Mom: 1 Billion Seconds Gone
Bob Baugher, Ph.D.
Yes, my mother died a billion seconds ago, which is 31 years ago. In some ways it feels like a year ago (31.5 million seconds) and in other ways it feels like a few seconds ago. At age 66 Mom got cancer of the kidney and a stroke on top of it and died eight months later in her bed with us five kids and Dad there when she took her last breath.
What does it mean to grieve for all those years? That’s what this article is about. My mother was a smart woman although she never attended a day of college. Her youngest sister of six kids always said that Mom was the smartest in the family. However, despite her adeptness at solving many of our family problems, she could not solve the riddle of her own cancer. Her first bout was at 62. One of her kidneys was removed and things looked fine. Three year later the doctors discovered that it had moved to her lung. One-third of her lung was removed. Two years later three masses were discovered in her abdominal region. The doctors could only remove 1½ of the masses. She was given a terminal diagnosis.
I’ve missed Mom every day of those 31 years. Sometimes I look at her picture and say, “Where are you? How could you leave us?” During the eight-month period before she died, I watched myself and my entire family grieve. There is a term for this. It is called Anticipatory Grief. One of the many questions about the grieving process is, “If you grieve a lot prior to the death of a loved one, will your grief following the death be somewhat less?” One problem with this question is the fact that you cannot truly measure one’s level of grief. However, in whatever way it is measured (via a self-report survey, level of reported pain, intensity of anger, guilt, confusion, pining, etc.), it does not appear that you can “grieve it out” ahead of time. In my own experience I discovered that my grief not only was more intense after Mom’s death, but at the moment Mom died I found myself in a whole new world. Prior to her last breath, even in her comatose state, Mom was still—well—Mom. At the moment of her death, she was gone—it was over. It was final. She would be forever: dead.
For the first few days following her death I remember asking myself, “I wonder how I will grieve now? Because I had been teaching a class on death at that point for more than ten years, I had learned a lot about grief. My answer came easily: “Just let yourself grieve however you grieve.” And, I did. I gave myself permission to just let it happen. I should say “…let them happen.” meaning let the emotions flow over me and accept them. What kind of emotions? Let me give you an example of just a few:
Sadness—Yes, I cried before Mom died and cried even more after she died. Sometimes I could anticipate the trigger for my tears—other times the tears surprised me. There’s a term for this. It’s called a Grief Attack.
Pining—For most people their mother had always been there from the very beginning. Now, each day I awaken an—she’s gone. Gone. No visits, texts, phone calls, celebrations. I see something and think, “I’ve got to tell Mom about this.” I have a problem and think, “Maybe Mom can help.” I walk down the street and see someone who looks like her and my heart skips a beat. Day after day—I just miss her.
Guilt—I think back and say, “I should’ve contacted her more.” “I should have researched her type of cancer. Maybe something more could’ve been done.”
Anger—“Mom, why did you leave us? Why didn’t you fight harder to live?” Some people report being angry at God or the doctor or just everybody.”
Confusion—Life is more confusing. I used to think I had things figured out. Not anymore. The death of my mother cured that.
Loss of the special relationship—Parents have a different relationship with each child. My mother and I shared things that my four siblings never did. I was the first-born. I had my parents all to myself for five years. I did all the firsts. I was the first to learn to drive. I remember one day after my third or fourth driving lesson. I looked over to see my mother’s hand clutching the door-handle. “Mom!” I said, “What are doing?” Quickly letting go, she answered, “Oh, nothing.” Poor Mom, having to teach her kid to drive hoping he wasn’t going to smash into something. However, with the death of my mother, all that we shared is gone. I will never have a relationship like that again
Of course, there’s more to grief than just feeling sad. As you know, much more. I’m here to tell you that, after all those millions and millions of seconds, your grief will get better. You won’t feel as much guilt, anger, confusion. Not as many tears. I still look at pictures and video of Mom and smile at the memories.
However, I still miss her. And, those grief attacks still do show up once in a while. For example, my mother had a friend, Rona, who introduced her to Country Western music. I have many memories as a teen-ager listening to my mother (who couldn’t carry a tune—sorry, Mom) singing along with the radio. Twenty years after she died (about 600 million seconds), I am sitting in a theatre-type auditorium on a cruise ship when a man gets up on stage and belts out, “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Instantly my hands go up to my face. I am in tears. Grief has just attacked me all those seconds later.
So, here I am writing this article still living with my grief. It just doesn’t hurt as much. I continue to miss Mom, especially at family gathering and celebrations. However, like you, I carry the love within me. I cherish the memories and thank her for the years I had her in my life, even though I wanted her longer.
Mom, I wrote this article for you to tell others, that, despite the pain, things do get better.
Oh, one more thing: Thanks for being my mom.
I love you.