Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grieving These First Six Months

Today marks six months since Mama went home to Jesus. I’ve learned some things about grieving in these days.

I’ve learned, with God’s grace, I’m stronger than I thought. I’ve often wondered how I would ever go on when she passed. And yet I have. I’ve continued getting up each morning. Some days, especially early on, I didn’t get much done, through the weight of emotions, but I did get up. I did keep living.

And I was surprised I was able to buy and wrap Christmas presents even while I was planning Mama’s memorial service. I actually spoke at her service, something I never thought I’d be able to do.

I’ve learned I’m also more emotional than I knew. I can go along seeming fine, and a thought or word or picture of Mama can suddenly bring tears to my eyes. I mist and leak often. I choke up when sharing stories. I’ve learned that’s okay. It’s the new normal.

I’ve learned that genuine sympathy from others is healing. Each card that we received with a personal note in it was a comfort and read multiple times. Each meal or flower or gift given out of a caring heart made a difference.

I’ve learned it’s never too late to send a card or kind word. And that it’s worth the effort to buy the card and stamp and find the address and get the card in the mail. Because whenever it comes, even months after someone passes, it will bless a grieving heart to know they and their loved one are remembered.

I’ve learned that people who show up at memorial services help carry the burden of grief, and make it lighter and more bearable for the family. There is a tangible comfort in the presence of people who care enough to show up.

I’ve learned that when people you expected don’t show up, and/or don’t express care and concern, it can add to the pain and loss. As a friend said years ago at his mom’s funeral, “You find out who cares.” And you’re surprised by some that apparently don’t.

I’ve learned that when people share memories of your loved one it is such a gift. And that when relatives drive a thousand miles and risk ice storms to be with you, it is a priceless comfort.

I’ve learned that when you start misting up at odd times, people don’t really know what to do. But they don’t have to do anything. A sympathetic look is all that’s needed.

I’ve learned that even though I prayerfully did my best for Mama, and sought advice, I still wonder at times if I did all I could, or if I should have done some things differently. “What if…” questions sometimes taunt me. I have to remind myself that we were praying for wisdom. I have to picture Mama’s peaceful smile when she passed.

I’ve learned to remember Mama in my daily blessings. I think of her when I read the Bible she and Daddy gave me, the one her signature is barely legible in, because dementia had taken a toll. I think of her when I stir up her chocolate cake recipe or smell lilacs or see petunias.

I smile and cry when I look at old photographs. I feel her love when I notice our dresses in an old photo are made with the same fabric, and realize that she sewed the mom and daughter dresses…emblems of her mama-love.

I sense Mama’s delight in babies, as I play with my own granddaughters. I feel her smiling with me as I play with their toes, sing Jesus Loves Me, hug them close, or push them in a swing. Her legacy lives on.

I’ve learned that heaven is more real and precious to me than ever. And that knowing Mama is with Jesus in paradise, with no pain or tears, is the sweetest comfort of all. And knowing that all who trust in Jesus will be together with Him for eternity, is the greatest gift of all.

I’ve learned some things about grieving in the past six months. And on the toughest days I remember what Mama said a week before she passed, “God is here. He is bigger.”  I’ve learned these words are true. And I’m thankful.

 

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Mama’s Legacy

Four months ago today Mama had her last night on this earth. She was taking long gaps between breaths. Scary long ones. It seemed like she was taking her last breath a hundred times over. I remember shaking her arm and pleading with her to breathe. “Breathe, Mama, please breathe!” I felt like I was holding my own breath waiting for the next gasp to come.

I was crying and praying and calling for family to come over and be with us. And through it all I was somehow also praying for my nephew and his wife. Because I had gotten the message that they were at the hospital, in labor, struggling through the birthing pains of their firstborn.

Then I got the news. They had a healthy baby boy! I leaned close to Mama and said, ” You have another great-grandson, Mom! Simon has been born!” And I smiled through tears and prayed that Mama would make it past midnight, so she didn’t pass on his birthday.

And then, after hours of agonizing breaths, she started breathing regularly again. Only now there was a gurgling sound. And that was even scarier, in a different way. My husband called the hospice nurse, who got there about midnight. She confirmed that Mama was passing. It could be hours. “Make the most of this time,” the nurse said. “Talk to her.”

And I remember thinking, I’ve been making the most of this time for years now. I’ve spoken my apologies. I’ve expressed my love and gratitude. I’ve sung and read the Bible and told her stories of my life and hers. I’ve spoken to her about heaven and how beautiful it will be and who she will see there. I’ve reminded her that Jesus saved us and we trust in Him and we’ll all be together again.

I was thankful I’d said it all over and over again through the years of dementia. I only wish I’d said more of it while her mind was still strong. But I had taken the time to say every word I could think to say, every word I had needed to say, over and over again through the years. And now as Mama lay dying, I was at peace about that.

She never opened her eyes that night. I don’t know if she heard anything or not. But I played a CD of hymns and I held her hand and I told her I loved her, again and again. And I cuddled up next to her on the bed.

In the morning, as my daughter and I were giving her medications and repositioning her, we suddenly noticed she had passed somewhere in the process. The hospice nurse later told me this was very common. We cried. We sat on either side of Daddy and told him and we all held onto each other and wept.

I went to look in on Mama again, and I noticed a gentle smile on her face– so slight. And she looked so incredibly peaceful. It brought me such a comfort to see a peace I hadn’t seen for years– if ever. My daughter, and others, marveled at it, too.

And now we’ve been adjusting to life without Mama for the last four months. Last night I was babysitting my youngest granddaughter. I can’t see anything in her that resembles my mom, and yet she wouldn’t be here if Mom never had been. My sweet granddaughter is part of Mama’s legacy.

And then it dawned on me that God gave each of my brothers and I precious gifts, the same year he took Mama Home. He gave me my first biological grandchild in April. He gave my older brother his fifth grandchild in October. He gave my younger brother his first grandchild, as Mama was slipping away. And He gave my baby brother the news that he will be a first time daddy this July!

Mama, your love lives on! Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren are beautiful and strong! And I can’t wait to meet your newest grandchild this summer! Thank you for passing on a heritage of faith and love that is rich and warm and deep. Your heart beats on in the legacy you have left behind.

We will do our best to tell your great-grandchildren about you, Mama. And we will pass on the family recipes and songs and stories. And most importantly we will teach them about Jesus, and share the faith you shared with us. And someday, because of His tender mercies and our faith in Him, we will be together again.

My beautiful picture

My sweet mama with my baby brother