Monday, March 30, 2015

What I learned when my mom died: Part 1

My mom recently passed away in a fairly horrific car accident while traveling in New Zealand with my dad.  It has been an indescribable experience on so many levels and for so many reasons.  It has also been a learning experience.  The Mormon religion has some beliefs and teachings about life, death, and the afterlife that bring a measure of comfort and perspective during times of mourning, but it's still a difficult thing to deal with.  Everyone grieves in their own way, but here are some things I learned and experienced in the days and weeks following my mom's death.

1 - It's okay to feel sad.
And I don't mean sadness tempered by the Sweet Peace of The Gospel and the knowledge of Eternal Families, or sadness lightened by the Tender Mercies of Heaven.  I mean gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, deep-down, ugly cry sadness.  100% okay.  Do family ties last beyond the grave?  I believe they do.  Can the teachings of the gospel of Christ bring a measure of peace?  I believe they can.  Does God provide moments of mercy and comfort at a time like this?  I believe He does.  That doesn't mean you should feel less sad.  Don't let anyone tell you you should.  Death is an inherently sad thing.  In fact, the Earth trembled and the skies turned black when Christ died in the Bible.  If God can feel such visceral sadness, He wouldn't expect any more from you.  It's also okay to feel hurt, confused, angry, relieved etc. etc. etc.  You can't control what you feel.  Lean into it, and work through it.

2 - Let people help.
In this situation I found myself at the epicenter of a tragedy.  Countless people offered to help in any way they could.  Our natural reaction as humans, I think, and especially as Mormons is to say, "Oh, no, don't worry about me.  I don't want to put you out."  Just know that people offering to help is their way of processing grief and offering solidarity with you.  Let people feed you, tend your kids, do your laundry, take you to a movie, fill your gas tank, weed your garden, vacuum your house, help you move, do your dishes, iron your clothes, etc. etc. etc.  You're not putting them out.  They want to help.  They need to help.  And it's even okay to expect help, just be sure that you're gracious about it.  Expecting help is different than being entitled to help.

2b - Have distractions handy.
This is where you call on those people that are offering help (and as a sort of 2c, don't be afraid to ask for help, remember people need it as much as you do).  If you need a few minutes to get out of your head, send out the call.  People will provide movies, drives, coloring books, shopping excursions, walks, playdough, sudoku, puppies, lunch, theater tickets, sports tickets, books, magazines, toddlers, etc.

3 - You have every right to say no.
If you don't want to talk, or eat, or be around people, or participate in the funeral, or see them shut the casket, or give someone a hug, or go to bed, or ride with your crazy aunt Florence to the cemetery, or send out thank you cards, you don't have to.  Don't let anyone force you to do anything you don't want to.  You're going to process grief in your own way, and only you know how to do that best.

4 - You're going to cry.
A lot.  You already know this, but what you may not know is when or why you'll cry.  You may cry when you find out, and when you're initially letting those close to you know, and when you hug your loved ones.  In fact, you'll probably cry for a good portion of Day 1. As time passes you'll probably cry less.  The initial shock will wear off and acceptance will set in.  But then you'll smell someone else wearing your moms perfume, or you'll catch someone out of the corner of your eye that looks like your mom, or a friend - or even a stranger - will unexpectedly do something very thoughtful.  And. You.  Will.  Lose it.   Let it happen.  It's part of the healing process.

5 - You need to laugh.
Laughter is healing.  It lightens the mood and helps you to cope.  Whether that's joking about being orphans like the family who's parents were traveling with my parents and both also died in the crash, or simply enjoying a funny movie, or sharing amusing memories.  Find plenty of time to experience laughter and joy.

6 - Nature is healing.
Anecdotal and empirical evidence back this up.  Get outside.  Walk in a park, hike in the mountains, swim in the ocean, meditate under a tree, take a nap on the back lawn.  Find ways to connect with Mother Earth.  She'll take care of you.

7 - Day 2 is worse than Day 1.
Just a heads up.

8 - Grief is exhausting.
No one tells you this.  Everyone knows you're hurting and that this situation sucks.  No one tells you that you'll feel totally wiped out because you're crying all of the time, and your brain and heart have been on overdrive processing all of the information that comes with a death, and you're dealing with everyone expressing condolences and love, and you're trying to make sure everyone else in your family isn't completely falling apart.  It's okay to pop a couple of Tylenol PM and pass out.

Your situation is going to be different than mine was, but I think most of these things are fairly universal.  Hopefully they'll help you, or help someone else help you get through the first few days.  You're gonna be okay.  Have a good cry, then have a cookie, then give me a call and we'll cry and have a cookie together.