A month has passed since our mother passed away, and in that time I have found myself looking for answers, searching for anything that will help me figure out this process, to help determine the time it will take for us to get through this. I have Googled: grief, mourning the loss of a parent, losing a mother, loved ones who pass away while incarcerated, when your parent dies. I have read endless lists of books, songs, and poems that are supposed to help with the grieving process. So far, I have found there is no answer.
I do not know if reading memoirs about grief will help. I do not know what to write to sum up the amount I think about my mother. There is no catchall to get through this, because some days are fine and some are not. My mother’s name was Corina Hurtado, she passed away on April 26th 2020 at the age of 58. Pablo Hurtado
I have started many books that I thought might help. There are three that I have read through fully. The first book I read was The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’ Rourke, which follows her journey with her family, from their mother’s cancer diagnosis to her eventual death on Christmas day.
Next, I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which see’s Didion writing about the year following the death of her husband from a sudden heart attack. Following this, I read C.S Lewis’s A Grief Observed which see’s Lewis reflecting on bereavement following the death of his wife. Most recently, I have started Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed which follows her journey and spiral down after the death of her mother.
The through line I found is that grief is different for everyone, but one thing it is not is quick. At times, it is endless.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
“At other times, it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” - C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
They say it makes it easier to know in advance that someone is going to die, to have time to prepare for the inevitable. But it does not. Nearly four years passed from when they told us our mother was terminally ill and that we would need to prepare for what was coming. However, time passed, and she grew stronger. She fought for us, for more time with her children. In recent months, as she changed and transitioned from walking out to us to being brought out in a wheelchair, she still had this radiant glow, a happiness to see us. We would whisper in her ear, clutch her close to us, and tell her, “Get better. We are fighting for you.”
I told myself that I thought I would handle it better than my siblings, spoke to my father in the months leading up to it, and told him I think I’ll get through it easier. I am accustomed to sadness I’d say, the kind that leaves and returns frequently. I’ll help them get through it. I was wrong. This is not a depression; it is an emptiness. I miss my mother; we all do.
Most people have some vague understanding of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), often played out in books or movies as the template we must all go through, the Kübler-Ross model. After some reading, I learned the oft referred to stages were originally intended for the person who was terminally ill and was intended to help them come to terms with their own impending death.
I think it makes it easier for some to think there is a beginning and an end to the grief process. After some time passes, you are eventually expected to be a version of yourself that is “okay.” I do not believe that is the case.
The truth is we are all going to be different for the rest of our lives. The ideas of happiness we had, the expectations we set, the troubles and worries we feel are all going to shift, have begun to shift. What is important and what is not will change. We are grappling with the idea of mortality more than we ever have before.
“Nothing prepared me for the loss of my mother. Even knowing that she would die did not prepare me. A mother, after all, is your entry into the world. She is the shell in which you divide and become a life. Waking up in a world without her is like waking up in a world without sky: unimaginable.” - Meghan O'Rourke, The Long Goodbye
We lost our mother, and we were not able to be by her side in her final moments. I suppose it should be a consolation that we were able to see her two days before she passed away, to see her one final time with one another, four siblings hugging our mother, but it is not.
I have found myself looking for her in the sky when I run, in fields that are empty, when a cardinal passes me by I imagine it’s her. I do not believe what she believed, but because she believed it, I imagine some part of it to be true. She will always be with us, not in the way we wanted, but there all the same. She is free of her ailments, and now they are with us, her pain is our pain.
There are not sufficient words to embody the heartbreak of losing your mother. The knowledge that, though she was far, she was somewhere we could reach her, is now gone. It is selfish for us to have wanted her a bit longer, knowing she was not happy where she was, but humans are selfish. It is difficult to let go of those we love. We have lost our mother, and so we have lost a future we imagined.
I am not sure if it is easier that there is no empty seat where she used to sit or if it is harder because there was going to be one… in each of our homes.
Sorrow is unexplainable. It is there, and then it is not, the way she is. Those close to us get swept up into the mourning process, briefly, sending condolences, but grief makes people uncomfortable. There’s nothing to be said that will ease the pain. Conversations eventually drift to silence until there are no more messages left to send. At times I’ve received condolences from people telling me in detail how they are sorry, how they knew her or worked with her, and for a brief moment, I would get mad. I would be upset because they were able to know her in a way I did not, not just as a mother, but as someone else just trying to get through it all, living, joking, aspiring to do more, and being a presence in other’s lives.
“People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face, and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness” - Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
There is this pervasive loneliness I feel, different from what was here before. I want to go back to a place I feel comfortable, to be in the company of those I know. I do not want to be in the company of many people, but I do not want to be alone.
In the time leading up to my mother’s passing, I believed that maybe, if I could keep other parts of my life from dying, from drifting off, I could save my mother. Selfish as it was, I wanted to keep that part of my life from also fading away. I keep wondering what will happen when those parts fade away and I am no longer connected to the people who were a part of my life when my mother was still here. I think about the future and how, if I should meet someone, they will never get to meet my mother or sit beside her, to know her sense of humor, her goodwill. If I have children, they will only know my mother through photos and videos, memories I share. She will not get to hold them, or to watch them grow. This makes me incredibly sad.
I imagine if I ever have a son, he will be good, because she raised me well. I hope he will be a better son than I was. I tell myself often I wish I had done more, written more, visited more, but there is not always more that can be done, and that is the sad truth. I know my mom believed in me more than anyone did. Oftentimes, I would get down on myself, but her support never wavered, from when I was a kid to where I stand now a grown man. When I gave no reason to believe I’d be better, she’d tell me I could do anything. She did it for all of her children, but I carry these words especially for me, because for so long I wasn’t the best me. She always saw past that. She saw the good parts I could never see.
“The death of a parent, despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean’s bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.” - Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
Time passes, and it gets easier than it was that first week. Sometimes it’s harder because that short period following a death is expected. People give you space, but once that window has passed, it’s almost as though we are hiding a secret we can’t show the world. This grieving is still going on, coming and going regularly. It feels strange to have fun some nights, like we are doing a disservice to our mother, to truly enjoy ourselves has a hint of wrong to it. Even with knowing if things had not gone the way they did, that it still would have been at least another year or two without her in our lives, doesn’t make it any easier.
Everything seems so trivial even though a part of me knows it’s not. I want to get back into community work, into being active with my own life and others, but I know it will take time. I know I can’t rush into it because I am just not ready. To allow a month to pass and go on with life seems too simple… and it is.
They say when a loved one passes people sometimes experience a loss of self-care. It becomes difficult to care for your own body. I have found this to be opposite for me. I want to be strong for her, run for her, stretch and be active in the way she was not able to in those final days. As if my action will say to her, “Look, I am moving for you now.”