Grief in Stages

During the earlier half of this past week, I realized I had been really struggling emotionally for a while. And it wasn’t just because the January skies have been so gray and the air so cold, or the fact that daylight takes so long to arrive and darkness falls again so quickly this time of year. I couldn’t seem to shake that same old, same old feeling. And worse, I was constantly battling off feelings of anger and resentment, and not doing a very good job, I might add. As someone who feels she’s made great strides over the past few years to keep a positive mindset, it was almost scary to realize how deeply dark I was feeling inside. I wasn’t liking myself very much, and I was certain others were seeing a side of me I’d prefer they didn’t, though my closest friends kindly assured me that wasn’t so.

Logically, I know the reasons behind my feelings. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mom. And that in itself is not the problem. I’m not complaining about the amount of time we spend together. In fact, I supremely enjoy it. Since my dad passed away seven weeks ago, my relationship with Mom has deepened and evolved in beautiful ways. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I’m fully aware that there’s not a great amount of balance in this area of my life.

I often find myself dropping everything for Mom’s needs, even when I know she would understand if I said, “Yes, I can do this but not until I take care of that.”  She would be perfectly willing to compromise if I said, “I can’t do it today, but how about tomorrow?” She’s not demanding or selfish. She’s aware that her needs are greater since Dad has been gone, but she doesn’t expect me to be at her beck and call. I guess I’m doing what I do because most of the time I know that if Mom has a need and I don’t take care of it, no one else might. But I might also admit that deep down, I get a great sense of satisfaction in being the person on whom Mom can really depend.

So it’s really just me creating my own problems.

To be fair, my sister is in this with me. But she still has kids at home, with busy lives and activities, and the problems that accompany that stage of life. It’s harder for her to be there for Mom than it is for me, the person with an empty nest. It’s my two brothers with whom I’m so frustrated. After Dad passed away, I thought things would change. There was a lot of love and togetherness in the days following Dad’s death. But in the past few weeks, we’ve gone back to the old normal. My brothers’ lives are apparently just too busy for them to commit to seeing or helping Mom on any regular kind of basis, or even call regularly. I don’t expect them to be able to be there as often as I am able. But it bothers me that Mom sits all alone in her house all day long, with little company but the dog, and my brothers can’t seem to carve out a bit of time for her. Worse is that she openly admitted that she doesn’t hear from or see them as often as she’d like. She told me she misses them, and it hurts to hear her admit that she feels neglected by some of her kids.

Mom can manage hanging around the house on her own, but her health prevents her from getting out without assistance most of the time. She doesn’t have the stamina to do regular cleaning, grocery shopping or any real cooking. Someone has to do those things for her. My sister and I are doing a juggling act in managing the upkeep, as well as making sure Mom has a decent meal every night of the week. I’m grateful for my niece who goes almost every Tuesday to make dinner and eat with Mom. Still, I’m at Mom’s or having her over to my house a minimum of four days a week. Meanwhile, my to-do list continues to grow and be neglected.

I’m trying desperately to remember my resolve not to be so unforgiving, and to know that not everyone sees this situation in the same light. I keep reminding myself that I can’t hold everyone else to my standards, and that I don’t truly know what it’s like to walk in my brothers’ shoes. I guess it’s just that once in awhile, when Mom needs someone, it would be nice if I thought I could lean on someone else to step in. Oh, I can ask. But experience tells me that such a request is likely to be met with a sort of disdainful disbelief that I would even ask. The sense is that their lives are just so much more overwhelming than mine.

And to top it all off, the most disconcerting thing happened when I woke up one morning last week feeling angry at my dad. Who gets angry at a dead person? Well, apparently it’s a very common and normal stage of the grieving process, but that doesn’t make it any easier to admit I was having those feelings.

I think it stemmed from the fact that my parents were scheduled to move into an assisted living facility in December. The move was planned because after Dad broke his hip last year, his health and care needs upon returning home were greater than Mom or the rest of us could accommodate without professional help. My dad was adamantly opposed to the move, insisting he and Mom could manage fine on their own, even though it was obvious to the rest of us that he was fooling himself. And when he passed away one day prior to moving day, everyone sort of joked about how Dad had made sure he didn’t have to go to that damn apartment.

Mom immediately decided she just couldn’t make the move in the aftermath of Dad’s death. She wanted to stay in their town house. She said she only wanted to move in the first place because she needed to be where she could have help caring for Dad’s needs. In the midst of my fresh and raw grief, I agreed that this was the right decision for Mom. But as we’ve settled into our new normal, I find myself wishing she’d had a chance to move before Dad passed away. If things were different, she’d have had the opportunity to get settled and familiar, and make new friends before Dad left us. And these cold, dark days might not be so lonely if she were in a community where she could be with others her age, with daily social activities, and where three square meals a day are guaranteed when one of us couldn’t be with her.

I guess I was blaming Dad for taking away those opportunities that might have made all of this a bit easier.

