If there has been any one person who has influenced me most as a parent, it’s been my mom. She is the person I have modeled myself after in how I raise my children, and in the way I view my role as a mother. When I had my first child, I must have asked for her insight a hundred times a day. It made me feel better to know that the woman I admired most would be there with me as I learned the ropes of what she had done so well.
Then I lost her. Two years ago, my mom became unexpectedly critically ill, and after over three months of fighting to recover in an ICU, she passed away.
And just like that, I became a grieving daughter at 32 years old. I had no idea how to really grieve, and absolutely no idea how to be the mom I wanted to be through that grief. Not only had I lost the woman who was my role model for mothering, but I now was facing raising my own daughters with a broken heart. I wanted desperately to protect them from my heartache, and was scared that losing my mother was going to forever change theirs.
Nothing has been more important to me in my grief than staying the best mom I possibly can for my daughters. But that has taken a lot of work, and it has required me to find ways to feel whole, so that I can give my girls the best of me.
I still very much grieve for my mom two years later, but I have learned lessons that I hope may help other moms like me who are needing to heal. While I am certainly no expert on grief, I have found through my personal experience a few things that have helped me get through what has been my biggest challenge as a parent, and as a person.
Be Patient With Yourself
Grief is complicated and exhausting. You will have good days and bad, and they each come unpredictably. I used to feel guilty for the days that I felt good, but after some time I realized that didn’t mean I was forgetting my mom, or that I didn’t care. They were recharging me for the difficult days, and there are plenty of those, so allow yourself any break you can get.
Also, I learned to realize that I don’t have to be 100%. You may wish you could feel like your old self again, and I often become frustrated with myself for being less productive, less optimistic, more stressed and anxious, etc. But losing someone you love changes you, and you need time to adjust. So it’s okay to be less than you were before if you need to be.
I am awful at this, I’ll admit. I think being a mother makes it very difficult to delegate, or let certain things go that we feel are our innate responsibilities. But when you are mourning a loss, it can become almost crucial for your own well-being to allow others around you to fill some gaps.
You’ll hear the “let me know what I can do to help” phrase thrown around a good bit, but for me that was a difficult request. In the beginning when that help was offered, I often didn’t know what I needed. But the times when someone offered to bring coffee, or dinner, or play with my daughters were some of the most helpful. You don’t have to do everything yourself – even for your children – when you’re grieving. If you are fortunate enough to have a network of people willing to hold you up, let them.
My mom told me many, many times that one of the best ways to get through your own struggles is to help someone else through theirs. I have certainly found this to be true. Whether it be volunteering with your church, charity work, or by being a listening ear or support to someone else new to grief, doing good for others may help you as much as it helps them.
Have More Than One “Rock”
Many of us have that person we go to first and lean on the hardest. Whether it is your spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a best friend, know that no single person can be your rock all alone. It is reasonable to think that if we have lost someone we love, the other people in our world have lost them too, and are also hurting. Even worse, you may have lost the person that was typically your biggest support. I have found it very helpful to lean in many different directions. Not everyone in your life is going to be able to help you through grief, but having even a couple of people you can talk to when you need to can go a long way.
There are also grief support groups in the Columbia area, particularly at local hospitals, that connect you with others who have experienced loss. Even if someone doesn’t know exactly how you feel, there are lessons to be learned from many people in your life and those who have lost a loved one are usually eager to help you through. Try not to expect one person to fix you.
Find What Gives You Strength
One of the things that frustrated me most after my mom died was feeling very one-dimensional. I felt like a grieving daughter and little else. For a long time I resisted any kind of change in myself. I wanted to forever remain the person my mom knew. But that kept me trapped in my grief, and desperate to find things that gave me a break from it. So I started looking for things to add layers to my life. I started a blog about my lessons from grief. I picked up old hobbies like painting and drawing. I spent more time out with my friends. I found new activities my daughters and I could do together. I started a few gardens in my yard. These things made me feel energized and more whole, and gave me more energy for my family as well.
Take Care of Yourself
This one is crucial. Grief is difficult enough emotionally without letting it effect you physically. Exercise, eat healthy, and try to get enough sleep. I can attest this is easier said than done at times. But I have always felt better in my grief during the times that I felt my best physically and stayed active.
Write It Down
Writing isn’t something everyone enjoys, but it is definitely something I would recommend to anyone dealing with loss. My mom spent several months in ICU before she died, and for much of that time, I wasn’t able to talk to her. So I got a journal and I wrote. I wrote what was happening day to day and week to week, often sitting in her hospital room with her while I was writing. I wrote the things I wanted to tell her: my worries and fears, my hopes for her recovery, everything I couldn’t tell her but wanted to. And I haven’t stopped doing that in the two years since she died. It’s my way of still talking with her, of getting out the multitude of emotions grieving brings, and it’s also allowed me to see the progress I have made.
There is much more to grief than any list can really work through, but these things have given me strength. If I have learned anything, it’s been that slowly, things do start to get better. I can’t say (yet) that time heals all wounds, and I’m not sure that it really ever does. But time has at least taught me lessons, and it has given me the chance to find the ways I can still be the mother I want to be – the kind that I had.