My Mother’s Life Taught Me How To Grieve Her Death
In the wake of my mother’s death, I have discovered a deeper, newer dimension to our relationship. In the days after the tragic car accident that claimed my mother’s life, I heard numerous times how my relationship with her would now no longer be constrained by physical limitations. Rather, this relationship would know no bounds, and become something verging on the infinite.
It was hard to hear these words. I did not completely understand them. Would my mother somehow have more of a presence in my life? A spiritual presence that is more than her warm, quiet, and magnetic physical presence? More than the smell of her Fendi perfume, tobacco, and the remnants of the dinner she just cooked? More than the feeling of unconditional love I was always enveloped and cradled with? It didn’t make any sense. Nothing anyone said made any sense. My seichel was, and still is, limited, so how could any of this make any sense to me?
For the past few days, as I struggled through this confusing and blurry grief process, I started to understand what this means. How our relationship is starting to transform and take on a new meaning.
In the year 1990, 4 years before I was born, my parents lost their 6-month old daughter Yael to SIDS. And 28 years later, in the year 2018, my mom was still grieving her death as deeply as if it had just occurred yesterday. Her grief was always at the edge of her psyche, Yael living on so clearly and palpably in my mom’s life, and as a result, in ours as well.
I never knew my mom before her grief and loss. But her pain had seeped into her demeanor, making her beautiful and regal in a way that is hard to describe. She used that pain to help others. She shared in others’ pain, whether it was a loss, miscarriage, divorce, or addiction. She found something common in their pain, and internalized it as if it was her own, truly embodying what it means to be empathetic. The most admirable thing that I find about her empathy is that she never shied away from peoples’ struggles. She allowed others a space to be completely themselves and share the back side of their life tapestries, never flinching in the face of it. It was so rare and refreshing to be in such a presence.
Watching my mom living with her pain, and the way in which she processed her grief, serves as something that I am constantly turning to gain strength from. Subconsciously, my mom was paving the way for us to grieve her. She was showing us how to properly honor our lost loved ones, and to ensure that they stay a part of the family unit, even more so now than when we were so used to their physicality here on earth.
My mom illustrated for me how one can still function as a productive member of society, even amidst an anguish so deep. She taught me how to not judge myself or others during my grieving process. And really, to not wish for others to understand what I am going through. Because in order for anyone to really understand this pain, they’d have to be in the same situation as me. I can’t expect others to understand my loss, because if they did, they’d have to have a loss of their own.
Although the loss of my mother is nothing compared to her loss of a child, I have come to understand her in a way that I never have before. I have started to realize how much she hurt all the time, and how strong she was for showing up in life. Because sometimes grief is so unbelievably unbearable, a space in which one can easily forget who they are. The fact that my mom was able to continue her life was a tremendous Herculean feat.
In a strange out-of-body experience, I watch myself calling up my mother and telling her all about my conflicting emotions. Talking about the ins and outs of my grief. I can clearly imagine and hear what advice my mother would give me. This conversation goes on every few days in my mind’s eye, and I feel my mom right here with me, rubbing my back, squeezing my shoulder, and crying with me. And understanding how it’s so hard when people avoid the subject of my lost loved one, afraid that if they say something wrong, they’ll set off an explosion. So frightened to get in close contact with the major pink elephant in the room called “Dee-dee Pelled, Adina’s mom that just passed.” My mummy would understand so deeply that ignoring this pink elephant only makes it grow in size.
The topic of my mother and her death is always right beneath the surface, scratching to pop out of me, itching to be heard and seen. Mummy understood this. Conversations with her always steered towards the topic of Yael. And even though I had never met this little girl that had altered my parents’ lives forever, my mom never let her be forgotten. And I strive to live this reality and attitude of hers, keeping Mummy alive and well in my family and in the future generations of the Pelled clan. Just like she taught us how to.