How can she be gone when she was just here and I see her everywhere?
July 31, 2012 9:48 AM   Subscribe

My mom died. Now what? (In the abstract, existential sense.)

After spending the last year successfully kicking cancer's ass, and the last month kicking c. diff's ass, my mother passed away last week following an unrecoverable stroke. I literally have no idea how to go on.

The practical is pretty well-handled, my folks had just finished setting everything up into a trust and between the lawyer and the mortuary director we've got a good handle on that.

My dad is a rock, as always, and it's just the two of us. He's a do-er, keeping busy helps him. I, on the other hand, have struggled with depression my entire life, and I tend to ostrich or stuff/eat the pain away. I have a psychiatrist that maintains medication but doesn't really do talk therapy - I haven't called her yet because I don't think anything in my meds needs to change. My dad has a wonderful community supporting him in his church and fellow retirees which is a damned good thing because I have no idea how to be strong for him.
I don't have the same network of support he does - I barely have any friends at all - and even if I did, I don't want to be the weepy, clingy friend who cries randomly all day.

Does anyone have any resources for grief counseling or support in the LA area (ideally SGV)? Someplace where I can talk about how I don't know how to reconcile this box of ashes to the person whose hand I was holding a week ago? Because fuck if I know. I just know that I cannot imagine living the rest of my life without her and it hurts, all. the. time. except for moments where things seem normal and then I feel so guilty I can't breathe.
posted by ApathyGirl to Human Relations (28 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'm reading Rules of Inheritance now, by Claire Bidwell Smith, who became a grief counselor. Her website has some resources that may be able to help you.

If you're interested in reading the book and you memail me, I'll send it to you.

I'm sorry about your mother. When my mother died, also from cancer, I just kept breathing. That's about all you can do, sometimes.
posted by lyssabee at 9:55 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since you live in the LA area, call Our House (westside, unfortunately). It offers grief groups for a range of people, including adults whose parents have died. I did such a group there about four years ago. Just having a group of people to talk to who had gone through (roughly) the same experience was incredibly helpful in and of itself.

If you can't get to the westside, I believe there's a community mental health agency in Pasadena (Pasadena Mental Health, maybe? Google can help you here.). I don't know if it offers grief groups, but counselors deal with bereavement quite often, so someone there might be able to help.

Sorry not to be providing links: I suck at that and am also in a hurry right now. But I saw your message and wanted to respond as best I could.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by chicainthecity at 10:04 AM on July 31, 2012

The funeral home might have some information about grief counselors. Your psychiatrist might, as well.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't want to be the weepy, clingy friend who cries randomly all day.

If there's something I'm learning this year, it's that IT IS OKAY to be this friend.

Not all the time, forever, no. But I'm pretty sure this is a special circumstance.

IT IS OKAY to be weepy and clingy for a while.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:10 AM on July 31, 2012 [20 favorites]

I barely have any friends at all - and even if I did, I don't want to be the weepy, clingy friend who cries randomly all day.

I'm so sorry for your loss. It must be excruciating.

I just wanted to address what you said above about friends and being the weepy one. Nobody who is a person of any goodwill at all will hold it against you to be a bit weepy and clingy and randomly cry because your mom died. I've held complete strangers in a hug when they needed it because of things like this.

Be kind to yourself. And give others a chance to be kind to you also.
posted by gauche at 10:13 AM on July 31, 2012 [10 favorites]

I am sorry for loss.

I did some grieving in my twenties by staying up late and watching tear-jerk movies and wailing like a banshee. I did that for two or three years and then stopped being sad all the time. Perhaps something similar would help you.

I will add this: I got divorced in part because I had hit a point where I felt like if he died, I would be relieved rather than aggrieved. I was clear that if I were widowed, I wanted it to be the worst thing that ever happened to me. I wanted it to rip my heart out. I wanted to feel like I would never love again.

I share that in hopes that it makes your grief an easier burden to bear. We do not all have the good fortune of having someone in our lives whose loss would be so soul-searing. Those of us who lack someone like that spend much of our time wishing for what you apparently had for a time. (Yes, I know, this was your mother, not your spouse. But not everyone is that close to their mother either.)

