Like waves crashing on the shore, life carries on but grief never washes away

I took this photo during what would be my last visit with my mom in the nursing home before receiving ‘the call’ 2 months later. It was also my first visit with her after 2 years due to living abroad and then Covid. She recognized and smiled at me, which was the biggest gift, but one I only learned to cherish after she passed.

When I shared the photo on Facebook, the caption detailed how she’s been living with Parkinson’s Disease for nearly 29 years. I was surprised by the number of comments from friends and acquaintances who had no idea, either that she had Parkinson’s disease, or that she had it for so long. How could my family have been living with Mom’s diagnosis and disease for nearly 30 years and some people have no idea?

Then I thought about people I’ve met in the last 10 to 15 years and realized many probably rarely heard me speak about my mom. I mean with my husband active duty in the Army, we’ve moved 9 times in the last 14 years so we’ve met a lot of new people. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to share about her, but what would I say? Yeah, she’s been living with Parkinson’s Disease since I was 10. Nope, I don’t call her for parenting tips or chats because she doesn’t really respond. Or she doesn’t really know who I am most of the time, anyways. Yes, I feel guilt when I don’t call even though it doesn’t make much of a difference either way. That’s usually followed by a peppering of questions that I wasn’t interested in answering. Honestly my entire mood on the topic of my mom was removed from emotion entirely, and I anticipated some would be horrified by my nonchalance. Living with a family member with long term disease is weird.

Why then, when my brother called telling me it was time to come home and see her before she passed; why when she was actually dying did, I finally have the guttural, full body, uncontrollable sobbing? I’d prepared for and processed her inevitable end of life years before this to lessen the blow when it actually happened. EPIC fail. I also hadn’t shared those feelings with anyone before because I feared the judgement of others. And perhaps some still would in retrospect, but it’s worth saying that everyone copes differently with death and grief, and sometimes that starts even before they are dead.

Why did I drive 7 hours for a work event just three days after Mom passed away? I didn’t even have work clothes because I dropped everything to come to her bedside. So I went shopping and then just drove myself 7 hours and jumped right into work as if nothing had happened. No one there knew what had happened, and I just carried on in an alternate universe escaping reality {my Mom just died}. It was nice, actually. Temporarily. Reflection is funny, though, because this sounds like the actions of someone either in shock or complete denial. In my head I’d already coped and processed this life event, or rather death event, and just needed to move on with life. So, I tried, I really did.

I soldiered on, jumped back into the routine of life, as a wife, military spouse, parent, and professional. It worked, for a while, or at least on the surface it looked like it. But that year following my mom’s passing was filled with one life challenge after another, like a game of whack-a-mole that was impossible to win. My husband and I were in a battle with the school administration to get our son removed from a classroom and a teacher who was calling him stupid repeatedly, dodging the girl drama that quickly turned to mean girl tactics on our daughter, and then dealing with an unexpected deployment simultaneously with the loss of two grandparents in two months {that’s 3 family deaths in less than 6 months}, while our kids were already upset about moving in a few months. We were a mess!

Within a few months things started to fall in line – my husband returned from deployment, my son moved to a new classroom, my daughter and I cut ties with the mean girl and as a parent I anxiously awaited moving away from it all as we loaded up our RV to drive cross country for a year. When we arrived in California, I quit my job, and unintentionally, but beautifully, was able to slow down enough to start to explore my grief and myself as a whole person.

Why do I share all of this?

It took me between 1-2 years to begin processing my grief and believe me I’m still in the thick of it. Not every day all-consuming by any means, but bit by bit, piece by piece, I’m taking the time to look internally and ask questions that I never thought to ask. Losing a parent slowly over time to a long-term disease while you’re growing into an adult human with your own family is hard and weird. It was my normal, but it was by no means normal. I thought I could save myself heartache and time by making peace with the inevitable before it even happened. Guess what, I couldn’t!

So if you have someone in your life who seems to be delayed in dealing with grief, or maybe it is you, please give grace. There are a million and one reasons why we delay grieving and it’s often intertwined with life moving on because that’s what we must do. Life goes on, and so do we. I’ve commonly heard that grief comes in waves, and I believe it does this to give us a chance to catch our breath and allow life to carry on as the waves break on the shore.

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