Thursday, June 1, 2023

A Mother's Lesson


By Danielle Cote Serar

On Mother’s Day, I lost my best friend… to metastatic breast cancer. I lost my mother who was my other best friend six years prior to the same illness. I’d like to say I handled both with grace. I didn’t. I sobbed. I cried. I screamed. I was angry. I was hurting. I was numb. All conflicting and all real.

In six years I had lost two of the women closest to me to the same illness and with the same sense of helplessness for both. With my mother I had spent every day by her side, from early morning until late at night. And on her last day I was headed to see her when I got the call. The call that she had passed. My best friend and I had chatted when she was in the hospital. I told her I was coming to see her. She asked me to wait until she got home. I never got to see her. That was our last conversation. My cousin asked me if I would be okay not seeing her before she passed away. I knew I wouldn’t be, that I’m not, but I also knew I would honor her request. And now I’m left to grieve them both. One fresh and raw, one older equally as raw and difficult to process.

The ironic thing about death and dying and grief is we spend our lives planning but in the end, it’s completely out of our hands. I lost so many people, loved ones in my life. Grief has become my constant companion as it never leaves. I have learned a lot about grief in my what I feel is a short life. Society gives us such a tiny window to “grieve”, and we are supposed to move on, act as if we are fine and move on. If you are lucky, you get three to five days to mourn your loved one - and that depends on their relationship to you. But grief doesn’t work that way. It’s not a switch you turn off or even something you get through and are all better again.

No, we simply learn to carry it with us. It’s the price we pay for loving someone. I’m reminded of the scene from "A Christmas Carol" where Scrooge is visited by Marley, covered in chains and locks. For him it was sins, but grief feels much the same way. We learn to carry it, to hold the weight of it, but in the case of grief it’s not visible in the same way.

The best I can describe what grief feels like to me is to imagine a lake, serene calm and still. Then someone tossed a boulder into it. The initial impact is massive, shaking the entire lake, causing waves, rough splashes, and ripple effects as it descends to the bottom. It takes some time before that surface returns to that serene looking calm. But the boulder is still there. It has changed the makeup of the lake forever. And nothing the lake can do will remove the boulder. That’s grief. We move through the stages of loss and when we reach acceptance, it’s not that we all of a sudden return back to the way we were. On the contrary, we have just come to realize that we will forever carry this burden of loss and the price for loving someone, that we have lost them to the earthly world but that we can still move forward and really that we must move forward without them.

We delude ourselves that time will heal grief. It doesn’t. Time gives way to time. By that I mean, that when grief first hits, it’s raw, and hard, and often bitter, and so so painful. And it happens all the time. Breathing is even hard. But as time moves forward, the memories shift from bringing tears to smiles and the time between those raw, hard, bitter, painful moments gets longer and the moments get smaller. But almost 30 years since losing my father and I can say, there are moments that hurt as much as they did the day I got the call he had died.

I miss my friend. I miss my mom. I miss all those I have lost. Their loss has forever changed my being. But equally so had their presence in my life. And as hard as it is to pay the price of loving someone by grieving their loss, I can also say it’s a price I would pay over and over again in order to have had the opportunity to love them.

My best friend holding my then 3 month old daughter.

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