As soon as people found out about my mom’s terminal cancer diagnosis, they often asked what kind of help I was getting for myself to deal with the news. I sometimes had to remind myself that it would be rude to laugh at their question. I believe wholeheartedly in the “oxygen mask” idea of needing to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of others, but here I was, working a very stressful job and commuting 3.5 hours every chance I could to spend time with her and help take care of her. Most of my meals were consumed in my car and I was literally running on Dunkin’. My mom was dying in front of me. I knew that. I did not have time to sit around and talk to a professional about it. It was happening and no amount of talking about it would change that.
Anyone who knew my mom knows what a private person she was. As we navigated her illness, I asked her how much she wanted to share. I think she knew my dad, my brother, and myself were going to need people to get us through the rough days, and in order for people to support us, they would need to know what was going on. She was willing to be very open. As more and more people found out about her illness and wanted updates, I asked her for her thoughts on me creating a public online journal. I was sure she would shoot down the idea, or at least request editing rights. I wrote the first post and showed it to her before publishing it, sure she would make me forget about the whole idea. She actually wanted me to add more information. She told me to be open and honest in the journal. I think she knew I needed an outlet to deal with everything that was happening. She was always so wise.
That journal became my therapy. Every day and every appointment came with a flood of new information and emotions. It all felt jumbled in my head and heart until I was able to sit down and type it out. It allowed me to process and accept what was happening. It enabled the people in my life to know what was happening without me having to continually relive it. I wrote in waiting rooms, while she was resting, during infusions, when I couldn’t fall asleep, and when I felt useless hours away from her. I laughed and I cried as a typed. With every post, I was able to heal a little bit in my own little way. In fact, one of the many reasons this blog came to exist is because a friend encouraged me to continue writing after her passing, knowing how therapeutic it was for me.
Grief counselors started stopping by a few days into the hospital stay of my mom’s final week of life. I turned them away. I could not talk about how to live life without my mom with her sitting right there holding my hand. “I’ll let you know if I need you,” I would tell them repeatedly. We transitioned my mom to hospice. When you check into hospice care, they give you a rundown of all of the grief counseling opportunities available to you during and after hospice care. I will never be able to say enough wonderful things about hospice care, especially the opportunities for support during and after my mom’s passing.
I fully prepared myself to go off the deep end after my mom passed away. I had quit my job. I didn’t know where to go or what to do with myself. It could have been an excellent time to get some professional help.
Instead I walked and I talked. I was so very fortunate to have a best friend who was willing to walk the soles out of her shoes with me and listen to me process all of my thoughts and feelings. She allowed me to be angry and hurt and confused without judgement. She let me laugh and cry. I was putting one foot in front of the other and I realized I could do that in my life, too. I healed a little bit. (It also allowed me to start losing the extra pounds I put on from all of the fast food and church lady meals.)
I booked a ticket to Colorado because I needed to run away. My best friend let me sleep in her bed while she took the couch. It was the first bed I slept for more than a few nights in a row in months. I slept long and hard. She let me take her car into the mountains where I would hike and hike until my heart and my legs couldn’t go any farther. Then I would sit and cry and laugh and look at how far I had come. I would look at all of the beauty around me. The mountain air healed me a little bit.
I read books written by people who “got it,” particularly Cheryl Strayed. She put my feelings into the words that I couldn’t find. I felt less alone and saw hope on the other side. Through their words, I healed a little bit.
As the holidays approached, I called my hospice contact for information about grief counseling, thinking maybe it was time. She was wonderful and put me into contact with the right people in my area. Instead of going to therapy though, I signed up for a yoga class. Then another, and another. I had the opportunity to focus on my breathing and the strength of my own body and spirit. I healed a little bit.
I decided to write this blog and share it with anyone who will read it (hi dad!). It continues to heal me a little bit.
I think traditional therapy is a wonderful thing. I know a lot of people who have reaped the benefits of professional counseling. As I continue to learn to navigate life without my mom, I am not ruling out the possibility of seeking out professional help in the future. I also truly believe that grieving and healing is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing. I am so very grateful for the people and the opportunities that I have been able to seek out that have allowed me to grieve and grow. By reading this, you are a part of that. Thank you.