Watching a parent die is no easy task. Only two months ago I watched my gentle Step Dad, Cliff take his final breath.
It was surreal. The feeling of grief hit like a tornado that consumed me and my family. It’s taken me time to recover from this and feel like writing again. What I have learned is that you can’t put a time limit on the motions of grief.
The best way to sum up the feeling is best described by Tor Constantino in 5 Unexpected Lessons About Grief from the Deaths of My Parents
“It’s difficult to explain but for several weeks after my dad’s death, I wasn’t really sad per se but rather had a profound sense of disorientation—like when you wake up logy from a deep sleep on a summer afternoon, not knowing where or who you are.”
Watching my Mother lose her spouse is completely overwhelming. It’s a roller coaster of emotions through stages of the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And naturally, these feelings keep reoccurring.
Seeing her so frail as she cries out his name at night, is the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced. It’s tricky seeing a once so strong woman look weak. My Mother has always been my rock and now we have swapped roles. Now I‘m the one she looks to for solace, comfort or hope.
It isn’t easy consoling a parent after their spouse has died, it’s something that you feel the greatest sense of loss. There are no words you can say to make it better. After all you have to contend with losing a parent that was so special to you as well. Cliff was my Mother’s best friend and a man she waited decades to meet. And he was a doting parent to his children, myself and my younger brother.
Cliff was definitely a man of vigor who found humor in everything. He had so much vitality it was tricky keeping up with him. Even at 80 years old he could still easily jump over fences using his fit legs. He rode a bicycle, played lawn bowls, swept up the yard, fixed things around the house and cleaned the car all in a day. Every morning he told my mother how much he loved her, which also appeared on his face when he looked in her direction.
Then all of a sudden he felt tired. He just wanted to lie down and sleep during the day. My Mother knew something wasn’t right and took him straight to the doctor. At the hospital, he went through various scans until he was diagnosed with cancer that had spread throughout his body. And one month later we stood quietly around his bed to watch him leave.
On one hand, I was grateful I got to say: “I love you” and be there to support my Mother. But on the other, it was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever said. My heart broke into two pieces. One for him because he was leaving my Mother and he was worried who would take care of her. And the other for my Mother who now has to live without him by her side.
As I watched him fade away in hospital, I was able to experience the greatest unconditional love between two people. My mother never left his side, except for one night to pick me up from the airport. She took care of him with such thought and kindness that it brought tears to my eyes.
She tenderly washed his body and hair every morning when he no longer could, and helped him into clean PJs. Mum made sure she fed him nourishing food and helped him drink fluids to keep him hydrated. All the time smiling and looking affectionately into his eyes, saying mindful words of love. And he reciprocated through his smiling eyes, even when in pain and could no longer speak. He knew how much he was loved by her and that he was not alone.
By silently observing these beautiful interactions, I realized that life is really what you make of it. To live life with intent and find the joy in the simplest of tasks. When you focus on each task, you will find joy. By simply feeling gratitude for each moment. Even if it’s washing your beloved’s hair, it provides you with a time out from a busy lifestyle. As you rinse the shampoo out, wash away all negative thoughts and emotions.
Perhaps it’s the simple task of sweeping leaves on your front step. Thank the leaves for this task which again gives you a time out from a hectic life. And as you sweep, let thoughts come in and leave, as you sweep them away. It’s a mindful meditation without having to do too much, except the action of sweeping.
If you didn’t know, grief is often delayed. It’s good to go through the emotions but I cannot claim to know what it’s like for my Mother who has lost her husband. But through this loss of a parent, I’ve found a few keys to help my Mother find a different kind of happiness:
Human Touch and Be present
By listening to her talk about Cliff and their wonderful experiences, helps us bond and connect on a deeper level. And laughing with her about the funny things he did to make her smile, whilst providing gentle hugs or holding her hand, has made a small difference. I’ve seen the inkling of a smile and the light return to her eyes. The memory of Cliff lives on through our words.
When I encourage her to go for a gentle walk, swim or attend the social club with friends, it helps to keep her motivated. Plus the endorphins from physical exercise does help her feel good again
Allowing her to be forgetful, even when she is so organized or when she shows a lack of interest, actually empowers me to be patient. Every time there is a tricky situation associated with procedures after death, I continuously reassure that I will stand by her decisions, so she feels supported and valued.
A simple text or phone call during the day helps her realize how much she’s loved and valued. And I hope this brings her some sort of peace.
As I write this a sense of peace washes over me. Cliff only ever wanted us to live life to the fullest. It’s my intention in honor his memory by doing this. After all, isn’t this the one wish we would leave our loved ones?
The point of this piece is to shed some light for those who are grieving, so they can feel support and comfort. So please share this with anyone that may need some help. Or for those who can provide some help.
Have you or your parent experienced grief? What advice will you take from this article? I’d love to read your comments below. All comments are most welcome.
Photo credit: Getty Images