I received a copy of Echo Bodine’s new book, What Happens When We Die, the day after my mother passed. I have read some of her other books, so was not too surprised at the synchronicity and I was also delighted to have a focus for my scrambling thoughts. I was especially moved by her tips for passing through the grieving process.
Being one of five living siblings it has been a very full journey, with each of us processing grief in our own way, and becoming suddenly and necessarily very involved with each other as we do so. What has continued to be perfectly obvious to me is that no two people respond to grief the same way, and that grief is a companion to be acknowledged as it changes its face one day after another.
I agree with Echo that self care is critical at this point, and personal boundaries take on new meaning. Some things that were social fun before are aborted early in the evening simply because it is time to go home. Some phone calls go unanswered, and extra care when driving is a good idea. Remaining dialed into what is working and not working is critical to “riding the waves” of grief.
There is no preparation adequate for the loss of a loved one, especially one’s mother. The sense is one of floating, floundering in outer space without that energetic attachment to an imaginary safety zone. It is final, abrupt and feels unkind.
Yet, remaining involved in your life can be equally important for grounding. Focusing at work has been a monumental task that has required enormous discipline. Really I had no choice, and for that I am grateful, because it would have been easy to check out entirely and drift off to the other world where I perceive my mother is. She would want me fully engaged in my life, one that I love. Gradually, the focus has become easier.
Still, the waves of grief show up at unexpected times. Echo fully recommends riding the waves rather than stoically holding in all the normal emotions, as it is unhealthy to store unprocessed emotions in the body. Eventually, those negative emotions can surface as disease or/and more complex emotional challenges. Physical exercise, Bodine notes, is a good alternative to crying for those not inclined to shed tears.
Bodine also recommends counting to ten before exploding negatively, as the fuse has just been shortened by the grief. Meditation and stepping back to observe these things in ourselves gives us the awareness, patience and kindness we need to pass through grief to the other side. Receiving support from friends is also critical, and highly recommended by Echo and by me, and letting them know that you don’t have specific expectations of how they need to behave can relieve stress between you and your well meaning friends.
Helping your loved one come to completion of their life is a great preparation for both parties. Bodine shares, “If the dying person opens up and it seems like they want to talk but aren’t sure what to talk about, you can ask them questions like these:
- What are your most memorable times?
- If you could do things over, would you change anything?
- What are you most proud of?
- Do you have any regrets?”
When we got the diagnosis that my mother would pass sooner than later, my sisters put together a dinner party inside one week. It was a good-bye party including the family and her closest friends, held on the lawn on a sunny afternoon. Everyone had the chance to be close to her and see her smile and offer gratitude for her beautiful life. I had the opportunity to spend time alone with her, during which she shared that she was at peace and ready to go. This is a moment I will treasure the rest of my life.
Thank you, Echo Bodine, for sharing this very important and helpful work!