Loss of a parent
June 28, 2017 12:11 PM   Subscribe

My mom, who had been dealing with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, died this Sunday kind of unexpectedly (we knew it was coming, just not this soon). I am feeling just overwhelmed right now but I also know that after this weekend, I need to go back to my apartment, new job, and do what I can to keep going on with life. How do people do this?

I love my mom so much, and we have always had a pretty uncomplicated and loving relationship; I realize this makes me pretty lucky and I value how much time I did get to spend with her, but that doesn't make it any easier in the moment to deal with the grief. She was only 64 and today would have been her 65th birthday.

I was preparing to deal with her death by maybe the end of the year - she had been dealing with metastatic breast cancer in her lungs since about last August, and while one form of it was responding well to treatment, there was another form none of us knew about that was growing aggressively, eventually pushing on her heart. Last week she went into hospice care and on Sunday her heart just stopped. It was so sudden and so fast and just getting the word out to friends and other family and dealing with all of the funeral preparations and such is so overwhelming.

The hospice, as much as it could be, was a good experience with some really amazing caregivers present, and her death itself was actually kind of peaceful and much less scary than I was anticipating. The facility offers follow-up services for the survivors but I live a couple hours away in Milwaukee, while the rest of my immediate family is in the NW Chicago suburbs. I am here with my dad and sister probably through Sunday. In the middle of all this, I started a new job back on June 19th - they have been flexible in me taking this week off, but I really do have to be back there next Monday (even if they were willing to be more flexible, I'm not in a financial position to pay my rent without getting back to work asap).

So I guess my question is, for those here who have been through the death of a parent (I am female and this is my mother for any relevance that has, although I am happy for advice from anyone willing to share), what helped you get through the time right after? What helped you deal with being back in your "normal" life and working even if that's not what you wanted to do? What kinds of things help in the long-term, and what kinds of things can I expect to feel or at least try to be ready for over the longer term? I have so many friends and family members and friends of hers willing to bring food and hugs, and I am getting to sleep over with my sister while I am here visiting, but grief is just such a lonely thing and I miss my mom so, so much and I just don't know what do even do with myself right now to make the time of a whole day go by.
posted by augustimagination to Human Relations (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I drank a lot and got a memorial tattoo.

It's been six years and I still tear up taking about him.
posted by booooooze at 12:38 PM on June 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi. I'm really sorry you're going through this. I know how hard it can be; my mom died just before I turned 30. I don't know that the techniques I used were all exactly healthy, but...they got me through.

what helped you get through the time right after?

Cried a lot. Smoked weed. Watched a lot of TV, reread a lot of old favorite books. Slept a lot. Did my best to let my friends take care of me, but it was hard.

what kinds of things can I expect to feel or at least try to be ready for over the longer term?

Unexpected Encounters With Surprise Grief! Maybe one day six months from now you're in the grocery store and you feel fine, and then SURPRISE you see a product or smell something that abruptly reminds you really strongly of your mom and you break down crying in the canned soup aisle. There may not even be a particular thing that reminds you - it might just happen for no obvious reason. You might also have some weeks or months where it seems like you are feeling better (because you are), and then you go through a period where you are feeling worse and very sad again. This is normal. I give you permission to smack anyone who so much as hints that you should be "over it" by now.

What kinds of things help in the long-term

I went back into therapy. I was one of the first in my friend group to lose a parent (in fact, both my parents died within a year), and I'm an only child, so I had a huge existential crisis. Therapy helped a ton. On preview: I also got a memorial tattoo, a year and a day after my mom died.

Set a calendar reminder for about a month before Mother's Day 2018 to remind yourself to avoid as much social media/media in general as possible.
posted by rtha at 12:43 PM on June 28, 2017 [17 favorites]

Best answer: My died unexpectedly a few months ago. I found going back to work helpful because it kept my mind off things I gave myself permission to not think about it at work. The biggest thing that surprised me about how I felt/feel is that I was exhausted just about all the time, it felt like the grief was wearing me out physically. I also found myself becoming angry and or sad at random times. I also found that after the initial rush most people don't ask about it and it's been a very very lonely thing.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:47 PM on June 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am sorry for your loss.

When I lost my mom I just kind of slept a lot as needed, called my friends last minute and demanded they take me out (they were very understanding and accommodating, god love them), and fell out with a lot of people who I felt were living frivolously while I was so deep in my "MY MOM DIED" phase. I was also probably a lot younger than you (my mom died in her 40's), so I had a little more leeway to be irresponsible.

