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Mental Health, Support, Resilience, Gratitude & Forgiveness While Grieving 
Started by Cath1
20 Feb 2012, 6:19 PM

Today I realize my grief still has a tight grip on me, tighter than I like to admit even to myself on most days. It's Family Day in Ontario. My late Mom was the head of our family all my life as she was a single parent to me and my brothers. Later in life she inherited the role of the wider family as its matriarch when her two eldest siblings passed away. Just knowing she was in the world made my world make so much more sense. I miss her, her essence, her presence; I miss my Mom every time I breathe.

My mother in an odd way gave me a strong sense of security that I can find nowhere else. I describe it as odd because my mother had a mental illness and many would and did describe her as unstable, and yet she was the most rock solid person I have ever known. Much of her life was chaotic because of the illness, as was much of mine by association. Yet, her acceptance of me in all situations, her unconditional love and support of me was my solace whenever life presented me with difficult days. I know today if she were here she would find a way to have me laughing before long. She was simply magical in her ability to soothe and delight me!

I recall that some of the difficult days we shared included when she had episodes of mental illness that landed her in hospital. I remember well that even when she was angry with me for taking her there to get help how her innate motherhood never abandoned me. I could always see through her affected demeanour to the real person she was no matter how different she appeared to others at those times. Even as painful as it was to go through those times with her, I would give anything to have my mother with me again and even in that mysterious "other" state of mind of which we were both so familiar. Yet, of course, I know it is not possible and will not be again.

My own mental health is important and I am discovering through grief how much we all need to feel supported and cared about not only by others, but by ourselves. We are vulnerable. I have a self-diagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder since my Mom lived in a long term care home. Every time I approached the entrance to the facility to visit with my Mom or to take her home with me, my body began to shake. Not only my hands became shaky, I felt the trembling within my entire body. I know my physical and emotional response was a result of the fact that I never knew what to expect and I never knew in what state of health I would find my Mom, and even worse I could inspire no one with the power to help us to do so.

Constant worry for a loved one over a prolonged period of time creates a lot of stress which indisputably takes its toll on a person, and at that time I was struggling to rise above the heavy weight of it all. My stress level was only made worse by the situation at the nursing home where my Mom lived as I could not count on many people to help my Mom who had dementia, and because she had dementia I could not confide in her about my concerns as I had been able to all of my life. Perhaps in a way it was life’s benevolence that helped us when my Mom began to fade slowly from me, as she was as her psychiatrist described, “pleasantly confused but social”, and I was given the chance to adjust to her new state of being to prepare for my new life without her.

Still struggling am I these days with the remnants of resentment I feel towards those people whom lacked compassion and empathy for my Mom and for me and our family. How I wonder can people act so heartlessly, without care or conscience, to disrupt the lives and well-being of others? The memories I have saved of the last few months of my Mom’s life are sullied by unwarranted controversy, false accusations against me, a betrayal of trust by those working in the healthcare system, those whom I had once naively believed we could count on to protect us and “do no harm”, those from whom we should have received assistance and support.

Forgiveness is the hurdle I am stuck on. Without any apology or acknowledgement of what happened to my Mom, I am afraid I have lost the person I am and am meant to become. My nature is naturally trusting and optimistic, and yet I now have to make such a concerted effort daily to maintain the most cherished parts of me, the parts I recognize, the parts of me that have been robbed by experience. Still, even as I write, I refuse to give into the temptation to become cynical as I will not allow anyone the power to alter the truth of who I am, as that would be the ultimate insult to the many good memories I have of my Mom. In her memory I will resist the temptation to dwell on the sadness and I will trust her guidance, in the life lessons she taught me, in the love she leaves with me, to find my way to the follow her light of forgiveness.

Throughout my journey of grief, I have found that by expressing honestly each stage of its experience, by sharing each newfound pearl of wisdom, by listening for the quiet inner voice of acceptance or by searching my heart to silence the pounding pulse of uncertainty, I am making progress. I am getting somewhere, somewhere new and as yet undefined while grief loosens for a moment its fierce hold on me. I am discovering each day the next stone on my path while stepping sometimes boldly and at other times with trepidation, I nonetheless keep stepping forward and stepping up to gain ground every time I take a step back.  

