My much cherished elderly mother, Gertie, died on February 15, 2012, leaving me alone to survive the first year of mourning. I say ‘alone’ although I was surround by love. But, shoot, I sure felt alone sometimes.
How one grieves is a very personal journey. This article is my journey and is true for what I experienced that first year after the loss of my Mother.
I don’t profess to know how anyone else grieves, but, I think what I’ve experienced during this year of ‘firsts’ after my Mom’s death is fairly typical for a natural death, such as the death of an elderly person. Note: grieving a sudden/unexpected death, such as that of my sister at 36, is a totally different process – at least it was for me.
My job as caregiver to my Mom ended February 15, 2012 at 7:11 am when my 95-year-old Mother died, and my first year of mourning began.
I had cared for Mom for the past 5 years so her death was in no way a surprise. In fact, my Mom died in my home, surrounded by family and loved ones – she won the game in my opinion (and in her’s too as we’d often talked about how I’d make sure she’d remain with me as long as I could ensure her safety). And I did.
Pretty much every waking moment for the last 2 weeks prior to her death was to deliver comfort care such as giving sponge baths as she lay in her hospital bed in my living room, or continuing on with daily life as it had become – there was a lot of wash to be done!
As I knew her death was approaching for quite a while, I spent a lot of time storing up memories – I remember looking at her face as she ate, as she drank, as she toasted me with her Harvey’s Cream Sherry, as she laughed, and as she slept – I memorizing each quality that I so loved.
To this day, I can still see her at rest and it’s comforting to me. I draw on those moments often but never as much as when I waded through my new emotions of loss that first year after my Mom’s death.
This article was written mostly for my own comfort/need but, if you find yourself in a similar situation, come on in – grab a cup of coffee and sit for a spell. And, you’ll find a few items I discovered that helped me get through my year of mourning, including a few good books.
So, come on in. There’s comfort in knowing you are not alone as we navigate through the ‘year of firsts’ after the death of a loved one.
Books About Mourning
I was just very surprised to search Amazon.com and find a whole slew of books about the first year of grieving – and here I thought I was being so inventive!
Although I got through the first year with a lot of support from my friends and my incredibly wonderful boyfriend, you might want to peruse a few of these highly regarded books on grieving if you need a little extra boost.
The Mourning Handbook: The Most Comprehensive Resource Offering Practical and Compassionate Advice on Coping with All Aspects of Death and DyingRemembering with Love: Messages of Hope for the First Year of Grieving and BeyondThe Remembering With Love Journal: A Companion the First Year of Grieving and BeyondI Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Death of a Loved One
My first act after my Mom died was to run away
I knew I needed to get out of the house where I’d cared for my Mom for the last 5 years. And that’s exactly what I did – I ran away.
Well, I didn’t exactly ‘run away’ but it was close. I packed up the car, loaded up 2 of my dogs, rented a beautiful house in Key West for 6 weeks, and drove down with my friend Sharyn along to aid in the transition.
I looked at that period of time in my life as the first part of my recovery phase. After all, I had no job any longer at home (having given up my day job 4 years before), Mom was gone, and I simply couldn’t just sit around the house and mope.
So, off I went to see the sights of Key West, explore some wonderful sunrises and sunsets, and spend a lot of time reading my blog Gertie’s Galavants which my wonderful boyfriend had bound in a 400 page book!
By the way, I highly recommend this running away approach to others – getting out of your normal routine for a bit can aid in healing the grieving process.
Actually, if you can’t run away to the length I did, even just go to a local hotel for a few days and get some spa treatments – this is a good start on the road to recovering from a loved one’s death. Even heading out to a dear friend’s house for the night can help.
My first Mother’s Day without my Mom – I felt like an orphan.
Mother’s Day 2012 was my first Mother’s Day with no parents, my Dad having died on April 4, 2007. So, I was on my own – not really but sometimes, especially on this previously cherished day, it felt that way.
I was actually quite surprised at the depth of emotion I felt on my first Mother’s day without Mom. I was, to be sure, surrounded by the best friends one could hope for, and I was busy most of the day, but the day brought with it bouts of sadness.
