I’m in my parents’ home writing this post. My sister sleeps while my mom does her own work. My dad lays in the hospital bed in their living room, sleeping after a long night of restlessness. We are in the last leg of this horrible marathon called cancer, and I feel like a constant and teary mess. Not to mention, I’m parenting my 4 and 1-year-old when I can and relying on my in-laws to watch them when I can’t.
By trade, I am a social worker, and I did an internship with hospice care for a short time in college. Part of me chose a hospice internship because I felt like if I could learn how to manage grief and loss in the face of death, I would be immune to it later in life.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
In fact, it taught me not to contain grief or ignore it. May of 2019 was when my dad was first diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and I’ve been grieving ever since. My grief changes and morphs. It can be a slow crescendo or a dull hum. It peeks its way into moments that were previously joyful. I often try to bar it from coming or dismiss it altogether, but it has a tendency to slow me down until I stop and recognize it.
Someone once defined loss to me as the realization that things will never be the same as they once were. This explanation helps me more readily accept the feelings of sadness and sorrow that often come out as frustration, agitation and anxiety. When I am able to identify what has changed or what I have lost, the grief comes easier. Since my dad’s diagnosis, I have grieved future family vacations, visits to the zoo with him and the dream I had that my kids would know and remember him. Grief rarely comes all at once. It’s a trickle that can turn into a powerful rapid when ignored. These moments can come in the most inconvenient of times, which is my grief with grief.
This morning, I had to accept that grief and mourning have the potential to become a long season.
My dad is not the only person close to me who is battling cancer, and the year 2021 may be one of the hardest yet. That doesn’t take away from the fact that I still have two tiny people who need me. They may not clearly remember this time, but if they do, I hope they can see that it is okay to be sad and still carry on. It’s also okay to have happy moments within devastation. What I am trying to say is that we are not required to maintain all the emotions, the duties, the caretaking. It’s okay to hold it together until we can’t anymore, and have no shame. It’s okay to live life grieved. It is sad, but it is not bad.
I don’t have a lot to give moms who are struggling with grief, other than to honor it. Keep your hands busy if you must. Shed some tears alone if you must. Call a friend and complain if you must. My journey of mourning will not look like yours and that’s okay. I do, however, know how isolating grief can be. Opt for a great listening friend, family member or therapist. It can pay dividends in removing the black cloud of sorrow. And I will say this over and over – no grief is too small to honor.
If you or your family are struggling with grief, I encourage you to speak with a social worker if you are connected with a hospital, hospice or nursing facility. Many of them have resources to help family members who are mourning. Psychology Today has a great search engine feature to help you find a therapist who can help you based on area, presenting problem and insurance coverage. If your child is grieving, Fern Side is a local resource in Cincinnati that provides many resources specific to losing a loved one.