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When Does Grief End?

November 22, 2011

It took me a very long time to integrate the loss of my mother. Perhaps this was because she died so prematurely, at just 48 years old, she was still a young person in the eyes of many. As for me, at 21, I was even younger.

We had only just learnt how to become friends —having battled through the high’s and low’s of my teenage years, just as we had come to see each other as allies, as women sharing similar challenges and interests—then she was snatched away. It wasn’t unexpected. Mom died from cancer and her death was a slow, long, drawn-out affair that took two and a half years, despite the fact that when she was diagnosed, she was given only three months to live.

The journey through grief was not an easy one. There were plenty of surprises, misty days, thunder storms, and moments when the car slid down the road revealing a sheer cliff-face which had me frozen in a state of fear. But after a couple of years the bad weather cleared, blue skies burst through the monotonous grey and there were occasional interludes of sun beams: small, but nonetheless brilliant. Here are a few of the poignant ones:

í    When I realized I had heard the word Mom without my chest being flooded with searing pain and sickness.

í    The first year that I noticed I was actually excited about Christmas, rather than totally depressed.

í    When I was able to talk about Mom as if she was in the room, without fearing I would melt down into a blithering mess.

í    The day I went to Bhakti yoga and the tears didn’t roll down my face for the entire one and a half hours of the class.

Slowly the empty void that had replaced the warm place of my loving heart gradually filled, with new experiences, faith that things would improve and that new relationships would arrive, even if none of them could ever replace what I had lost. None of this happened overnight, it took three, four, five, even ten years for some of the coins to drop.

Yet it began when I made a decision. Somewhere along the way I’d had enough. Grief had come into my life uninvited. Until it showed up, I’d been a happy-go-lucky person, I was sure this negative state didn’t fit my personality profile very well. So, I remember waking up one day and thinking; ‘Enough. This isn’t who I am. I don’t have to feel this way anymore. I’m choosing this and I can make another choice.’ Now, by this time I was pretty good at doing ‘grief’.  Prior to losing mom I’d also been good at joy, hope, trust, and laughter. So I wrote my Mom a note, telling her that it was time for me to remember her with love, but I was in need of a new beginning. I attached the letter to a beautiful red helium balloon, which I took to release at her graveside. As it floated heavenwards against the clear blue sky, I drifted too, into a new place possibility, infused with healing, hope and happiness.

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