I honestly don’t know how we got here, to a world where we bury our parents. I thought it was a fluke when my mother-in-law died. My husband and I were the unfortunate ones to lose a parent in our early thirties. She was only 57 and she didn’t even have a terminal illness. We weren’t supposed to lose a parent that young; we didn’t have kids and we hadn’t even buried our grandparents yet. But then it happened again a year or so later; our best friend’s mom died. She wasn’t even 60. We called it another fluke and commiserated together on Mother’s Days and the holidays.
As we inch closer to 40, we’ve realized that more and more of our friends were joining this horrible club. It wasn’t exclusive, it wasn’t a fluke – it was becoming the norm. It was the sad reality that we were getting older, and so were our parents. Some died of terminal illnesses, some died unexpectedly. We pondered which was easier (neither) and which was better (also neither). Each time, it was a stark reminder that life is wonderful and joyous, but also cruel and heartbreaking.
What Do You Do With Grief?
Almost all of our friends looked to us for what to do in their grief. We still don’t know. It has been nearly eight years since my mother-in-law died, and still some days the pain of losing her is almost too much to bear. If I catch my kids doing something that she would have adored, the pain in my heart is crippling. When I wonder if my boys are acting the same way as my husband did when he was a kid, I feel empty, because there’s nobody there to answer my question.
On snow days when I need a sitter, the void runs deep because I know she would have braved any storm or weather for just one second with these two kids. But nothing compares to the gut wrenching pain of the love that my kids didn’t get to experience. I know that she would have loved these two boys SO much. They would have felt more love from her than I can ever put into words. Even writing these two sentences has me typing through tears, because it isn’t fair that my kids can’t feel her love. It just isn’t.
Our friends have asked us if it “gets better.” I don’t think it does. It just becomes the norm. There’s life before your parent died and life after. But that’s the important thing, life goes on. It goes on for you and your family, and it goes on for everyone your parent loved or knew. Some days (many in the beginning) the days are sad and desperate, when the grief consumes you and you can’t think of anything else. But life still goes on. Sometimes there’s guilt, sometimes there’s sadness and sometimes there’s happy tears. But life continues.
Life Will Go On
As more time passes, the good days start to outnumber the bad, and you find a new normal. But a sad day or moment can sneak up on you at any time, without warning, and it can drop you to your knees and cripple you with tears. It can happen at the grocery store, the nature center, or even hanging an ornament on your Christmas tree. It will happen at every grandparent event at your elementary school. Each time, your broken heart will tear open all over again. The magnitude of your loss will slap you in the face as you bravely hold back tears or just let them flow. But you will always get up and your heart will slowly mend again. Because your parent is part of who you are and even death can’t take that away.