By Nancy Worley
I needed time alone to work with my thoughts when my mom died.
What I did not need was advice. I wanted no company.
Getting through and beyond the loss of a beloved is heart breaking and tedious. Healing within must take place on many levels.
I came up with a series of simple steps that moved me from stifling grief to gratitude.
- Buy a blank journal to capture death artifacts.
I included the newspaper clipping announcing her death, which named survivors. I saved a thank-you note I wrote to a eulogist who spoke and danced. He said they had agreed he’d dance at her grave. So he did and we laughed. I pressed petals of roses and seeds, now fading into shades of sepia, which I slipped from her casket blanket. Her name was Roselyn. We called her Meme.
- Make a folder of bereavement cards to reread from time to time.
My favorite phrases from these…. Gentle warmth still lingers. The music echoes on in sweet refrains. “This world is not conclusion, a sequel stands beyond.” (Emily Dickinson). Helen Keller said, “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved, we can never lose for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
- Prepare a lengthy list of lessons learned from the deceased.
My list included: “You have to suffer to be beautiful. Pretty is as pretty does. Pinch every penny because money is scarce. Keep the body clothed at all time and the knees together.” Some of these are archaic, and some are funny. She giggled silently with her finger beside her nose, body shaking with merriment. She gave me that giggle and it serves me well. I am grateful.
- Review this list to decide which replays to keep and which to delete.
Making these decisions on a conscious level is life enhancing. We need not be psychology majors to know when a message playing in our heads is good or bad for us.
- Frame a photo that holds the deceased close to your heart.
I chose a gilded frame with roses. My daughter and I are kneeling graveside. Named for my Mom, she has her right hand resting lightly on my left shoulder. As I look now at this photo, I see not death but two female phoenixes, gifts of hers to the world.
- Cook her favorite foods.
When Meme was too old to Christmas shop for her brood, she gathered the recipes we grew up enjoying. On her Smith Corona with carbon ribbon, she pecked away. Making no corrections, I made copies for each child and grandchild. Now at family gatherings we enjoy her Buttermilk Chess Pie or Welsh Rarebit. My daughter recently had a pie party and served Mississippi Pecan Pie.
- Write a letter to the deceased.
On a barely conscious level, the mind is chattering about things left unsaid to the dear departed. This letter tool delivers self-definition and completion when we draft words to the beloved. We are moving the mind from memories of loss to acceptance and gratitude.
- Draw a floor plan of the childhood home.
When I create my sketch, I am instantly at her bedroom fireplace on a cold January day before my twelfth birthday. I am upset with a secret. Bright red bloodstains are there in my white cotton panties. I cannot speak about this so I hug my knees so that she can see. “Don’t be upset, everybody does this, you are OK.” She pinned cotton padding inside my panties. As I excavate this memory, I release the need to blame her for what at the time seemed appalling lack of information.
Allow the emotions to flow. Visit www.dailystrength.org and find suggested treatments for coping: crying, prayer, psychotherapy, grief counseling groups, writing, support from friends and family, meditation.
- Write down your dreams upon awakening.
After writing the above purge list including perfectionism, excessive cleanliness, (Meme would not pee on a road trip because the bathrooms were dirty), isolationism, control and caretaking issues, stuffing feelings, I had a dream I call “The Elevator:”. I enter a small shaft. I rise to the top, climb out and stand on the top of the shaft, seeing nothing but unlimited possibility. My psyche shows me room for gratitude, being, and even soaring.
Getting to gratitude is a trip we all can make and grief is a stop we sometimes must make along the way. Give yourself permission to complete the journey.
Meme died November 7, 1998, at the age of 93 ½.