From Death to Life

Loss has become something difficult to discuss in the era of a pandemic. Yet, grief due to a loss can be excruciating only compounded during times of isolation. How grief is processed can vary by individual, and the timeline for this process can be days or years. Maneuvering through the emotional twists and turns will inevitably result in a stumble or two along the way. How many times we fall versus how many times we get up will determine our ability to overcome that which can be our most significant challenge.

My mother died this summer after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. What began as a Mother’s Day visit and long-awaited vacation from five years of caregiving responsibilities soon became a swift and painful goodbye. The summer before, I said goodbye to my Dad. I had not seen him in his last six months of life outside the hospital due to Covid restrictions. The assisted living facility where he lived was off-limits. I was luckier than most and did get to tell him I loved him and said goodbye before he died.

The business of death is a phrase I started using after my Dad died. Life brings death, and there are many loose ends to tie up. Being an executor was a new experience for me. No matter how much preparation, the process is daunting. My Bonus Mom was instrumental in helping me keep my head above water because I am pretty sure I would have drowned alone. My process was executor duties first and being the grieving daughter second. Finally, I signed my name as the executor 11 months after his death for the last time. Now for a vacation to shift gears to the grieving daughter.

Life never goes as planned, that is for sure. But, sitting in the Emergency Department with a list of concerns and knowing in my gut what might be going on is a day I will never forget. Vacation over, back to caregiving. There is a dramatic shift that happens when these devastating moments occur. I am a hypersensitive individual unable to be two people at one time. So, my way of handling these moments is to shift gears emotionally. In a medical situation, there are two choices. Clinical and Non-Clinical. That second one is when I fall apart, crying uncontrollably. When my Mom received the bad news, I remember taking a deep breath and looking at her. At that moment, she became someone different from the Mom I had known my entire life.

The following two months are still a blur in my mind and clear in certain aspects. I never left my Mom’s side except for a quick flight home to take care of things and rest for what would be my biggest challenge in life so far. The morning she died, I broke into a million pieces. An observant nurse wrapped her arms around me. Damn you social distance, for taking this coping mechanism from us all. Looking back, I am pretty sure that hug kept me from collapsing. Thank you for caring. Thank you for doing what you do every single day.

I would be headed back across the country within two days, having taken care of the immediate needs before the rest of the business of death would begin again. Then, in the months to follow, I would be back in the executor seat, but this time I took a little time on the front end to be the grieving daughter. The shock of how fast things happened still hits me even now, but I will admit it is getting easier to grasp. Neither of my parents spent years suffering the way so many do. Being grateful for that brings about guilt. That guilt pushed me to find help to cope and find my way out of that darkness. I found a book that helped immensely. Near the end of the book, I even had a bit of an epiphany that will hopefully go a long way towards my healing process.

Books, writing, and processing in my head are not enough, and seeking a therapist is next on my list. My grief has become intermingled, and I admit I need some help sorting through it all. I am a huge fan of therapy, both group and individual, and throughout this pandemic, the weight of things and how we process has only become heavier. So another decision I made last week is to get back to having structured days. Today is day one. The plan is to wake up each day and get back to the business of life. And while I still have a few more months of the business of death, there needs to be time for both simultaneously.

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