As I write, gratitude fills me. Feeling gratitude helps restore balance to my state of mind. I feel grateful to have this space to purge the complex and contradictory feelings I contemplate while still mourning profoundly the loss of my Mom. It is comforting to me just knowing that a virtual someone, a wonderful person in the real world, will read my thoughts and will care. It is a privilege for me to share my human experience and I hope by doing so others will feel safe to share theirs. We are lucky to have such a wonderful community for mutual support and understanding.

Looking back today over the past couple of years, I realize I how much my Mom and I endured and as always we endured it together. Resilience was my Mom’s middle name and thankfully I inherited it from her. Today I have other family worries on my mind and yet I know from experience these too shall pass. Today I find courage and comfort in knowing I am never alone. I am going to bravely walk outside into the sunshine past the nursing home where my Mom and I had once met with cruelty instead of kindness, past its forbidding shadows that haunt me, and then I will connect with those who know and love me best: my family. I will raise my eyes to the skies above and thank my Mom once again for being the best mother this girl could ever have hoped for, and just as she was when she was living, she will always be to me the most darling angel to ever grace the earth and forever will she brighten my heart and the heavens above!

The gifts of gratitude and resilience are among my mother’s powerful and most treasured living legacy. Forgiveness is a yet another of her many virtues that she taught me to value, and yet for me, in some circumstances, it remains out of my realm as I now approach it as a deeply personal and difficult work in progress. Today, for now, I will remain content to have at least journeyed past some of my sorrows.
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Reply by Cath1
01 Mar 2012, 1:05 AM

It has been a difficult month for me in terms of grieving. I have had great moments of joy no doubt, but there is a shadow that follows me and I cannot escape it. It's a heavy shadow. I am exhausted. It feels like these past fifteen months since my mother died have been the longest months of my life. I cannot in this moment ever imagine I will ever recover from such a profound loss, not fully, not ever.

Suddenly over these past few weeks the waves of grief have crept back to my shores where I have walked softly on the edge of safety. Grief is like dark and watery depths of a bottomless ocean and I don't want it to rush back or ease back to claim me again. I don't want to fall into it to be lost forever.

The waves of grief lately are not crashing into to me body and soul, hard and cruel, as they have at other times, but grief is a stubborn and sturdy emotion that can erode my strength over time with its every new tide flowing to me and through me. No matter how tiny its ripple of sadness, no matter how softly the wave comes to wash over me, grief is painful.

In nature the tides ebb and flow and I must accept that the waves that come to move me through mourning are natural too. I cannot even imagine these waves of grief will one day end as they are a reminder that I am still hurting and my mother is still gone and I cannot imagine a time when it will ever be different. Yet I know that is not actually true, as I am learning from experience that the one constant of grief is that it is different as are my feelings from day to day, month to month, sometimes moment to moment.

Perhaps the fact that I find grief to be so different, ethereal, mysterious and difficult to express or explain keeps me searching to understand its inherent nature as I and others experience it.

Sometimes I comprehend my grief by not feeling it but by thinking about it. Almost dispassionately removed emotionally am I am at times when I think of my mother or write or speak of her. When I think of her now it is hard to remember her the way I could when she was alive but not physically in my presence. I miss the reassuring feeling I had inside of me when she was living in the same world as me.

Sometimes I am lost in a suspended state of an incomprehensible and never-ending and yet perceptible distance between us. So far away she seems, so dead, so silent, so final it is.

Grief, I am finding out, can leave me with an uncomfortable numbness, but it's the kind of numbness that is not absent of feeling but a weird feeling, all pins and needles, prickly and thick and distracting. I have a wound and I am impatient for it to heal. I had a mother and I am impatient to see her again. I feel impatient to fully understand and to accept the nature of grief.

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01 Mar 2012, 3:38 PM

VHcath, reading your post brings me back to memories of grieving my mother. She died of terminal breast cancer in September 2006.

