One of the hardest things any of us will ever have to go through is the loss of a loved one. Losing a parent can be particularly difficult because it’s hard to imagine going through life without them. Karen Schlaegel knows this first hand, She wrote the article “8 Things I Learned From Watching My Mom Die” to give some hope and help to everyone who is, or will, go through that same thing. (1)
“8 Things I Learned From Watching My Mom Die”
In 2012, Schlaegel’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. She had a successful operation which kept her cancer-free for another five years. Unfortunately in 2017, her cancer returned. Even more unfortunate, the cancer was everywhere, including her lungs.
She describes watching her mom go through end-of-life as something that went slowly at first and then almost too fast to keep up. Then suddenly, her mom was gone. Karen had to watch her mother die.
She notes that she hasn’t always had the best relationship with her mother, and wanted to try to spend this time to somewhat make peace with everything. Knowing what to do and what to say in a time like this was difficult.
“I was convinced that I should be doing something, saying something, but could not think of anything at all that might ease her final passage. The relationship with my mum had always been difficult, thus this also felt like the last chance to make my peace with her, with us.” she wrote. (1)
Schlaegel explains how difficult it is to watch someone you care about be in so much pain and go through something so terrible. That being said, the experience made her realize that this is someone that nearly everyone will face in their lifetime, which is why she wanted to share what she learned.
1. You are alone.
Schlaegel talks about how, just like everything in life, there is no guidebook on how to handle the passing of a loved one. There are no hard and fast rules about how to grieve, how to commemorate that person’s life, nothing.
Others will try to tell you what to do based on their own experiences, but at the end of it, you really have to do what feels right for you. No one else can do that for you.
2. You are not alone.
It can be hard to ask for help and hard to accept it, but there are people who want to give it and, let’s be honest, you really need it.
“I tend to be a control-freak, proud of my independence, always having been able to deal with things by myself. Suddenly I felt frighteningly helpless. I felt like everyone else had it figured out and I was failing miserably.” (1)
She urges anyone going through this to not do so alone – accept the help from genuine people, it will make the process much more bearable.
3. Crying is cathartic.
Most people don’t like crying in public, Schlaelgel included. What she discovered, though, is that crying physically can’t last forever, and it is actually an important part of the grieving process.
“Somebody told me that it’s physiologically impossible to cry continuously. I can’t remember the time, but it’s something like twenty minutes after which the crying will automatically cease. That thought comforted me: The worst that could happen would be to cry for twenty minutes. That seemed manageable. Besides, there didn’t seem to be much I could do to stop the tears from coming anyway.” (1)
Her advice is to let the tears roll and release that tension – you’ll be better off for it.
4. Allow yourself to feel.
No one likes experiencing negative emotions, however, they remain a fact of life and something that you will experience. The important thing, Schlaegel says, is to allow yourself to feel them, and not to beat yourself up about it.
Negative emotions – anger, sadness, frustration, etc – are normal, especially when going through the loss of someone you love.
“Don’t judge your feelings. Allow them to flow through you. Fighting them will only make them linger longer. Feel them and seek to learn from them. Everything we feel can teach us a lesson.” (1)
5. You can’t be prepared for everything.
Schlaegel had been trying to mentally prepare for her mother’s death from the time she was diagnosed. No matter what she did, though, could not have prepared her for how she actually felt going through the process.
“Grief took on many different forms for me. I hadn’t expected any of them and had nevertheless been going through various scenarios beforehand. It turned out to have been a waste of time to even attempt preparing for any of it. And this applies to most things in life.” (1)
Her biggest takeaway? Things will happen as they happen, you will feel however you feel, but most importantly, you will be okay.
6. Carpe Diem.
A cliche, maybe, however, it holds a lot of merits. None of us know how or when we are going to die, so we must get out there and live our best lives while we still can.
“Death puts things into perspective in many ways. Is it worth getting upset or stressed over certain things? Do I really want to hold a grudge? Is this really worth my time? Is this who I want to spend my time with? How will I feel looking back on my life when my time comes?” (1)
Asking yourself those questions will really help make your every day better and make your overall life more peaceful, fulfilling, and fun. (1)
7. Practice gratitude.
Schlaegel recommends starting a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, you write even at least just one or two things good that happened to you that day.
“It’s not about forcing yourself to be happy all the time; it’s about changing your perspective and focusing on the “good” without denying the “bad.” It helps me not to take things for granted in everyday life.” (1)
This was something she was already doing and felt that it was very helpful while going through the stages of grief both during and after her mother’s death.
8. Resilience is key.
Every time you go through hard times, it makes you stronger for the next time. You’ve made it through a tough situation before, you will make it through this one, and you will be more resilient for those you come across in the future.
“You can find the lesson in whatever life serves you. You can combine all of the above and be safe in the knowledge that you will be okay. I feel more resilient and I am confident that it will help me master other situations in the future. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be pain. But you are able to handle it and bounce back.” (1)
The Bottom Line
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and most importantly there is no shame in grieving, no matter the situation. Seeing a parent die is hard now and it will continue to be hard for a while, but you will come out on the other side. Have patience and be kind to yourself.
You can find Karen Schlaegel’s original article over at Tiny Buddha