Life goes on

For me, as I imagine for others, one of the hardest parts about the death of a loved one is that life goes on.

I remember walking to work a couple of weeks after my dad died and wondering how the sun could shine. Although the circumstances of my mother’s death were different (see Grief in the Twilight Zone), I’m still amazed and sometimes even resentful that life is going on, not just for family and friends, but for me too. I feel in some ways that time has stopped, but at the same time, my life is moving forward – I’m working on projects, making plans, living my customary day-to-day life.

Underneath it all, though, is a deep sadness (and I make a distinction here – not depression, but sadness). I grieve the death of my mother and the losses that came before her death. Even during a recent weekend, joyously celebrating my nephew’s wedding, I was aware of this underlying sadness. It wasn’t that my mom would have been there, since her condition made that unlikely, but that she could have been there if things had been different in the years before her death.

In a way, I wish it were still customary to wear mourning. It was a visible, immediate signal to the world that one had suffered a loss, that life had changed, that grief was present.

But as my cousin says, we deal with loss every day – the loss of a promotion at work, the loss of a cancer-free body, even the loss of some small object that symbolizes something for us. If everyone grieving a loss wore mourning, we would all be in black.

I know that grief ebbs and flows and that the sadness won’t always be so intense and present. For now, though, I am figuratively wearing a black armband.

Grief in the twilight zone

Last Mother’s Day, I wrote about the twilight zone my mother was in as a result of dementia and how my siblings and I and our relationship with her were also in that twilight zone. By this Mother’s Day just past, our mother was dead and I find I’m still in a twilight zone of sorts.

When my father died unexpectedly several years ago, I was overwhelmed with grief, sometimes sobbing uncontrollably in those first days after his death.

With my mother, it has been different. This is due in part to the long slow lead-up to her death. At every care conference for the last 18 months, one of the professionals in attendance has told us that dementia is a progressive, fatal disease. There was no attempt to give us a timeline, but there was no sugarcoating either.

However, if you had asked any of us this past Christmas how Mom was, we would have said physically stronger than she had been in a year, able to read and somewhat comprehend books and the daily newspaper, and conversing rationally at times. We knew the dementia was still there, but the decline seemed to have reached a plateau of sorts.

When she got an infection in late winter, though, it was the beginning of the end. By April, the care center recommended hospice, which started a couple of weeks before her death. When the end came, it came swiftly, for which I am grateful.

And that’s the twilight zone. I did not want my mother to die, but I did not want her to live the way she was living, either. If she had continued as she was at Christmas, it might have been okay for a time, but when she was no longer eating and drinking and starting to have trouble recognizing family members, we saw how ugly dementia could get and how ugly it was for families whose loved ones have been in that stage for months and years.

My sister referred in a post on her blog to the devil of dementia and this state of mixed emotions is one of those devils. Even before the dementia, I am not sure my mother and I ever would have had any kind of resolution or reconciliation in our relationship, but dementia robbed us of that chance, as it robbed her of herself in many ways, and as it is robbing me now of the kind of heartfelt grief I had with my dad’s death. When I say to myself I wish my mother back, I know I am saying that I wish back the woman I knew as a child and a teenager and a young woman. I cannot wish her back only to have her suffer, as I know she did, the devil of dementia.

In the early morning hours after my mother’s death, jet-lagged and exhausted, I was in that half-awake / half-asleep stage when one doesn’t know if one is dreaming or thinking. The only word for what occurred is a vision, where I saw my mother breaking out of her body as it had been and standing there as she was many years ago. I like to think that is what has happened to her mind and heart and soul and that now she is whole and at peace.