Peace and good journey.
posted by Michele in California at 10:19 AM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When my mother first passed away, I felt exactly like you say: "I just know that I cannot imagine living the rest of my life without her and it hurts, all. the. time. except for moments where things seem normal and then I feel so guilty I can't breathe." Exactly. And I'm so sorry. It hurts like nothing else before or since, a new kind of pain I had no idea existed before she died.

I won't tell you it gets easier, because I'm not entirely convinced it does. What it does get is different. That searing pain hits differently. The moments of joy take on a different color.

In the meantime, I found one of two friends who would just let me *be*. Be quiet, be chatty, be tearful, be silly... Just to sit and hold my hand or stroll beside me or whatever it was I needed. And here's the thing: I made new friends, solid, deep friends, when my mother died. People who had been through it, or something similar, and just stepped up to the damn plate. "Hi, I've been there. Here we are." It was - and is - beautiful and amazing. Be open to making new friendships now. It's ok to build a friendship while coping with loss.

Memail me if you like. *hug*
posted by pammeke at 10:25 AM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I know it feels like this is too much to bear, but believe me, this is perfect grief, in all its messiness and torture and tears.

Whatever you do, please don't stuff the emotion away. Don't eat it away. Don't drink it away. Don't smoke it away. Sit with it. Sit with those tears and the heartbreak. Cry and scream and flail and curse and hit your pillows with all of your might. But feel it. Because only through feeling it can we properly move through it.

You're perfect. Right now. In all of your worry and sinking guilt and burden. You're perfect; just where you need to be. Remember that, always. Love yourself as best you can through this, one minute, one hour, one day at a time.

It will ease. But right now it's just messy. And that's the death of a parent.

I miss so dearly my father who passed away at 61 from lung cancer almost three years ago now. But I no longer cry when I think of him. I laugh and smile. I talk to him aloud. He's here with me -- I can feel his love in my heart and his words in my head. I can see his shining eyes, and the air around me fills with sunshine when he's in my thoughts. This is how grief can eventually feel... peaceful and full of love.

But first we go through what you are. And my heart simply aches for you right now.

I'm here if you need to talk/share; please feel free to memail me.
posted by Falwless at 10:31 AM on July 31, 2012 [9 favorites]

Hi, OP, I am so, so sorry for your loss. It's ok to cry. There is no shame in grieving, in letting your pain out. It's ok to need people. Losing family is a terrible thing, whether it was sudden or a long time in coming.

It will hurt like more than hell for a long while. You will continue to live, and trust me, it will get better. You will always miss her, but it won't feel like so much of a Grand Canyon-sized hole in your life. She will continue to live through your memory of her, and the lessons she instilled in you.

(It's also ok to be jealous and resentful of people who still have one or both parents living. To people who complain about their moms, I think, "How can you sit there and bitch about your mom?! I wish I still had a mom to complain about.")

Before I make myself cry at work, I'll just say, if you want to talk, please MeFi mail me.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:33 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Depending on your age, you might want to look into some Motherless Daughters groups on Meetup. But they are really geared for someone was 25 or younger when they lost their mom.

There are likely grief support groups sponsored through your local hospital(s). (In the South Bay there is a place called the Wellness Community - it's not close to SGV, but they may know of a similar program in your area).

The funeral home may also be able to point you to some resources.

My deepest sympathies for your loss.
posted by vignettist at 10:49 AM on July 31, 2012

My Dad died five years ago (63, brain cancer), and I was in pretty much the same position you are now, only with just Mom and me left. I didn't talk to anybody, for the same reasons you're saying, and because I didn't much care for the professionals I was offered.

It's a fucked-up time. All I know is that there is as many ways of grieving as there are people, and you're not going to be 'yourself' for a good long time. The weirdness is OK.

And as much as it is a cliche to say, it does get better with time. What they don't say is that it's a really long fucking time. Some things will be strangely fine, and other things will set you off. You can't plan around it, it just happens. For years after. And that's OK. But the good days do start to outnumber the bad ones, eventually. But eventually is a long time away.

I'm sorry for your loss. Know that you're not alone, and there's no 'proper' way to do this.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:50 AM on July 31, 2012

Best answer: My condolences.

except for moments where things seem normal and then I feel so guilty I can't breathe.

