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My Lesson in Grief: I’m Not as Smart as I Thought

Death is a wake-up call for life

I’m learning what I’m sure many people wiser than me already know. That I can’t control grief. Like, OK, tonight after dinner, before bed, I’ll grieve. Yes, that will be good. When I’m alone, have the time, and some tissues are handy.

grief, death, loss of mother, shock, end of life, grieving

My mother’s signature perfume

I won’t let grief overtake me in public, that’s for sure. Definitely not while standing in line at the bank just because a woman wearing Chanel Number 5 (my mother’s perfume) walks by, leaving that familiar scent from my long-ago childhood behind for me to inhale. Or for no reason at all at a turn signal, causing me to drive blurry-eyed  through an intersection. No, I won’t do that.

I’m fine, really. In control. Good.

Well, maybe a little fatigued. Fatigued and flat. Nothing to give. I can’t really think of a reason to get up and change out of my nightgown. I sleep, but sleeping makes no dent on the fatigue.

But I’m fine. Until that moment someone is kind and understanding towards me, and then, for some reason, the tears gush, as if a switch flipped. What is that? I hold my feelings in tight when I’m hurting, but kindness slices right through my carefully constructed barriers. The other day, I was perfectly good until Lydia, my other mother, called and said, “How are you?” “I’m fuh fuh fuh ffffine..” I sobbed, instantly unable to even talk.

I even told a couple of people “Please. Do not say anything nice to me. Because I will cry.” It’s a part of my sensitive make-up.

I dread returning to work, because I’ll be surrounded by kind co-workers and friends with sympathetic faces. One or more of them will cause me to break and blubber, I just know it.

[Tweet “Don’t they know that I’m supposed to be the comforter? Not the comfortee.”]

I’ve even rehearsed my words, “Thank you. I’m fine. Fine. It’s for the best, really. She’s in a better place now.” Then I’ll quickly ask them something about themselves to turn the spotlight away from me. “So. How was your vacation?”

end of life, grief, grieving,

My mom had been unraveling slowly but surely image credit elephantjournal

And I want to know- why is this such a shock? We were prepared for it. After all, our 89 year old mother had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for some time, and had even taken to calling me “Albina” (her sister, who passed on years ago). Mom had been slipping away for a while, coming undone, like a lap blanket whose stitches are loose and unraveling.

So it’s not that her death was unexpected. But now I know that makes no difference. The shock is the same as it must have been for the people doing the ice bucket challenge. One minute you’re warm and dry, the next minute, your mother’s gone. You just can’t be prepared. To lose your mother.

death, grief, grieving, mother

Death is a wake-up call to life.

Something that’s hard for me to get is that I’m no longer a daughter. Now I’m the matriarch. But I’m not any different, not any wiser. Will I be the eccentric old lady ? Or will I be more of the kindly grandma type, wisely giving counsel to the younger ones? There’s been a definite shift, a change in the family dynamics. I’ve leveled up in the game of life. There are no more layers between me and my own mortality. I’m next in line.

Lucky for me, I still have Lydia, my other mother. She’s helping me at this time, with her grounded wisdom. “Call your Mom’s old parish and make arrangements for a Mass to be said for her. It’ll make you feel better.” My mother loved her Catholic faith, and it did feel good to do that, knowing it’s what she would have wanted.

I didn’t know that death is a wake-up call to life. It makes me want to spend more time with family, to be a better friend, sister, mother, wife, nurse.  I don’t know how long grieving lasts. I’ll find out. And I’ll just go with it, where ever it takes me. Because it’s a part of life.


Until next time friend,

Nurse Beth



About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

2 Comments on My Lesson in Grief: I’m Not as Smart as I Thought

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