(Megan, 34, North Carolina)
On June 23, 2001, my mother died from a reaction to Duregesic, a pain medication that is now banned by the FDA. My mother had MS since she was 18 years old, and though she had been sick for most of her life, her death was unexpected. I had been traveling with my father’s side of the family in Scotland during her initial reaction to the medication. My mother’s reaction to Duregesic was a complete shut down of her body. When I returned home, she was weak, but recovering from her trip to the hospital. One of the effects of Duregesic was slowed breathing, which I was not aware of at the time. Two weeks after I had returned home, my mother died in her sleep, and I found her the next morning. Because of the nature of her death and my emotional state, we decided not to pursue any legal action, so the technical cause of death was complications to MS.
Because my mother’s death was so unexpected and I was the one who found her, I was in shock for quite a long time. There were many things unsaid. I had gone to bed without telling her that I loved her. I felt so angry at myself for this. Did it happen on purpose? Was it something I did? I felt guilty and angry for a long time. I was also scared. I now inherited her house and everything in the house, and this was the first time I was truly on my own.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I drove to my grandmother’s 80th birthday party (on my father’s side) not realizing it was the first time I was seeing my father’s side of the family since my mother’s death. I was hit with a barrage of questions, and I was a mess from then on through the holidays.
My grandmother had given a CD of a song she had produced with my great aunt, called the wedding song. With two losses back to back, a broken engagement and the death of my mother, I just burst into tears on Christmas Day when the song was played. I then felt so bad for having messed up everyone’s Christmas.
In many ways, my life stopped for two years while other people’s lives went on. I was the sole inheritor, and my mother’s sisters did not want anything. My mother was an artist and a collector, and I spent a lot of time deciding what to do with things in the house. In one way, a blessing not to deal with fighting family members. In another, I had all this stuff to figure out what to do with. Instead of going out, I would be going through boxes in the garage or preparing for yet another yard sale. I remember getting so angry at a co-worker who was talking about making a decision for $1,000 drapes. It seemed so petty to the decisions I was making every day.
One friend came over while I was cleaning out the garage, and she couldn’t believe I had been doing that day after day. It was the only time someone had really acknowledged that stage.
Though my mother had a living will, which mentioned that she would like her body to be donated for MS research, there were many decisions that had to be made about which program, and these decisions had to be made in an extremely short amount of time. We had a short amount of time to say good-bye, but it was clear the last time I saw her that her soul had left the body.
The natural connection and bond with a parent, from birth, no matter what the surrounding circumstances, is now gone. For a while, I was lost, looking for that same connection, but knowing I would not be able to find it. Communicating that to others was very difficult to do.
The first few weeks, I did not want to stay at home, because I had been living with my mother during that time. I stayed with my grandparents for the first week. For several days, I stayed with my close friends. The first holiday season was also very difficult for me as I had traveled and did not want to be at home. I would stay with my friends who took care of me during that time. We would go out to lunch or go out with their children.
Just before my mother had died, I had started training in martial arts, something I never would have expected to do. I started training because I had been through the break-up of an engagement and had been surviving, but not yet living. Training provided lessons that were not only physical, but that I could use in other areas of my life.
The group I trained with became closer to me than some of my own family members, and training was an avenue to stay connected- with God, with myself when I didn’t know what the next day was going to look like. I would get overwhelmed with all of the tasks that needed to be done, and training was a way to find my center and balance again.
It was helpful for friends just to be there, present, in how I was and where I was. My emotions were pretty off the wall, so it was helpful for friends just to be beside me, and not try to fix things.
One time, a mentor traveled with me where we let my mother’s ashes go high up in the Colorado evergreens. It was one of the most profound experiences in my life, and to have a mentor there with me provided the support I needed to let go.
Being a part of the process with someone who is grieving or remembering a loved one can be a profound experience.
I found the most difficulty relating to my co-workers. I remember one co-worker actually telling me the world did not revolve around me and I needed to get over my mother’s death. It was very hurtful at a vulnerable point in my life.
I was also overwhelmed by the number of times a family member said, “I’m so sorry. Is there anything we can do?” The intentions were good, but I didn’t know how to respond after my life had turned upside down.
Occasionally I have friends who forget and ask if I’m going to my mother’s house for the holidays. Though it’s not intentional, it has always rubbed me the wrong way, so just to be mindful and remember that their friend may still be grieving in some way, and life has changed. I also need to be mindful and not always expect my friends to remember.
I saved all of the cards that people sent during that time, and later, I would re-read them. It gave me peace to know that others were out there and had experienced the same thing, as we all will experience the death of a loved one in our lives.
The grieving process is not a pat series of steps, sometimes it is a complicated journey. To accept their friend just as they are is the most important part of being their friend. If they are struggling, be with them as they find the avenues where they find support.
On another note:
After going through my own grieving process, and writing a memoir about the period of my life surrounding the death of my mother, I began working on facilitating creative journaling workshops. Creative journaling became an important part of the process. My journal was sacred. I could say anything I wanted to, and I didn’t have to worry about what other people would think. I could reflect on epiphanies I was having about life, death and living.
Providing a place for others to explore their relationships, memories, epiphanies has become an important part of my vision as a writer. An annual conference for Wellness and Writing Connections explores the physiological connections between writing and health.
Typically, workshops are focused on Creative Journaling and loss and grief, transitions, discovering your authentic self, among others.