Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Changes: Good and Bad

I haven't written for several weeks and with good reason. In December of last year, my mother came to be with our family for an extended visit (from Jamaica). She has been suffering from some improperly diagnosed health problems for close to 18 years, and we felt it was time that she came back to Canada to get proper medical attention. Part of that process for an expatriate citizen is that one must live in the country for a certain number of months before one's OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) coverage can be reinstated. For us that meant three months. Sadly, on the 19th of February, just a few days shy of her three month point, she passed away in her sleep. The coroner said he could find no discernable cause of death - she just decided she had enough, and went to sleep and didn't wake up. As you can imagine, it was an incredibly traumatic experience, even though she went peacefully and without any suffering that we could tell - it leaves us with a bevy of unanswered questions, the number one question being, "Why? - Why Now?"

That being said, we have come together as an extended family, and we are doing our best to cope with our loss. One of the things I firmly believe is that anger can often stem from grief. Indeed traditional thought in grief counselling state that there are 10 stages of grief, and one of them is anger. What I have learned through this experience is that the anger comes in waves. It doesn't come all in one tidy package that once we're over, we can just move on. I have good days and bad days. On my bad days, it is all I can do to pull myself out of bed. When I have to take care of the business aspects of losing my mom - like insurance, banking, all that kind of thing, sometimes things don't flow smoothly. On bad days I feel like screaming at them, "My mother is dead - surely you can make this easier for me!" But in my heart, I know that it's not their fault, and it wouldn't be fair to take out my hurt and pain on them. Still - the feelings are there and they are very real.

There are other times, when the anger is directed completely inward. I remember the day she died, that I had to call my father to let him know. That was likely the hardest thing I have ever had to do. You've got to realize that he only spoke to her the week before, and she was joking with him about being on a diet and how he wouldn't recognize her when she came home... The degree of self-loathing I experienced after speaking to him was so intense I could hardly understand it. I realized after a few days of avoiding the phone, that I was afraid that he would blame me for her passing, and I was terrified of facing him. It took my breaking down and confiding my feelings to a good friend that helped me to get past that, so that he and I could talk to each other again. And she was right - he held nothing against me, and despite his own pain, has been very supportive. There are still times, even now, that I feel so angry at myself - for the things I said to her, for the things I didn't say - for the times when I tried to get her to be someone other than she was, failing to realize just how magnificent she was already... But that self-inflicted pain doesn't honour her memory, or help me to heal. It just makes me want to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself. If there is one thing about my mom, she would be throwing a bucket of ice water on me and telling me to stop being a baby, and to get on with my life!

One of the things I have come to realize at a deeper level this year is this - Just Because You Heard It, Doesn't Mean You KNOW It. There are things that we have heard and understood about grieving and how a profound loss affects someone's life - but until you've experienced it, you can't really KNOW what it's like. For me, this has been one of the most painful learning experiences I have ever had. But I intend to learn from it. Otherwise, it would all have been for nothing. Although I still sometimes ask "Why?" I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. If that is true, then I have to trust that there is a reason that my mom left us on February 19th, and that everything will become clear in its own good time.