Like your mother, mine was the main female influence in our immediate and very large extended family. She was the oldest female in a family of 13 siblings. She was like a mother to many of her youngest sisters and brothers. They took her loss harder than that of their actual mother because my mom was the one who cared for them, taught them how to cook etc. 

I took her loss very hard as we were very close. At times my grief over her loss was palpable, the missing your mom with every breath is a very apt description. After she died I took a month off work. By the time I was back at work I was full into the anger stage of grieving remained there for a good 8 months.  I was angry at everything and everyone.

The first time I felt happiness for the first time since my Mom had died

was in June 2007 after my sister’s first baby was born. For a long time her loss felt like a dull ache in my heart. I think it was around the third year anniversary of her death, that I’d made peace with it. I still miss her terribly (especially during the holidays) but the grief eventually faded away.

I don’t think there is a set way or timeline for grieving, everyone does it differently. I feel there is no right or wrong way. VHCath, if I have any advice to offer you is that it’s going to take time for you to heal. You could feel numb for some time.

Something a friend told me gave me great comfort after my mom’s death and still does. She said “You know those we love, when they die, the love and memories we shared doesn’t die, they live on in our hearts”. That’s how I like to think about my Mom, alive and well in my heart. I eventually stopped fixating on her sickness, how she struggled and her death in favour of the good memories, remembering how she lived not how she died.

Hope this helps…

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Reply by Cath1
02 Mar 2012, 2:33 AM

Dear GirlWithTheBlackBeret:

Thank you very much for responding so empathetcially to my post and for sharing the truth of your tough experience with grief for the loss of your precious Mom. To answer your question, yes, you definitely have helped me with your words which reveal your very kind heart.

You are among the reasons I love the Virtual Hospice forum because it is a safe and caring place to seek and to give and to receive mutual support. None of us are experts, even the professionals who have studied grief and have years of experience counselling others, they too continually learn from others as we do from them and one another. If not for the courage of others to tell us the real experience of grief as they have lived through it, how would we know what to expect? It's so encouraging to me to see people more willing to admit, without shame, that they are struggling with sorrow, as I am and as you and others have and perhaps still do at times.

Your Mom sounds to me as if she was the lifeblood of your family as mine was to ours and I feel deeply for you for having had to make the huge adjustment to life without her in yours. My Mom was old and sometimes people expect me to just accept that her life was limited naturally, as I understand we cannot and will not live forever, but I has loved my sweet Mom for fifty-five years, all of my life, and it is not easy to accept that she is gone no matter how old she was when she died.

I am healing as I go along, and like other serious hurts in my past, though not as devastating, I do know that grieving has stages and these are particular to each individual. I also believe that every day we live on after a loved one's death, even the sad days, the days when we'd rather stay in bed covered in blankets and denial than face the world without our loved one, when we choose to rise and greet the new day, sun shining or a cloudy sky, either way it's a victory. 

Thank you for sharing your friend's kind words with me as well, This is exactly how I feel about my Mom, her love and the memories she left to warm my heart and the hearts of all of her extended family.

Presently I am absorbed in legal issues surrounding my Mom's last few months which does nothing to help the healing process but which is unfortunately necessary for me to follow through with. I cannot wait for the day when the bad memories are somehow settled so that I will have more room for the happier memories to flood into my mind to soothe me. I want to dwell only on my Mom and the way she was in life and not just on how she was mistreated at the end of her life. Once that happens I will keep each cherished memory as a treasure embraced in my heart forever, and let go of the disppointment in others I am feeling.

God bless you GirlWithTheBlackBeret for taking the time out of your day to remind me that I am not alone! I am wishing you the best evening, and I am hoping that one day a few months or years from now, no specific timetable in mind, I will be at the point where you are today. You give me hope!

Should you ever need to or simply want to share more with me about your Mom's and your life, please feel welcome. I would love to connect with you again.  In the meantime, let's never forget that we each have very special guardian angels watching over us!

With gratitude,
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