I wondered what it would be like. Would I be enormously relieved? Would I be sad? Would I cry? Would I feel guilty, worry that I hadn’t done enough or could have done better? Would I wonder what I was supposed to do next after so many years of focusing on her well-being? Would I continue to automatically turn my car toward her nursing home? Would I, without thinking, look for her favorite but hard to find cookies in the grocery aisle? Would I still wake up at 3:00 a.m. to worry about her or her latest illness, or challenge? Would I feel grief?
The answer is yes – to all the above.
I have written about grief before. My brother passed away suddenly and way too soon. Grief can hit you like a hurricane. Or it may grab you by the ankles at unexpected times and in subtle ways. My brother’s death set me reeling and I am still not quite on steady ground with his leaving. But many times as I watched my mother endure her slow decline, I wondered if it was time. I wondered how much longer I would have to watch, to worry, to be so incredibly tired. I was on an emotional see-saw wanting her suffering to be over while wanting to help her still find joy and experience some sense of purpose. I felt tremendous guilt at having some of those thoughts and feelings.
Those of us who are caregivers have been grieving for a long while. We have been grieving all along the journey. And we worry – that we are not doing enough or doing it good enough. Sometimes we are sick and tired of caregiving. So, I suppose it is normal to wonder if we will also grieve when that journey is over.
I felt grief when I had to take over her checkbook. The woman who had been a whiz at bookkeeping, balanced her checkbook to the last penny, and shamed me for not doing so, now put the stamps on after I wrote the checks for her bills.
I felt grief when the woman who was known for her fashion sense put on earrings that didn’t match her outfit.
I felt grief when she longed for her house and asked me to take her back there.
I felt grief when the tall woman with the rim rod straight posture became stooped and twisted.
I felt grief that last Sunday when I looked in to her clear blue eyes and said, “Mama, you are pretty sick and we are not going to be able to make you better.”
Sometimes we were Frick and Frack, sometimes yin and yang, Lucy and Ethel, and sometimes we were oil and water. She could drive me up the wall. I often did not meet her expectations. Sometimes she was my pal. Sometimes she was my sounding board, my benefactor, my counselor and advisor, my shopping companion and recipe sharer. Sometimes she took care of me.
The world wants me back. Meetings occur, events happen. I see folks out and about who say, “Hey, how are you?” and they expect the standard “I’m fine.” answer. I am not accusing or blaming – it’s just the way it is. It’s been a month. The night after my mother died there was a lovely harvest moon. As my sister and I gazed up at it that night, I commented that Mom was in Heaven, shining down on us. This weekend was the next full moon. As I gazed at it alone, I sent her a little wave and a wink.
I miss my mother.