Today marks four weeks since we lost my mother-in-law, Penny. She took her last breath at home–surrounded by her family–nearly two years after being diagnosed with stage IV, non-smokers lung cancer.
My brother- and sister-in-law were not only able to have Penny attend their wedding a week and a half before she died, but they were also able to get home from their honeymoon (in spite of Hurricane Matthew) in time to see her. We all took communion together by her hospital bed for World Communion Sunday two days before she died.
We were fortunate to have time to say goodbye. We said the things we needed to say. And for those reasons, the grieving has been easier than we expected.
But the thing about grief is that it can sneak up on you. There are so many mundane things that you don’t anticipate, and they’ll get you. Just this morning, I sent out an email newsletter for this blog (which I will shamelessly tell you to sign up for here). I did a quick scan of the Mailchimp report and noticed that one of the email addresses had bounced.
It was Penny’s work email.
Of course it makes sense that her work email would get cut off, but it certainly hadn’t crossed my mind. Deleting her from the list was awful. And the realization that I wouldn’t ever get another call or text from her about my newsletters was even worse.
It got me thinking about all of the other little, painful details that nobody warns you about. When do you delete a phone number? (I still have my Dad’s number stored, even though I’ve upgraded phones three times since I could call him.) When do you stop calling it “Mom and Dad’s house?” What do you do with her stocking at Christmas? Will I forget the way that she always greeted me on the phone (“Hey Sweetie!”)?
Unfortunately I don’t have a good answer to most of those questions. And honestly, the answers are probably different for everyone. But I have found that writing down memories and even super mundane details about a person you lost is very helpful.
I started a memory journal for my Dad several years ago after getting super anxious that I would forget everything about him, and I just got one for Penny. Whenever I think of a good story, or a funny pronunciation of a word, or a gift they gave me, I write it down. It’s not something I reread often, but my mind is more at ease knowing the details are recorded somewhere.
Don’t be afraid to relate the painful moments or funny memories to people who understand. I personally find talking about grief cathartic. However, I think we’re often concerned about not wanting to drag up grief in others, so we just keep it bottled up inside. But the silver lining with grief is the way it can bond people. The compassion I have felt for other people as a result of losing a parent is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.
As soon as I saw the bounced email this morning, I texted a friend who lost her father earlier this year because I knew she’d understand (she did). And then I texted my husband. And then I decided I should write a blog post about it because a lot of other people can probably relate, too.
For your sake, I hope you can’t relate. But if you can, I hope you count me as “somebody who understands.”
(Wedding photo from Justen Clay Photography)