Please understand that those moments will become more frequent, and they are natural and healthy, and they are called healing, and the last thing you need to do is feel guilty about them.

Time. This is what it does. It heals. Embrace those moments. Your mother would be happy to see you do so.
posted by Decani at 10:52 AM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Look, you have to let yourself grieve. Right now you're not, and that's why you're so miserable. You can be weepy and clingy and weird and maudlin or gothic and doomed and brooding like the lead in a Vincent Price movie and that's okay. It's part of the healing process.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2012

I haven't been through anything like this. But I want to tell you a story about someone who has.

A good friend of my family's lost both his wife and his daughter within a year of each other. At the time, I remember thinking that something like that must be impossible to come back from. He thought so too. At his daughter's funeral he said something I'll never forget: "My life is over now. I don't have steps to take. I can barely make it through the day. Nothing that happens to me will matter anymore." I know, when he said that, that he meant it 100%. That he fully believed that he would never again experience happiness.

The thing is, he was wrong. He joined a support group. He threw himself into volunteer work, starting a charitable foundation in his daughter's honor. And now, years later, while I'm sure no day passes without him thinking about what happened, he isn't having trouble making it through the day. In fact, he just wrote a novel.

So, I don't have specific recommendations. I just wanted to let you know that you can find a way to go on.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:13 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, I am so very, very sorry to hear this. My heart goes out to you and your dad.

Practical things first: Here's a list of therapists in Pasadena who list grief & loss as a specialty. (I hope a list isn't too overwhelming; maybe some local folks will be able to recommend some specific therapists there. It looks like you can narrow it down by playing with some of the filters on the left-hand side of the page.) I agree that it might be useful to ask the funeral home or your psychiatrist for recommendations, too; the funeral home should be experienced in the question, and your psychiatrist should certainly understand and support the use of talk therapy under the circumstances (even if she doesn't happen to practice it).

If you might be interested in a Buddhist approach (this would be my personal drift, but I don't know if it applies to you -- just putting it out there), the Insight Center (Westside, unfortunately) offers grief counseling as well. There may be counselors on that list I linked to who use it as an approach, too.

Second: I'm going to memail you as well, but I wanted to chime in here as well to echo everything Falwless just said. There is nothing wrong with you. Everything you're feeling right now, as painful as it is, is natural and healthy -- grief, shock, confusion, guilt, fear, the whole painful ball of wax. Nothing you feel right now is wrong. This is a fresh, new, real pain. It's perfectly fine to cry as much as you need to, or talk about it as much as you have to.

I haven't gone through the death of a parent, but I've grieved for other major losses, and I found that the thing that frightened me most was the pervasive sense that once I let myself really feel the pain, it would never stop. But I learned that all feelings (even the most excruciating ones) have a life cycle, in which they come and go both at the immediate (daily) level, and at the more macro level over the course of months and years. This rhythm is also totally natural. You have good moments in each day where you feel a respite from the immediate grief, just as -- eventually -- you will have good days in the midst of months, and good weeks and months in the midst of years.

I know this seems unbelievable right now. It's OK not to believe it. Just try to tell yourself that when that voice in your head says "you'll never feel better again" -- well, that's the fear talking. It's not a fact. The pain won't swallow you up forever if you allow yourself to feel it; in fact, if you let yourself feel it, in all its intensity, you will ultimately be able to heal more strongly in the long run than if you ostrich it.

Give yourself the room to feel and grieve as freely as you need. Be kind and gentle with yourself, at all times. Look upon yourself with tenderness, just as your mother would. Not only will you be giving yourself a profound gift, you will be paying great honor to her.
posted by scody at 11:40 AM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: No specific resources, but this happened to me with my dad eight years ago.

I was a weepy mess for about a year afterwards but it got easier to control in front of people after a couple of months. I still get fits of uncontrollable crying about him if I focus on specific things. That's OK, he was my dad and I only get one so it's right to be sad and miss him. At the start it was also OK to be despairing, panicky and not seeing a way to go on.

The thing is, unless you spontaneously combust or get hit by a bus tomorrow, you will go on because you don't have another choice. Existing for another day isn't too hard, and all you have to do is keep doing that. I'd accept that you may not be able to do anything else for a month or two but keep giving yourself permission to try if you feel like it. People kept saying I was brave and coping so well, but really I was just putting one foot in front of another.

