On December 31st, 2016 I went to bed thinking that I had it all as the year was coming to a close. My six-week-old son was sleeping soundly, a wonderful husband who provided for us and wonderful, supportive parents as well as a great extended family. I was living the dream for sure!
2017 came in with a bang, I received a phone call somewhere in the 3 a.m. hour that would change my life forever. My mom was being rushed to the hospital and the circumstances were unknown at the time.
My mom lived with Multiple Sclerosis for almost 20 years at this point as well as other ailments, some of which I don’t think she ever disclosed. The next 17 days were brutal. Between having a newborn at home, visiting mom at UMASS and getting ready to head back to work after my maternity leave I was literally all over the place.
January 17th was the day my mom took her last breath. I had to say goodbye to my biggest supporter when I needed her the most, with an 8 week old baby at home and about 30 years earlier than I ever dreamed I would.
Grieving in Hindsight
Grieving is hard. But it’s even harder when your to-do list is a mile long and you have littles that depend on you for everything. I wish I could say I did it gracefully and I had some sort of super wisdom to share with you but, I failed at this miserably. I’m looking at this from a retrospective view and want to tell you what I should have done or at least tried to do.
Make sure you take time to let yourself grieve. Otherwise, you’re bottling all of that up and you will explode – we all know the Coke bottle analogy. Call up someone in your tribe and ask for a few hours if this isn’t something your spouse can easily do. Take a hot shower, get your hair and nails done, go for a walk. Whatever you do, let yourself cry and let it out.
Don’t throw yourself into being a mom. When I say this, I mean being only a mom. I lost my identity because I threw myself into taking care of my family and little else. I allowed myself to live on autopilot and this hurt me more than anything. I look back and I realize I don’t remember a lot about my son being a baby because I was just existing. Please don’t do this, it’s really hard to come back from.
Start a journal – either with paper and pen or an app on your phone. Write about how you’re feeling, scripture verses (if that’s your thing), positive affirmations or memories you don’t want to forget. Writing is therapeutic for so many people. This is another thing I wish I had done, it would have helped me so much.
Date your significant other. This one seems silly to add but, really, they are hurting too. It’s so easy to put them on the back burner when you’re hurting. They’re your comfort zone and you know they aren’t going anywhere so it is easier to neglect them. Commit to one date night per month. It doesn’t need to be fancy – it could be a picnic on your living room floor. Make sure you’re giving them special attention as well – it’ll make you both feel better.
Do not be ashamed to go see someone. There is this stigma around mental health and it really needs to end. There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing to talk to a professional if you’re struggling. If you thought you had strep throat, you’d see your PCP – this is NO different. If the professionals feel you need some sort of medication, take it. You’re winning by taking the steps you need to, to feel better. Also, if your kids are older, they may need to see someone too. They’re probably hurting as well – especially if they were close to the person who passed. This would be a great teaching moment too. Let them know it’s ok to see someone when they’re sad, they’ll remember that when they’re older if they struggle with their mental health in their adult lives.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a parent. I just hope this helps you deal with it better than I did and, at the very least, lets you know that you’re not alone. Hang in there mama!
Written in loving memory of Cheryl Ann Bonk 03/23/1963-01/17/17