The thing about grief is that until you’ve gone through it, it’s so difficult to know what to say, what to do, or how to support someone going through it.
My intention for this blog is to give others a view into how grief feels, the struggle people go through, and how to support them.
I received a call from my sister on a Sunday evening.
I remember because I was cooking dinner. She said, “I think you should come down to the hospital. Dad called an ambulance, and it’s something about Mom’s heart.”
I told her that I’d be down soon—I had just started dinner, and I was going to finish making it and head that way. When I got off the phone with my sister, though, a wave came over me—something was very wrong. I looked at my husband, and he said, “You need to leave. I’ll finish cooking dinner.”
I agreed with him and hopped in my car. It felt like the longest drive ever as I weaved in and out of traffic to get there. I called my sister, hands-free, hoping that it would distract me from the drive and my constant need to check the clock on the dashboard of my car. I remember telling her, “Mom can’t leave now—I need her.” It had been a while since I felt like I “needed” my mom, but I had a huge family situation going on, and I needed the unconditional love and support that only a mom could provide.
I arrived at the hospital and met my dad and sister there. We sat in the waiting room (which felt like forever) outside the cardiac E.R. area and got the scoop from my dad on what happened that day. From then on, I don’t really recall the conversation, but I do remember the moment the doctor walked into the hallway.
Being an empath can be a good thing and it can be hell—that day, it was hell. I knew, seeing his face as he came down that long hallway, that something had gone wrong. He sat down in the chair and proceeded to tell us that my mom’s heart had stopped several times while they were trying to put a stent in, that her heart valves were so blocked, he just didn’t think she was going to make it.
My ears heard everything, but my head and heart did not seem to want to register his words. My dad stood up and said, “I am going to be with her,” and started walking down the hall searching for my mom.
I ran after him. Being in the medical field previously, I knew what he would walk into, and I knew it would not be good.
I recall entering the room and seeing her. Her face was filled with so much trauma, you could tell her body was not at peace. She laid lifeless on the table—with tubes in her mouth, the awful sound of the heart monitor with a flat, long beep, and the nurse on top of her, crushing her ribs as she tried to save my mom through CPR and compressions. My dad began crying in horror at what he was seeing and telling them to stop, just stop. I recall my niece and my nephew’s girlfriend coming into the room, and the heart-wrenching screams and crying from them both. My heart sank—I wanted to fix what they saw, take it all away, but there was nothing I could do to protect any of us.
I couldn’t breathe, think, or talk. I couldn’t protect myself from this horrible pain, let alone anyone else. I sat on the cold, white floor, sobbing hysterically and hating God for taking her away from us. It felt like a fog, a bad dream, and someone needed to pinch me and wake me up—and then reality set in: this was not a dream.
The next few days:
I felt like I’d lost my identity.
Who am I without my mom in my life? What role will I play, now, in the family?
It was a surreal feeling. There were so many sleepless nights. No one ever tells you when you have that much sadness in your heart just how hard it is to sleep, to eat, to breathe, to pull yourself out of bed. And the pain—oh, the pain. I remember my husband trying to feed me—literally; he worried about the last time I had fed myself. Each day was worse than the last. Finally, I was dragging myself out of bed to help plan the funeral, or take care of kids, or the house.
I just wanted to make it all stop. I just didn’t want to do life. I always figured grief would be like when I lost my pet—you cry, muddle through the evening, and you are so sad. That day, I learned there are varying levels of grief, and this kind, well, it was the kind that knocks you on your ass, the kind that makes you fall to your knees, wondering how the hell you will get back up, or even if you want to. It’s the kind where you need the support and love of those around you to simply function, for your home and family to function.
It is the kind of hell no one ever deserves to go through, but sadly, each of us will experience in our lives. It’s the club we all eventually join but no one ever wants to be in. And I don’t blame them.
Stages and support:
Each of our family members experienced and moved through grief in different stages at different times.
When I was still sad, my sister was angry. Or when my sister and I had pushed forward a bit, my dad was sad and crying.
The truth is, to truly support someone going through grief, you have to show up even when it’s uncomfortable—and trust me, I know it is. All we really want to do is to talk about the death of our loved one. We want to be sure they are remembered, we want to share what hurts, and we want to be reassured that it’s okay to still be hurting—because it f*cking hurts. You don’t have to have a solution, just a listening ear.
It’s been two and a half years since my mom passed on July 1st, 2018, and while I am now at peace that she is in a better place (seeing what’s going on with politics and COVID-19 would have put her in her grave anyway), it still hurts some days, and I still want to share with people that I miss her, love her, and wish she was here to share life with.
I encourage us all: if we know someone going through this, reach out to them. Tell someone you are thinking of them, and let them share their grief. Respect their boundaries—they may not be ready to share—but reassure them it’s okay, healthy, and normal to be feeling the way they are, and give them a listening ear if and when they want one. We all do better when we can get those emotions out.
And for those struggling to get it out, I encourage you, when you are ready, to talk to someone, to reach out for help, to not be afraid to be vulnerable. You are not alone and my heart is with you!
Author’s note: I also want to thank my husband, sister, children, family, and dear friends who’ve checked on me over the years. I honestly could not have made it through without you! You each gave me a reason to show up every day when I did not always feel like it. So much love to you all.