How I’m Coping with Grief and Goodbye | Episode #500

Episode #500 This is my story of lessons of loss, and the gift waiting in grief. This special episode is our 500th together! 

I am crying before I even walk in the door. I know that everyone else is already there.

I know this is the beginning of one of the hardest, but unavoidable weekends of my life.

My career path was really lit by walking with my mom the summer before my freshman year in college. Not accidentally for me, and based on science, not accidentally at all, walking has always been the simple and easiest needle mover. When I wasn’t doing anything else, as in that summer when I started. When in my 40’s I was doing everything else as in training for my second Iron distance triathlon, and in my mid 50’s during the pandemic when stress was high. Reducing cortisol with low level activity like walking can be one of the absolute biggest needle movers, especially for women post menopause. (research shared in previous episodes).

This 500th episode is dedicated to my mother. And because so many of my listeners have been here, are here, or will be here, I’m sharing the end and what I learned and take with me through even this, the first holiday season without her physical presence.

Inside

Once inside I hug my brother hello. But it’s not just a hello. It’s a hug for all the feelings of having our fears be realized. Knowing how even though we knew, as we all do, this is the way it will end, that it’s the hardest goodbye we ever had to say.

Having hugged my siblings and my niece and in-law, I wiped a few tears and stepped around the kitchen island to the table where most were gathering. Just then I was hit with the power of a 7-year old hug and completely lost it.

My youngest great nephew knows how to hug. And I would be the benefactor of that a few times that weekend. Once, while at my mom’s visitation, the kids were drawing cardinals – a favorite symbol of hers- to add to her casket as a final send off. My niece said, Owen has something he wants to give you when you have a minute. So, I went into the fellowship hall where they were and squatted beside him.

Your mom said you had something you wanted to give me.” Immediately he smiled and simultaneously stood and hugged me again. I may or may not have told my niece if one of them was missing when they went to leave… they’d know where to look.

Long Life Well Lived

My mom, she was 95 and just over two months. On her 95th birthday she expressed the wish that she could go to the Brown Bottle instead of cupcakes in the dining room. No doubt once there she’d have had a glass of wine or a margarita.

My brothers and sister and I each spoke at the service. We hadn’t heard or seen each other’s messages beforehand. And yet, we beautifully complimented each other, humorously played off of each other, and shared our love for mom. Watching her leave that church alone was one of the hardest parts of the day. She wasn’t going home with one of us.

We all knew where she was going but that moment of letting go was hard.

She’d needed a little help letting go, too.

One Last Chance to Hold Her Hand

In mid-October, I flew to Iowa (where my mom lived) to meet two clients and support them on a half marathon. It had been planned for a couple months. My mother’s downward spiral came as coincidence. Or was it?

During a scheduled photo shoot, I got the message that she’d been non-responsive for 21 hours and was braced for the fact she might not be conscious during my visit Monday.

But I changed my plans, needing to hold her hand and see her. I got up early Saturday and drove to see her, letting my brothers know only when I was 10 minutes from town. One of my brothers was with her when I arrived. He informed me that for the last 30 hours they hadn’t had any response but 2 minutes before I walked in she opened her eyes.

I held her hand, looked into her eyes. I told her goodbye.

Where Should I Be?

My flight back home was early Tuesday morning and I remember boarding and wanting to run off off that plane. What was I doing? But I also knew it could be days or it could be weeks and no one knew.

On Wednesday afternoon in Scottsdale, I got another phone call from my brother. I stared at the phone again this time willing it to tell me what this message was going to be and not wanting to hear it. He told me, hospice suggested we each tell her again that it was okay to go. All the signs were there she was physically there, but not letting go.

I found some irony through my tears that at 95 one of your last messages might come from a cell phone held to your ear. A device that wasn’t even invented decades earlier. Oh, the changes you’ve seen in your life, mom.

So, in tears I told her what a great life she’d given me, and that I was safe and happy, and she could go.

An hour later, my phone rang. This time I knew. Through his own tears my brother Al shared that our mother had gone to heaven shortly after my call.

Right after my loss I was quiet for a few days. I’d assumed I’d be back on a plane heading to Iowa by the weekend. But as it was we delayed the service for a few weeks so everyone could be there and we avoided prior existing conflicts. I resumed client sessions again. Twice on the same day I was the recipient of not one but two heart-felt condolences by women who had lost their mother at tender ages of 8 and 14. Even in my acute grief I was made aware of how clearly we never know how heavy something might be, just because the person carrying it makes it look light.

I was so blessed to have had my mom for so long.

The day after the service

I woke up the morning after the service having slept better than I had in months. I’d been dreaming about her vividly, always good ones, since just before and after she passed. But that night was peaceful and deep. We were meeting at my brother’s house to write thank you notes and talk about any remaining details. I didn’t want to go. Not because I didn’t want to be there. Because I didn’t want to leave.

Leaving that day, I would be starting the new life. The life without her physically here, without her to call, without her voice, her handwriting on another Christmas or birthday card. I would be leaving all the people who shared such similar memories of her, who love and miss her as much as I do. If walking into the door that started the weekend was hard, the idea of walking out the door leaving them seemed far harder.

I drove to Des Moines alone after that to return my rental car and fly home. But I don’t remember it.

Lessons of Loss 

I woke up exhausted the next day. Feeling as if I’ve lived a lifetime of memories in a few days, felt a lifetime of emotions, filled buckets with tears.

