I’ve felt a bit of a shut down creatively. Not completely shut down. I am not saying that I feel darkest depression or paralysing grief over my mother’s death. I did feel that at the appropriate time, and I suppose I am feeling what I am meant to be feeling now in both timing and measure. Kübler-Ross would probably nod her head in confirmation and approval. At one month and one day after my mother’s death, I don’t feel burdened with grief, but it’s still there.
But it’s more complicated than that. This goes beyond the fact that we had a complex relationship even for a mother-daughter one. Although it is incredibly painful that once I strip away any residual anger I had (because what’s the sense in being angry at someone who has already paid the ultimate price for living?), the love I feel for her, that I have always felt for her lies there more powerful and apparent than any anger or frustration I felt. But it’s not like that is the main thing that’s been so difficult.
I could have easily modified this a bit and made this a part of my Expat Survival Series. That’s probably what sets this apart from the ‘normal’ grieving process. When you choose to live your life in a country that is different from the one in which some of your family lives, you too will have to deal with this added complexity if any of that family dies.
It’s totally different than grieving surrounded by people who knew and cared for the person that died. Even my parents’ postal carrier knew my mom, and in a sense, shares a bit in the loss, even if it’s minor. Sure, some people here in the UK can relate through losses in their own lives (if you were to bother telling them about your loss), but being near people going through the grieving process helps you go through your own as well. That feeling that people talk about that comes after the funeral and wake when people stop offering their condolences is amplified if you live abroad.
And you may feel guilty. Well, at least I feel guilty. I should have spent more time with them. I should have done more to make sure she knew I cared about her. I should have not rolled my eyes inwardly when she started talking about her possible death during our visit in mid-September. I should have insisted Mom and Dad got their passports and visited me here in the UK years ago.
I don’t have advice to deal with the guilt. I don’t have advice to deal with the loss and feeling a bit lost without your family. What I do have advice for is to expect it as a possibility and to realise that it is probably just a part of the process.
As I’ve said, I am not crippled by the grief, and I feel a bit better day by day. It no longer shocks me that the seemingly permanent, solid fixture that was my mother is no longer a part of this Earth. I’ve stopped mourning her life as not quite as happy as it could have been. It wasn’t for me to judge the quality of her life. Who am I to say whether she was happy or not? I do still cry for her sometimes, usually every day. I don’t know if that will stop any time soon.
When I was five years old, I had my tonsils out. Unbeknownst to me (and my doctors) at the time, I am very sensitive to most medications and anaesthesia. They had used ether on me, and I started throwing up as soon as I came out from the anaesthesia. I didn’t stop for hours, so they decided to keep me in the hospital overnight.
During the night, after my parents went home in the evening, they moved me from my semi-private room to a ward. I knew I was going home in the morning, so I was up early when I saw my mom walk past the doorway to the ward. I panicked and ran after her. Because I just had my tonsils out, I couldn’t do anything but painfully rasp, “Mommmmmy! Here!” It took a few attempts for her to hear me, but the fear I felt that she would not be able to find me was palatable. Of course, the floor nurse would have just told my mom about the move, but my kindergärtner knowledge of how things worked didn’t comfort me with that realisation. I remember having reoccurring nightmares about her losing me in the hospital and leaving me forgotten in the children’s ward. Later the nightmares became dreams about my mom saving me from one disaster or another. In them she was always striding the same way she did on that morning, and when she found me (in the rubble of the bombing/in the burnt out building/in the plague ward), she’d always smile and open her arms in the same way she did when she found me when I was “lost” all those years ago.
When my mother died, I lost any idea that home was back in the US. I definitely cannot go home again, but I realise as much as that is a loss, it’s also a liberation. I thank her for being what I saw as home and for being the one I know would come and find me when my life fell apart. I am going to have to take it from here. Although I will miss her like crazy, it’s going to be okay. It’s got to be.