My mother died on April 11th, 2016.
It was sudden, very unexpected. She lived 20 minutes away. We were very close.
So now, grief.
For 20 years, I've sat with grieving people suffering from all kinds of loss. Loss of a child, parent, spouse, sibling and friend. Sudden loss, gradual loss, traumatic loss, graceful loss. I've witnessed death and the dying process hundreds if not thousands of times. I've had years of education, training and experience. I've written books on the subject that have helped thousands, and taught my techniques of coping with grief to thousands as well.
But this was my mother. My dear, sweet mother, who first sat me down and taught me to do most of the important things I cherish in my life.
I've learned a few new things about grief that training and professional experience didn't teach me. It's been less than two months, and the arc of grief is long. Very long. I'm sharing these to help people who are suffering from grief who might feel alone or unprepared for their pain. I expect that there will be new pieces of information along the way. But so far, here's some morsels:
1) Grief sucks. This is really hard to convey in any other words. We all have our set of beliefs, or lack of beliefs, but there's no mistaking or sugar-coating this simple fact: It's really, really hard. Sure, it can be meaningful. It can be a lot of things. But from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I fall asleep, it's impossibly difficult. The pain is massive. I have an acute sense that this pain of grief is a species-wide event. It's so much bigger than me, my relationship to my mother. It feels like a vast realm of the collective unconscious that spans the entire span of human existence.
2) The fog of grief is not to be underestimated. The forgetfulness is daunting. I have an incredibly diminished capacity to multi-task or remember things. Conversations I am somewhat aware of seem to have vanished in a blur. Things I did that first week feel like a dream. There's countless items that were sorted that seem to have disappeared, no doubt kept in a "safe place" at the time. That safe place is clearly not my brain.
3) Some people can be really awkward about being around you. Most people really don't want to know when they ask "How are you?". It's nothing personal. Just shrug and move on. Some people don't even want to talk to you. Perhaps they think it's helpful to give you space? Who knows. I've learned that it's a waste of resources to try and figure out these people. Move on to the ones who feel comfortable being around. The only thing worse than being asked how you are is not being asked how you are. There are no right answers on how to behave. Give people room to mess it up.
4) Give yourself room. The Pain is so big, it's got a life of its own, and it might not match yours. Healthy self-care is essential. Be kind to yourself. Go out of your way to find healthy ways to cope. Meditate. Exercise. Eat plants. Don't drink alcohol. Stay hydrated. The last thing you need with all of the pain is getting sloppy or unhealthy. The path of nihilism, that what you do doesn't matter because the pain is relentless, is wrong. The pain feels vast and endless, but what you do does matter. The choices you make of how to face the pain will determine who you will be as you grieve.
5) Expect nothing. Don't expect straight lines or finish lines in grief. Don't expect pain. Don't expect relief. Each day, each moment is full of surprises that can be pleasant or unpleasant. Be open. There are a million triggers a day that are impossible to control. There are also a million opportunities for joy that are easy to overlook. Try and be present. Just try.
6) Keep your heart open. See #4.
7) Don't be an expert. Be human.