Grief Is A Sneaky Beast

Christy is the mother of two – now adult – children. She is an expert in navigating the challenges and opportunities in life including living in the “Sandwich Generation” — that time period of raising children while also caring for an aging parent. Her book, Building a Legacy of Love: Thriving in the Sandwich Generation recounts her journey and learning as a Sandwich Generation parent. She incorporates meditation, mindfulness and other evidence-based mind/body practices such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) into her work to support growth, goal achievement and a pathway to living life fully.  In California, she is a Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP), a credentialed school psychologist, an author, speaker and coach. Learn more by visiting her website.

September 12, 2015

My mother dies on her 83rd birthday, exactly seven weeks and one day after my father dies. It has been a long seven weeks, and an even longer seven or eight years of caring for them both. My grief journey doesn’t hit me immediately. It is tempered by the presence of my brother and nephew who have flown in to say goodbye.

My brother and nephew leave early that morning to visit my mom. At 8:30 a.m., while they are on their way, I get a call from the assisted living facility. They tell me my mother has died in her sleep sometime between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. They have only recently confirmed that. At 6:00 a.m. my mother asked for some water and told a nurse that she was hungry. She ate a banana and drank some water and went back to sleep. At 8:00 a.m. her care manager stopped in to see her and found her unresponsive. Before calling me, they confirmed her death. Mom was on hospice by that time, so she was not resuscitated.

I call my brother while he is en route to let him know.

My husband, daughter and I quickly dress and head to the facility.

Everyone is kind to us. They offer to feed us breakfast, get us coffee. Several staff come by to tell me how much they loved my mom and my dad. We get a lot of hugs and handshakes.

My brother, my husband, and I go into her room see her. She looks like she is asleep. I say goodbye, and I touch her hand. I am unaware what my brother does. I don’t know if my nephew comes in to see her. My husband is with me and says his goodbyes. My daughter, nearly 16 now and a sophomore in high school, doesn’t want to come in to see her grandmother, even though it is a Saturday and she is not at school. She seems frightened, so I don’t push, and I let her know that it is okay. There are things to do. The facility has called hospice, and I call the Nautilus Society to send someone to “take the body.”

My mother is now a body. It feels unkind to say.

My mind swims with random thoughts: There are a lot of legal things I must do. They will happen in time. My daughter is with us at the assisted living home. There isn’t much for her to do but sit and grieve with us, but she knows we are going to be occupied with so many things, and there is little she can do. I learn there is a lot of waiting around after death. My daughter is especially close to my mother. I worry about her. She is a theater kid and there is a “set build” that she wants to go to after visiting my mom. It suddenly occurs to me that it will be better if she is busy and with friends rather than waiting with us for the coroner’s office and the Nautilus Society. There is also the business of packing up my mother’s room, something I know she will not want to do. It’s strange—I am concerned that I’m not being a good “host” to my brother and nephew. Like I should make sure they are okay. Everything is surreal.

My husband takes our daughter to the high school to be with friends and keep her busy. She wants this too.

My brother and my nephew find a lobby with the Michigan University football game on, and I make phone calls.

When my husband returns, we talk to my brother and the staff about logistics. When do we need to have everything out? We have paid for the month, but if we get everything out early, will there be a refund? Can we donate some things? My dad’s wheelchair? Some furniture? Some paintings?

I suddenly think about my mother’s wedding ring. My husband and my brother and I go in to see if we can take it off her finger. It’s a wicked feeling. I feel terrible, and yet, I feel I need to take it, since she will be cremated.

We look around the room for any other valuables or items we don’t want in the room after she is taken away.

I don’t remember crying.

When the Nautilus Society finally comes to take her, they ask me if I want to see her one last time. I decline. I have said my goodbyes. It was easier for me to have said goodbye when she was in her bed rather than saying goodbye now, when they are getting ready to take her.

The staff of the Nautilus Society is outstanding, patient and kind and sensitive. They are aware that my mother was regarded with much love, and they treat all of us with kindness and warmth.

The staff of the assisted living is wonderful, as well. They keep checking on us. All the staff come to talk to me. They are accommodating about when we can gather her belongings, too. I know, though, that they have a long waiting list and will need the room. The next day, my brother and nephew will come to help us move furniture and heavy items. They will fly back home Sunday afternoon, so we must work to get as much out Sunday morning as possible. Following the removal of my mother’s body, and after I call one more time to check on my daughter, we all go to an Irish pub for our own little family wake. We talk about the funny things my dad used to say and the crazy life events over the years. We share many stories—almost exclusively fun ones or ones that make us laugh.

For me, grief has been a sneaky beast that creeps in at inopportune times. It could be at a time of great joy, but the little beast reminds me that I am missing someone I love who used to share in this joyous event—Christmas Eve dinner; a favorite movie on Netflix; a phrase that makes me hear my dad’s voice or my mom’s laugh. That’s all it takes, and tears fill my eyes. Grief also visits me in times of stress when I think, “I should ask Mom what she would do,” or, “Now what was the secret to that recipe?” or, “What did Dad always tell me that noise in the car means?”

May 2022

We continue to keep memories of my parents alive as much as possible. At my son’s college graduation in 2019, and more recently at my daughter’s college graduation in 2022. We carry them with us inside our hearts and in the little mementos like a ring or a photograph. I still can’t recall the specifics of those last moments with my mother, but I remember both of my parents in much bigger ways. The sneaky beast still creeps in, but the loving memories serve to inoculate against the bite, the virus of grief.

My daughter, who has gotten a few tattoos over the past two years asks me, “What do you think Grandma and Grandpa would say about my tattoos?” We laugh and speculate about their responses and decide they both loved her so much, they might roll their eyes or giggle, but it wouldn’t change a thing.


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