Losing someone you love is hard. Losing someone you love and with whom you have shared a lifetime of more bad times than good, sadder times than happy is even more painful.
Throughout her 75 years, my mother struggled with numerous physical ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, and finally the ovarian cancer that took her life. She also suffered from a condition that she vehemently denied and refused to seek help for, and it was her struggle beneath the cloak of mental illness that most profoundly touched my life or so I thought.
At my first grief support meeting I was overcome with incredible sadness when the other two women, who had also lost their mother, tearfully voiced that they had lost their best friend. I couldn't say that. Not only was my mother not my best friend, but the hope I held in my heart that some day she would be, was now gone forever.
Guilt washed over me even as reason reassured me that I had been the best daughter I could be under the circumstances. I loved my mother very much. But loving her didn't make it any easier to deal with her lies and deceptive ways, and the constant drama and turmoil she inflicted in our lives. Her death didn't change the reality of what our life had been. Instead I am left struggling to find a way not only through the grief of my loss, but also through the sorrow of that truth.
I know that I am not alone. Many loved ones are lost to drugs, alcohol, and mental illness. We are left not only with the painful void of our physical loss, but with a deep sorrow at not having been able to rescue them. Our hope for a whole and healthy tomorrow is gone. If we are brave enough to admit it to ourselves, we have a sense of relief that the reign of turbulence is over. And, as if that isn't enough, we fear that giving voice to the reality with which we lived will be misconstrued as "speaking ill of the dead". Ours is an emotional rollercoaster of tremendous breadth.
I could not endure this difficult journey were it not for my faith in God. I believe that my mother is in a better place, finally whole in body, mind and spirit. She has, at long last, found an inner peace, love and happiness that eluded her in this world.
For 57 years I was the best daughter I could be. During those times when she would have nothing to do with me, I prayed for her . . . and forgave her. I always, always loved her.
In the end, I was there when my mother needed me the most through the shock, the anger, the pain, and the acceptance of her diagnosis. I spent almost 24/7 with her during those final five weeks. I was holding her hand when she took her last breath, just as I promised. As painful as those weeks were, they were truly a gift from God.
Death doesn't change the reality of life. But grief is a journey of self-discovery. I now know that it wasn't my mother's mental illness that most profoundly touched my life. . . it was her death.
Note: This article previously appeared in Living With Loss Magazine, Summer, 2008, Vol. 23 No. 2 (888) 604-4673; www.livingwithloss.com
As a freelance writer, my work has appeared in the following publications: Home Life, Living with Teenagers, Living with Preschoolers, Bread for Children, R-A-D-A-R, Nature's Friend and Living With Loss Magazine.
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