By Melissa Martin, Ph.D.
cWhether her death was unexpected or expected, the hole appears. Myriad tears cannot fill the hole. And no matter a mother’s age, the children’s lives are evermore changed.
At the funeral home, the daughters and sons stand by her casket and greet relatives and friends as they express sorrow and sadness; condolences and sympathies. The hole is empty, but sedated.
The funeral service is dreamlike as the minister recalls the stories of your mother’s life. The music played comforts and hurts simultaneously.
The motorcade of vehicles and the walk down the ceremony hill appear surreal. Family and friends gather round her resting place. The funeral director offers each a red rose from the top of the closed casket. A trance-like state settles over the ride to the meeting place to fellowship with mourners and to give tribute to your mother’s life.
When the shock and numbness begins to wear off, the intense emotional pain of loss leaks in with a trickle or gushes in like a flood. Weeping, wailing, lamenting.
Synonyms for grief: sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair. Some question their sanity and purpose for living. The heart’s hole is raw.
Even though daughters and sons grieve, no two siblings grieve alike. But the gamut of grief experiences needs to be accepted and respected without judgment. One may express and another may suppress. One may reach for tissues and another may reach for a shot of whiskey. The journey of grief begins.
A hole also remains in the hearts of daughters-in-law and sons-in-law who loved their mother-in-law. They, too, are grieving.
While some siblings return to work in a daze, others isolation at home — while the hole shouts or whispers with confusion, sadness and misery. Sleepless nights. Sleepless days.
Research on the stages of grief reveals denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — but no two people experience the stages the same way, or in order, and some do not experience every stage.
Some of us lie beside Mom’s grave on the green grass of summer and share our stories of daily activities. We decorate her grave during the four seasons and holidays: a basket of her favorite flowers on her birthday, a harvest of pumpkins, fresh cut evergreens at Christmas, statues of angels and wind chimes.
Some believe their mother’s spirit flutters by on butterfly wings, a floating feather or a falling leaf. Although my mother is passed, the relationship lives on in my mind, in the DNA of her grandchildren, and in the afterlife reunion. The mother-child bond is unbroken.
Some daughters and sons respond with persistent, chronic and prolonged grief reactions, but eventually resiliency visits. Unresolved grief can turn into major depression. You can visit the land of grief, but you cannot homestead there.
In due time, the middle of the hole stops bleeding, but the edges still drip.
The salve of the passage of time soothes the mind-body-spirit and allows us to open the photo albums, watch the family videos and laugh at stories. Bittersweet memories evoke both happy and sad tears. But the heart’s hole lingers and loiters.
In his book, “For One More Day,” Mitch Albom writes, “Have you ever lost someone you loved and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when we thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.” Albom’s story is about a mother and a son, and a relationship that covers a lifetime and beyond. It asks the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a deceased loved one? I recommend this book for mother mourners.
Over time, the heart hole feels better and gets better, but the hole remains.
Then when we pass away, our daughters and sons experience the hole left behind from a mother’s death.