Important Lessons about Grieving
In late February, I was working out of town and stayed with my friend, tennis partner, and professional colleague, Chris. That evening, Chris received a phone call from her brother - their mother, who suffered from dementia, was experiencing extreme difficulty breathing. The next morning, I left early to head to the office to start my day. Chris came into the office about an hour later and shared that while she was driving to work, her brother called to let her know that their mother had died.
How do you handle the news when someone shares such a fresh and painful moment? As Chris stood in my office (and knowing that I was one of the first people she would tell in person since hearing this difficult news), I thought back to September 29, 2007 -- now almost six months ago -- when Mom passed away. For the first two days after Mom's death, I remained cocooned with family members, and in spare moments making phone calls to those who knew Mom. But eventually family members left town and I was faced with the challenge of venturing back (albeit slowly) into a world that now was without Mom.
I had made previous plans to have dinner and watch a movie with my friend, Eric on October 1, 2007 (three nights after Mom's death). Eric graciously offered to let me postpone the evening's get-together, but I realized that I needed to get out of my house. At his house dining on take-out pizza and a bottle of wine, Eric gave me one of the most important and beneficial experiences in mourning - he just let me talk about Mom, my feelings, and other thoughts that popped into my head. Then we watched the movie, "Happy Feet," (again, already pre-selected before that night) and I found tears rolling down my cheeks when the show featured scenes of a mother penguin and her child.
Thinking back to that night's impact on me, I realized that Eric had taught me a new approach to helping someone grieve. Previously when I've been faced with hearing from a friend who had lost a loved one, I would rush to fill the silence by trying to describe the magnitude of the loss. This time with Chris, I just gave her a hug and waited for her to tell me what she wanted to in relation to her mother and her own feelings. We were at work, so the opportunity for full-fledged story telling wasn't totally available. Plus Chris, being the ultra-professional, wasn't about to let a tear fall while in the office. But we did find a few moments (like over lunch) when Chris could talk about her mother's specialness.
Chris told me later that the sadness of her mother's death didn't hit her until the following weekend, but I hope I helped her have a positive start in her own grieving process. This week, Chris attends her mother's funeral in Iowa (postponed due to health issues by some family members). I'm sure Chris will return physically tired and emotionally worn-out from her trip.
So I've already made a mental promise that when Chris travels to my city for professional reasons in late March, I'll take a cue from Eric's playbook - dinner, a glass of wine, and a conversation about her mother where Chris tells the stories and I'll just learn about the history of yet another great woman who died from dementia.
Blogs about Chris and her mother: