But there is no such thing as a new “normal.” That title is very misleading. I know that I am only several weeks into this thing, this process, this endless walk, and sometimes crawl, called “grieving,” but it still hasn’t become normal. And I have accepted, much to what most who have placed their sympathetic hand on my shoulder, those who are also grieving, have said, that it will never, ever be normal.
I come from a very close-knit family, with the beaming matriarch, my Mama at the helm. At the end of January (2019), after coming back from a month-long family vacation that most people dream of, the entire family took some time to recover before returning to our normal routines. Mama took longer than we did. We thought Mama was still recovering from the toll that intercontinental travelling and island-hopping adventure takes on the body.
But then, that dreadful news – Mama was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer on February 5, 2019, having metastasized into her liver. Throughout this article, I will only say that word once as I do not want it to take any more space than it needs to. “That” traitorous disease progressed quickly, and Mama peacefully joined her Creator on the morning of March 5, 2019. As always, even during her last breath, she was surrounded by her loving husband of forty years and her four children who saw her as their hero, their superwoman. Until the very end, the look of love, of pride, of happiness shone through in her kind eyes as she bid us her last farewell.
Mama lived in this world and left this world in a way only she could, in her own, graceful way. She continues to be a beacon of love, beauty, kindness, and compassion – serving as an inspiration for those who know her and of her.
Though I feel her in everything that I do, I grieve. Every single day. I grieve. I grieve her physical loss each waking moment. I grieve because I am the one left behind. Because we are the ones left behind. It is the selfish human need that I wish she was still here with us, that I could talk to her, see her, smell her. To hear her talk endlessly about any topic, to take her on her shopping errands, to stop by the creamery for a bowl of ice cream after an afternoon of shopping at her favourite department store. I miss her so much. I grieve so much. And many times, the sorrow that comes from this grief is too immense.
In this short time, grief has shown me that there is no end and no final product, that my eyes have dutifully turned into a fountain of tears, always at the ready at the slightest provocation, all the while, catapulting me into an endless vortex of rediscovery and recategorization in and of my life.
There is No End
That’s what most people have said about grieving and grief. Those who are going through it. Using the past tense of “having gone through grief” to me, at least, is inappropriate. My network of family, friends, and acquaintances that I have spoken to about grief, those who have experienced the debilitating loss of someone they love; they still grieve, weeks, months, years, and decades after their loss.
I still grieve my relatives and my pets who have been gone years and decades before. It doesn’t end. And I have accepted that it never will. But one thing I have also found out is that although the grief of my Mama’s physical absence is too immense at times, I still get up.
I may cry myself to sleep at times, though not as often as most around me would imagine, I don’t just sleep and never wake up from the immensity of my loss. I still find myself getting up at the buzzing of my fitness watch reminding me that it is 5 AM and that the day beckons.
Grief, it is much like a heavy fog, weighing me down when it comes around, but some way, somehow, it lifts up and allows me to breathe, before coming around again.
Mornings, at first, were the worst. The first few days, grief screamed into my face. I woke up, frozen in the realization that Mama is gone. Imagine, the first thing you wake up to is your brain connecting the dots and reminding you that the very person that you love so dearly has died and that you will no longer smell them, hear them, touch them, feel them. Over and over again, each morning has been the same.
After a few days, I have come to anticipate that early morning realization and have learned coping mechanisms to lessen the morning mournful wails into silent mournful tears.
Each waking hour, there is a chance that grief inserts itself into my life. While working out or a when a certain song on Spotify comes on while baking lemon bars and remembering Mama eating a piece from a batch I made a couple of weeks before she died. Or something a coworker or friend says during the day or spotting that black bottom muffin at Whole Foods that Mama loved or looking at my father’s eyes, filled with the sorrow that is the loss of the love of his life, grief inserts itself, most times, quietly and unexpectedly.
And there I am, voice breaking, head shaking in agony, with tears streaming down my face. Because that is what grief does. It creeps in whether you allow it to or not. And it never ends. And this is just the beginning.
A Fountain of Tears
I didn’t know that I could cry so much and still have tears left to fall down. I have always been a crier since I was a kid. Mama even said it to my sister during her last week of life.
You can’t hide anything from your mother, not as a toddler and not even in adulthood. Especially not the silent tears that streams down your face while you rub her back, trying to summon every ounce of courage to not let your voice break as you talk to her in as normal a tone as possible.
But with grief, nothing is normal. Grief has turned my eyes into a fountain of tears. Always on the ready.
When I was a kid, I distinctly remember crying at the market when I saw a mud crab pinch Mama on her finger – because I associated such immense pain with the crab’s pinch on my dearest mother. Oh, the thought of pain befalling her was much too much for me as a 7-year-old.
As an adult, not much changed in that regard. Her diagnosis and the weeks ensuing have made me realize the true meaning of the phrase “grief-stricken.” I cried and froze at the thought of what was to come with her treatment, though we never even got to that point.
I cried at the thought of all Mama had accomplished and overcame in her life, why this, why now, why her? I cried at the thought of her imminent death. I just cried. And I kept crying. And I still cry.
On the first day that I could go back to work the week after her funeral services, I went in to try to, if even at all possible, to take a break from the grieving. I thought that I was going to get an upper hand on grief. And there I was, often thankful for red lights and traffic on the Baltimore beltway because I could barely see with the constant flow of tears that welled up in my eyes. I had to stop several times to pull to the side of the road because I was simply unable to see through the tears.
The first couple of hours on the first day back at the office was a blur, faces and questions pelleting me from left and right, then I got in the swing of things but some way, somehow, grief finds a way to creep in.
