My Grief Story
By Jill Scheidell
I have been very fortunate in my life to have my parents until I was 50 years old.
My mother passed 4 years ago this July. She had a series of heart attacks and strokes starting 4 years prior to that. The heart attacks were first. Then she had a stroke while my dad was in the hospital for a knee replacement.
She was so worried about that surgery. She knew a number of people that had bad experiences with knee replacements and my dad was in his early 80s. He had a heart attack after the surgery and was still in the hospital. He was out of the woods, so to speak, so she went to an evening meeting of a club she belonged to. She needed a break from the hospital and knew seeing her woman friends would be just the ticket.
While at the meeting, she had her first stroke. Thank goodness she was with them and not at home alone. They got her an ambulance right away and she was taken to the same hospital that my dad was at, Sacred Heart downtown. I think this was the beginning of my grieving.
I remember going from the 4th floor where dad was to the 6th floor where mom was for a week. Having to tell dad who was recovering from a heart attack that mom couldn’t come visit because she was admitted for a stroke was a very hard moment. I remember asking the doctor to be there in case something happened after he heard the news, we were all just speechless. My dad kept asking when he could see her. They finally wheeled her to his floor 4 days later and it was the sweetest reunion. She looked so disheveled and out of it, and my dad just held her hand and smiled, so happy to have his sweetheart near!
My mom’s personality changed dramatically from then on. She didn’t seem to have the ability to listen but she talked nonstop. We all knew it was from the stroke and the doctor told us to be grateful that this was the only change, as many people become paralyzed and bed ridden. She could walk and talk and function normally. But I missed the talks we had before, the ones with give and take. The mom I knew was gone and I was angry and frustrated.
It got to where when the phone would ring my family would see it was her on the caller ID and not answer because she would keep whoever answered the phone for at least an hour. That broke my heart to see my family react in this way. The grandma they knew was so different. I tried to tell them that this was just a result of the stroke, and they understood but they felt like she was a stranger. I longed for the days before the stroke. I felt it was my duty to listen and give her as much time as she wanted from me. She had been such an attentive and caring mom, I owed her that. But it was very hard. No more heart to heart talks, just endless listening.
I felt guilty, she was here but I wasn’t enjoying our time together. There were moments here and there where she would ask a question and actually listen to the answer, but it was as if her brain just couldn’t slow down to listen, she just wanted to verbalize every thought she had right when she had it.
She had a few more strokes until she had a final big one, and we were told there was nothing they could do but keep her comfortable. We agreed to have her stay in the hospital and pass away there. We never thought she would go first, my dad was eight years older than her. She lived for a week, they said she was gone and couldn’t respond or hear us.
We witnessed a miracle when, one evening, my dad bent down to kiss her and she puckered up and kissed back. From that, my dad wondered if there was something more we could do. They assured us the damage was too severe. We made sure a family member was there round the clock. She passed away and left my dad alone.
From that moment on my focus was on my dad and his needs and helping him to deal with his pain and sorrow. He was a loner and didn’t keep in tough with friends. I was the daughter in town; my brother lives here but had many family issues going on. Among them a daughter on drugs who stole from family, she had stolen my mom’s wedding ring before she passed and pawned it, which really broke my mom’s heart. So I didn’t want to ask them for help unless I really needed it. All other sibs were out of town. My sister and brother-in-law in Medford were a big help when they came to town, and we talked a lot on the phone about issues. Other sibs were out of the state.
My mom had been the social one and planned everything they did with her woman friends and their husbands. I wanted to be strong for him. There were so many things she handled that he didn’t know about so we started to figure them out and I took over a lot of the tasks. He was so down it was easier for me to just do it.
I kept telling myself that I had already grieved her loss because it felt like she had been gone for a while. I was kidding myself. I think I didn’t want to feel the pain so I just stuffed it down using the excuse of being strong for my dad. I also remember one evening around Christmas when my kids and husband were asleep, I thought, and I sat near the tree remembering the good times when I was a kid with my mom there and I just bawled my heart out. I was finally letting it out, and my youngest son who was about 12, came out from his room and gave me a big hug and said, “Mommy, please don’t cry.” I immediately felt I needed to pull it together for him. I wish I would have done it differently and explained to him that this is a natural part of grieving and it’s okay to cry and mommy would be okay.
My dad lived 3 years past my mom. He had hospice at home and it was a totally different experience, really beautiful. I’m so glad we were able to grant him his wish to stay at home as long as possible and not die in the hospital. I feel really good about the last years I spent with him, no regrets at all. We became very close, and I became comfortable with just being present for him and not necessarily having conversation. He wasn’t much of a talker.
In the beginning I was always trying to fill in the space but I came to see he enjoyed just having the company. He was my step dad but they were married for 40 years and I considered him my dad and called him that. What a wonderful man he was to marry my mom with 5 kids. I am so glad I could give back to him at the end of his life. He used to apologize all the time that he needed help and I would say I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to do it for him. He really changed our lives in the best way when they married. He gave us stability, taught us about the simple joys of nature through gardening and camping, and was always there when we needed him.
I really believe that they are nearby and are angels for us now. I talk to them often and ask for help sometimes when I have an issue to turn over to the universe. Sometimes when I feel the need to cry but it won’t come, I watch the DVD we made for my mom’s service and that always helps me to let it out.
I have really appreciated this class; it feels totally safe to share everything here. So nice to have places like that. Thanks to everyone that was here and for sharing your feelings, comments and stories. I feel this is a great help, and I now realize that this will be ongoing. It’s like a wound that slowly scars, and the scar may get fainter but it’s always there. I want to apply what I have learned from Science and Mind and live in appreciation, but acknowledge the pain and offer myself compassion. I think it is a life’s work, and I will continue to work on it.