Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Death Does Not Become Her

On January 6, 2012, my husband lost his mother to lymphoma.  My husband and I had sat at her bedside while she took her last breath. She had begun to struggle with her breathing the evening before, and with the help of sleep medication and morphine, her passing was more bitter than sweet, but as peaceful as anyone could ask for.  She was 64.

Today, I received voice mail that relayed the message that someone else I knew had succumbed to lymphoma on January 17th. She was someone I had met through Mommy groups at the Parent-Child Centre here in my town.  She leaves behind two bewildered young children and a mourning husband. She was 42. 

Watching someone die slowly from a disease like cancer is, in a word-heartbreaking. I was filled with a sense of helplessness, bewilderment, and sorrow. I wanted my mother-in-law to have a miraculous healing and a peaceful release at the same time; an emotional tug-of-war that isn't at all reasonable.

Death will touch all of our lives at some point, and we can never be ready for it. The emotional processes we go through afterwards are just as inevitable as death itself.

The most well known passages are called the stages of grief:

  • Denial (this isn't happening to me!)
  • Anger (why is this happening to me?)
  • Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
  • Depression (I don't care anymore)
  • Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)
(Reference : Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' book, "On Death and Dying)

But, sitting in-between these titles are waves of emotion that reflect the stages, and it is these emotions that we must work with to heal from the experiences of death of a loved one. 

This is an alternate list which, to me, umbrella's the stages. All together, they paint a more accurate picture:
  • Numbness (mechanical functioning and social insulation)
  • Disorganization (intensely painful feelings of loss)
  • Reorganization (re-entry into a more 'normal' social life.)
(Reference: Roberta Temes in the book, "Living With An Empty Chair - a guide through grief.")

The key here, is actually moving through the stages all the way to the end. Some stages happen quickly and automatically, like denial and anger.
The bargaining stage carries the loaded gun of guilt. After the bargains come the guilt: "if only I had yelled at the Dr. to try something radical" &" if only I had been a more attentive husband/wife, son/daughter..."

My version would look like this
1) Shock & Denial with Numbness
2) Bargaining & Guilt with Disorganization
3) Anger + Guilt =Depression
4) Therapy: Group/Individual/Books/Meditation  
6) Forgiveness (of yourself and your loved one), & Acceptance, and finally, 
7) Peace

If we cannot get past #2, we end up in #3 and we can stay there for months, even years. 

I believe that therapy is vital when stuck in the depression stage. Friends and family are a good place to start, but moving on to support groups, and/or individual therapy would help speed the process, as speaking to compassionate strangers who have been there, and speaking to a professional with constructive feedback is beneficial and needed for the healing process to move forward.  (Journalling and reading books on grieving are also a good accompaniment, as is meditation and following a path of self-awareness) 

"Death Depression"  ripples throughout your entire life, keeping  your heart closed to the love you once shared with everyone else in your life-- because the pain is too great to bear or face. 

This message is for my husband, his brothers and sister, for me, for the family that just lost a wife and mother, daughter and friend and for everyone who reads this who has ever lost a loved one or knows of someone who has, that needs help moving forward to the healing grace of forgiveness, acceptance and peace. 

With Love, 



Patricia said...

Thank you for your blog post which will help many recognize the emotions they have as they grieve for a loved one. I hope it helps to know that they are never truly gone, that their spirit lives on and that through joy and love, they can send us signs when we ask for them. All they want to tell us is not to be sad, that they are truly happy where they are and able to be with us any time we need their loving energy. Cling to the love, not the loss.

Lisa Molinelli said...

Thanks Patricia, well said!