Sally from California asks: I lost my mother two months back. I’m 21, the elder child and suddenly feel that my world has been turned upside down. I’m studying away from home and have blocked my grief out completely. But on the days it makes an appearance, the pain is unbearable. Will the pain ever reduce?
Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother, responds: Yes, the pain will subside, give it time. Lots of time.
But also know that the grief you’re experiencing is absolutely normal. You lost your mom. You shouldn’t have lost your mom so soon. Your grief tells me that you loved her and you miss her. And as overwhelming as it feels right now, let it happen when it happens. It’s your body’s and mind’s (and heart’s) way of dealing with sorrow and it should be allowed to run its course.
I lost my dad when I was 23 years old, and sometimes the grief would overwhelm me. I’d get in my car somewhere and I wouldn’t even expect it. A friend of mine explains grief as an open window–most of the time you don’t even notice, but every once in a while you’re hit with this blast of air (grief) that takes your breath away.
I cried almost every day for seven years-and I don’t tell you that to make you feel like you’ll never get over your grief. My tears at first were that overwhelming sense-of-loss kind-I felt such a void. And by crying, I don’t mean a few tears! I would sob and double over in physical pain sometimes.
Other times, I just felt like my nerve endings were on fire-I was so short with everyone and nothing seemed enjoyable-not a movie or dinner out with a friend. But as time went on, I began to see these periods of grief as a way to release my tension, and eventually the sorrow gave way to sweet memories. I cried, yes, and I talked to my dad in the sanctuary of my car or I’d journal. I began to realize that while I deeply missed his physical presence, it did really feel like he was with me in the best of ways.
You’re doing everything right. You’re in school, you’re moving on and building your life-and those are healthy things to do. Sometimes you just have to make yourself keep moving. Just know that when you have a swell of emotions, and you can, let them happen. Don’t fight them. They will ease in time-and you’ll be so much healthier for allowing your thoughts and emotions to “let loose,” for honoring your love (and your anger even) and your experience. Grief isn’t always pretty, but it isn’t meant to destroy us-it’s a journey that gets us from our darkest nights to the light of day.
I still miss my dad, and I hardly ever tell a story about him (and I do, often) that I don’t tear up. But I’m glad I do. I’m glad I know how to love big and risk the hurt. I’m grateful I still have that connection to him. He’s still very much a part of my life and who I am. You don’t ever have to let go of that.