How to Cope With Grief

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Written by Kimberly Elmore

I’m going to share my past experience with grief and the emotions that have gone and continue to go along with it.

It’s a feeling that is universal in that each of us has experienced it on some level, yet it’s also incredibly personal because no one experiences grief in the same way. Grief, as defined by, is: (noun) keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret; a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow.

In this Emotion Commotion article, I’m going to take a different approach. I’m going to share my past  experience with grief and the emotions that have gone and continue to go along with it.

On October 25, 2009 at 7:35 a.m., six days after my mom’s 57th birthday, my cell phone rang. When I answered Nurse Pat said, “Mom expired this morning.” Expired. I wonder if that’s a word hospice nurses are trained to use? Either way, that phone call is forever imbedded in my memory.

The past few months after had been a yo-yo of emotions. Some days I felt deeply sad and like a part of me is missing, while other days I experience glimpses of the way I used to feel before my mom died. I have days where I’m able to not think about my mom’s death for long stretches of time, and then I have days where it consumes me–the mental images I have of her during her last days play over and over in my mind like a bad movie.

I consider myself lucky in that the last words my mother and I shared before she went into a “coma-like” state for six days were, “I love you.” After she said that to me, she faded away and slept for six days until she passed away.

My mom’s wake and funeral felt like a dream.   Physically I was there, but emotionally I felt numb. I felt like I was just playing a part and that it wasn’t really my reality. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that kicked in, as well as a little bit of denial, but it helped me get through those two days. A few friends said they were amazed that I didn’t really cry during my mom’s services. I was amazed too, but I also spent many days and nights sitting at my mom’s bedside crying. I had also said good-bye to my mom four different times–each night I left the hospice I would say good bye just in case she passed. I was all cried out.

In the weeks following my mom’s death, I was still in a cloud. I had many moments of guilt. Even though my mom and I had a good relationship, I replayed the times she and I fought. I felt guilty for the times we argued and for the times I gave her attitude. Over the course of the next few months, the guilt went away, but I had a hard time remembering my mom being healthy. Sometimes my memories take me back to her sleeping in the bed at hospice. I struggle with focusing on all the happy memories.

Some days I have a hard time concentrating. I’ve had my moments of thinking ‘why?’ and I’ve questioned my religious beliefs. Even, now, seven months later, when I think about my mom the pain returns just as fresh as I felt it the day she died. I think now, in some ways, it’s harder than it was the days following my mom’s death. I’m no longer numb; the finality and reality have sunk in. There are no longer people offering support everywhere I turn. That’s because everyone has gotten back to their lives, and that’s justifiable. I think many believe the most difficult part is the days following the death of a loved one, when in actuality it’s the months later that are the most difficult.

Grief is more than an emotion; it’s an all-encompassing, on-going experience. It will always be there, and it will creep up on me when I least expect it. Sometimes when I think of my mom, I cry, and other times I feel anxious or insecure. Grief is also a physical emotion. There are days I feel like I have a ton of bricks on my chest, or I walk around with a lump in my throat. It’s a pain that is felt so deep that it’s hard to describe with words.

I have good days and bad days. There is no magical switch that turns the grief off. Sometimes I feel that some people think I should be “over it” by now. Some say they don’t feel I’m happy or that eventually other people in my life will fill the void. I know they mean no harm with their words because I realize they may not understand how deeply affected I am by the loss of my mother. I don’t outwardly show my grief.

I think to lose anyone is hard, but when a person dies young, his or her death cannot be justified with, ‘at least she lived a long, full life.’   I’m not saying one loss is easier or harder than another; I’m just saying that there are different types of losses. Because death is inevitable for each of us, all any of us can hope for is to live to be in our 80s or 90s. And when life is cut short, well, it’s just not fair.

I feel cheated. And sometimes, I feel angry. My mom won’t be at my wedding or get to be a grandparent. I miss the day to day stuff, too. I miss being able to call my mom just to say hi or go out for a bite to eat. For me, my mom was one of my best friends. She and I spoke almost every day. She was a major part of my support system, and now she is gone. She has left a huge void that will never be filled because no one could ever replace my mom and no one will ever love me as unconditionally as my mother. Some days it’s hard to fully function knowing that the person who always had my back and my best interests at heart is gone forever.

I’ve been told that I will never get over the loss of my mother; I will just learn to live with it. I do believe time will soothe the crispness of my pain, but it will never soothe the emptiness in my heart. For me, grief is defined as a day-to-day, life-altering process.

As Sigmund Freud said, “We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else.”

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the above article. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.

1. What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?

That I will never be a size 2 or 5’ (Ha!). We all come in different shapes and sizes and I try not to get caught up in the body image issues that stem from the (air brushed) women who are on the cover of magazines. I think what’s most important is to be healthy and comfortable in one’s skin.

2. What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?

What I appreciate in my life is my friends. I’m very lucky that I have a close network of friends who have become family.

3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?

At my job, my position has changed drastically from when I first started, which I credit largely to being self motivated (as well as to the professional opportunities my boss and other colleagues have provided to me). Professionally, my goal is to continue to learn and build my leadership skills.

4. We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth–we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are–your Identity?

I use a lot of detail when I talk, some of it is often not necessary to what I’m talking about.

5. “I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!) Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”

I love my…smile.

About the author

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Kimberly Elmore

Identity writer Kimberly Elmore is currently employed by Delta Dental of New Jersey in the corporate communications department as the community relations coordinator. She serves as one of our top and longest contributors.

Kimberly has been a huge part of Identity's success since the beginning of 2006. During Kimberly's college years she served as the arts & entertainment editor of her college newspaper and interned in the public relations department at the March of Dimes.

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