If you really must go back to work, make it really well known to everyone you come across that your mom just died, as much as is comfortable for you. Well meaning people will ask questions; it's okay to say "I'm sorry, I can't talk about it yet but thank you for asking". The point is, there's no way to get through it except to go through it, and it's better to allow yourself to indulge your feelings in order to experience and move through your grief. In my experience, if you try to suppress it, it will come out in other, and not always healthy ways. I tried to suppress it and keep a stiff upper lip and everyone said "wow, you're handling it so well" but it ended up coming out later in life and I had to do three years of counseling to move through and beyond it. That's okay, that's my journey, but I probably should have allowed myself to process it sooner.

So don't hide your feelings that work. As much as is reasonable take time off. Don't feel bad about spending a whole Saturday on the couch. If people cross your boundaries, it's okay to tell them. Your boundaries may change from day to day. That's okay too. Get into a grief support group when you can, they are wonderful support when you feel like no one else understands.

Again, I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by vignettist at 12:49 PM on June 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's very, very hard. I lost my dad in 2016 and I'm still raw sometimes about it. Those first few weeks back at work were very difficult, largely because I really couldn't understand how people could give a shit about such petty and moronic things when a *good* person was no longer in the world. I may have actually said in a meeting, "Y'all do whatever." because I could not muster up enough fucks to give about something so small on the scale of the world.

I also randomly cried about shit that never bothered me before. I had to stop reading a book that I was reading when he died because the father in the book dies. I went back to therapy, mainly so I could have the vocabulary to deal with my mother now that there wasn't the buffer of my dad.

It takes time and it will never stop sucking. You'll always miss her and there will be moments that the unfairness of it makes you want to destroy the world. But remember, you were lucky in that you actually had a relationship with your mother, albeit short, but an actual relationship. Remind yourself of that and be okay with yelling that it's still just so fucking unfair.

I also got a tattoo, and I got it somewhere visible because now Daddy can't give me the disappointed face about it. So there will be those things too. Things you always told yourself you couldn't do because it would let your mom down, or she would worry or whatever. I've learned to let some of those limitations go.

I'm sorry you have to go through this. It's a wretched part of life that almost everyone has to deal with. Remember this for the future and try to be kind to other folks when they become parentless. It does get a little better, but it just takes time and patience with yourself.
posted by teleri025 at 1:39 PM on June 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am so very sorry for your loss. If it helps, one is never "prepared" for the death of a parent. My own mother died after living with Alzheimer's for 10 years, and I was still gutted by her death.
Your grief will take its own time, and will show itself in its own way. Everyone is different. Make peace with that, and leave room for it. Gradually, the pain lessens, but the hole in my heart has never healed completely. Like you, I was very close to my mother, and although I lost the person I grieve long before her death, the grief was palpably different after her passing.
Be good to yourself. Sometimes, helping others will help you recover. Being out in nature helped me a lot.
posted by dbmcd at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend. Sleep as much as you need to; I am seconding that what surprised me most was the physical fatigue. We don't really appreciate how much our emotions affect us physically. Go out if you want to, stay home if you don't, feel no guilt about it. If you do go out but decide halfway through you can't handle it, again: go home and feel no guilt.

There is no "long enough" time to grieve, so give yourself whatever time you need. It might be a year, it might be longer. You might feel mostly normal in 6 months. You might crash unexpectedly.

Carry tissues with you, give up eye makeup for a while if you wear it. Carry maybe a journal to write down your thoughts.

You will find a solid, stable place, eventually. Grief gets duller with time and you have scars instead of bleeding. Every day you get a little closer to feeling better, so don't let yourself believe you never will.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on June 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry for you loss. My mother died unexpectedly in January. She was 97 and getting weaker physically, but was in relatively good shape, mentally as well, and didn't begin to "fail" like I suppose we expected she would before dying. She ate dinner, said she was tired and wanted to close her eyes for awhile, and that was that.

I went back to work pretty soon. Talking about it helped me, and my friends at at work were quite sympathetic and willing to let me talk.

I also found that writing a thank-you note for every card, letter, and donation I received was cathartic.

Although the tears still come, I'm now beginning to think about and remember her more often with fond memories than with tears.
posted by Dolley at 3:13 PM on June 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Antidepressants. Honestly, that's the only thing that did me any good when I was so stunned I could barely think.

