No one wants to experience the loss of someone whom they love. In fact, for most of us, the idea of losing someone close to us is very anxiety producing. Society often expects only pain and suffering to accompany death-related loss.
How could anything positive come from losing someone you love?
Unfortunately, the expectations of suffering and our own fears around discussing death can prevent us from connecting with and helping those who are grieving.
During this past year, I lost my own mother to a lengthy illness. My mother lived a long, full life. She often stated that she had been “blessed.” However, during the last few years of her life, her health and mental clarity declined rapidly.
I am openly sharing some of my personal experiences with you in this 2 part series in the hope that I may pass on the lessons I learned from my experience. I also hope that it may bring you a bit of comfort.
Lesson 1: Uncertainty is exhausting and destabilizing.
The months leading up to my mother’s death were the most difficult time for me. They were filled with uncertainty and I lived in a state of tentativeness; ready to cancel everything and make the 700 mile trip at a moment’s notice. My life was consumed by remote evaluation of my mother’s condition trying to assess if I needed to be there or not. There were no clear answers to my questions.
The uncertainty that I experienced during the months created a weight that I carried. I didn’t trust myself to make an accurate assessment and as a result, I experienced shame. I felt I could not be the daughter, mother, wife, even therapist that I should have been. It felt nearly impossible to be fully present in any of those roles while my mother was dying.
Lesson 2: Ask for what you need.
If I hadn’t asked, I don’t think I would have those last quality moments with my mother and I may not have been there as she passed. During the last weeks of her life, my mother received hospice services. In my opinion, the hospice staff were angels. They kindly provided me with updates and compassionate, straight-forward answers. This was the stability that I needed to be able make the decisions about my own life that I could once again trust.
I would like to tell you that being a therapist, it was easy for me to ask for what I needed. That would be a lie. It was difficult to ask the hospice nurse if she thought I needed to come home to be with my mother as she died. The nurse asked me directly, “What would be the ideal outcome for your trip?” Seriously? Ideal? Actually, it was the best question she could have asked me. I let her know that my mother’s wish was for all of her children to be present when she left this world. Ideally, I would also like her to know I was there.
After I was able to state my desires, she was able to give me a clear answer. She also advised me of the reality that my mother could pass while I was traveling and recommended that I let my mother know we were coming to be with her. That way, if she died as we were traveling, she would know I was trying to get there. When I told her my husband and I were coming to see her, my mother’s spirit instantly lifted as she said “well that is just wonderful!”
Jackie Dunagan, LAMFT
jdunagan @ GROWcounseling.com
Photo Cred: Kindra Nikole