Getting Through The Loss of Someone Dear To You

Helping a loved one transition to death.

Posted Feb 03, 2011

When I think of those weeks before my mother's death, I think first of the night I called my wife who was out of town. I had nothing really new to report. My mother wasn't better. She wasn't worse. I told my wife that I wanted her to come home as soon as possible because I just wanted her to be physically near me.  We didn't have to talk. In fact, I felt a little bit talked out. I just wanted her to be physically near me.  I wanted to feel that connection with her.

In the last weeks before her death, things seemed to change every day.  What I had planned never seemed to work out the way I had planned it.  Being able to change plans and staying flexible was a daily requirement.

On the really difficult days, the days when my mom was losing ground, every sip of water she took was a triumph and every bite of food a victory.  Time seemed to move so slow.  I had done what I could do. I couldn't change what I knew was coming. "This too will pass," I muttered to myself on more than one occasion. 

In the weeks before and after her death, my feelings were a mix of sadness, anger and relief.  I felt on edge most of the time.  Some days I felt a bit of guilt.  Had I done everything I could do to care for her in her final weeks, months?  I felt guilty that I had not wanted her to die during the holidays.  I found it hard to be on top of what I was feeling from one day to the next, and sometimes from one minute to the next.  But I tried to take time for the feelings.  It was tempting to throw myself into the details of the things that had to be done, to arrange her funeral or to plan for my clinical practice in my absence.  Some days I gave in to this urge just to get through and make it easier for me.  But it was important through this process to talk with others about the feelings I was having and, again, to simply take time to feel the feelings.

During the weeks before and after her death, I didn't take care of myself very well in terms of diet and exercise.  Those things were not on the top of my list.  I often ate too much and often ate the wrong foods.  And I seldom exercised.  I gained some weight, which I am only now beginning to lose as I get back into the routine of taking care of myself.

During this period, talking with others about what was going on with me was often hard.  I am someone who has a need at times simply to be by myself.  Many of us do.  Sometimes you can have too much support. Too many people wanting me to talk. Too many people offering their condolences.

As I informed others of my mother's death or talked with her friends at the funeral service, I tried to help them deal with their loss.  It was easy for me as a therapist.  It felt familiar.  But it also was a way for me to take care of myself.

I found a sense of purpose in helping my mother out of this world and seeing that the contribution that she had made to my life and to others was recognized.  Making phone calls to her friends, talking with other people about her and planning and executing the service gave me strength.  I felt comfort in knowing that I was doing what she had wanted and certainly deserved.

Through it all, she and I kept a sense of humor.  I remember her joking with staff at the nursing facility about their plans for New Year's Eve and how they should take her with them so they could be assured of having a really good time.  I will miss her smile and her laugh.