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Mourning Mom 
Started by claudia c
28 Mar 2012, 12:30 AM

The organist is playing the opening bars of “How Great Thou Art”.  I stand with the rest of the church.  My eyes start to fill.  Now tears are streaming down my cheeks.  What is happening?  I thought I was past all that.

This happened today, a few hours ago.  I was at the funeral of a good friend’s mother.  My own mother died almost three years ago.  I thought I was past all this, crying spontaneously, tears coming out of nowhere in such profusion.  I guess the familiar setting, the traditional music, the family procession into the church down the centre aisle behind the coffin – all those buried memories came flooding back and the long months of suffering.  Grieving the loss of Mom, I came to realize in those intense and painful moments at my friend’s mother’s funeral, is a lifelong experience.  Sometimes more extreme, sometimes more muted, but there, always present.  

Yet there’s something else I’m also experiencing more of the time - happy memories of long ago times, before Mom was in a wheelchair, partly deaf, almost blind, so fragile. Mom alive, not just Mom dying, joy and sorrow woven together in the fabric of my memories.

It’s been spring officially for a few days now, but the weather here has been more like high summer, cottage days, cottage memories.  I’m walking in the woods with Mom to the rocky outcrop in the hot sunshine where we saw the one and only snake we ever came across at the cottage.  We were both taken by surprise and I don’t know about Mom, but I wanted to scream.  Maybe she did too, but we each needed to be brave for the other so we just stood there frozen until it slithered away. The seconds that felt like an hour, until we hugged each other in relief and started to laugh at our momentary fright. It was the smallest grass snake.

Are you experiencing these double-sided emotions  - sometimes painful grief, sometimes happier memories? 


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Reply by Cath1
29 Mar 2012, 7:46 PM

Hi Claudia C:

I hope you saw my "welcome" post to you in the other thread where I replied to CarolynMarie. Last night my plan was to respond to several people, you among them, but the site had technical difficulties. I lost my first post, wrote another thinking it would be ok but it still didn't post. I usually copy before pressing "Submit" so I can paste the message if the system times out as it's annoying to lose a post and have to write it again. Good advice for us all. In any case last night I didn't do that - of course!:) so I re-wrote it in MS Word, copied and then pasted it today. So happy the tech people know how to fix these little glitches.

Even though I am at work right now, I didn't want to let another minute pass without acknowledging your beautiful post about your dream of your Mom. I have wished to have dreams about my Mom but she never appears to me that way. Thank you for wishing with me!:)

I do sense my Mom's presence all around me, sometimes almost tangibly she is present. I love your fabulous use of descriptive language - I could almost feel myself there in the way you wrote about being at the funeral of your friend's Mom. The way you describe grief as a lifelong experience I relate to so well and I believe it is true, and as you so eloquently expressed, it is an experience of multitudinal dimensions as it is never the same in intensity from day to day or month to month I too have discovered.

There is so much to process through our sorrow that we sometimes feel in the especially painful moments that it cannot possibly feel better - ever - yet I know now from my experience, as I have heard others including you affirm, that the better, kinder memories return after some time has passed. It is heartbreaking to dwell on the sadness of our Mom's deaths, when their lives were so rich and meaningful and full of happiness. Those comforting memories are the gifts that soften the harshness of grief. Thank you for assuring me by your experience that one day in the future I too will have more regular visits with the happier memories I have saved within me of my sweet Mom.

You, your writing, your sharing of memories so achingly honest and sweet, add a lovely and healing element to our community and I am hoping you will write often and that you will feel the gratitude for your presence here with us all.

Til the next time we connect, blessings to you Claudia.

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Reply by GirlWithTheBlackBeret
29 Mar 2012, 8:43 PM

Hi Claudia,

What you experienced is completely normal.

My Mom died of advanced cancer in 2006. It took me a long time to separate the bad memories (what the disease did to her and how she struggled in the end) from the good ones. In recent, years the good memories seem to be more dominant type, thankfully.

Recently, I was with a friend when she got news of the sudden death of her brother. I comforted her and helped get her to her other family members. Seeing such raw grief was heartbreaking. Even though the ways we lost our loved ones is very different, her loss triggered memories in me.


My friend has a long road ahead of her.  I have told I will be there to talk or go for a walk. I remember taking comfort in spending time with friends and family who had grieved a loved one.

Hopefully with time the extreme memories will fade and be replaced by only the happy ones.

