When my son was a child, we said some variation of this to each other every day and every night, “I love you a hundred, million worlds.”
I’m not exactly sure of the origins of our saying it, but I know that my heart had never before felt the way that it did about him, not until he came along. I realized what it was like to love completely, wholly and unconditionally. He’s been in my heart and on my mind every day since he was born. It’s a pure love. I’d do anything I could for him; I’d give my life for him.
That’s a mother’s love.
Later in life, not only did I realize that my own mother felt the very same about me, but I came to recognize that I had always known that. Every step of the way she had shown me that she too loved me “completely, wholly and unconditionally”. From the moment I was born her love for me was pure.
And now, right now in 2015, it hurts beyond measure to say that she is gone from this world. It’s October and she passed away at the end of June of this year. Not much more than three months ago.
“Don’t run away from grief, o soul
Look for the remedy inside the pain.
Because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.”
I miss my mom every single day, every single hour, every single moment. I love when people tell me she’s still here, because I believe that and because I want to believe that. But I still miss her face, her voice, her touch, more than I can ever say.
Sometimes when I think about her I can’t breathe. It’s like I just can’t take in air. The feeling that a weight is pressing down on my chest, and it’s so heavy it’s crushing me. Almost like I just can’t bare to take in a new breath and do the simple act of breathing; our most basic, most necessary life process. Then I recover the ability, of course.
Other times I am overcome with the feeling that I want to vomit. A thought about my mother not being at some future event or something similar, makes my insides tighten up so startlingly that I think I might retch if I let my mind complete the thought. I want to heave and regurgitate any knowledge that she’s not living.
“Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.”
— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD and David Kessler
(from “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss”)
It seems that many of us have a hard time with grieving here in the Western world. Most of us spend the largest amount of our time avoiding having to, if it all possible. The when, of course, is not something that we can choose, but we choose to hope and pray that it doesn’t befall us anytime soon. We often attempt to avoid thinking about it until we have to face a loss.
I think it’s because of this that many of us who are going through it presently or who have been trying to deal with it over time, we almost feel like we are not entitled to show it. We’re supposed to “get over it” as quickly as possible. Put it behind us, so to speak, and move on. Like it’s unhealthy to dwell on our problems.
I’m not suggesting that anyone has said that to me, or even hinted at it. More likely we assume we will depress those around us and I think that it’s a natural conclusion in a world where the key to happiness is said to be choosing to be happy (that’s not written with sarcasm, because it’s not that I disagree with that idea).
But the following excerpt from the same book as above speaks volumes to me.
“Why grieve? For two reasons. First, those who grieve well, live well. Second and most important, grief is the healing process of the heart, soul and mind; it is the path that returns us to wholeness. It shouldn’t be a matter of if you will grieve; the question is when will you grieve. And until we do, we suffer from the effects of that unfinished business.”
— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD and David Kessler
(from “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss“)
It’s been my own personal experience in the past to not be exactly sure what to say to grieving people. You don’t want to upset them, or you might think you’re reopening a wound. Mostly now that I’ve had to face it head on, I try to think taking the griever’s lead might be your best bet. At least if you’re spending some time with one who’s recently experienced a personal loss.
I really came to appreciate something that Sheryl Sandberg (technology executive, activist, and author) wrote in an essay following the loss of her husband; “I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer…Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”
Lately, when I have had a chance to talk to, or chat back and forth on social media, with a few friends who lost their mothers before me, I’ve noticed something. It’s kind of like we’ve been given membership to a club that we’d do just about anything to get out of, and not to be a part of or belong in.
I posted this on Facebook back in July after it really resonated with me. I knew and could see how many others could also relate. Grief is universal, it touches everyone:
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly — that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
– Anne Lamott
It’s an ache, this loss of mine. It means I loved deeply, and now I carry it with me, always. Often it affects every moment of my day, or so it seems. My world has been turned upside down. I’m just simply trying to focus on today, and live day by day being present. It’s the best that I can do.
I felt disoriented much of the time for at least the first seven weeks. Now it’s more intermittent. I find this both reassuring and alarming. The idea of working through grief can leave me feeling like I’ll lose my mother all over again. Not to mention scared of life without her, or guilty at the thought of moving on. Plus, I have shed many tears until my eyes were swollen and my throat was raw over the thought of no longer being able to feel her unconditional love for me.
That’s not what it’s about though. To me healing means learning to live with loss. To not physically have her presence in my life, to have her moved into the spiritual realm, where her spirit is all around me. To learn to talk to her and hear her response in my head and in my heart. My grief is now directly linked to my love. I’ll keep trying not to be too in your face with my grief, but the truth is, while I’ll be grieving for the rest of my life, I’ll be working through my grief for a time to come yet.
If grief is selfish, it is because my grief is all about me; just as your grief is about you. Or it was already, or it will be someday. I grieve to work through my attachment to my mother. I know that it was a very strong one; our bond was all I knew, I treasured and depended upon it, and it meant the world to me…a hundred million worlds, and that’s how much I’ll always love my mother. Forever.
…but I’ll keep trying to learn to dance with my new limp…even if I don’t want to
— Raina K Morton October 16 2015
These are two comments my mom left on different blog posts, when I read them I love that through my tears I can hear them in her voice:
- RS says:
August 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm
That was great, Rai, really enjoyed your ‘talk’and the ‘pep talk’! and what you mentioned about ‘shock’ I truly believe…I think ‘shock’ has been misunderstood for many years. Shock can show many faces…people die from shock rather than their malady – it really is important to understand the affects. I’m glad, through it all these past several months, that no matter how tedious, how frustrating it’s been at times, that you didn’t dwell in the negative, didn’t allow yourself to be defeated, understood that you were experiencing shock as well as other physical problems, and pulled yourself up and went on to persevere with a positive, determined attitude, not allowing your troubles to win. And you are recuperating and will be for some time to come, but then, we’re all dealing with things and recuperating along the way, right…thanks …. let’s dance!
- RS says:
February 15, 2015 at 12:01 am
Well, it’s now 2 years since that fateful day you had the stroke. One of the scariest days for you and all of us. You’ve done remarkably well recuperating during these past months, and yes, you are still dealing with issues that are stroke related, however you are continuing to persevere and getting back to rights, so to speak.. We are all very proud of you and your efforts, but more than anything we all love you, love you for many things in many ways and continue to support you along your path. I think of you everyday and always rooting for you. You’re one of the two best things I’ve ever done in my life…thank you for being YOU…..thank you for sharing YOU….love ya!