My mom was always there to take care of the family. Growing up she would make the best chicken noodle soup, wash away my fevers with cold washcloths and smother me with tons of hugs. Years later, I found myself dealing with her ailing health. I particularly remember when she went in for surgery. My feelings were a mix of relief as she would get the help she needed and concern for all things that could go wrong. Fortunately the surgery went great and she was sent home to heal.
It wasn’t like my mom to complain so when she talked about having chills and pain we knew she needed to go back to the hospital. It turned out that an infection had developed and Mom had quite a battle ahead of her. I still remember feeling that big lump in my throat when we found out. I was kicking myself for not checking her temperature more often. If only I had done that sooner maybe she wouldn’t have to fight to stay alive. In a way, it was a relief that she would spend the next three weeks with qualified medical staff taking better care of her than I had. As those weeks passed, my chest was feeling heavier and heavier.
I kept asking when in the world would the doctors let her come home to her family. Time seemed to stand still while we waited.
Finally she was discharged home, back to her family. But our relief was short lived. We were shocked by how incapacitated she was. My mom, who had always been strong for her family, needed help with the most basic necessities of life: walking, eating, and going to the bathroom. It was great that we could be there to help her, but also incredibly shocking that this frail woman was our mom. We felt lost and reached out to her doctor for any morsel of hope. He told us, “In the old days, humans simply just stopped eating and drinking and died a natural death.” His words left me feeling battered; my heart was shattered into a million pieces.
I could hardly muster the strength to lift the phone to tell my brothers that our mother was dying and her time was short. The next night we gathered together. The doctor had confirmed our worst fears. There were no treatment options left. This was it. My heart was broken. Only an avalanche of tears could express my sadness and grief.
My mom died on Tuesday morning. Despite all the family and friends that were there to express their support, I still felt so all alone. Well-meaning people told me over and over that my mom had gone on to a better place. And of course I was relieved that her suffering was over. But, I wasn’t done sharing my life with my mom!
Due to the nature of my job, I was experiencing a tidal wave of grief and loss. I know. Who grieves a job, right? The truth is I love my job; it’s pretty cool and a real honour. I get to be present for some of the most amazing, hardest, saddest, happiest and most mundane aspects of people’s lives. I am a sign language interpreter. I am a messenger for all news, the good, the bad and the ugly, with no editing allowed. Before I started, I didn’t know that interpreting required a super power – invisibility.
The problem with being invisible is the helplessness of not participating. I was emotionally suffocating from witnessing all the painful drama of the clients I was interpreting. In order to cope and do my job, I buried all the uncomfortable feelings. It seemed to help until I found out that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. His prognosis was bad. I felt like my heart skidded to a stop and then shattered. I should have taken time off of work. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. But instead I worked more. Working made it easier to push down my feelings and easier to escape from my worries. Then when the opportunity to interpret a four-day workshop came along, I naturally jumped at it.
As it turned out the joke was on me. I was asked to interpret an Edu-Therapy™ Program. From the first day, the program resonated within me. I felt lighter from a new found sense of hope. My gut was saying: “uh huh! Yup, right! Yeah! So true… never thought of it that way.” When the workshop ended I signed up for the next one, not as an interpreter but as a griever! This information and experience has transformed my life.
My son Nathan was born early November. His brothers and sister had worked hard in Big Brother and Big Sister classes. We were so ready and excited for his arrival. So when the nurse said, “We moved Nathan to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit” my heart skipped a few beats. For the next three days we held our breath waiting for answers and praying for hope. There was none. Nathan was born without the left side of his heart.
It felt like my heart stopped. The pain was unbearable as I took Nathan home to die. Hospice was not in the home so it was a really scary time. My mom came to help and yet I still felt this incredible sense of being alone. Nathan was 10 days old when he died in my arms.
Shortly after the funeral I noticed that my mom was really quiet and withdrawn. The warmth of her heart had started to dim. As the life went out of Nathan the breath went out of me. So I can’t remember if I had told my mom how much I appreciated her being there with me. I don’t think I told her that I simply couldn’t have gone on without her hugs and unconditional love. The truth was my heart was shattered into a million pieces and it was my Mom whose loving gathered all its pieces as Nathan took his last breath.
A lifelong friend invited me to participate in a grief program. It was then that I noticed that despite being extremely busy, strong and successful in so many aspects of my life: family, school, and work, I still had a huge hole in my heart. Almost 20 years had come and gone since Nathan’s death and yet I still felt incredibly isolated in my emotional relationship with my boy. In an environment that was filled with dignity and respect I was finally able tell the emotional truth about myself.
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