Hope this helps,


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Reply by Tian
29 Mar 2012, 10:04 PM

What a beautiful post Claudia. It can seem like forever for happy memories to appear after the loss of a loved one but you so eloquently related that with time more and more of them resurface. The unpleasant memories may yet linger, after all they occurred at a most intense time, but they don't define the relationship that you had.
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Reply by claudia c
30 Mar 2012, 12:30 AM

I deeply appreciate all your kind and thoughtful responses!  Cath1 I did not receive your welcome post but that must have been because of the technical problems.  Thank you for that!
I just wanted to highlight that it was three years after Mom's passing before I experienced my wonderful dream about her. I think when we are so involved in the caregiving of our loved one that when they die we have so much sorrow and pain to work through that maybe we just don't have any space in our sub conscious for the good and happy thoughts at first.  It is only now that I can truly say the positive memories are taking over!
I can finally truly say time is a great healer.  I honestly wanted to believe this, but it is only now that I am expereincing it most of the time.
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Reply by Cath1
30 Mar 2012, 3:16 AM

Hi Claudia:

Thank you again for writing this lovely message - it means so much to me! I agree that time is a healer, as are the people we love, those who nurture us, guide us by listening, and comfort us by caring, as do those we meet here in this very special place, like a garden of graces where we congregate to bless one another with blossoming hope.

As we share our personal pain we grow in wisdom. The experience of sorrow we dare to explain and the advice we openly offer to others is a gift that returns to us immesurable consolation and kinship. Most importantly it is the empathy shared among kindred spirits I so treasure. I love being a part of the Virtual Hospice forum. There is nothing like knowing we are not alone while also knowing that our individuality and unique perspective of grief is welcomed and respected.

I fervently believe that with time and with patience, despite the slow pace of healing, it will happen.

Sweet dreams!:)
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Reply by Cath1
31 Mar 2012, 4:09 PM

Good morning, Claudia C: WARNING - my message is mega long:)

I know well the experience you write so honestly about when describing your Mom's mental illness and the dependency that such an illness creates between mothers and daughters. I am sure there are sons who experience this enmeshment too, but it didn't happen in my family with my Mom and brothers, it happened between me and my Mom. I know exactly what you mean when you say you feel that you were your Mom’s Mom as this is often how I describe how it was with my mother and me, and yet she was always still my mother, the one I depended upon. Our dependency is complex and mutually entwined.

I shared my intense feelings with the amazingly compassionate, wise and sensitive palliative doctor when my Mom was dying, as the enmeshment we experienced caused me to feel as if I too was dying when my Mom was passing away. Our close bond, I do realize and have always realized, was not the most healthy nor was it ideal, but for us it was the reality and the only way each of knew how to express ourselves and cope with the unforgiving circumstances we were in.

My Mom too was diagnosed as bi-polar - yes, manic depression as it was commonly described back in the 70's. Her own family - mother and sisters and brothers did not understand how my mother suffered not only from the illness, but from the stigma associated with it, the loss of confidence, and the lack of control over her emotions and thoughts and actions. They tried to help her of course because they loved her, but they too resented not only the illness but her as well, because they could never truly understand the illness or distinguish her from it. I could and did. Her extended family couldn't grasp that she did not have control over the symptoms of her illness or her responses to them.

I recall the terror I felt as a child whenever I witnessed my Mom in the throes of a depressive episode. It caused me to feel very helpless and insecure in the midst of such instability and I often felt confused and frightened for her future, and mine and my brothers. Even though I was so young and innocent, I had the capacity at a very early age to empathize with my Mom and my instincts guided me to protect her. She would, as did your Mom, cry for days on end. She would isolate herself, enshrouded in darkness, literally and figuratively, she hid under cover until an uncle would intervene and take her to the hospital.

At age 14 I assumed this responsibility because my Mom trusted me and I could always find a way to appeal to her and get her to cooperate and allow me to accompany her to the hospital. In those days it was Whitby Psychiatric which was notorious for its old-fashioned asylum environment. I hated taking my Mom there and felt worse about myself disloyal and heartless, whenever I had to leave her behind in such a cold and terrifying place where those suffering were kept hidden and locked up under the weight of oppression and despair. I recall how heavy my heart felt as the solid metal doors slammed shut behind me as I left the institution, and yet I hoped my mother would be restored and that she return to me as the mother I could once again recognize, the mother I adored even when mental illness held hostage her truest self.

Due to my Mom’s lack of insight and acceptance of her illness, which is a part of being bi-polar for many, she could not welcome any intervention in her own best interest and therefore, even after she recovered from an episode, the deep resentments she harboured in her heart towards those who "interfered" were never fully resolved. Except those feelings of betrayal did not touch me for long as she was my mother in every sense of the word, and she understood on a deep level my motivations. I was exempt from her displeasure yet she burdened me with her feelings of resentment towards others which put me in the middle of many difficult situations. I could never make her face a reality that her illness prevented her from seeing or embracing.

My Mom never understood nor did I ever express to her directly how hurtful the experience of her mental illness was for me. I learned at a young age to sift through her language and expressions on her face and those hidden behind the suspicion in her eyes to become an expert at interpreting meaning as nothing was ever in our lives as it seemed. My sense of reality was altered by what my Mom experienced and it caused me to become very analytical as I had to constantly figure out for myself which reality was valid, her or mine. I learned to question everything and one would have to get up pretty early in the morning to deceive me. In the end both of our realities were valid, but it was always difficult to accept, understand and reconcile. Lingering anxiety haunts me in my life to this day. It was heartbreaking to watch my mother suffer the torments of the mind and spirit.

