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Musings on Grief and Letting Go

written by Julie Cohn

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I had not been ready to talk about this before, but one month ago, my Mom passed away.  She fought a courageous 16-month battle with cancer, brave until the very end.  These past few weeks have been so hard for my family, and it is only because of our love for her, each other, and the comfort of other family and friends that we have managed to get through it all.

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Some days, I vacillate between raw heart-wrenching sorrow, relief that she no longer has suffering, and guilt that I could feel such relief.  Some days life seems almost normal again, and I am able to get through the day without crying.  The first few weeks, I lived in a state of suspended animation–I just could not believe she was gone, even though I was there when she took her last breath.  So much of her remained behind–her voice on an old phone message, her face smiling back at me in photos–it seemed impossible she was gone.  Sometimes I still cannot believe it.

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My heart especially aches for my father.  They were together over 50 years, married for 48, and she was the love of his life. I know he feels her loss at every moment, and I don’t know how to take that pain away.  More than ever, I wish my family lived closer, especially that my father lived closer to one of us.  I hate that he is so far away.

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It’s funny (in an ironic, not a ha-ha funny kind of way) how some people approach grief.  There are some who  understand the process of grief and healing, and others who expect you to cry and then be done with it, going about your life is if nothing happened.  I actually overheard someone recently (whom I thought was a friend) whisper to another friend.. “Her mother died almost three weeks ago.  Isn’t it time for her to get back to normal?”  When I heard her say that, I wanted to walk up to her and scream in her face… “My mother just died three weeks ago.  I will never see her again.  Ever. Again.  Has your mother died?  No?  Then you have no idea how I feel or how I should act.”  Of course I didn’t say anything to her, I just smiled and walked away.

Normal–what does that even mean?  Normal was talking to my Mom on the phone several times a week.  Normal was knowing her and my Dad were together, going about their daily life.  Normal was seeing my Mom and Dad for Mother’s Day, Christmas, my sons’ Confirmation.  Life is not normal now, and it will take some time to develop a new kind of  normal.  I’m still just trying to get through each day, remembering to breath, remembering to love my family and friends, remembering to thank God for his blessings.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job of putting on a brave face and moving on with life, regardless of what this woman thinks.

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Everyone grieves in their own way.  For me, the process of grieving has been taking a break from two of the things I love most–writing and cooking.  Writing has always been a catharsis for me, but writing for the sake of writing seemed so superficial at the moment….and yet here I am, finally writing.  I want to write about her, to celebrate all that she was, but the words “she’s gone” constantly whisper in the back of my mind, and make other words almost impossible.

Cooking has been an even more futile task.  (Don’t worry, my family is still getting fed, just not as gourmet as they are used to.)  Even though I only saw my Mom a few times a year, cooking was “our” thing.  My Mom taught me to cook as a teenager, and over the years we’ve shared countless recipes, a passion for good food, and a mutual enjoyment in bringing our family together around the table. Some of my best cooking memories include my Mom.  Where one might see a photo and tear up, I look at a cookbook or favorite baking pan and instantly think of my mom.  Thanksgiving will be especially hard this year, but I know I will cherish those precious memories with my mom and I in the kitchen, even if I have a few tears while cooking my turkey.

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Sometimes at night, I stand in my back yard, staring up at the stars, wondering if she is out there.  I so want her to be out there, that she can hear when I whisper “I love you. I miss you.”  I want to whisper “please come back”  but I know she can’t

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Photo by Cinthea Fox

Photo by Cinthea Fox

Healing comes in the smallest, yet most beautiful ways.  My Mom loved hummingbirds and butterflies.  The other day, I saw a hummingbird feeding on a backyard bush.  As it buzzed around me, skipping from one blossom to the next, I knew she was with me, and I felt at peace.  I love that she can be with me every moment of every day.  She is in the stars, the wind, the flowers in my backyard.  She is in my sisters face and my fathers laugh. She is all around us.

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A few weeks ago, on a particularly difficult day, I received a surprise package from my three dear friends–Lara, Barb, and Karin.  From the very first day my Mom was diagnosed, they have been there for and with me, offering love, strength, and friendship.  At times I’ve been a real Debbie Downer, yet their patience never waivers and their ability to make me laugh never ends.

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I’ve discovered that in a moment of tragedy, there is nothing more powerful than the strength of family and friends.  My sister, brother, sister-in-law, father, and I have a bond that will never be broken. (Cradle to the grave my sister says.)  My mother’s enduring love gives me inspiration to keep reaching for new dreams.  My husband and son give me endless reasons to love, laugh, and celebrate the gift of life.   In-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews give me hope for new beginnings.  The warmth of friendship offered by so many has given me peace and comfort.

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Never underestimate the importance of a good hug.  When my sister-in-law and I saw each other the day after my Mom passed, we embraced and I had a hard time letting her go.  Sue has been a part of our family almost half my life, and is as much a sibling as my brother and sister.  Her hug was silent acknowledgement that she loved my Mom as much as I did, and felt the same pain.  I wanted to comfort her as much as her hug comforted me.

Sometimes, too, for those in grief, the hug of a good friend can be more soothing than words.  At a recent Easter party, my friend Terri walked up to me, and without saying a word, opened her arms to envelop me.  Her embrace was more healing than any tear I’d shed all week.

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I know I need to let go of my grief, give it to God, celebrate life.  I have so much to look forward to, a life full of so many joys, tears, laughter, and celebrations, with family and friends to celebrate with.  Each day I grow stronger, more able to live my life without her.  What I’ve discovered, through my grief, is that to let go, you first need to know you have others who will catch you.

♥I am so blessed to have so many to catch me.♥

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2 comments

Shobha 04/21/2015 at 8:01 am

beautifully put Julie. I’m so sorry for your loss. There is no ‘normal’ now – take your time. Pushing down grief only has it seeping through the cracks of your facade later. I didn’t lose a mother but a son. I remembered that song – my heart breaks but it don’t break even. It’s not a clean break which heals cleanly and quickly. The love of your family and friends will carry you through to a time when you can remember the good times with less pain.

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Karin 04/21/2015 at 11:37 am

Love you Jules! The thing is, grieving really is a process of wrapping your mind around something very painful, not something that you just “get over” or “move past”. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced some unkind people who have a limited understanding of compassion. My dad died 14 years ago. It hurts a lot less today, but I still miss him. He will always be a part of me, and as I send my oldest to college this year, I think, “My dad would be so proud of her.” and I tell my gilrs stories about how much he loved them and who he was. Cherish those memories and be kind to yourself. Occasionally I’ll see someone that looks like my dad, or something that reminds me of him and catch my breath, shed a tear and think how lucky I was to have him.

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