“Cyndi!” I heard the voice of my mom loud and clear in the middle of my sleep. Tears flowed, as I realized it was just a dream.
As I approach the sixth anniversary of Mom’s passing, some might think the grief would diminish. It has, to some degree, but the pain has been interwoven into my days. Whether it is a walk down an aisle of one of our favorite places or a glance at a photo hanging on the wall, Mom is still an important memory in my life.
Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things we go through in life. Acknowledging that grief is real and will have ebbs and flows is key.
I recently met a Geriatric & Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner whom I immediately connected with. Tanya Kailath is an amazing, heartfelt woman who knows first-hand the impact of grief on family and professional caregivers. A critical part of what we do at Breathing Spaces is supporting, and I am happy to say that Tanya will be joining our team soon!
Below are her insights into an often difficult transition in many lives.
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When we can no longer create new memories and experiences, our dreams, both conscious and unconscious, help us to communicate with the part within us that could benefit from self-compassion, love, forgiveness, and gratitude. When we find compassion rather than judgement, we can allow the person who is no longer in physical form to exist within us as rather than separate from us.
Memories serve as a reminder from the loved one who has died saying, “I see you; I love you: you’re not alone. I’m sorry that you feel hurt, abandoned, lonely, confused.” These emotions can be triggered by everyday events unrelated to our loved one and a memory, thought, or vision can shake us into whole, complete people or people reliving fear and brokenness. I believe that grief can be a transformation to expand us because we are not supposed to be the same person we were before the death of a loved one.
Cyndi and caregivers like her represent the strength of their loved ones living through them. If you are grieving, you can use a memory that feels painful and that leaves you searching, to celebrate the attribute you admire in your loved ones as an attribute you also possess.
In my experience being both with loving, connected families as well as estranged families at various stages of grief, it is common to feel frustrated and judgmental towards emotions that are perceived as unpleasant or inappropriate. Grief that moves through us illustrates the duality of logic and emotion and the perpetual flip-flop between dis-integration and integration with the part that a deceased loved one represents.
Grief is normal because life happens, pain happens, change happens, loss happens, and events that trigger memories also happen. Frequently, in the midst of that pain, we identify with it as ourselves and it becomes challenging to observe emotions as a station that we pass through rather than a destination where we will always reside. Grief work is hard and painful enough without the added expectation that there is a right, wrong way, or acceptable time frame… there isn’t.
An image that comes to mind when I think about the grief experience is that of a nautilus. If you visualize a nautilus or look it up, you will see that each spiral is progressively higher and above as it goes around. This is probably the best analogy to illustrate why it is normal in a grief journey at any point: to go around and around through anger, frustration, blame, resentment, disapproval, laughter, joy, hope, motivation, stagnation, and more. As beautifully illustrated by a nautilus each time you go around you also go up because grief time is relative to itself. The transformation happens when we can recognize the voice of compassion stirred by a memory and keep going after death whether we choose to participate in life or not.
In the instant an event that triggers a grief response happens, a bereaved person knows they are forever impacted and changed. The grief might feel like it is going around and around, one moment it is us and the next we might be observing ourselves as the bereaved and it seems almost comical. The moment we get to be the observer our ego will disrupt us and bring back the all-consuming pain and circular thoughts. Just remember you are not alone, trust your feelings, and know that expressing happiness, joy, and gratitude after death does not mean you are a bad person.
Guest Blogger – Tanya Kailath, NP