Coworkers, many who mean well, asked questions and made comments that reminded me over and over again of what I was trying to forget (if that is even possible) by coming in to work. I clearly remember going to the restroom sometime on my first day back and in the quietness of it all, I was reminded that Mama is gone.
That moment, I gave grief the side-eye for finding a way to insert itself even in the most unexpected of places. And then I cried. That’s all I could do. Tears never ask for permission. They flow like a raging current, unapologetic and unashamed.
Just a few days ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon with my best friend’s daughter. As I held her, her grandparents called on FaceTime. As their joyous symphony of voices filled the room as they spoke to their grandchild, my eyes suddenly filled with tears. Sadness, happiness, everything all at once. The natural instinct to try to explain oneself has escaped me since I’ve met grief, and there I sat, and I just cried, unapologetically, uncontrollably.
Special occasions are even worse. So many firsts. So many “she’s missing this.” The first was Easter. I cried through the whole mass at our church, presided by the same priest who has come to know Mama and our family these past few years. It didn’t help that it was the same priest, Fr. Jerry, who gave Mama her anointment when she was diagnosed. Fr. Jerry who came over that last Saturday evening of her life to give her last rites. Fr. Jerry who comforted us with his funeral mass and a homily that would have made her smiled so proudly.
Tears seem to overflow, whether I am in a room with hundreds of people in church or alone in my car, they flow. Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I lost it when he asked all the mothers during the mass to stand up. I just sat there, crying and furiously wiping tears and trying to keep it as quiet as possible. Fr. Jerry has made it a point to hug each one of us each time as we filed out of the church since Mama’s death. I am sure he could see the puffy eyes with the trail of tears and the grief we carry. The grief that I carry,
Re-Categorization of Everything
In the midst of grieving, I am suddenly thrown into this vortex of re-categorization and re-prioritization in and of my life. As if the endless tears weren’t enough, I find myself constantly assessing and reassessing, time, priorities, people, things, everything.
In the infancy of my grief, I have noticed the reaction, or lack thereof, of family and friends. Those who I thought would be enthusiastically there each moment, actively listening, present, and with a shoulder ready to be leaned on. They weren’t there as I’d expected them to be.
I also have quickly realized, that it is OK. More often than not, these are the ones who do not fully understand the immensity and the depth of my loss. Everyone processes grief and loss differently. I realize that now. Secondary loss, a byproduct of grief, is real as I have quickly learned these past weeks, that’s for sure.
Those who I thought were distant from my life — many of them have proven me wrong. Many of them happened to be the ones who listen to my ramblings, physically and emotionally present, and with shoulders on-the-ready for when grief decides to creep in to shower me with unapologetic tears.
Either way, I go on. Because life goes on. I feel no other alternative, no other route. A very dear friend reminded me very recently, having gone through the loss of a child and a parent within the span of 6 months this past year, that there truly isn’t going around grief. Only through it. I am going through it and will be doing so, for the rest of my life.
We have always been a close-knit family, with Mama as our glue. My family has always been that family with photos of everyone in the frame on vacation, during milestones, etc. Always complete, always together. Most people and families who know ours marvel and admire how Mama raised a household like she did.
Most looked at her as the model wife and mother. And she revelled in it. She made it her life goal to be the best parent and partner – and even in her last moments, she proudly remarked on her family as her greatest accomplishment.
This vortex has forced us, even more, to lean into one another for the love, support, and understanding that only we could comprehend and relate to. We are on the same boat, floating through a raging river of sorrowful tears, grieving the physical loss of our north star. Mama’s physical departure has made it a necessity, now more than ever, for us to be with one another, grieving, consoling, remembering, and loving.
I oftentimes walk around in a sort of trance, fully aware but mind occupied, numb but not oblivious. Grief has made me practice kindness more often. I look at others and often wonder, what are they carrying? What is on their mind? Are they grieving, too?
Those that I know who are grieving, I now seek them out. Not because I want to console as much as to be consoled. But because they, too, know. I know that they can say, “I know, me too.” And sometimes, those are the words I need to hear. And I know that those words aren’t the sympathetic kind words that roll of our tongue when something of a tragedy happens to someone we know.
To know that I am not alone and now belong in a new community. A community of grievers. When others see me in the midst of my grief and say that they empathize, I sometimes question if they really comprehend the meaning of what they are saying. Through it all, I’ve also learned that it is OK to feel this way.
Through this journey, even in the very early stages of it, I have come to understand so many things. Grief, I have come to realize, is specific – to people, to time, to place, and to the relationship between the one who left and the ones who are left behind.
This Is My Grief Journey
Other journeys might be similar, but most others may not be. I have learned and constantly remind myself that we are allowed to grieve in our own, specific way and in our own, specific time. But above all, we must also know that we aren’t alone in grieving. Grieving is as normal a part of life as the act of breathing.
Though I have accepted that death is imminent and must happen at some point or another in my life, to me and to those I love, nothing has ever or could ever prepare me for it. Not even a diagnosis that precedes the coming of death four weeks ahead of time.
But one thing is for sure, our minds and our composition as human beings are capable of more than what we’d like to believe. I have also come to realize the existence of these built-in self-preservation gears that I never knew existed in me, helping me to cope, helping me to put one foot in front of the other, to keep walking, and sometimes, even just to crawl.
It is part of our human fabric to rediscover, re-categorize and question everything we’ve known, even through tear-filled eyes. And this is just the beginning.
Rudy Dinglas is from Harford County, Maryland who is devoted to the field of public policy and administration. He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in public policy while working for the City of Baltimore.