When a person dies, even members of the same family, experience their grief differently and this difference can cause more pain and more damage than the actual death can cause.
As for me, I’ve never forgotten what it was like when I walked into my mother and father’s house that first time after she was gone. The whole place was a mess and had a desolate, vacant feel to it.
My father said he’d sold everything.
“Why’d you do it, Dad? The house feels like somebody has died.”
“What do you think, daughter. Somebody did die. Your mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. You think she’s coming back from that nursing home?”
I was stunned and told him it felt like he had sold my stuff.
“It wasn’t your stuff,” he said dully. “It was mine. I was the one married to her. Not you.”
Grief. Sometimes it can feel like a punch in the stomach.
Since those early days however, I have learned a lot about grief and how not everybody feels it to the same extent or expresses it in the same way.
In fact, quite the contrary.
The truth is that one way of grieving isn’t better than the other.
It’s just different.
For the survivors to survive and maintain loving relationships with each other, each must leave room for the other’s way of grieving,
No one gets to say his way is best.
There’s a lot in social media these days about “feeling your grief” and about “letting it all hang out” and about “demanding respect for your feelings.” Just look at the memes justifying grief, lots and lots of grief.
While I understand and appreciate that in our grief-suppressive culture, support is needed by those who are emotional about grief—not everybody is like that.
- Some people feel or express their grief quietly, or deep within themselves;
- Some people don’t talk about it, don’t share it and don’t need or want to;
- Some people get angry and express that anger everywhere else rather than directly at the loss;
- Some people move into normalizing their lives as quickly as possible;
- Some people feel a range of emotions including denial and confusion about themselves and who they are in the new paradigm that doesn’t include the one who died;
- Some people move into actively memorializing the person who has died with monuments, statutes, even libraries and universities;
- Some people use their grief to fuel activism;
- Some people deny the reality of the loss until they are able to recognize it—or in some cases, some people never recognize it; and
- Some people look outward to religion or philosophy as a way of providing a sense of belonging or meaning.
My father had told me that he couldn’t stand having all my mom’s stuff around. He said it reminded him that she was never coming home.
“Never coming home.”
I hadn’t actually had that concrete thought. I don’t think I had allowed it. While my father was busy normalizing his life, I was busy denying my mother’s ultimate death.
Through all the tests and the Social Workers’ visits and the arrangements with Arizona Long Term Care, the reality that she was going into a nursing home and never coming out hadn’t really hit me.
“But dad,” I argued, “She’s not dead.”
“Yes she is,” he said. “The woman I lived with, who lived with me in that house is dead.
None of a person’s individual ways of grieving are “right” or even “wrong.”
What is “wrong” is when one person doesn’t respect or acknowledge another person’s way of grieving—and doesn’t give the other person the time or the space to express it in their own way—especially in families.
The very next day after my mother was in the nursing home my father began his daily ritual of going to her room every day at 7:00am to sit with her while she ate her breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then, as the years went by, he went there to feed her her breakfast, lunch and dinner himself. Ultimately he went there to put the straw in her mouth and encourage her—in Italian—to swallow the bland, creamy liquid that had become her breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“I’m her husband,” he’d said. “She’s still my wife. It’s what you do.”
When, after 10 years of Alzheimer’s Disease my mother finally died, I learned that in all that time my father had in fact kept certain things of my mother’s aside for me; things that he himself couldn’t bear to part with until then—her sewing machine, her oil paints, a small sewing box with her sewing sheers in it—and for some strange reason, what ultimately became most precious of all to me—the ruler she had used to measure hems with. On the back of he had written her name in big bold letters.
Funny, how it worked out.
In the end, it meant more to me that my father had made a pile of my mother’s things for me and given them to me than my having gone through them myself would have meant—somehow it doubled the love in them.
It has been over a decade now and I still keep my mother’s hemming ruler right on top of my desk.
It reminds me of her.
You’d be amazed at over time, how many things you need to measure with an old hemming ruler that has your mother’s name written on the back of it.
Author Bio: Carmelene Melanie Siani
Carmelene writes stories from every day life and how life itself offers lessons to help us grow, expand, and put our feet on higher ground.