I lost my Dad unexpectedly, right before my last semester of school and then my Mom, also unexpectedly, just a few months later. First, figure out what you absolutely have to do, work and that kind of stuff, and focus on getting that done. Next, if you have friends you can talk to about your Mom and what happened you should try that. If you are religious you might benefit from a Grief Share group. Mourning with other people helps take away some of the alienation you're feeling. Finally, don't be afraid to go to a therapist. You're going to hurt for a while but they can help you keep things in perspective.

Good luck.
posted by irisclara at 3:18 PM on June 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am sorry you are going through this. It really, really sucks.
I asked a similar question - gosh.. it'll be five years next month - and got the kindest, most thoughtful notes from the members of this community. I've had a very long, complicated grieving process that to this day will sometimes show up and kick my emotions around. That said, here's what I know:
- I still miss her, all the time. The difference is that it doesn't always hurt. Sometimes it feels fresh, or the missing her hits hard and lingers, but it gets better, slowly.
- rtha is 100% right about Unexpected Encounters With Surprise Grief.
- be kind to yourself. Everything you're feeling is part of the process, even feeling better. I still feel guilty sometimes when I realize I haven't thought about her in a while. I have to remind myself that moving on is what's supposed to happen.
- I worked with a terrific grief counselor for a short time, and that helped me create strategies for letting myself move forward.
- Time is the real healer. I don't think it'll ever be like before, but over time, the rawness fades.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like to swap mom stories, or would like a virtual shoulder.

Be kind to yourself.
posted by ApathyGirl at 3:30 PM on June 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to the great advice above, friends will ask what they can do. Make plans to do something like seeing a movie, going to a museum, or going to dinner in 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14+ weeks. There will be a shock period and then there's the isolation that happens once the chaos and shock fall away. It's in the months after (when friends may not be checking in as much anymore) that having plans and friend time can really, really help. I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by quince at 3:46 PM on June 28, 2017

Best answer: I'm really sorry about your mom.

It happened to me 11 years ago and I still miss her. That doesn't change for me - I was also lucky enough to have a good if sometimes robust relationship with her and I miss hearing her voice. The thing I noticed was that sometimes time seemed to fold in on itself - I can't really describe it in any other way, but it was as if I was suddenly acutely aware that she had died all over again (even though I knew that at the same time) and it was, "how can she be a week / month / year dead - I was only just talking to her!" That has lessened over time but was A Thing for a good few years afterwards and was quite a difficult feeling to experience.

I went back to work two weeks afterwards and that was right for me, although I know some people take more or less time than that. I found being at work helpful because the sheer mundane nature of it allowed me time off from the active grieving, which took place on the drives home and in the evenings.

You don't get over it but you do get through it, and you accommodate it in the newly distorted shape of your life. One thing I thought to myself that sort of helped was that everyone that ever lived and loved people would have gone through something very like this, so in a sad and painful way it tied me more closely to the rest of humanity. The other thing I found was that people, including strangers, are generally very kind.

Again, I'm very sorry you're going through this.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:13 PM on June 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ohhhhh man. My sincere condolences. My dad died just under a year ago. He was diagnosed with cancer in December and died in July.

You ask what helped us get through the time immediately after: I am still not sure how I coped. Just that I did, because, well, what was the alternative? There was a lot to do after my father died. He had left copious instructions to ensure we got it all right :)

I rested a LOT in the immediate aftermath of his passing, but the tidying up of his home, effects and estate kept me busy for months afterwards. I didn't enjoy it and it was a terribly sad task but it was good to have that to focus on.

So here's some advice.

- Rest, rest, rest. Not just physically. Emotionally too. Do not feel guilty for avoiding stressful social interaction, or losing a day (or several days) to comfort reading or mainlining Netflix. You have been through an ordeal. Now you need to rest. If you can take time off from work, DO.

- Don't expect too much from friends or family. You will be pleasantly surprised by people you expected nothing from, and disappointed by people you expected a lot from. Try not to have expectations. Don't hold it against the people who disappoint you. Be grateful for the goodness and love you will receive, sometimes from unexpected places.

- Don't have expectations of your own feelings. Don't feel guilty, in other words, if you feel relieved that you don't have to worry about your mother anymore, or that you feel like your time is your own again. I felt like this. I deeply, and sincerely, grieve for my father, and yet I still have moments of equally sincere relief that I don't have to worry about him anymore. Sometimes I feel mad at him too. We were close; when you're that close, your relationship is bound to contain multiple facets.

- This is something I struggle with, because I hate embarrassing people, but... Don't feel bad about talking about your grief if you need to.

- Sometimes you'll need to wallow in your grief, and that's fine. Sometimes you'll push the grief away because you just can't deal with it right now, and that's also fine. You can't get this wrong.

