Coping With Losing a Loved One
My mother passed away on April 22nd, 2014. She was one of the greatest women I have ever known. She was mischievous, hard-working, scary at times, and the most comforting presence ever at other times.
Her death impacted our entire family in various ways. My father and my brother’s struggles are their own to share, but I can share mine.
I do not remember specific dates as a kid, so there is not an exact timeline here. I remember being picked up from after-school care by my mother. As we walked back through the building to the parking lot, she remarked how her knee was bugging her.
I could see a slight limp in her gait as well. It turns out she had a tumour in her leg. She got it surgically removed, got a knee brace, and began physical therapy.
I will always remember the sound of her knee brace creaking as she descended the stairs to the basement to tuck in my brother and I and to wish us goodnight. Things were looking up; my mom felt better and joined my dad in cycling, one of his favourite pastimes. They did a few races together. Then the doctors discovered another tumor above her eye.
(My mom and myself as a baby)
They removed that tumor, which resulted in the loss of her eye and required her to spend time in the hospital. I remember visiting her a few times and doing my best to make her laugh with my Vin Diesel impression.
She had a hole in her throat, so I could hear her words twice as they came from her throat and mouth. It sounded like they were vibrating, for lack of a better word. I was a little unnerved at first, but I got used to it. We brought her starbursts candy in the hospital and watched reality tv shows with her.
She came home once again and began chemotherapy for her cancer. I had no concept of what chemotherapy felt like or did to her body. She rested a lot and bundled up. In hindsight, I wish I had done more to help - I know I could have done more to comfort her.
We went on a vacation to Boston. We were joking around, and she pushed me onto the hotel bed and jumped on after me. I was laughing and giggling; it felt like she was her old self. That moment was special and one I will treasure.
They discovered more tumours in her body. One was in her mouth. It pushed her teeth around and gave her trouble talking. She stayed in a palliative care centre.
I asked my dad in the car ride to the centre when mom would come home again. He gently explained to me that she would never come home again and would probably pass away soon. I did not process that properly.
We played Chinese checkers with my mom and left when she started getting agitated. I think that may have been the last time I saw my mother.
Sometime later, I walked home from school with my brother, and my dad greeted us in the kitchen. He told us mom passed away. I nodded a bit for a minute and then broke down in tears. We all hugged each other and cried.
(Us at heritage park)
I did not properly process my grief over my mom. I internalized it, not giving myself time to heal, and instead focused on making sure my dad and brother were happy because I thought that was the right thing to do. My grief manifested itself in different ways.
I was suspended from school because I slapped my teacher as a result of a dare. Afterwards, in a talk with the school counsellor, she told me she thought this was me acting out because of my mom’s passing. I did not believe her because I thought I had accepted my mom’s death and put it behind me.
I would cry a lot before bed, and my dad had to comfort me. Anger issues were a problem that plagued me, and sometimes I would just shut down and break into tears. My OCD started to manifest itself. I obsessed over locked doors, so I unlocked and locked them repeatedly to keep the house safe.
I convinced my dad to set the alarm again. It scared me when it went off by accident a few times. Every creak I heard on the floor above me was potential proof an intruder was stalking through our house. Nighttime was something I started to dread.
Most nights, I would sleep in my dads’ bed because I was so scared. Then my brother started sleeping on the couch upstairs so he could be closer to us. I felt like crap that he had to move upstairs to feel comfortable.
I eventually got over the door-locking terrors, although I still test locked doors to this day and double-check that I locked them properly. Next came the excessive hand-washing phase. Every time I did something in the bathroom, I had to wash my hands repeatedly. This made my hands very dry and cracked.
I remember counting the cuts on my hand and noticing more than 100. Eventually, that got better, too, though I still wash my hands a lot more vigorously than others.
Now I am dealing with OCD based on personal hygiene and cleanliness. Using the bathroom took about 8 hours in the early days. It is a lot better now, but it is still an ongoing process.
Depression came after, another ongoing thing to manage. I do not know if these things were related to the passing of my mother and related to my grief over her, but they are related to the depression at least. Losing a loved one gives multiple challenges in terms of coping and dealing with grief.
(My mom, my brother, and I)
I’ve talked to a few therapists, one quite a few times, regarding my mother and my OCD. Losing someone close to you affects everybody differently. I had to learn to let out and express my anger and grief, something I suppressed doing until recently. It still comes out sometimes, and I must remind myself that it’s natural to feel this way and to just let it out instead of denying it and thinking there’s something wrong with me
I have also watched my father and brother deal with their own struggles, each in their own way. My nana gave me some advice that I still think about in addition to my own experiences. She said something along the lines of, “I know your mother is watching down on us from heaven, and she wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time.” I’m not a big religious guy, but I hope that my mom's still watching our journey from somewhere.
Everyone faces challenges and has their own ways of coping with them, along with unique situations and difficulties. I may not be fully qualified to give advice. However, I have personal experience with this struggle. Therefore, I can offer some insights.
Don’t bottle up your emotions; they just come out eventually in a violent fashion. Try to accept them and let them pass, and do not think any less of yourself for it. You have to learn to love yourself and make peace with your actions in the past and how you feel now.
The past isn’t something you can change, but the present is. Take your emotions and use them as the drive/motivation for implementing change in the present.
Also, take some time for yourself. Help others, but don't forget to help yourself too. You cannot help anyone if you have not helped yourself as well. It will just result in a gradual breakdown if you ignore your issues.
The rest of my advice is common sense stuff everybody knows. Keep good habits, exercise regularly, and partake in hobbies or activities that interest you to add happiness to your life. It is a great way to meet people and something to look forward to when things seem tough.
Express your feelings with others and communicate with loved ones. They want to support you just as much as you want to support them. You are not alone, and you will never be alone. Isolation is something you force upon yourself and it is not a weakness to ask for help.
The best advice I received and now offer to you is to appreciate the time you have with your loved one. Instead of focusing on the time they should have lived, cherish the moments you have together.
It is healthier to live for them now rather than to obsess over the past, so live the life they would want you to. It's not a crime to experience grief or be sad. It is just a testament to what kind of person they were. Do your best; that is all anybody can ask of you.
(The whole family)
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