I’m not going to sugar-coat this. The first six months have been difficult.
I lost my 61-year-old mother unexpectedly when I was 25-years-old. My mom had no prior illnesses. She was fine one moment, and gone the next. I had no reason to expect that she would pass away in her home that evening. If I had, I would have stayed with her instead of driving back to my home in Denver. That’s a decision I will regret for the rest of my life.
Grief is unique for each person. They say that people who have lost a loved one grieve at different paces. This was true for my immediate family. But here’s something I learned: there’s no correct way to grieve as long as you don’t get stuck in one stage for months on end.
If you’re reading this because you lost someone important to you and you want to know what the first 6 months feels like, you’re in the right place. Please keep in mind that this is just what it looked like for me. I’m no expert, I just want you to know that someone else out there gets it. You’re not alone.
Stages Of Grief
The stages of grief are justifications for your feelings. They tell you that what you are experiencing is normal. For those who aren’t familiar with the 5 stages of grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I have been through all stages, in random order, over and over again. I’ve felt numb from denial, thinking there’s no way this is real, it must be a dream. I’ve felt angry with myself, with my mom’s doctor, with God. I’ve gone through the “if onlys” of bargaining, thinking, ‘I should have saved her. I should have been there. If only I stayed at her house one more hour.’ Depression comes and goes and just when I think I’ve hit some form of acceptance, I’m thrown back to anger.
Writing in a journal helped me through the first 6 months. I would write what stage I was in before letting it all out on paper. My journal is filled with questions like, ‘Why her? Why now? How did this happen? Why weren’t there warning signs?’ During my time on earth I will never have the answers to all of my questions. But guess what? That’s okay. I am learning how to deal with this and how to be comfortable with the unknowns. God has a plan. I am learning to trust His plan.
Talking About My Mom
Our society doesn’t talk about grief (especially those in the 20-30 age bracket). Occasionally I’ll open up and reminisce about my mom to a friend. At a recent work event I shared how my mom used to forget a word or movie title mid-sentence, we could always read each other’s minds so she would turn to me and ask, “Emma, what’s that movie with the red-headed twins who switch places?”
“The Day After Tomorrow?”
She’d laugh hysterically, wiping tears from her eyes, “NO! You know what I mean! The one with the Lohan girl!”
My colleagues laughed at my story, giving me this pained look — a smile with sympathetic eyes. That look drives me crazy now, but their hearts are in the right place. I never mind talking about my mom. If I could, I’d tell someone something I love about her every. single. day.
When Will I Be Happy Again?
The first moment I truly felt awake was my husband’s birthday party early December, four months after my mom passed away. I was surrounded by friends, singing Karaoke at a dive bar, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m not faking happiness, I’m actually having fun.’ Before that night, I had to remind myself to be in the moment and not think, ‘I miss my mom, I miss my mom,’ every second.
Before December, I was terrified I’d never feel 100% again. I thought I’d always have this sharp pain in my chest and this lump in my throat. I was thrilled to discover that I would once again have great days that reminded me that life is worth living.
Loss Of Interest
To be very honest, I lost almost all interest in my career. I questioned if I should quit and take time for myself. I also thought about quitting my blog. ‘Nothing else matters,’ I thought, ‘Why aren’t we outside living? Why are we stuck inside creating pointless content?’ Harsh, but eye opening.
I also lost interest in spending time with my friends. All I wanted was to be with my family. When I was with friends or colleagues, I was really only 50% there. I couldn’t wait to get home, change into sweats, and stare at the wall.
Slowly, my interests returned. I still have little to no patience for workplace drama and feel angry when my work conflicts with time I should be spending with my family. At 6 months, my interest is back but my perception has been altered.
Grief Groups Are Uncomfortable, And Helpful
I’ve gone through several counseling sessions since my mother passed and haven’t found them to be extraordinarily helpful, to be honest. Everyone handles counseling differently, and I still would recommend at least one session after a loved one passes away.
I also attended GriefShare at a local church for several weeks after my mom’s passing. (GriefShare is a religious workshop that helps people work through their stages of grief through scripture). The two hour sessions took place every Wednesday and started with a 45 minute GriefShare video and followed with a group discussion. I will never forget my first night at GriefShare. I was the youngest by two decades, easily. I was the only one grieving a parent, the others were grieving a spouse. I shared my story and balled my eyes out in front of complete strangers. I finished my story with, “My goal is to eventually talk about my mom without breaking down like this.” I never reached that goal. I cried every time I attended GriefShare.
The group helped me talk about my grief process and it felt good to be around people who were also grieving. It was one of the best things I did for myself immediately following my mom’s death.
Grief Comes In Waves
About every other month I have a massive breakdown and scream, ‘Why!?’ I sit outside and look at the stars with tears running down my cheeks. These breakdowns are a small part of my grief, but I am left exhausted every time.
Grief comes and goes. Most days are fine, most days are good at this point, actually! But the big breakdowns are still there and I find myself repeating the same questions I asked myself the day my mom passed.
My breakdowns come with warning. A few days before I find myself looking at photos of my mom and wishing I could give her a call. I start snapping at people more often and am easily upset. I warn my husband, “I think a breakdown is coming…” He understands and he listens.
I have yet to find another person who has vivid, realistic dreams about their deceased loved one.
Since my mom’s passing I’ve had four dreams about her. In my dreams, we are hanging out, talking, laughing, and we always acknowledge the fact that she has passed away. I tell her I miss her, she rolls her eyes and says, “Ugh. Don’t.” I ask her why she passed away so young and she says, “Stop focusing on what you can’t control. Just enjoy your time with me here, right now.”
The dreams are beautiful. My mom looks so happy! She’s talking to me just as she would if she was on earth. I mentioned my dreams to my GriefShare group and many were brought to tears (not unusual in a group of sad adults). Several believe that my mom is talking to me from heaven. I’ve always had vivid dreams, my mom knew this, maybe my mom visits me because she knows it brings me comfort.
I’m not an expert on grief and grieving. I’m 6-months in and still feel like I’m drowning. However, over the past few months I have heard countless stories from people who have lost someone. Their stories helped me. My hope is that hearing my story and my journey through grief will help one person realize that they too can get through this, even though it sucks. As us grievers say, “Welcome to the club that nobody wanted to join.”
I’m here for you. If you want to talk privately, message me here.
Thanks for reading,