Welcome to the 17th year of HEN.  I can hardly believe it’s been that long since I started a small experiment to share some of my thoughts and learnings with you, dear HEN reader.  This year and this moment marks a momentous turning for me.

I’d like to bring you along.

A few days ago, before I had written HEN, I received news from my brother, that my mother had died.  My mother, definitely the strong matriarch in our family, had been bed-ridden with advanced dementia for a few years, and my brother had signed on to be her primary caregiver.  This loss is tremendous for us, and especially for my brother, who has been tied to my mother’s increasing care needs for over a decade.

Fresh into this experience, here is what I am learning:

It starts with what I am noticing some people say to me as I tell them that my mother has died.  They often respond with almost a visceral pained reaction: “Oh, I’m so sorry.”  Their reaction (through mirror neurons) stimulate a pain reaction in me.  That is often quickly followed with them sharing their own story of a loved one they have lost and how painful it was for them.  I know the best intention would be to say that they understand; it’s just not the impact in the space and state I am in. These responses don’t feel particularly good to me.

Then, there are people who have responded differently to the news. I notice these are people who I would say have done their own “grief work.”  When I have shared my mother’s passing, there is no big emotional reaction of how sorry they are, or any immediate sharing of the pain they have endured and still endure.

What happens instead is there is a presence that opens up between us.  It feels as if there is a space that is created which gives me freedom.  This freedom is to simply “be” in whatever way I am in that moment.  That feels good.

Everyone, I believe, responds to grief differently. When I am in it – just in it – what I most want is the space to breathe and be.  And, I want you to be with me.  Please don’t assume that I am in pain in that moment.  I also do not want to hold space for you to share your pain with me, when I am in a resource-depleted state.

What feels good to me in these first days after knowing my mother died is:

  • Make sure I’m fed.Some have asked me about eating, and some have simply fed me.This is a blessing.Give people food.
  • Ask me how I feel. I have a neighbour, a band mate actually, and he’s texted me asking me simply: “How are you feeling?”I’m often not feeling in this state – so him asking me is a gift.It makes me stop and feel.I also like that it’s in a text.I don’t need to respond if I don’t want to go into my body in that moment.And I can be reminded.Lovely.
  • Listen to me with your heart and tell me you care. That will make me feel like I matter. I have to laugh!As I was writing this, my downstairs neighbour (one of my angels) just texted me this message as her morning message to me: “You are so loved!!!”  That message just spurned me to send a similar text to my brother just now.  Love, love, love.

This morning, I watched a short video blog post by Sarah Kerr where she put out one way to think of death – I love it:

“Death is really hard. When we’re dying, or when someone we love dies, it’s hard. Mostly we don’t want it to happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s not a bug in the system that needs to be fixed. Nature doesn’t design things that way.

If it’s here, there’s a purpose to it. So, what is it?

Perhaps one of the purposes of death is that it helps us release love. Big loss and big grief show us how much we really love each other. In our collective body, and in our communities, sometimes death gives us a kind of reboot of what’s really important. It reminds us of our connection to each other, of how much we need each other, and of the love that we feel, from this side of the veil to the other.

Meeting death with love, and appreciating its purpose, is of service to the living, the dying, and the dead.”