[The show notes are just a skeleton of the episode. For the complete story, listen to the episode.]

My son will not remember this about me. And that’s okay. I smile at the thought burnt bacon in his house might make him think of me.

I went to the Hallmark store a couple days after getting home from the funeral. All of her cardinal figurines were given away. And it’s one of the things I most wanted. So, I bought one, and placed it beside dish that has held M & M’s since I can remember that was once her mother’s, then hers, and now sits at my house. 

I’ve watched videos of my mom and I on Facebook over and over. Thanks to COVID, two years ago was the last time I spent Christmas with her. I’m so glad I made that trip.

Heart Breaking

As I’m further from my mom’s passing, I know I felt my heart broken at first.

Gradually, I’ve realized, it was broken open.

There was so much love among our family members as we were helping her to the end of her life and helping each other then and after. There is so much goodness to remember. 

We grow the most during our trials not our easy times.

The young boys who hugged me so tightly and said openly, “I love you so much, Aunt Deb,” will probably love deeper and smile brighter because they lost someone precious five years ago.

I’d moved to Boulder a couple years before and I was there to help my niece and those boys because of my own midlife crisis, you might say. Coincidence? Or “God thing” as a friend of our family would say?

Things at the moment you may think happened to you, you might later look at happening for you.

I hope you feel as blessed for the time you did have with those that you loved, for the moments where things mysteriously worked out even if you didn’t realize that’s what was happening at the moment.

My Mother’s Unintentional Gift

My career for the last 37 years has been much in thanks to my mom. Walking with her the summer before my freshman year of college was the first time I’d enjoyed self-initiated exercise. It started something for me. And no accidents here either that at no less than 3 pivotal times, grounding in walking again has made the difference in fitness & health changes that surpass any endurance triathlon training I’ve done in the last two decades.

Whether I’m walking on a Colorado trail, a desert trail, or sidewalks around my neighborhood, there will always be a reminder of sidewalks shaded with maple trees on the way to the Methodist church where we turned around and the feeling of her beside me.

We will all experience grief. There’s not a right or wrong way through it. That, however, is what we all must do. We don’t go around it or dodge it. We go through it. And it changes us. For better or worse.

There’s No Right Way

I am an introvert, a loner, potentially, though I don’t love that word at all. I’m independent and I am not alone or lonely. I am most creative and recharge with alone time. And yet I needed so much that houseful of people around me. So many times in life I have thought things happened. They happened to me. Truly though they happened for me. Signs happened. Catalysts happened. A journey of an entrepreneur, certainly I think a female entrepreneur is full of opportunities for personal growth.

Had I not been on it, I might not have been in the place to be so willing to accept help during this time.

We often think – both men and women – that we can carry it, we can do it and think that asking for help or accepting it when it’s offered is a sign of weakness.

Not everyone’s expressions for you will resonate, and yet, accepting that what they’re doing is well-intentioned and letting it go at that… also helps them. We generally like to be in a place of offering support, giving value where we can, and yet fail to allow others to do that for us at times.

Asking for and Receiving Help

Whether for you it is receiving help for exercise, for nutrition, daily health habits, or for something bigger such as loss of a loved one, or an illness- yours or someone else’s a small shift can change everything.

And a little walk that started as half a mile to the Methodist church and back can become an entire career that supports a community of hundreds of thousands of women.

-Debra

 

5 thoughts on “How I’m Coping with Grief and Goodbye | Episode #500”

  1. Wow, Debra, this was beautifully and touchingly written. It really mirrored my own experience of losing my dad this Spring. I have really struggled with his loss, partly because of how I lost him (bit by bit, through alzheimer’s, until he barely knew who I was and had no memory of his grandkids at all) and secondly through not being able to return to the UK to say goodbye, due to covid. The pandemic changed the whole nature of losing him, making it much more painful, as there was no closure, no touch, no last hug.
    I am still grieving, yet feel this pressure of ‘you should be over it by now’ Even my mum seems to be handling it better, taking a very stoic approach of ‘Life goes on’. I have learnt a lot about love, life and what’s important, and yes, that is a gift. As I’ve discovered, nothing makes you think about life more than death. Yet, I still feel a gaping hole and sense of loss. Our relationship had also been difficult at times, and this just adds to the sense of regret and lack of closure (we never did talk about it) But reading your email gave me sense of ‘We’re all in this together’ – It let me reflect and allow myself to mourn for a few quite moments. Thank you, Debra!

    1. Thanks for sharing Nicky. I can only imagine of course. In case it helps, even among our family and friends, everyone had or has a way of workout through it. So many of us openly (and at one point I couldn’t have done this) and others more quietly, and internally, even harshly. I think the feelings can be similar even though we choose or need to express them differently. Hope you have earlier memories of your dad that you can cling to and are able to find peace with your loss even if it isn’t one shared so easily with your mom.

  2. Beautiful story! It touched my heart. I lost both my parents in my twenties. So I can completely relate. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you so much for sharing .

    1. Thanks for taking time and sharing, Lori. You’re one of the people that helped me put it into perspective, along with a video of her I took two years ago- when I asked her “what if you have 10 more years in you?” Her response was, “Heaven forbid!” It doesn’t matter when you say goodbye, it’s hard. I’ve found often people like you who’ve lost someone in an untimely way have such empathy for others, it’s quite remarkable.

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