These mourning bouts would hit at unexpected times throughout the day – something would remind me that ‘Mom would like that’ and then I would remember that she wasn’t with me any longer. I used to check menus when I was eating out and would always bring Mom something sweet.
Shortly after her death, it was a particularly difficult moment when I spied a bread pudding with caramel sauce at lunch. That moment brought tears as my heart broke – again. Luckily, my very supportive, very significant other, John, was there to comfort me.
I missed waking my Mom up on Mother’s Day with a tray of toast and coffee, propping her up in bed with lots of pillows, smoothing the covers, and kissing her cheek as I gave her the Mother’s Day greeting I’d given her for about 30 years – “Happy Mother’s Day, you mother you!”
Now, to some of you more pious readers, that greeting might seem calloused but, between Mom and me? It always brought peals of laughter and started the day off right.
Mother’s Day was always devoted to doing exactly what Mom wanted to do, and, in the later years, Mother’s Day would find us sitting in the living room reading the paper, going out to a nice lunch, napping, and just enjoying the day.
Dale Tiffany TA100353 Irene Mini Accent Lamp, Antique Brass and Art Glass ShadeTwo dear friends of ours gave me a sweet bereavement gift on this first Mother’s Day without Mom – a small Tiffany lamp upon which now sits my Mom’s butterfly hair clip.
Since Marianne and Steve gave me the lamp, I have sent 6 more of the exact lamp on their way to others in my life who were grieving. I leave my lamp on all year round and always think of Mom when I enter the kitchen where it glows.
So, I survived my first year of mourning Mother’s Day but it wasn’t easy. Something tells me that Mother’s Day is never again going to be a good day for me. I hope that is not true but it sure feels that way.
Side note: I wrote this article in 2012. Today, in 2015, I still miss my Mommy on Mother’s Day, but the vast grief I felt that first Mother’s Day has been mostly replaced by smiles and warm loving memories of the best mom ever. It does get better. Hang in there.
Just 3 months and one day after I lost Mom, I had to put my dog, Hops, to sleep. He’d had a stroke during the day and could no longer hobble by on his 3 legs.
Hops was my faithful companion for 14 of his 15 years, but his death was still unexpected. Interestingly, I certainly missed Hops, but, I suppose, I didn’t really mourn his loss as I was still busy mourning Mom’s death.
I was glad though that she hadn’t seen him that last day. Mom was a bleeding heart, especially when it came to my dogs. If they hurt, she hurt. She had a special connection to Hops (he was the sweetest of the crew) so I sort of thought maybe she needed him more than I did. Life went on.
Celebrating the birthdays and anniversaries of friends and family during the 1st year of mourning. Two words – it sucked, mostly (ok, 3 words).
I always used to remind my Mom when birthdays were coming up and we’d go off shopping for cards or gifts for family and friends. As the birthdays of family and friends approach, I again felt the sadness when I realized that I didn’t need to remind Mom any longer. Not only that, but she would never again be by my side at family gatherings. I missed her horribly on these birthdays.
On my birthday in early June, I sunk into a slight depression despite the best efforts of my friends to boost me up. I’m generally a very upbeat, happy kind of gal, but my birthday brought upon me an ennui of sorts.
I really felt my age that year mostly because, in my mind, I’d moved into the ‘next generation to go.’ With no elderly parent ahead of me, my number may be up anytime. No, that’s not exactly true as I’m in fairly good health and taking better care of myself these days, but, you know what I mean. We all start to feel our mortality at some point and that year’s birthday did that for me.
Unlike a lot of marriages of which I was aware, my parents had a genuine love relationship. They were a ‘Gert and Joe’ story all by themselves. Here’s a bit of what I wrote for Dad’s eulogy:
‘I call them my Twins. One tottled one way, the other tottled right after. One ate lunch, the other ate lunch. I’d ask Dad if he was ready to eat, he’s say ‘Yes,’ but Mom wouldn’t be ready so he would wait. He wouldn’t eat without her. They would share a can of coke – one can. He’d eat one half a sandwich and pass the other half to her. They’d share one beer, one bag of chips, but they each had their own dessert – funny how that worked.
