Mom dies: Girl lives with grief
When I was 22, after a brutal 10 year battle with cancer, my mother died. Due to societal conditions and a lack of perspective I never grieved. I ran. Welcome to the beginning of my grief process. I hope it gives you hope or inspiration.
I studied a particular type of coaching called “Internal Family Systems”. The short of it is that there are different “parts” of us that function inside our brain. You know when you are trying to make a decision and you say to a friend, “Part of me really wants to move to NYC and take the job but part of me really likes it here in my comfort zone.”? In coaching we call that parts work. The part of you that wants to move to NYC is one function and the part that wants you to stay is another, they are both there believing that they are helping you. The evidence tells us that if we are able to work with those parts, understand their origin (when they first started to function) and validate their desires and have them work together..that we will feel better…more centered. Sometimes in this work the parts dissapear because they discover that they have served their purpose. It’s pretty incredible.
With all of this in mind, as I (re)deal with my own grief about my mother I have begun to apply parts work.
I like metaphors, so here is a simple one;
I believe that the brain is something like a giant puzzle. Sometimes if you get ONE piece, just one single piece in the exact right place, it makes the whole of the puzzle make more sense. Then slowly you start to put more and more pieces together and a clearer picture appears. I believe that the brain is a lot like that and if we apply parts work to this process each “part” is a piece of that puzzle. The more we understand that part of our self and its function the clearer the whole picture becomes.
So here I am, deciding to finally deal with the loss of my mom. I am busy waking up in the morning each day almost having to tell myself “Yes mom is gone, it has been 9 years, you never grieved, but you’re going to be ok”. That reality usually works well for me when I am in a bit of a need of stability.
See one of my “parts” is the 22 year old girl who watched her mother die in her living room. She doesn’t think it is fair. She is angry. She is confused. She feels abandoned. And she has a right to be and feel all of those things. If you’ve never seen death, and I mean death in real life not in some crazy TV show or on the news. I mean watched a person that you love, a person who gave you life, a person who was well, your person, if you’ve never seen death like that, then you might not completely understand this process. But I encourage you to keep reading becuase there is probably someone in your life that could use support and if you’ve never seen death then you won’t know how to support them. I hope my process will help you.
So my 22 year old part is pretty much driving the car lately. (car being my brain). She is stuck in June 2008 where we spent weeks slowly watching my mom die. She is stuck on June 20th where, because of society and stigmas and pain, my family all dispersed in different directions and no one, not one of us stopped to really say, “wow, what a terrible thing that just happened, what do I need?”.
My understanding is that in the Jewish culture people sit shiva. Depending on the particular choice of observance this can mean that they sit for 7 days to grieve and honor their loved one. They don’t go back to work. They don’t really do anything, other than focus on the loss.
We didn’t do that. We dispersed. Yes, we threw a celebration of life. Our family visited and we talked about memories of my mother. We created picture boards. We stood up for strangers to shake our hands and share their love for our mother with us. But none of us stopped.
And in some ways my 31 year old part (the self, the part that is supposed to be driving the car) is kind of angry at society. I want to know why no one told us what to do. I want to know why no one said, “Hey maybe we should sit shiva”. Or why no one said “Maybe you should take some time, time to slow down, time to cry, time to be sad”. My poor 22 year old self didn’t get any time.
And from my current perspective, from where I sit now, she needed a lot of time.
And my realization is that we need to give people more time. Death is this thing that we all know is real but kind of refuse to acknowledge. We avoid it, we try to control it, we try to cure it, we don’t talk about it. But I can tell you from first hand experience, death is real and eventually it catches up to us.
And so, as I apply parts work to my grief, I am discovering so many parts that are trying to deal with the loss of my mom. And I am honoring them, because they were really impacted by this loss. I am honoring them and I am inviting them in to stay while, as long as they need to feel better; 7 days, 14 days, a year. We are sitting shiva together, for however long it takes.
You’d be really surprised by how much honoring your parts really calms the storm of grief. An internal conversation with many participants each of them getting their chance to speak, to grieve, to process.
An excercise I do with my clients when working with parts is to have them draw or describe the part. We create a visual of the part so that when that parts starts to take over in our brains and wants to drive the car we can imagine her/him. When we can visualize the part we can have empathy for it. We can understand it better, with more clarity. We can figure out how it fits into the puzzle. We can ask it what it wants.
Right now my 22 year old part wants her mom, and I can’t give her that. But I can give her time, and considering the circumstances, that’s a pretty great gift.