My friend, Susan, is suffering terrible grief because her elderly mother is dying. I’ve been through the death of my mother, and it certainly wasn’t easy. But her suffering, and the fact that she truly was “done living,” made it easier to bear. My dad’s death was a blessing, when it finally happened. He’d been in mental hell for a decade, and the psychological suffering he went through was what was most unbearable to me. After his physical death, I truly felt I had my real dad back. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard to go through those final hours, but it was also a relief. He was set free.
So, what gives with Susan? I’ve spent all week pondering this. I had a pretty good relationship with my parents. Susan had a very difficult one with her mother. Her dad had died fairly young – young enough so she barely remembers him. Her mom eventually remarried, and had a good marriage with this second husband, but a difficult relationship with Susan.
Susan is very intelligent and insightful. She realizes that part of her problem is that her mother is choosing to spend much of her last time on earth with her husband – Susan’s step-father. Also, Susan feels, even though she knows this is unfair, that her mother should not have remarried – she should have devoted her life to keeping Susan’s father’s memory alive. So, as Susan thinks this through, she realizes this resentment is more about her mother than her step-dad.
In “The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living,” written by Ira Byock, M.D., Byock states:
“In addition to our primal drive for connection, we each have an instinctive impulse to give and receive love. We have a deep desire for healing and wholeness. Thankfully, honest, heartfelt, well-chosen words have the power to heal and make us whole.”
What I see with Susan, and what I’ve seen with many others, is that unfinished business with our parents actually makes it harder on us when they die.
Logic may tell us that when anyone we are not close to, or even someone we actively don’t like, dies, we wouldn’t be horribly affected. But from what I’ve witnessed, losing someone we love, someone with whom we’ve had a loving give and take, leaves us with a different kind of sorrow. We miss them, we have our hard times, but, because we’ve (hopefully) said loving things or at least cared for them in a loving manner, we can let go a bit easier.
It seems that when there are healing words are left unsaid, when wounds are left open, it is harder to let go. I’m hoping I can find a few moments alone with Susan to encourage her to let go of some of her childhood expectations and try to find a way to bond with her mother, and even her step-dad, before her mother dies. If she can grow enough to do this, she’s likely to find that the bag of resentment she’s carried throughout her life has lost significant weight. And, hopefully, she will find the years after her mother’s death more peaceful.
Published On: June 18, 2007