I recently wrote this post over at Merelymothers. Emily left a comment and asked me to write about how I got through the toughest times and if I have any tips or ideas for facing such a loss. Emily shared that her mom has been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimers Disease.
Emily, if you are reading this, first let me say that I am so sorry that you and your mother have to face this. And thank you for reaching out. Loss is such a hard and lonely process. It's so very personal and no one will ever experience loss the exact same way you will.
I cannot begin to understand the emotions you are feeling. The loss of my mom was, in comparison, sudden and unexpected. It was acute on every level. I didn't have a long time to to think about what was to come. To play the future over in my head. I can only imagine that the anticipation of what is to come is overwhelming and all encompassing.
I think it is important to put out there that I am by no means an expert in grief and loss. Personally, I don't think I have necessarily faced the loss in my life all that gracefully. I don't think that I have done it right. So I feel completely unqualified to be giving advice. But I have spent an enormous amount of time reflecting on where I am and where I have been and there are some lessons I learned and some things I have worked on that I will share with you. These may (or may not) resonate with you or anyone else who has faced loss but they come from my very personal grieving experience.
Be kind to yourself. This is something I have struggled with in life. I have always been very critical of how I handle situations - I was the same way (and still am) when dealing with grief. It is OK not to be OK. It is OK to give yourself the space and time to deal with your emotions, what ever they are, in the moment. Don't judge your process - because remember, grief and loss is personal. It is your journey, don't compare it to anothers, don't expect to follow a prescribed path.
Take care of yourself. Physically. Grief and loss is hard on your system. It will wear you down. Exhaust you. Eat. Sleep. Even at the worst of times, things felt more manageable after a good night of sleep.
Take care of yourself. Emotionally. I am a huge (HUGE) proponent of therapy. There is nothing to be ashamed of in getting professional help. A good therapist will be able to help you verbalize and navigate your feelings.
Everyone else around you will be grieving and dealing with loss too and they will not deal with it the same way you do. I remember when I lost my mom all I wanted was to reach out and to latch onto someone else. I wanted someone else to love me the way my mom did. I wanted someone else to understand me the way my mom did. My first realization was that no one else around me was capable to doing that because they were processing the loss of my mom as well. They were stuck in their grief. The second thing I realized is that you can't avoid grief simply by replacing the lost love. There is no replacement.
Similarly, I had to give space for others that are grieving. It's not a pretty process. People facing loss are necessarily selfish. Their whole being is encompassed with how the loss is affecting THEM. I found that my capacity and the capacity of those around me to truly understand how others were affected was simply not there. It is so easy to get into the "I loved her more" "I miss her more" "the loss is the worst for me" game. When you feel yourself going there, or see someone else going there, take a step back. Those feelings are real, but they can be hurtful. Grief is hard enough without it being a competition.
Embrace small moments of happiness. Oh, I remember how guilty I felt when I first felt joy after losing my mom. I remember how hard it was to reconcile grief and joy. But those small moments of happiness are so important for the healing process. They start as tiny little glimmers. Don't ignore the glimmers.
Sit in the grief. Don't run from it. It will find you. Cry. Cry hard. Cry ugly. I had to hit the bottom to start climbing back up. And I hit it time and time again. It's OK!
Grief for me has been a two step forward, one step back process. Slow progress. I start feeling like I am coping and things are much much better just to fall down again. It happens. It happens a lot. I think it's OK.
Something my therapist told me (remember I'm a big fan of those guys): I may have lost my mom but she lives inside me. She is part of me. And because I carry her with me she lives on. As long as I love her, she lives on. As long as I continue to be the person she raised me to be, she lives on. There are days that sounds like such bull shit. But on other days I have found immense comfort in that.
And I'll end with this - I have found it simply amazing just how strong the human soul is at the moment it feels the weakest.
I have only now started to be able to connect with the experiences others have had with grief and loss. I have only now begun to see little ways this awful terrible thing has made me stronger and more resilient. In a millisecond I would give all that strength and resiliency back to have my mom here but I guess what I am trying to say is even though it feels like it never will - it does get better. Even though it feels like you never will - you will laugh again. Even though it feels like you can't do it - you can. You will. I did. I am.