I knew someone whose parent died suddenly in the hospital that she worked in - she just didn't ever go back to her job and we all understood. Grief is really hard. You get to do it however it helps you.

I don't think you should focus on supporting your dad. We found that we were all hurting equally and it felt a bit like we were walking around in little bubbles, unable to help each other because it was just as bad for all of us. Doing normal stuff together when you can is probably the best support.

It took me a while just to get my head around not seeing my dad again. We did a photo slideshow for his memorial service and that sort of helped. Having to tell people also helped because it got a bit more real each time.

Occasionally, bits of poems helped me. When we were planning the cremation, we found this website here - I cried along to most of the poems and then the rest of the website was also helpful.
posted by kadia_a at 12:37 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss. I wish I had good grief management stories to share, but as it turns out, I'm pretty bad at it. But I wanted to drop you a note to tell you how sorry I am, and let you know that if you want to get all weepy and clingy on me, you can.
posted by dejah420 at 2:22 PM on July 31, 2012

Death is the least welcome of the facts of life. No one is very good at handling it. Distraction helps. Anything that keeps the raw wound in the background until time starts to heal it. In your mother's memory, can you volunteer for cancer or stroke charities?
posted by Cranberry at 2:28 PM on July 31, 2012

Best answer: I am so sorry for your loss. I know of a very good therapist who I saw for over a year after my son died. She sees mainly people who have lost children but does also see people for general grief counseling as well. She is located East Pasadena. Memail me if you would like her info.

I would also suggest looking into grief groups. I found them helpful. There is probably one associated with the hospital your mother was at. If they don't have one then they probably can direct you to one. Talking about my loss was the most helpful thing I did to get through the worst of it.
posted by teamnap at 4:06 PM on July 31, 2012

Hi, my condolences for your pain. Call the USC Psychology Services Center at 213-740-1600. They might be able to see you now (very low cost), and if not, they have many community referral options for you. Sorry to hear you're going through this...
posted by namesarehard at 12:35 AM on August 1, 2012

I don't have an answer for you, except to give you my sympathy. Grief and shock and mourning are three different things, and will come and go accordingly. When my father passed away it helped me to separate these things, and to write a lot in my journal.
posted by macinchik at 2:08 AM on August 1, 2012

I'm so sorry. I know how devastating it is to lose a parent - my mother died of cancer 7 years ago. I woke up in tears every day for a year and thought the hugeness of the sorrow would never fade. It has gotten better though - I can remember her with sorry but without the agony of the first many months. I think all one can do is take one step after another, breathe, be kind to oneself. People local to you have posted some great resources. Try to take good care of yourself - walk, eat good food, do things that give you pleasure. Taking care of your body will help you cope better than eating a lot of junk but don't judge yourself when you need to. It will get better.

I like the idea of doing some sort of volunteer work in her memory - I think it's comforting in multiple ways.
posted by leslies at 5:50 AM on August 1, 2012

Best answer: Give yourself the room to feel and grieve as freely as you need. Be kind and gentle with yourself, at all times. Look upon yourself with tenderness, just as your mother would.

And be patient with yourself. There is no schedule for this. I found Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking extremely helpful for articulating and pulling apart the fiction that there's a way grieving should go, and a length of time it should take. There isn't.

The "going on" advice that worked for me was: Wake up in the morning and get out of bed. If you have to go back to bed, that's okay. If you don't have to go back to bed, do the next step in your morning routine. If you have to go back to bed after you've done it, that's okay. Take everything one step at a time and give yourself permission to be overwhelmed. If one day you get all the way through your routine and out of the house, and the next day you don't -- that's also okay.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, for your kind words here and in MeMail.
I wish the Westside resources were practical for me, they seem terrific. I have found a therapist in Pasadena specializing in Grief/Loss, working in CBT and mindfulness, which is awesome. Not awesome is having to wait another two weeks to meet her.
Dad and I are looking into grief groups, for us individually and together. City of Hope (where she was) has wonderful resources, but neither of us are ready to go back there.

