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July 16, 2014

Time for a letter

I cannot count the times someone has told me, "I don't know what to say," after a friend has lost a loved one. Sometimes it's better and easier to write than to talk. The mother of a young friend of mine died recently, after suffering from cancer for six years. My friend and I talked often about her mom's illness over the past four years. After appearing to be stable for a good while, my friend's mom suddenly went into hospice care and died a few days later. This is part of what I wrote to her:

Dear friend,

Right now, I can imagine that life feels surreal to you and I encourage you to take some time to "not be normal," whatever that may mean. Maybe it's a day in pajamas, eating dessert first, or a day trip to the mountains. In times of loss and pain, it is too easy to forget to look to the fullness of our life experience. Of course you can and should feel that your mom's life was not long enough. But was it full enough? I know that the answer to that question is a resounding yes!  And you were a central part of the fullness and fulfillment of her life, as you will continue to be with and for your dad.

Speaking from experience, I think you will feel some relief that she no longer has to endure the ravages of her illness, even as you wish she were still here. The first thing I did after my mother died was throw away all of her medicine. In the midst of my loss, I felt a sense of victory that I could literally trash those drugs and know that she would never again have to take them or suffer their complicated and punishing side effects.

You will always miss your mother, but with time, the pain of that missing takes a gentler, more bearable form. You will, one day, reach a point where joyful memories outweigh the grief. In the meantime…look, watch, listen for her “signs.” I believe that she will let you know in some way what wonderful shape she is in now—in her new life.
Be good to yourself!