My high school theology class had a unit on death and bereavement and these two things stuck with me:
1. Reach out to the grieving individual upon hearing of the death, but it's even more important to reach out to the individual 2+ weeks later. This is because all of the activity surrounding the death has subsided and the quiet sets in...loneliness appears. Life goes on for everyone else but the grief remains for the individual who lost a loved one. This is when they need the most support.
2. The most wonderful gift you can give someone who is grieving is to share a story about their loved one. Reminisce about the time you spent with the departed individual. What was your favorite memory of that person? How did he/she touch your life? What did you learn from him/her?
Now that I've lost my mother, I can testify that these things are true. The initial period after the death is a whirlwind. You cannot fully process during this time. You are a shell of a human in a state of shock. Then life goes on...for everyone else.
Loneliness hurts. You can be surrounded by people, but no one "gets it;" that pain that you're biting your lip to bear. There's a fear of forgetting; forgetting the way her voice sounded, forgetting the way her hand felt in mine, forgetting all of those little quirks that made her who she was.
What helps? When people who knew the departed person share stories about the person, you feel less alone. Someone else knew my mother and also feels the void of her absence. And that story that you share with me about a time my mom did something hilarious or kind...the story of how you first met...the story of what you learned from her...that keeps my mom present.
I've clung to my mom's childhood best friend during the past few weeks. She helped take care of my mom while my mom was sick and we became very connected during that time. She drove for hours to be with my mom upon hearing of her stroke. She pulled Lydia aside and kept her entertained while I wept my way through a hospice meeting. And she sat with me and shared stories of the ornery antics that she and my mom orchestrated during their teenage years. She knew my mom long before I did. And I hang on to every word that she says about my mom because I want to preserve every part of her that remains here on earth. You have no idea how much I cherish a silly story about knocking the nun's statue off the shelf and carefully balancing the broken pieces atop one another, praying that you wouldn't get caught. Then watching it wobble precariously every time someone got too close...or knowing it was my mom who drew the mustache on the poster of the annoying roommate in college, even though she would never admit it.
During my mom's funeral, another dear friend delivered the most incredible eulogy where he shared his stories of his friendship with my mom over the years. They were teachers together and he started with the first day that my mom walked into the teachers' lounge and said something like, "Well, I have a student who is on all fours, barking like a dog, refusing to get up. If this is an indication of how this school year is going to go, I'm in trouble." I've asked him to send me the rest of the eulogy because it was authentic, hilarious, beautiful, and perfect and I want to have it forever.
Never have I been more grateful for this blog. Mama Hop lives on here at Confessions of the Chromosomally Enhanced. And it's apparent that the opportunity to get to "know" her through these words, pictures, and videos impacted many individuals that we've never even met. I know this because messages from these individuals have come pouring in and just like the stories from my mom's friends, these stories provide comfort and happiness. They help stave off the loneliness. They provide reassurance that Mama Hop will not be forgotten.
The outpouring of support, the acts of kindness, the messages of love where you share your own story of loss: these things provide strength and offer a promise of healing. Please accept our sincere gratitude.
One more thing...
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: CCE has not and will not become a grief blog. Here in our world, humor sustains us. It always has. Just ask Mama Hop. So I won't close this post without sharing a funny little story...
In 2012, my mom planned her own funeral. She purchased a burial plot, picked the casket, etc...It seems like a morbid thing to do but it actually helps immensely! Anyway, the funeral director was a lovely woman who was very kind and patient in walking me through everything. She sent me email after email with bullets of things that I needed to decide/do. Then, she would call and gently follow up, knowing I was trying to care for 3 children and my sister, while packing and planning for a long trip for the funeral.
So we scheduled the family visitation for 8am and the public visitation for 9am following by the funeral and burial. Then I got another one of these emails with another bulleted list. One particular bullet made me laugh so hard...
Hey Guys! Wine tasting at the funeral home - 8am sharp! Come thirsty!
Oh Mama Hop and her Pinot Grigio! You've gotta love her! Family did, indeed, have a wine toast in honor of Mama Hop, but we waited until later in the day. And I'll never be able to see Pinot Grigio again without thinking of Mama Hop and smiling.