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Working Through the Aftermath

In the previous post I reviewed the book Aftermath, Growing in Grace Through Grief by Margaret McSweeney

I'd stated in the review I would be writing at least one post answering some of the questions in the book on working through grief.
Most of the chapters in the book have questions that give the reader a chance to work-out their own grieving process.
I felt this was a great opportunity to work through my own grief over my mother's death, as well as the chance to encourage and help others.
I'm a strong believer that after we persevere the storms in life and we are on the other side, we should be available to help others that are going through similar storms. When we share with others about our own similar situation the other person listens more attentively and more respectfully, because they know we understand. No longer does the other person feel like an island all to themselves in their heartache, but another human who has been through the same thing is saying I've been there, how can I help?

The following testimony addresses these questions: Where was I and what happened when my loss occurred? How has my faith been impacted as a result of what happened? Am I angry at God? How have I expressed my anger?
We were a blended family of the 1960's. My older siblings each had a parent that had died. These unseen family members though continued to haunt our home, all of us knew they were there, but no one talked about them. It was more difficult for my siblings than it was for me. I was the ours, I was everyones baby sister. My mother had once had three children, then became the mother of a step-daughter (reluctantly), then became a new wife to a domineering husband, then came along baby. By the time I was nine all my siblings were gone; it was then just daddy, mother and I. Mother and I were extremely close. We were more than mother and daughter, we were kindred spirits, personalities that meshed in such a way that when we were together words were not necessary, we knew each others heart-felt feelings.
The teenage years were difficult, mother tried and I pushed away. That first storm in "our" life we weathered, not because we were tough-minded gals, but because in God's grace and mercy we were able to withstand.
I married and had two sons, went to work, went to college, took care of a home and family. Sometime between 1990 and 1992 my mother's personality began to change. At first I shrugged these minor changes off, after all I was busy with my own home, family and job. By 1995 and into 1996 the minor changes had gradually increased, and mother was no longer able to sew or cook. One day while talking on the telephone to my dad I asked him about mother, I told him "something was wrong, we needed to take her to the doctor." During the summer of 1996 mother was diagnosed with dementia and shortly afterwards the even more dreaded diagnosis Alzheimer's was given. My world screeched to a halt. There is the life before Alzheimer's, and now the life after. Even though I had anticipated this diagnosis, it was still a huge shock, more like an earthquake than a slight tremor. This was my mother, how can this be? Shock went to anger. I remember questioning myself who I was angry at? It was as if I had an alter-ego counselor in my head that I had an on-going dialogue with. "Now Annette, what is wrong with you? I'm angry. Who are you angry with? I don't know. Are you angry with God. Are you angry with your mother. No, I'm just angry at this horrible situation." Shock gave way to sadness, deep sadness. I cried often, and at other situations that I would not have ordinarily cried at. Grief stopped here. I never got to acceptance. I never had the chance during those years of her disease, because at each bend there was another stage, or another trial that prevented me from taking the time to state, "now lets wait a minute or two so I can compose myself and accept this." Often I felt as if I was in a whirlwind of circumstances. The only thing I could grasp hold of was Jesus. In 2000 I quit my job of many years because daddy needed help. I'd tried hiring sitters, but daddy would fire them. So it was daddy and I, my dad who had been such an demanding and controlling presence in all of our lives. Little did I know, but this task of caring for mother would lead daddy and I into a deeper more significant relationship. Daddy and I worked together to bathe mother, dress her, fix her hair, give her medicine, cut her nails, feed her, and take her to the bathroom. I would watch mother while dad went to church on Sunday mornings. This task was similar to caring for a child, yet this child is full-grown and could be feisty and combative. Daddy and I cared for her until one fateful morning in 2002 mother had a syncope episode and was taken to the hospital. The doctor encouraged us to place her in a nursing home. A nursing home is a dreaded foul word. I hated this awful disease. This place of strangers. This place of smells that stayed with you long after you were gone. How could we put mother there? Yet, daddy and I both knew we'd done all we could physically and emotionally. That in itself is something I could not admit for a long time, that this task was to big for me. A couple of days after mother had been living in the nursing home, I was going through her things at my parents home. I came upon her scarves in her dresser. I smelled them. It was the smell of my momma. The weight of all that had happened crushed my chest...I had to remind myself to breathe. "This is too much I cried out! I can't do this!" But, in His grace and in His mercy I did. For almost six years mother lived in a nursing home. Daddy went to visit mother everyday. Daddy lived the definition of faithfulness. This is love: not beauty, nor extravagance, nor an ecstasy of love-making, nor an investment portfolio that brags. Love is faithfulness and commitment when the other spouse can no longer give anything. Mother lived with Alzheimer's longer than most people do because she had no other health problems. In the end Alzheimer's robbed her of the ability to swallow and breathe well. He body was shutting down. Daddy and I had to let her go. It took nearly three weeks for the process to finish. During this final period daddy and I went to visit her everyday. We would bring a newspaper or book to read, but I could not keep my eyes off of her. I watched and listened to her breathing which towards the last days became labored. I watched for the pooling of her body fluids in her feet or hands or back. The hospice nurse was loving and tender to mother. This hospice nurse (truly an angel on this earth) ministered to us as well. Daddy and I were at home when the phone call came that mother had died. Dad and I, my oldest son David and his wife Christina, made the trip back to the nursing home. I had to see, I was the first person in the room. When I saw mother my first thought was, "that's not my mother. My mother is in the presence of Jesus. This is just the broken shell of her body." When the funeral home came to pick up her body, we stepped out of the room. Her body was placed on a transport gurney and covered up. When they wheeled her body down the hallway I wanted to cry out, "wait just a minute, you can't take her!" Even though I could say in my mind my mother was in the presence of Jesus, letting go was such a hard hard thing to do.
But, in His grace and in His mercy I let go.
I have experienced many storms in my life. This was probably the hardest. It has been in the years after her death that I have had time to "work-through" many of those things I'd not had time to do "during the crisis."
Not long ago I realized something. The most beautiful, most selfless act of love there is, is letting your loved one go. I know of people who have hung onto loved ones, refusing to let go of bitterness or anger or sadness. These people grope through life searching for an answer or another person who can fill those shoes of their loved one that died. I don't believe another human can replace the loss of someone that we loved that is no longer in the flesh. I do believe that God in His mercy and grace can fill us with His comforting Spirit. I'm not saying I don't miss mother, but I would not bring her back. This final act of love is in not clinging to my mother, nor in making her an idol, but in letting her go, and in accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit's comforting presence.