Monday, February 5, 2018

On Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One

Last night, NBC aired a special episode of This Is Us after the Super Bowl. (If any fans of the show reading this have not yet viewed that episode, stop now. This post has spoilers.) It was a real tear-jerker, finally revealing how Jack Pearson died and how his widow and each of his three children are still dealing with their loss twenty years later. It resonated for me because Collin and I are also dealing with loss. Twenty-seven years ago last Monday, my dad died. In October, it will be twenty years since my mom passed away.
 
 Mom in happier days.

Twenty years after his death, Jack Pearson's family is still grieving, each in their own way. Rebecca, now married to Jack's best friend, has an annual ritual on Super Bowl Sunday. Her new husband respects it and, as he puts it, gives her space. She makes Jack's favorite lasagna and eats it while watching the Super Bowl alone. Kevin goes off alone to a special place and talks to his dad, pouring his heart out, vowing to do better in his own messed-up life, to beat the demons he shares with his late father. Kate watches a video Jack made for her while trying to help her gain the confidence she needed to pursue a future as a singer. In the video, she sees the reflection of her dad peeking through her bedroom door with his videorecorder, and it brings tears to her eyes. She blames herself for his death, because he went back to save her dog--which probably explains why it was so difficult for her to accept another dog in her life. Randall tries hard not to grieve. He celebrates his father's love of the Super Bowl, insisting upon watching the game with his kids  every year--even though the kids really don't care about the Super Bowl. This year, a seemingly unrelated incident--the escape and accidental death of the kids' lizard--has an unexpected effect on him.

I don't have many photos of Dad. 
He didn't like having his picture taken for some reason.

I can relate. When my dad passed away after what should have been a routine surgery--really, no surgery is "routine," but Dad had surgery two months earlier and this was supposed to be a sort of follow-up operation--it affected Mom, Collin and me in very different ways. For one thing, we were all blindsided by it--he'd come through the surgery with no complications, or so we thought. Even after the heart attack, when he was moved from his room to the cardiac intensive care unit, he seemed fine. He was laughing, talking with us, eating. That was Saturday. By Sunday night, he was on a respirator. By Tuesday night, he was gone.

Mom was depressed. She never really got through that. She seemed to have just given up. She went through the motions of living but was never quite there. Collin seemed okay on the surface, but his manner of dealing with things was to not deal with them. I was consumed by guilt. I wasn't sure I even had a right to grieve.

Dad and I had a complicated relationship. As a child, I was definitely Daddy's Girl. We were close. But as I got older and started to think for myself and not always agree with him, he didn't know how to deal with me. He'd come from a less than idyllic childhood that left him with control issues, a demon I inherited. Mom used to say we were always butting heads because we were so much alike--and she was the referee. Dad and I had unfinished business. And I believed that my success as a novelist made him feel unneeded. Before that, we were all dependent upon him for just about everything. 

That was the beginning of a very long, very painful writer's block. It would be another seventeen years before I would finish and publish another novel.

When Mom passed seven years later, Collin and I knew it was coming but it still hit us both hard. The first stroke came in February 1996. I knew the warning signs of stroke, but even when I saw them, I convinced myself that it wasn't any big deal. She'd slept on her arm. That's why it was numb. If I hadn't been in denial, Mom could have had a very different outcome. If she'd listened to our family doctor, she could have had a different outcome. If the two sisters she adored had been there for her when I couldn't be there, she could have had a different outcome. If, if, if...she was gone, and there wouldn't be a do-over. I didn't want to believe I could lose my remaining parent. But I did. I carried on, because I had Collin to think of--though sometimes I think I needed him more than he needed me.

We still miss both of them. We talk about how much they would have loved big-screen TVs, cell phones (maybe), streaming channels, delivery services for just about everything, and we wonder what life will be like on earth after we're gone.

How do you deal with the loss of a loved one?

21 comments:

  1. When you add in complications, death becomes all the more problematic for those left behind. We get used to it, for lack of a better term, but it stays with us. And anniversary dates, or significant days, can bring it all right back again on us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does. And we each deal with it in our own way.

      Sometimes, I think the memory loss that comes with aging is God's way of allowing some of us to hold onto the good memories and discard the bad.

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, William. I know you've been there yourself.

      Delete
  3. My family is gone but thank God I have my husband. He's much older than I am and I pray every day that he sticks around for another 25 yrs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The best thing you can do is live every day as if it were going to be the last.

      Delete
  4. Very well written. I deal with the loss of loved ones with denial--I'm very good at it. It's the same way I deal with serious illness, and it seems like just about everyone in my family has had health scares in the last few years.

    The only problem with denial is that it doesn't last.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mark. Yes, denial's only a temporary fix. At some point, we can no longer avoid the reality.

      Delete
  5. Losing our parents has to be one of the hardest things Norma, when you think they've been in our lives forever. I saw my mum and dad everyday, so when first dad and then mum passed there was a huge gap in my life. I think when you have children it helps a lot, you just have to get on with things for their sake. As you say they are always there, I have miniature glass ornaments that mum collected over the years here and there all over my house, little shiny reminders ☺

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The creator of This Is Us said that the loss of his mother is the hinge upon which everything else in his life swings. I think that's true for most of us. We grow up thinking our parents will always be there, but one day they're not, and it's hard to accept. I've thought about doing a nonfiction book of interviews with friends about how they deal with their losses.

      Delete
    2. That's not a bad idea Norma. There are probably lots of people out there struggling with the loss of their parents, the experiences of others can often be a comfort and guide! How are yourself and Collin doing these days?

      Delete
    3. We spent the past two weekends moving furniture so Collin can have a comfortable workspace.

      I'm still achy!

      Delete
    4. Must be nice to have him work from home though Norma, or is he?

      Delete
  6. Norma
    Memories do come flooding back.
    Good and Bad like a jigsaw puzzle. Then we have to figure out how to put it back together.

    cheers, parsnip and mandibles

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Time doesn't heal all wounds, but it does, usually, make them bearable.

      Delete
  7. This is a touching post, Norma.
    I'm sorry this happened. I agree.
    No surgery is routine.
    I still miss my grandparents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You never really stop missing them, do you, Ivy?

      Delete
  8. I know my parents, brothers, beloved husband, and our son have all gone to the Lord and we will be reunited someday. For me it is closer than many others. I cannot revisit the grief when I should be rejoicing that they are in Christ. To me, that would be a lie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So you know with certainty that they were all saved? That must be comforting.

      Don't you ever miss them?

      Delete
  9. Time deadens the pain but you'll always miss them. I lost my dad when I was thirteen and barely a day goes by that I don't think of him. Death is a part of life and it's harder on the ones remaining than it is for the ones we lost.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is. My dad had a premonition of his death--and that's how it happened. I often wonder if that was God's way of telling him to get things in order before it was too late.

      Delete

Spammers and scammers will be deleted.