Question: Dear Luise: My mom passed away at age 78 on October 22, 2012 after a lengthy stay in hospice care. I was her health care proxy and had to sign the hospice paperwork. Her diagnosis was ‘failure to thrive’. She simply decided she was ready to go. I did not live in the same state as her, however I made many, many trips to visit her and care for her over the past year and a half. I did everything I could to honor her wishes in terms of her health care. She stated to me emphatically that she did not want ‘anything else done’- in other words, no invasive treatment for anything. On a very deep level, I am at peace with the fact of her passing. I am happy for her because she really did get to choose how she wanted to die and I was able to help her do that with dignity I do feel much sadness when I think about how difficult her life had been. I am the youngest of 4 daughers ( a younger brother preceded mom in death several years ago). I know that my mother was very happy and at peace the last year of her life. I got to spend all of the important milestone holidays with her (Mother’s Day, birthday, Christmas 2011 etc). I was, however, under tremendous stress as a result of being the person responsible for her health care; facing the fact that she was dying- not knowing exactly when it would happen and watching her steady decline- and feeling that the only ‘relief’ to the stress would be her actual passing. My two older sisters who lived in the same state as my mom- (one a recovering drug addict and the other stil in addiction) provided very little support and lots of resistance to many decisions that had to be made. My third sister (who also lives out of state), on the other hand, was a rock for me to lean on. She is ill herself- and I do fear that I will lose her. I also had wonderful support from my boyfriend- who lived in the same state as my mother. He visited her regularly and made sure that she wanted for nothing during the time between my visits. Unfortunately- I was not able to put very much attention into my romantic relationship because of the energy it took for me to focus on my mom’s care. He and I are working through repairing our relationship and he continues to be supportive and understanding- in spite of my ‘madness’. I also have a very, very stressful job (I am an attorney and have significant responsibilities at work). About two months have passed since my mom’s death- and I feel that am a complete wreck in a number of ways. I am in grief therapy, which helps a ton, but I guess I am still somewhat suprised as the depth of my grief. So many things have come up as a result of my mom’s process and final demise- things that I did not even know existed- like the serious brokeness of my family, my own issues with trust and inability to lean on others when I need to. Is it ‘normal’ for all this other ‘stuff’ to surface in the presence of a loss like this? If so, why and where was all of this ‘stuff’ before? It feels like so much more than grieving my mom. K.
Answer: Dear K.: In my long life…I’m nearly 86, I haven’t discerned a “normal” when it comes to losing a loved one. There are those who sail on through for many reasons including insensitivity and denial. I have an acquaintance who lost her mother 27 years ago and speaks of her passing as if it were yesterday. It’s an incredibly individualized matter that often tests assumptions and belief systems.
Family dynamics are often distilled and carry surprises that are both confronting and irreconcilable. Relationship with self and others can often be strained to the breaking point, and as you know better than most, some carry the load while others turn their backs on responsibility and then can be critical.
My guess is that you are right and there’s a lot more going on than the loss of someone more than ready to go. It sounds like you have quite a lot to maintain in your professional life and to repair in your personal life as you process this. The combination is undoubtedly taking it’s toll. My only suggestion would be to journal your experience for deeper insight and the release of emotion. It works for me and it might for you…to access what’s going on below the surface. Facing and expressing it can be both painful and cathartic because basically, like everything else, it’s a learning experience. The payoff comes on the other side.
You did your mother an incredible service in the way you honored her wishes and supported her end of life experience. The cost for such fidelity can be high. All I can say is that she was very fortunate to have the kind of care that you provided. It was a priceless gift.
I know this, the road won’t stay so bumpy. Those inclined toward victimisn often dramatize and extend loss but my take where you are concerned is that you will move through it honestly and well. Writing to me is an example of your willingness to do that. Blessings, Luise