Grief: the most painful journey we face

The start of navigating life in the wake of overwhelming loss

On Jan. 24th, I sat beside my beloved mother as she drew her last breath.

Although we expected this moment to come, it crashed onto me like a torrential storm. I knew mom was nearing the end of her life, but it somehow didn’t seem completely real. Or I would think, it’s not quite yet. Surely there is some time left.

But there wasn’t. In a manner of minutes that cold winter morning, her breathing changed, her expression changed and she was gone. I fell apart, and I noticed a tear in the corner of her eye which crushed me even more.

Mom and I were always close. I was one of those boys who just connected to his mother pretty much from day one. Not that I didn’t have a terrific father who I really loved. But it was different with mom. She was the one I typically went to when I had a problem. We just always got along so well. And that was a pattern that continued through the tumultuous teen years, the uncertainties that surface during one’s 20s right on into the comparative ‘stability’ of being in middle age.

With dad’s death back in 1996, I think we became even closer. We relied on each other more, also because I’m single and have no family of my own. My mom was always there. There was no voice that could calm me faster; no one who I would turn to more quickly with good news or bad news.

I smile when I think of mom’s unending care for me, even to this past year before she really started to fail.

She would continually ask me what I had for supper. How my financial situation was. Perhaps most touching of all, she would typically get up out of her chair at the end of an evening visit and head to her cupboards and fridge, searching for something to give me. I was always so touched by that – I doubt I will ever know that kind of care and concern again in this life.

I’m so very grateful for her; for her unflinching honestly, for her relentless trust and faith in God, for her compassion. Mom’s authenticity was striking – you knew exactly where you stood with her. She was so insightful, and could help me reach resolution in any number of issues.

She was a friend, a wonderful mother, and my ‘rock’ of security. Mom was just always there.

In the days since she passed away, my grief has been almost unbearable at times.

Prior to her death, I read about things like ‘anticipatory grief’ where a person begins to grieve while their loved one is still alive. It’s a common experience with a loved one who is slipping away. I think I did experience some of that, but I’m not sure if it makes much difference in the end. My heart is simply broken.

As C.S. Lewis once said following the death of his wife, “No one told me that grief felt so much like fear.” I understand what he meant. There have been moments when I have felt really scared, really ‘undone.’

When I wish that I had some sort of reassurance that my mom remembers me.

It sounds strange, but I want her to remember that she has a son who misses her so much.

They say that we don’t ‘get over’ loss but rather we are ‘re-shaped’ by it. We absorb it and it can change us in a number of ways. We can even emerge from the grieving process as better, more compassionate people.

All I know is, my life looks and feels very different now. There isn’t one thing in my life that hasn’t been touched by mom’s passing. Everything is different.

But that said, I also know that mom would be the first one to urge me to continue forward. Still, I will always miss her.

I’ll miss the phone calls. I’ll miss the simplest of things — the laughs, the drives, the coffee times, and the quiet evenings of just chatting about the most basic things.

Over the past few years, mom became increasingly central to my world. I will have to somehow ‘rebuild’ that world and move on.

Mom, you know how much I loved and continue to love you. I told you many times. You know how very grateful I am for you – for your fine example, your unfailing love, your love for our Lord, your commitment to others. You prayed for all of us. You cheered us on. You were proud of us, and at the end of the day, you really wanted the best for us.

You were always, always, always there for me. And I look so forward to the day when we meet again. In the scriptures, Jesus assures us that he has prepared a place for us. There is hope. And I know you are safely there.

I know you are well, and whole, and that your joy knows no bounds. But what I wouldn’t give for one more chat. Love you.

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