There’s No Timeline for Grief
Dear Carol: My mom died six months ago and I’m still having a hard time accepting her death. I keep thinking about what I could or should have done better when she was still with me. I don’t communicate my grief to my family members because they think I should be over it by now. They seem to be getting on with their lives just fine, but I’m not. Actually, I’m getting worse. Maybe it’s the holidays. When I look back, I remember complaining about being Mom’s primary caregiver and how hard it was. Now I feel guilty. Mom understood everything about me and I feel like an orphan now with no one to talk with about my past and childhood. I wish I knew then what I would feel now. Maybe I’d have been more patient. – Amy
Dear Amy: Please don’t feel guilty about the times you were frustrated with your mother. You are human, caregiving is tough and you had the bulk of the responsibility. Six months isn’t all that long for grieving such a loss, and everyone grieves differently. Be prepared for tough times during this first holiday season without her. I remember writing in one column years ago about how I felt like an orphan after my mother died. My dad had died just five months earlier. I handled their deaths pretty well, but nearly two years later, during the holiday season, grief hit me suddenly and hard. The heavy feelings passed and I quickly recovered, but my point is that you will always miss your mom and you will likely always grieve your loss to some extent. But it does get better.
When guilt attacks, you need to remind yourself that you did your best at the time and your mom knew it. There’s simply nothing to gain in second-guessing yourself at this point.
If feelings of guilt and deep sorrow persist, I’d suggest that you talk with a counselor. If your mom received hospice care, most hospice programs offer grief counseling for at least a year after a loved one’s death, so give them a call. The fact that hospice offers grief counseling for a year is evidence that these people who help so many family members through the death process recognize that people grieve for a long time. If you don’t qualify for hospice grief counseling, and you don’t start feeling better very soon, please see a private grief counselor or talk with your spiritual adviser.
You did a wonderful thing by giving of yourself to take care of your mom. You’ll always miss her, and the holidays this first year will likely intensify your loss. But your life will get better in time. There’s no shame in getting emotional help if you need it, so please follow through. You deserve a life filled with sweet memories about all the good things you did for your mom.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.