Given that my Mom chose me to depend upon when I was still only a child, I think it is natural that I felt such extraordinary responsibility for her and her happiness. I never was able to fully separate her needs from my own and nor was I able to forgive myself when I could not relieve her of her suffering. I know that these feelings are not logical, and my rational mind knows that I need no forgiveness for failing her, but I still struggle with emotions and feelings of failure. Feelings cannot always be rationalized away.

The lack of control I felt in my childhood in terms of having a mother whose illness consumed much of life, colours the memories I claim and causes many other memories to escape me entirely to this day, and it left scars on my soul that have healed but as scars do, they remind us of what we have suffered. As you know from experience, mental illness does not afflict only the person diagnosed with it, but it causes all those whom love the suffering person to share it in every sense imaginable.

While no doubt about it, mental illness causes those affected to experience bitter pain and heartbreak, it ironically is also responsible in my opinion for creating immense compassion for others, understanding of the deeper and darker aspects of life and of people, and it gifts those whom have endured it themselves with an uncommon depth and resilience. I am ever grateful for the insight I have attained directly because of my Mom's sad and shattering sojourns into the hell of uncertainty, mixed with moments of extremes, earth-shaking fear and euphoric flights of fantasy. I know intimately the complexities and colours of my mother and her life and how her experience became vicariously mine. I embrace the lessons we learned, the deep and abiding love we shared and each memory of my Mom's and my every unkind experience where we discovered our truest nature and purpose through the mysteries of mental illness.

I will write more about my Mom and me and mental illness another day. Thank you, Claudia for writing your memories of your Mom. The questions remain. It is up to us to interpret our own answers now that our mothers have died. I wonder if others can ever know what it is like to suffer with mental illness or how it feels to love those who do if they have not had such experience and the kind of close connection we each had with our Moms. I hope through telling our stories, more people will better understand how deeply mental illness affects us all, individually, as families, and as a society. There is still so much to explore, so much to learn, but most importantly, even in our imperfect world, we must try to reduce the stigma and shame associated with mental illness. There is among the darkness, brilliant rays of light to behold.

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Reply by Tian
01 Apr 2012, 12:13 PM

Exquisitely touching post Cath. I think you can extend your wonderful insights to mental health forums. You have the talent and widespread experience to enlighten many communities.
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Reply by Cath1
01 Apr 2012, 2:53 PM

Thank you Tian!

I am founder and moderator of a Facebook group that seeks changes and accountability for the benefit of those living in long term care homes in Ontario. My mother had been diagnosed with dementia in her last few years of life, and she spent her last 5 1/2 months in long term care. The experience for her and for me proved traumatic and I hope to spare others from having similar experiences while living in an institution. I am deeply involved in my mission and devote much of my time to my Facebook group: Cause for Concern: Ontario's Long Term Care Homes.

As well via Twitter and Facebook I am active with other online communities and once I retire - 8 years from now - and have more time to devote to the causes and concerns with which I identify I will become even more actively involved. Of course, that's the plan, health willing.

My Mom told me just six months before she died that I would write a book one day about mental illness after she died and went to heaven. Her faith was rock solid despite all the challenges she faced in her life and she never doubted that she would end up in that idyllic destination in her afterlife. Her innocence and innate goodness was exceptionally endearing. It was one of the last more lucid conversations we shared, as she had by that time lost much of her contextual memory, and her ability to communicate clearly was impaired, but while it was difficult for her to partake in a meaningful conversation with others, I never lost my ability to fill in her spaces with words that escaped her and so we could communicate well until the end of her life. She said to me that day in late May 2010, that I should entitle my book: Laugh and the World Laughs with You. I teasingly reminded her that I was afraid to follow her advice because she had told me long ago that she planned to write a book about her experiences with mental illness to be entitled as such and she would likely come back to haunt me if ever I stole her good idea!:) We laughed so hard together that day, as we did so many times in life. She had a lovely sense of humour and we shared so many "you had to be there" moments that I will always remember with joy. Perhaps one day I will write in more depth the experiences she had and had entrusted to me as the guardian of her life and legacy.

Virtual Hospice is helping me to heal and to deal with the immense void I feel from the loss of my mother. It is a privilege to communicate with others here in our caring and compassionate community as we express our feelings and fears, our hopes and support for one another. Thank you again for your encouragement, Tian - it is very meaningful to me.

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Reply by Cath1
01 Apr 2012, 3:33 PM

Hi Tian:

I just had a "visit" from my Mom after my last post. As I was reading other posts when suddenly in the background I heard the song I sang to her on her last evening with me before she closed her eyes forever. The hymn is Silent Night. We also sang it for her at her funeral. I have Coronation Street on TV and it's Christmas time in the story line of the show and I mainly just listen to catch up to episodes I miss during the week. Obviously I had missed this one with Silent Night played at its closing.

These earthly reminders I receive of my angelic Mom are always a comfort and arrive at precisely the time I am missing her most. In these moments of grief, I find comfort and it finds me.

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