I spent a day carrying around that confusing anger at my dad. I was angry even though I knew that my feelings had to do with Dad’s human nature, and that since he passed away, I believe he’s shed all of the ugly facets so common to our humanity.

The next morning, when I couldn’t take being down any longer, I had a good cry and asked God what I was supposed to do with all of this darkness. I soon realized that’s all I needed to do. I needed to give it up. It wasn’t something for which there was a black and white answer, and it wasn’t in my power to fix it.

It’s amazing how quickly my heart and mind settled after that. Nothing externally had changed, but I was reminded to just take each day as it comes, to stop worrying about tomorrow, and the next day and next month. I remembered to stop obsessing about what others were doing, or not doing, or what I assumed they were thinking or not thinking.

It occurred to me how long religion and spirituality were such a question mark in my life. And I realized what a gift it has been that my desire to have a greater understanding of God has resulted in a serious deepening of my faith in the past few years. This is what is carrying me through right now.

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A day after letting go, I was invited to go out for happy hour after work with a bunch of coworkers. It just so happened that this particular day left me free of responsibilities to Mom. My sister had it covered. But I left home that morning thinking I’d pass on going out after work. I had a lot of things to do, and though happy hour might be more fun, I really needed to catch my breath at home.

When I shared these thoughts with my closest coworkers, the ones who know my life inside and out, I was sternly and playfully informed, “Not acceptable. You need this and you’re going with us.”

That’s all it took. I was in and haven’t regretted it for a minute. I got to spend some down-time with good friends and coworkers. We laughed and had really great, deep conversations. There was no worry or resentment hovering around me and I remembered how good it is to lean on those around me sometimes to create a better balance.

And it helps to have done a little research on the stages of grief. It seems I’m experiencing a mix of several of them all at once, but knowing it’s all normal and part of the process, and that I’m growing in positive ways as a result makes it easier to keep moving forward.

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15 thoughts on “Grief in Stages

  1. Thank you, Tee, for this lovely post. You’re so open and honest about your feelings, and I just know your mom is grateful for whatever you’re able to do for her. My mom is kind of in the same boat. My dad passed seven years ago, and she’s depended on me more and more. It’s HARD, as you know. You’re fortunate in having a sister at least who can help — my only sibling, a sister, is miles away physically and eons away mentally (she refuses to have any part in helping). My consolation is that none of us knows how long we have on this earth, and I don’t want to be consumed by guilt for ignoring mom. Yes, my time is just as valuable as my sis’s; yes, we both are at a stage in life where we’re unencumbered by little kids; yes, this is mom to both of us. But I can’t control other people’s thoughts or behaviors; I can only do what I know is right…for me. I see you’re finding that out, too!

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    • I feel for you Debbie, having to go it alone. I know I’m fortunate to have a sister and a niece who share the responsibilities with me. And once in awhile, I get the satisfaction of knowing my mom really understands. Last night, she gave me my great-grandmother’s wedding ring. At first I declined her offer. She asked if I didn’t want it, and I said, “Yes, but … one of the others might want it too.” She said, “Too bad. You’re here all the time and you do so much for me. I want you to have it.”

      And I couldn’t agree more with you. None of us knows how much time we have left. No matter what my siblings do or don’t do, I plan to make the most of the time my mom and I have left together.

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  2. As you know I relate totally to what you’re talking about. I think the advice/intervention of your co-workers is a good lesson too. Caregivers get burnt out. It’s unavoidable. So you have to take care of the caregiver so they can continue to give care (I’m sure I could have structured that sentence better).

    Have you given any thought to in-home care assistance? This comes in all kinds of varieties from people who can clean and do meals, to more medically oriented services, to just companion services. I have had a number of these companies as clients plus we used one for my Dad who did not want to leave his home. If your brothers are not willing to put in the time to fulfill their obligations, could they not throw in some money in lieu of time to buy services? (Sorry for the typical ‘male, problem-solving’ comment)

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    • I forget sometimes that it’s important to take a break, and don’t realize the benefit until I do it.

      I’ve given a lot of thought to in-home care. In fact I proposed that we set something up immediately after my dad passed away. But my parents had a poor experience with their home health care agency when Dad was still alive, and so Mom is opposed to it, even though I suggested there were other agencies we could consider. Last night though, she mentioned she didn’t like staying alone so much, and doesn’t always feel safe at night, due to her weak physical condition. Maybe the tide is turning and I’m hoping she’s getting ready to consider some options. And Mom will be resuming her former cleaning services next week, so that’s a relief!

      Without getting into details, I will just say that asking the others for money towards services has been proven not to be an option.

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  3. I actually love the cold and wet weather, but I must admit a fair sunshiny day is more beautiful.
    After the death of my dad in 2000, my mom stays in the same house, now with my handicapped younger brother. She used to sulk a lot and now she is way better, spending time with her friends doing activities or studying religion at the local mosque.
    I am happy that you and your remaining family spends time to care for her.
    A mother is for life.