I know just enough psych to armchair analyze myself and in that sense, I'm waiting for the anger to happen. Because that means I'm working though it, you know? But it's not there. I'm just sad, all the time. And that's it's own can of worms because, except for the last few years, my mother and I have not gotten along. Our fights were legend in the neighborhood. Until last year, she was an intensely unhappy person who took that pain out on everyone around her and I feel like a total hypocrite for being so upset and sad.

Anyway, I'd mark all of you as best answerers, but I suppose that's not what that's for. Thank you again.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:38 AM on August 9, 2012

That's not necessarily hypocritical.

I am reminded of something my ex said once in an online forum when someone praised him for being "calm and rational" all the time. He told them it wasn't a mark of self restraint. It was just that they didn't matter to him enough to get mad at. The only person he ever got that mad at was his wife. In other words, he occasionally yelled at me. It was a mark of being strongly emotionally invested in the relationship.

It sucks that we tend to yell the most at the folks who mean the most to us. But it isn't hypocrisy which fuels that fact.

Take care and good journey.
posted by Michele in California at 10:49 AM on August 9, 2012

I know just enough psych to armchair analyze myself and in that sense, I'm waiting for the anger to happen. Because that means I'm working though it, you know? But it's not there. I'm just sad, all the time.

That's OK. I think the stages of grief have become over-codified in some ways, like it's a definite Point A to Point B to Point C process, by which you can reliably measure progress. But I think it's often a lot more emotionally and cognitively peripatetic than that, and sometimes progress can really only be recognized in retrospect. Which is all a way of saying that, if you can, try to let go of second-guessing yourself in terms of what you're feeling, and what you think you should be feeling or what to expect happens next. Just remember: whatever you're doing in terms of your grieving, you're not doing it wrong.

Until last year, she was an intensely unhappy person who took that pain out on everyone around her and I feel like a total hypocrite for being so upset and sad.

Aw, honey. There's no hypocrisy here. You had a difficult relationship with her (though it sounds like in the last few years you guys were perhaps building a new bond?) and can recognize that she was a woman with a lot of pain in her life. Nothing about those facts mean that her loss should be any easier for you. She was your mom and it hurts that she's gone. No two ways about it. You're not a hypocrite; you're human.

I'm glad you're going to be able to see someone, even if it's still a few weeks away. Keep taking gentle, gentle care of yourself.
posted by scody at 3:51 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cite supporting what scody's saying, right in the introduction of the Wikipedia article on the Kübler-Ross model (which also has a critiques section):
Kübler-Ross added that these stages are not meant to be complete or chronological. Her hypothesis also holds that not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or life-altering event feels all five of the responses nor will everyone who does experience them do so in any particular order. The hypothesis is that the reactions to illness, death, and loss are as unique as the person experiencing them.
You're not doing it wrong if you never feel angry. You're not doing it wrong if you feel angry and then go back to sadness. If you were to wake up tomorrow feeling fine, you would not be doing it wrong.

It sounds like you and your mother were getting to a place where a fraught relationship eased, and in addition to what scody said about naturalness of your feelings in any circumstance, it would be perfectly understandable if you're mourning the loss of the possibility of a better relationship with your mom.

Take care, and be patient with yourself.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:20 AM on August 11, 2012

My mom died on August 12, a little more than two weeks ago.

I ... I have been a wreck. I feel like I'm going to throw up. I feel like I'm drunk. I feel like I'm drowning. I feel like I'm falling. I ... I just don't know what to say.

I don't have an answer to add here. I came here looking for one.

I was in 6th or 7th grade when my maternal grandfather died, so it wasn't really ... I just didn't really "get" mortality then. My maternal grandmother died in '07, but she was very old and we'd seen it coming for a long time. My paternal grandfather died just a year or so ago, but he was also very, very old and we knew he didn't have long. (My paternal grandmother is 85, sharp as a tack, and healthy as a horse.)

I have never been this sad. Ever. I don't even know where to begin. It's like ... I don't know how to be a person without a mom.

I spontaneously start weeping like someone just told me the news. I have no idea how I'm going to go back to work tomorrow, but I must, so I will. But I don't know if I'll make it through the whole day.

Like I said, I'm sorry I don't have an answer for you. I don't know that there is one.
posted by GatorDavid at 5:20 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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