emailing you multiple times but it says your account is no longer in use...I hope you are doing well. Thank you for saying that...and yes the last few years were very beautiful with mom...she was cheery and fun like that. She did love life. I miss her presence in my life so much. She was a fantastic grandmother too and that loss is especially bad.

Thank you:) I think it has come back to me- I have a small tribe of very adamant protectors of my soul...and then an outer group of loving wonderful people. I feel very lucky:) Thank you for also being a part of my life.