- You may be sad, angry, your other relationships may suffer. Be aware that this is a common consequence of grief. Don't blame yourself. It won't last forever. Be aware that your grief will colour your perception of your experiences long after it feels like you have stopped 'officially' grieving. Just knowing that will help.

You will not lose your mother. You will not lose her. I don't mean in a religious sense - I just mean that you will find yourself using phrases you learned from her, hearing her voice in your head, realising that you can look in the mirror and see her bone structure in your face. Random things will bring her back to you. You won't forget her. So much of your life experience will have come from your relationship with your mother. That doesn't go away even if she, the person, isn't here anymore. You have you, and she will always be with you.

Please feel free to memail me if you need to talk. I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:30 PM on June 28, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry for your loss. I lost both my parents within a few months of each other about a year ago, and it isn't easy. I still feel sad and/or angry almost every day. Some things that help me:
-The satisfaction that I outlived them. It sounds weird, but as bad as losing parents is, I am happy that they never had to lose any children.
-The daily realization that there are many people, including my future self, who rely on me, as I once did them.
-Thinking about the positive things they passed along to me, and how I can pass them along.

I don't know about taking rest- I had to go back to work right away, but in some ways I think that was OK too.
posted by Maxwell's demon at 7:59 PM on June 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I posted the text below to a similar question on here. I came across it on Reddit and it really resonated with me and helped ground me a little when I was going through my mother's loss. I hope it helps you too.

This is the original link to the whole post but I copy/pasted the relevant portion below:

" [...] As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks."
posted by eatcake at 8:30 PM on June 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry about your mom.

I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer a few years ago. It was somewhat similar to your situation; we thought he had a prognosis of 1-3 years, but he took a sudden turn for the worse and died after four months.

Things that helped me:

1. I am very introverted so talking to lots of people about it wasn't something I was interested in. I took comfort in gestures that people made that didn't require me to react right away. My boss sent me flowers, lots of people (including my very sweet and earnest nephew) sent me cards. My mom put up an electronic memorial book and I found it comforting to read the entries and see the lives that he had touched.

2. I had a trip to Chicago that I'd scheduled before Dad got really sick. My husband and I went and we invited my mom to join us. It was nice for all of us to get a short change of scenery.

3. I had a six-week break from my job, which was a good way for me to recharge (I was finishing up a hugely stressful project and was struggling with burnout even before my dad got sick.)

4. My dad, when he knew he was dying, asked me to do two things. One was take care of my mother, which isn't necessary right now as she's doing fine on her own. The other was to financially help out a cousin who was working on an opera. This second one took a bit of effort, but it felt good to carry it out.

I want to echo the others that feelings of sadness and anger can linger for a long time, or at least they have for me.
posted by creepygirl at 8:31 PM on June 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For right now,....new acquaintances at work might see news of your mother's death as a jumping off point to talk endlessly about their own past grief...you shouldn't feel obligated to listen. Say, "I'm sorry but this is too painful at the moment."
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:27 PM on June 28, 2017

Best answer: My mom died on Mother's Day this year.

I've had a hard time when people offer sympathy or start getting choked up themselves. A couple of times I just said, "I'd rather not right now" and redirected the conversation to something else. I found that most people, especially those who didn't know Mom well, are sort of relieved to get some direction from me about how to handle the situation. Nobody has gotten upset or offended that I didn't want to talk about it right then.
posted by workerant at 9:42 AM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: The quote above from eatcake is so true. My parents were killed by a wrong-way drive about 18 months ago and for a while even just breathing brought me to tears. I cried at work, at home, in CVS, everywhere and anywhere.

All the advice above is good: Be kind to yourself and don't think you have to get over it or get on with life. You don't. Grief is part of living and at some point, the waves will come further apart, although I'm not so sure they will ever be smaller.

Love and hugs.
posted by byjingo! at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone so much for the comments and messages. I have a feeling I'll be coming back to read them over and over for months and longer. Today my sister and I found a letter my mom had written in 1989 before a trip my parents took to Australia. She wrote about how much we meant to her so that we could have it in case something happened to her on the trip. My heart is simultaneously breaking and so full of light reading it. For any parents here contemplating doing something similar or who have done something similar, I can tell you that it means more to me than I can ever really put in words.

Thanks mefi for being here for me <3
posted by augustimagination at 12:14 PM on June 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

MeMailed you.
posted by eponym at 9:50 AM on July 3, 2017

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