My 85-year-old mother died of cancer in June. She was a great mother and I was always close to her. So were my six brothers and sisters.
A realization came over me as she died: despite working hard to be the most special of her children, in the end, I was one of her seven equally special children. What a bummer realization. It's been humbling and has made me grow up a bit and that is good.
Now that my "favorite child" balloon has burst, my grief has shifted to a more general feeling that I am rudderless. Remarks such as "it is good she is not suffering any more," leave me blank. I see nothing positive about death. At square one, I ask: why do people have to die? Where do they go when they die? On beautiful days I peek up and wonder: does she now live in a puffy cloud? Was there a buzz when Ted Kennedy arrived?
I imagine what she would do to help me with this grief. Pretending I am her, I do the following, and it helps:
1. I tend to my basic needs in a more dedicated way. I get at least one more hour of sleep a night. This has been a remarkable help. If I sleep more, I do not get colds; I'm less cranky and have more energy. I've had some astonishingly bad dreams, but when I do, I accept that I am "processing" her death and it is a deeply disturbing thing to lose your mother, especially one you loved so much. I eat well; we cook at home and don't miss meals. When I am away from home, I stop when I'm hungry and eat. I exercise -- something I had let slide to spend more time with her in her last months. Some days I crave swimming to be submerged in womb-like water. Other days, I ride my bike because I love the freedom and playfulness of hopping on your bike and going where the road takes you. One night last week I rode to Randall's Island for one son's football practice, then to Asphalt Green for another son's basketball game. It was fun and kid-like and healing.
2. I actively escape by watching TV for at least one hour a day. My favorite escape is General Hospital on Soap Net. I watch it every night and no one is allowed to interrupt me with questions until the commercials come on. It allows me to suspend sadness as I focus on shifting familial loyalties and shimmering lip gloss. I love Diane, the lawyer, and her relationship with her client/friend Alexis, the former District Attorney, who resigned last week after pleading guilty to the hit and run which left her ex-husband Sonny's child (with Claudia) dead, but which was (maybe) caused by her and Sonny's daughter, Kristina, who has an abusive boyfriend. I have watched General Hospital since high school. My sisters and I often rushed home to see it at 3 pm. Sometimes my mother even paused to watch, en route to loading more laundry. I remember my mother's repeated assessment of Nurse Jesse: "That Jesse is so 'desperate' looking." Interesting choice of words, I thought (middle aged Nurse Jesse married young, handsome Phil.)
To enhance my hour of escape, I watch General Hospital in the EZ Boy recliner we bought for my mother when she stayed with us last year. (I've learned that EZ Boy recliners are the grown up equivalent of a child's stroller: You don't have to move in them, they fully support your body and are easy to nap in.)
3. I actively retreat by reading SoapOpera Digest and the tabloids. To keep the magic alive, I do not read too much about the real lives of the actors on General Hospital but I do read about what will happen on the show. The tabloids have always provided a great escape for me, especially on air planes, and I like to keep current.
4. I don't force myself to do anything, emotionally, regarding grief. I ignore all advice like, "it takes a year".
5. I try to honor my mother by my actions. She left her children a note. It says "help each other always." In her honor, I try to be there for my family more than ever. They are there for me, more than ever. And kudos to them, they never call me when General Hospital is on.