Monday, January 4, 2016


It's been 6 weeks since Mum died. I am navigating my way thru uncharted waters--and there's a lot of water because tears are still so close to the surface. I am simultaneously surprised and not surprised. I've experienced deaths of family, friends, dogs in expected and unexpected or tragic circumstances. I was a Hospice bereavement counselor; I've had official training! But you only have one mother.

I got pulled over by a police officer on Saturday for an expired inspection sticker. I was holding it together until he asked, "Is there some reason you didn't get your car inspected in December?" 

And then I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

I have a piece of paper from him. I'm not sure if there's a fine attached to it, or not. I know that I have until February 10th to get my car inspected. So I will add that to THE LIST of all the stuff I have to do in the wake of her death. 

Note to self: Smile and say "fine" when someone asks how I'm doing. Say "wonderful" when someone asks about my Christmas holiday. Parrot back "Happy New Year" when someone says that. Get out of bed, when I don't want to. (The dogs help with that one).  :-)

I read a post, originally from Reddit, in response to  the question, How do you cope with the passing of someone you are close to?   I found comfort in the answer:

Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.

As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out. Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.


I am able to go minutes, sometime a couple hours, and not think about her. And then I see something that reminds me of her, and my first thought is to call or email and then I remember . . . and another wave comes. 

I find comfort in my dogs and in having a cup of tea. That's what I want; comfort. I know that Mum, even after 30+ years, still missed her mother, and father, and sister. I always made sure to be with her on my grandmother's birthday, so that she wasn't alone. I don't think the sense of loss ever goes away because it's so permanent. 

I was googling Anderson Cooper's thing on dogs for a  client, and found this interview about grief, with Liam Neeson 

Favourite quotes:

"There's no timeline for grief; there's no clock for how long you're supposed to grieve for somebody. It takes many different forms from many different people. And it can go on for an entire lifetime, obviously." ~Anderson Cooper

In answer about what surprised him about grieving, he answered: "I was surprised by the outpouring and well being and good wishes that I received from people; just a wonderful feeling of 'Yes, this terrible thing has happened, but we're all connected . . . and people say, 'We feel your grief.'"

It's always validating to hear it from other people. "You're not alone." We all grieve eventually. None of us is getting off the planet alive, so however we do it, it's going to happen. Mum just had a quicker exit via car accident, than an illness--which she would have hated. "I don't do sick."  So I am feeling a bit better, having written this. I've written other blog posts, not published, because I don't want to be a downer, especially during the holiday season. But--holidays are over. And who's reading my little blog anyway, when I have the dedicated dog blog, now? So, my 2 cents on grief and grieving . . . .


Fitzpack said...

Dear Hali,
Your grief is still raw and fresh, like a gaping wound that must go through the healing stages. I wish I could have been present for your Mum's funeral, but alas, even in the age of instant access the news reached me too late. I worked with your mum first recruiting her students at Tri County OIC, then for a short period at Warren Memorial Hospital. Before she retired, she shared her lecture on Thanatology with me. It was her most important lecture at the time, and she made it the priority to be handed down. I hope that with your history as a counselor you will help you to recognize and accept the stages of grief as they flood over you. Be as courageous as you can as you work through these stages :).

As impossible as it is to accept, you're right-"I don't do sick" was your mum's mantra.
I wish I could remember Anne's expression for "not doing well". She was always "splendid" except once, when she was "standard".

Thank you for sharing on your blog! I hope you will find it helpful to write as you move in and out of these stages as time passes.
Anne was a shining beacon in the world! She touched so many lives-celebrate her whenever you can and grieve as you must.

With healing prayers for you,
Sandi FitzPatrick, eternal friend of Anne

Hali Chambers said...

Dear Sandi,
THANK YOU SO MUCH for your kind words. I am so sorry you missed her memorial; there were so many who couldn't attend because we had it on Thanksgiving weekend. If you email me your address, I will send you one of the tea packets we gave out at her memorial. :-) H.