Grief is so hard. It is a monster that catches you in your soul and tries to take you down. But living out of grief is like driving out of the fog: where you once couldn’t see a foot in front of you, now you only see the fog in your rear view mirror.
My family recently suffered a huge loss when my mother-in-law passed away from pancreatic cancer. While it wasn’t a surprise, we were just not ready. I have had my share of losses over the years and I know how hard the first year of “firsts” in the depths of grief can be, especially the holidays. My mother-in-law wasn’t just the mother of my husband; she was so special. I have known her since I was 17 and I credit her for teaching me so much: how to cook, how to entertain, how to work hard, how to love, and especially how to love someone else’s children. She was just precious; to know her was to love her because she loved everyone so well. And could she do the holidays right! She was the hostess with the mostest (I am pretty sure that phrase was discovered by someone trying to describe how amazing she was). She would always make huge feasts for family and friends. Not just the old standard Thanksgiving fare, either. She made sure she had one favorite dish for everyone. If she heard you liked something, she made it for you. If that meant making 10 different side dishes, she made 10 different side dishes with a smile on her face, too. There were several parties I had at MY house and she brought most of the food because she knew I was busy with school or work and didn’t want me working too hard. True story.
The holidays are going to be very hard this year without her, but I have been here before…a year of firsts, and I know we will get through it. We will make new memories and tell funny stories. Tears will be shed. Visits to the cemetery with wreaths will be made as we try to make it a little more special and beautiful. No matter how hard it hurts, we will choose to keep on living.
Somehow each loss gets harder.
For me, this one was harder not because I spent every day with her or lived with her like her husband did, but because it brought up 15-year-old memories of losing my husband — her son. Watching her frail little body waste away to cancer reminded me of how my own husband looked at the end. Her frequent trips to the hospital reminded me of those last weeks — not knowing what was coming, but also knowing what was coming. You try to get all the words spoken, all the hugs and kisses in. Then, at the very end, you hate to see them suffer, you want relief from their pain, but you don’t want them to go. Because I am a believer, I also thought a lot about what would happen when she passed and the receptions that awaited her. Part of me was jealous that she would be celebrating with all of those I have lost. What I wouldn’t give to tell my late husband all about our daughter. I bet she is rocking my baby boys and kissing their sweet heads. As comforting as that thought is, I still can’t believe she is gone.
But she is gone and life here must go on without her. We have to choose to live now without her. Some days will be harder than others. Grief is funny that way. The year of firsts will be the hardest. The first holidays, the first time we find out joyful news we want to share with her but can’t, the first time her birthday comes around without her, the first time something big happens and we suddenly realize she doesn’t know. That’s when we will start marking the passing of time by her, you know…, “That was before mama died,” and “That was before she got sick.”
I have had more than my share of loss and grief in my adult life, but with that grief comes wisdom and beautiful empathy. At times, you’re cold and numb and nothing can bother you. Then there are other times you feel so deeply, even happy things make you cry. Small talk is impossible because the only thing on your mind is your grief. But then one day, a few hours will pass and you realize those few hours felt sort of normal. The hours turn into days and the days into weeks and before you know it, you are staring smack dab at the end of the year of firsts. And the next year everything gets a little better. It’s not that time heals all wounds; it’s more that you learn to live in a different way. You learn to just keep taking steps without them, even though you do not want to. You learn to live out of grief.