My mother asked me to come with my young family from our home in Boston to New York City to visit her and my father for Labor Day weekend. It had been a couple of months since we last saw each other. We exchanged words and I told her I was simply too busy to come for the weekend and we would have to arrange another time. I knew she was not happy. I also knew she did not understand how difficult it was to juggle two children and a busy professional life.
The following morning I received a phone call from my brother-in-law that my mother died. She was seventy-one years old and the picture of health and vitality. As I write this eleven years later, I can still feel the sense of shock and grief at her premature death. I feel her loss every day of my life, especially when there are life passages. I long to tell her about my daughter and my son and the way they are growing and flourishing. I long to tell her “I’m sorry” for not agreeing to come home that weekend. The irony is, of course, that I was home that weekend, but to mourn her death.
After the Shiva period, I stayed in bed for two weeks. I could not bring myself to see patients, to parent, to eat, to do anything except cry. I did not return any phone calls during that time and did not want to see or connect with any of my friends.
My husband indulged me in my mourning, until one day he came into our bedroom and said, “Randy, you need to wash your face. Pay attention to your children and get back in the office.” I could barely speak. I was not ready. Martin told me to just put one foot in front of the other and get started. “Start small Randy. You can do this.” He reminded me of myself as he said those words.
When my children came home from school that day, I had snacks waiting for them on the kitchen table and then a lasagna dinner for later. The mechanics of preparing food, the smells in the kitchen and the act of creating something nourishing for my family felt healing and grounding. It took me out of my grief and back into life for a brief span of time.
I scheduled two patients for the next day. I remember that sitting with them and connecting over their own suffering took me away from my own. Little by little I started to come back. I came back first to my family. My children and husband felt so precious to me. I knew in my heart they trumped all. It took about a month or so before I was back to my regular schedule in the office. Then finally I was able to let my friends in, when things did not feel so utterly raw.
Only then did I begin to feel the fullness of my life again. I felt grateful for all that I had, even in the face of the traumatic loss of my mother. I also forgave myself for not making our last conversation a sweet one. (Check out the posts on forgiveness for more information around steps for internalizing forgiveness.)
What comes to mind when you think of the loss of someone you loved deeply?