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    • I’m glad that your mom was able to resume her social life and faith activities. I know my mom would like to do those things, but her health conditions limit her a lot.

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  4. There’s no road map for grief except to grieve. And I found that it came in waves at times I didn’t expect. I’m not surprised that you’ve taken on more care of your Mom in the wake of your father’s death, and think it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed by all of it. Why? It’s a lot.

    And you’re all dancing around what has to happen next: her moving.

    I’m glad you went out with friends and that you have friends who urged you to go. Sometimes all we can do is just ride the wave – and giving this up to Him allows you the space to see that you aren’t superwoman nor do you have to be. wonderful post, Tee. Hugs, MJ

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  5. We really do need to take care of ourselves in order to be good caretakers for others. This post is a good example. I think it’s easy for the dark days to settle in, especially this time of year, so you shouldn’t get down on yourself when it happens.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed a spiritual evolution (for lack of a better phrase) in you in the past few years. You have your emotional struggles – everyone does – but you’ve developed a keen ability to step back and listen for guidance. Your mom is lucky to have you.

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    • There’s definitely been a spiritual evolution. I guess I’m kind of glad others can see it. I’ve gone from looking for it but not really getting it, to almost having an epiphany. Who’d have thought? Being brought up with so much “religion,” I wasn’t initially sure I wanted to make it important in my own life. But it’s become very important and very essential to just surviving and being happy. So I’m glad to have it.

      And you’re not the only one to remind me that difficult emotions aren’t necessarily bad. They just are. I need to remember that!

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  6. First let me tell you, my mom has often said that old cliche that seems to be true, “A son is a son until he takes a wife. A daughter is a daughter for all of her life.” I only have one sibling, and since I’ve returned home, I’ll be the one to take care of Mom. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, he told me a neighbor of my mom’s called him to say an ambulance was in her driveway. He called the hospital and found out she was admitted. He called me so I could be the one to be there until 3am.

    Since you put this out there for people to read (and comment), and I like to analyze, I hope you don’t mind my thoughts about this. It seems to me that sometimes you battle within yourself for having emotions that you deem as “dark” or “bad” to have. I get the feeling that because you’ve made your mind up to be more positive, that you’re never supposed to have any emotions but happiness all the time. We can’t avoid emotions. They are neither good or bad. They just ARE, just like my eyes ARE brown, which is also neither good or bad. I’ve learned to accept the whole picture, all of the emotions that surface in my life, whatever comes up. Acceptance helps me to live with it and move forward. Sometimes I just want to cry for no reason. If I have the alone time to do it, I do. It’s cathartic.

    I’m so glad to read that you allowed yourself the tears for a time. On occasion, we need to let those out to release the stress and get back on track. No harm in doing it again if need be. Your grief is still so fresh.

    Hugs and blessings, Terri.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lori, I don’t mind you analyzing at all. This is the reason why I write this stuff – so I can see things from the viewpoints of others. And I appreciate you reminding me that it’s okay to cry and okay not to be happy all the time. I guess I don’t really expect to be happy all the time. I just don’t like it when I take out my frustrations on some poor innocent bystander, like my hubby. Good thing he’s such a trooper. He puts up with my moods.

      And for what it’s worth,it helps to know that I’m not the only one with family members who don’t get too involved. But I’m sorry you have to deal with that!

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  7. It does help to know that our feelings are normal, doesn’t it? I bet that cry did you a lot of good. And I’m so glad you decided to (or were forced into) going out with your friends. As others have mentioned, you gotta take care of yourself in order to care for others.
    I hope you can come to some peace as far as your brother’s concerned. I’m not sure he’ll ever change. I’m sad for your mom that he’s not involved, but how lucky she is to have you and your sister!
    Sending more hugs your way!

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  8. Tee, I wish I had better or some inspiring words of wisdom for you, but it seems like every time we face one of these life changing events, I feel like I am lost as well. Grief is a journey we don’t want to take. It never follows a straight line and is never the same for each of us.

    I think you are doing an amazing job with your mom. You are a dedicated, loving, daughter and that shows with all of the support you have given both your mom and dad over the past few years. They have gone through a lot over the last years and I feel your help and assistance and willingness to be there for them has helped ease their burden. I fully realize how hard this has been on you and Jack. My wife was doing the support roll for her family for many years. First her dad, then her mom and then her sister. Many times she was handling it all by herself. I tried to help where I could but she shouldered the burden most of the way. In my opinion, I feel that caregivers are the unsung heroes. They care for family members without any fanfare or recognition. To them, it is not a job, it is a duty to the ones who raised them and gave them so much when they were little.

    I am glad that you are able to find time for yourself. It is good to find an outlet or distraction. I think that is just as important for your sanity and well being. I am sorry that your brothers are being horses asses and not helping, but I don’t think you are going to be able to change their minds or attitudes. Their loss. I realize that you are shouldering more than your fare share, but you are doing the right thing. I am sure that, in the future, looking back at this time you will not regret the time you spend with your mom.

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