Figuring out what grief is

Tomorrow marks 2 months since Good Friday, and the worst day of my life – the day that my mother took her own life, and I still have no idea what “grieving” feels like.

In the days and weeks after, several kind-hearted peopled offered to help me out with the kids, “so you can grieve”, they said. This perplexed me at first, because I didn’t realize it was something that you put on your calendar and arranged a sitter for, like a date night or a work meeting. It was so confusing to imagine, how do I grieve?

Don’t get me wrong, I have felt the severity. The gamut of emotions I have experienced is a widespread range of awful.

Starting with the moment I answered the phone just after 11pm that night, and my dad spoke those words. Disbelief. Panic.

The drive, at that time of night probably only 9-10 minutes long, yet felt like an eternity of screaming at her. Anger.

Talking to my sisters, so far away, on the phone and crying together. The sisters who were with me growing up, riding the roller-coaster of life with a mother who was severely abused as a child and left with severe PTSD and depression. The sisters who are the only 2 people on earth who could possibly understand all of me. Painful.

Standing outside all night in the street with my dad staring at police tape, watching them leave with her at almost 4am, bringing him back to my couch and staring at him until 5am. Shock.

Helping my dad, the man who stood by this woman through thick and thin for 32+ years, pull the bloody sheets off the bed hours later. Trauma.

Driving away from the crematory with a box of ashes labeled with my mother’s name in my lap. Emptiness.

Celebrating her life on the beach with family and friends. Strangely peaceful.

Feeling like I’m frozen when the rest of the world around me is going on as if nothing happened. Confusing.

And then the days kept passing, and all of my family went home, all to try to resume “normal life”, knowing that normal is going to be different now.

We all deal with extreme stress differently. In my observation, and I’m sure leaving some out: there are people who shut down & do nothing, there are people who react in extreme anger or frustration, and there are people who busy themselves with everything else so they don’t have to deal with it.

You’ll find me at the end of that list, starting new projects so that I am too busy to think about this — or at least trying to be.

Of course, I have always been one who can’t stop. I thrive on always going, going, going, challenging myself and taking on new things. I’m not saying it’s always a good trait, but that is how I have always operated — magnified by trauma.

And now, I am using my busyness as a coping mechanism that, if not adjusted at some point, I’m sure will lead me to have one of those epic imploding breakdowns you see on Lifetime movies. (Does anyone even watch Lifetime movies anymore?)

The day time is strange, being in full mom and business mode. I have two small children who make me insanely happy all the time, yet having so many moments of happiness throughout my day feels so strange. Finding joy in things is always shadowed by the uncontrollable thoughts of why she didn’t want to be here for these moments. Being happy and laughing is often followed by a lingering feeling of wondering if she would change her mind if she could.

I love what I do, though I do two very different things — connecting with & helping women change their lives has a whole new meaning & is one hundred times more fulfilling, yet there are moments when I feel that I have nothing positive to offer them while I’m randomly bursting into tears. My other business revolves around writing code, which I had become burned out on for so long, and now find it a welcome distraction to focus on not missing a semi-colon rather than not missing my mom.

The night time…the hardest time. When my entire family is sleeping, yet I stay up late writing code or planning fitness challenges until my eyes are so heavy that they will close without showing me pictures that I don’t want to see.

Several nights I have laid awake for hours in fear because every time I closed my eyes I pictured her walking down the hallway, laying down on that bed, making that very final decision.

Eventually passing out from exhaustion, I am always awoken to the smiling and babbling brightness of my two year old daughter, and jolted right back into full out mom and business mode with a smile on my face. I will never let her experience this pain. Never. And honestly, the smile isn’t fake. There is so, so much happiness in my life, even though that happiness feels so strange now.

So here I sit, dreading tomorrow as if it has any significance because it makes it an “official” two months without my mother, yet it changes nothing.

As I type this, it dawns on me that I was wrong when I said that I am not not coping with this. This, putting my pain into words, that is me coping with this. That is me allowing myself to think & process this in my own way. Thinking back to my childhood, writing was always my way of coping. As if when I get it all down on paper (or in this case, a blog) it will no longer be inside of me.

Somewhere in an attic or storage building there is a box full of a child coping with a depressed mother. A mother who I endlessly sought the approval of. A mother who I desperately wanted to keep happy, at times at the expense of my own mental well-being. A mother I wish I could call, because she was my best friend.

Yet still, this thing people call “grieving”, I don’t know what it feels like. Maybe it feels different for everyone. Maybe grief is a sum of the anger, hurt, guilt, confusion, pain, emptiness, and deep sadness felt in moments that creep up on us out of nowhere, much like the 2 seconds that led us here, and then pass with the next happy moment brought by those still with us.

I don’t know what grief is, but I imagine now is my time in life that I will have to find out and deeply explore it. My only hope is that I can do so in a way that turns some part of this tragedy into something that burns brighter, that helps someone else, that brings meaning to all of the pain that started when my mother was born into the home of an abuser and started this chain that has brought me to this point where I put a period on this blog about the night she took her life.

positively imperfect peace, love & grace,
-jess

Grief

Hi, I’m Jessica! I am wife to Chris, and mom to Kaiper, Alana and our silver lab pup, Maui. We are expecting baby #3 right now, and excited to become a family of 5! I am a freelance website & blog developer, Co-Founder of Moxie Girl Fit Club, and aspiring author. I share about everything from parenting, how to make money from home, tutorials for my fellow bloggers, fitness and being a new homeschool family. Learn more about me here.

2 comments

  1. I too know exactly what it means to have a depressed mom and have to go through things before most kids even understand the word “depression”. I had to grow up quick at a very young age. I have also experienced suicide in my family. To me with all the loss I’ve experienced it’s one of the strangest kinds of losses. I say that meaning when it’s self inflicted so many more questions come up that will never be answered. Nothing anyone says (except maybe your sisters, dad, and husband) can truly help comfort you. And of course leaning on the Lord. Which from what I gather you are a believer? Any way, I have great empathy from the deepest parts of my heart. Just keep doing what it is you’re doing and focusing on that precious family of yours. With that like you said you break the chain of sadness, madness, and despair. And become a light that you will help to shine for others. Even though you might feel sometimes like a small flicker. Don’t forget the brightest, strongest, most loving warm light of all. God. Thanks so much for pouring yourself and your most raw experiences about your family. I’ve told you before and I’ll say it again…you are an inspiration lady. Godspeed.
    P.S. Sorry for such a long comment. Im sure you understand how when it flows, just let it pour out of you. Lol

    1. Megan, you are such a light and positive energy! I had no idea you had gone through so much. I guess some of the most positive people I know have been through super tough stuff and can appreciate life more. Thanks for your support and friendship!

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