In a way, during that first year of mourning, I was glad that my folks were back together again. So, my mourning was lessened knowing that, somewhere, somehow, hopefully, their spirits were reunited to be reborn and to meet in another life – their connection was that strong. I’m sure they’ll find each other again on earth one of these days.
Celebrating Father’s Day
The day my Dad died (April 5, 2007), my Mom moved in with me full-time. With a new lifestyle to figure out for both of us, we really didn’t have a chance to mourn much on the first Father’s Day without Dad.
In fact, I really didn’t get to mourn my Dad at all until after Mom died. There was just too much to figure out in the years as my role changed from daughter to caregiver for Mom.
But, here comes Father’s Day 2012, just 4 months after Mom died. It hit me pretty hard. First Mother’s Day and now this. I was not a happy camper. Although Dad was gone 5 years by this point, it really hit me for the first time how much I missed him. It was just a bit like losing him all over again.
I spent some time arranging flowers at the graves, and then went off to a nice gathering with my best friends. The day was salvaged but my mascara was not.
October 28 – Mom’s birthday.
This day was a bit hard for me as I always used to really play up Mom’s birthday each year with a big party of friends. One year, we might have found Mom dressed in a grass skirt for Tiki Party, the next year she was in a sombrero.
So, on this first birthday after Mom’s death, I was surprised to find myself having a really good time on what would have been Mom’s 96th birthday. My closest friends and I went to the gravesite with a bottle of bourbon (Mom’s drink of choice), toasted her, had a few laughs, and even gave her the rest of the bottle. We then went off to a nice lunch where she continued to be a dominating presence. She was missed but, in a way, right there with us too.
Thanksgiving without my folks
Thanksgiving, being a holiday of family, was difficult as I had no family in the area, my eldest brother being in Tucson. So, I took up my best friend on her invitation and had Thanksgiving with her parents and family, wonderful people who have always been so welcoming to both Mom and me. We had a wonderful day, surrounded by my friends and loved ones.
Wow. This couldn’t possibly be a good day but, surprisingly, it was a blast. One of my dear friends, Sharyn, came up from North Carolina to spend the holiday with John and me.
We put up a pretty Channukah bush – I knew this was ok as we’d had one the year before her death and Mom positively loved it. My Channukah bush was topped with a Jewish star made of pipe cleaners and was adorned in blue, silver and gold lights and ornaments. Mom’s hummingbird ornament was proudly perched on a top limb along with a multitude of Mom’s favorite ‘red birds.’
Here comes the New Year
I expected New Year’s Even without Mom to be a very difficult time so I had tissues at the ready. On one hand, I wasn’t sure I was ready to let go of the year that Mom died. After all, the turning of the calendar to a new year is a physical sign that those of us left behind have continued to move on. But, on the other hand, I was ready for 2013 to start a new slate.
Again, though, I was surprised to find that my grief level on New Year’s Eve was nothing like I anticipated. I was saddened periodically throughout the day and on January 1, but I suppose I’ve come to terms with the ‘moving on’ thing.
The 1st anniversary of Mom’s death, February 15, 2013
The day dawned gray and rainy, some of Mom and my’s favorite weather. I was incredibly sad though as we had to say goodbye to our 15-year-old basset, Barley, on this day. What a huge bummer – on the one year anniversary of Mom’s death, nonetheless. But, life goes on.
After a good long cry, we headed to the cemetery where my friends once again surrounded me. We brought the obligatory bottle of bourbon and shared our toasts.
I was surprised and warmed when my friends stood around me and started telling Gertie and Joe (my Dad) stories (I believe there was even a Barley dog story too). This pretty much happens any time one of my friends is around. Tales of Gertie and Joe float through the air. That’s because they’re still with us, albeit, in a special way now – a way that will remain with us forever. They are missed but, these days, we celebrate their spirit, their humor and their love with just a few tears mixed in.
I hope that your first year of mourning after the death of a loved one was as painlessly as mine was. And, I hope that you, like I, have been able to move on yet carry the memory of those you love with you. Forever.
Please leave me comments below regarding this article. I’m curious how the first year following a loved one’s death was for other people.