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Memorial Day

The topic on my heart for this Memorial Day weekend is grief. Grief is a tangible, clinging pain that everyone is touched by and must walk through at some point in their lives. If you love, you will lose. That is a fact of life. Grief entails more than just the death of a loved one…grief includes the ending of a relationship, divorce, moving, the loss of a pet, the loss of a sentimental item, the loss of a dream, failed expectations, and so much more. Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember those who died serving their country, protecting our freedom and our rights. It is a day set aside to grieve. That, however, is not why the topic of grief is so strong in my spirit for this time.

On Memorial Day sixteen years ago I said goodbye to my mother for the last time. She had been on life-support, and we were medically advised to unplug her. Her heart stopped without the mechanical stimulation. So Memorial Day, for my brother and I, is a day to remember our mother. She was a beautiful spirit who instilled in me the true meaning of love, the value of serving others, and the importance of always considering other’s feelings in every situation. She was selfless in so many ways and essentially laid down her own life to serve my brother and I until she took her last breath. No one else in my life has ever demonstrated that kind of love and there is no one else who will ever take her place in my heart. When someone of such importance and value leaves this world, they leave a significant hole.

My Mom and I in 1994. Yes, we had a pet goat!

I’ve heard some well-meaning words in times of loss, things like, “Time heals all wounds,” and “You’ll be over it before you know it.” The thing is…..time doesn’t heal all wounds. The hole left by my mother will never be filled. The relationship we had I will never have with another. I can’t just meet someone and become their daughter. Those things can’t be created or fabricated. She will be my only mother. And most of the time, when we lose someone, there is only one of that someone and we will never meet anyone quite like them. We will never “get over it,” or find a “replacement.” We can, however, heal and learn how to go on. We can’t go back to “normal,” but we can find a “new normal.”

Grief is different for each person. There is no set formula or time-frame for grieving, although many people may disagree with me on that. It has been sixteen years since I lost my mother. I don’t cry every time I think about her. I don’t visit her graveside daily. I don’t pick up the phone to call her anymore. I can smile and laugh without guilt now, and today I remember the happy things more than the sad ones. But I am not “over” her. And I still have days of sadness where I ache to just sit and talk with her, as we so often used to do. On those days I usually do talk to her. Sometimes out loud, as if she is sitting beside me. That is one of the ways I cope with her absence. I like to believe she can hear me, somehow, somewhere. I believe her spirit is still very much alive, and the connection between our spirits is just as strong as it ever was. She isn’t here with me physically, and I don’t have the pleasure of her response, but I believe she knows I am here and can somehow know how I am or what I need. Maybe I’m wrong, but it sure helps my feelings to believe that anyway!

The most important thing about grief, I think, is to allow yourself to experience it. Give yourself permission to feel the pain, to cry, to be angry, to scream, to do whatever YOU need to do in the moment to express your emotion. It’s okay to need time alone, and it’s okay to need extra time with loved ones. There is no right or wrong way to cope. Most experts ascribe to a general model of grief that outlines stages, although you can progress through the stages differently, go in and out and then back in a stage, or even skip over some of the stages altogether. I’d like to mention these stages just so you know if you are feeling some of these things it is completely normal and just a part of the healing process.

The stages are generally described as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In denial you may be in shock, and feel as though you are in a dream and should wake up at any moment. It may not feel “real” to you. That is normal. You may also have fits of anger, or even go through a period of being angry at God, or at the person you have lost. This is often very difficult as it can be accompanied with guilt, as well. You feel guilty for the anger yet you can’t help feeling angry. That is also normal. This usually passes, but if you feel you are staying angry or not appropriately expressing your anger, please don’t be afraid to reach out for support or seek counseling. In the bargaining stage you may try to strike a deal with God that if you are good the rest of your life He will bring your loved one back, or restore your marriage, etc. You may try to beg your ex back. You just want to go back to the way things were; you just can’t quite think of how to face a future so different from what you know. This, too, is a normal part of the process. People often feel depressed and struggle with symptoms of depression while grieving. There is a deep soul-sadness that comes after a significant loss. Use your coping skills and support system to help you through this. Acceptance is the stage where you finally accept and believe that things will never be quite the way they were again. You understand that your situation has changed permanently and you are beginning to realize that you will have to adapt to accommodate this change. You are probably less sad and maybe a little closer to your “normal” than you were, although you may still be deeply grieving and certainly may not be “over” your loss.

Acceptance is where you want to be in order to achieve a “new normal” for yourself. Remember that it takes time to get there, for some it may take years. Don’t be afraid to seek therapy or counseling if you feel like you are stuck in a particular stage or if you feel you are struggling with any part of the grieving process. I will tell you upfront that I sought counseling for myself when I lost those closest to me. I needed that extra support to help me cope. That’s not to say that everyone would need that, but I am just being transparent with you about my experience. It helped me progress through the stages and to function in all the ways I needed to throughout the process of grieving.

If you are struggling with grief, know that there is help. You do not have to walk alone.

If you need someone to talk to you can call or text: 988. Hospices and hospitals often have grief support groups in your local community, as well. It can help tremendously to have someone to talk to who understands loss.

In honor of Memorial Day, and my grandfather (who was retired military), I would like to offer a free therapy session (completely confidential, of course) to any veteran of the United States Armed Forces who would like support in dealing with the remnants of loss, grief, or a trauma experienced in their lives. If you would like to schedule a session, or would like to contact me to learn more, click the button below.

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