As part of my coursework to become an end-of-life (EOL) Doula, we needed to visit a labyrinth and select a loss to re-visit and think about as we traversed the pathway. This is what I wrote after completing the walk and I thought I would share with you.
Although I experienced the loss of two husbands, a more profound loss for me was when my mother passed in 2012.
As I walked up to the labyrinth, I envisioned my mom at the center of the circle. My walk would take me to her. As I entered the labyrinth, I though about all the things I loved about my mom, all the things I missed about her. Her loving nature. She never yelled (which was amazing as she had five children!) She loved to knit, to sew. She opened her heart and the door to our home for anyone that needed a safe place. I remembered picking blueberries out in the wood with her and then smelling whatever it was she baked. I miss our weekly chats that could go on for hours if we chose. Each twist and turn of the path allowed a memory, a vision, a thought, of various times and places where I remembered my mom and what she represented.
This labyrinth was near fields where there were obviously wild cats, ducks, etc as there were patches and gobs of poop scattered on the path. This made me think about all the obstacles that got in the way on the journey for my mom, with my mom and since my mom. I thought about the times when she must have had to deal with frustrations when her children did things she did not like. I thought about the times when I couldn’t be physically with her because of the distance between us (living on opposite coasts in the U.S.) or because of my commitments to my husband, children, or mother-in-law for whom I was caring.
At one point as the path moved away from the center, my sobs got louder and my heart was full of pain and anxiety – equating perhaps to the feeling of being separated from Mom, the anguish of the loss so profound I could feel it as though it was happening right then and there and not nearly ten years ago.
I reached the center and just stood for a moment, envisioning myself standing there with my mom by my side. The feeling of loss was front and center. For years I have been telling myself that the reason I felt her loss more profoundly than that of my husbands’ was because she died suddenly just three days before I was scheduled to be with her on a much-needed vacation. I had been a caregiver to my mother-in-law for about six years at the time and trying to go anywhere involved coordination with others to step in. I was excitedly looking forward to a full week with my mother where we could walk, talk, and share and where I would have no responsibilities. Going “home” for me represented joy to relive happy times and my elation at the prospect of having this time set aside was over the top! When my sister phoned to tell me that “Mom was gone” I simply collapsed in disbelief. How unfair that my mom was gone and yet my mother-in-law was entering her sixth year with Alzheimer’s! Instead of a week of vacation with my mom, I ended up spending the full week orchestrating the clearing out of her home of 66 years. I went from the ultimate high to the ultimate low in minutes! In the months after my mom’s death, I felt myself spiraling downward into a depression. I sensed I was pulling away from contact with people, wallowing in my own grief, trying to figure out how (or even if) I could get out of it.
Yet, as I stood in the center of the labyrinth today, I realized that extreme high to low was only one component of my profound grief. The root of my grief was more likely from not having the opportunity to say goodbye to her. I had talked to her the day before her death and our last words were not good-bye – but “see you on Wednesday”. We fully expected to be together.
I knelt in the middle of that labyrinth today crying and telling Mom how much I missed her and telling her goodbye. I was there perhaps ten minutes as I dealt with this ‘new’ emotion. Then, I took some deep breaths and brought myself back to the present.
As I looked out at the labyrinth, at the concentric rings going out from center, I thought of something my dad had said at my first husband’s memorial service. He talked about the “flat rock” that, if tossed properly out into the water, will create a rippling effect. He spoke about how we never know how many ripples are created in our lives, how many people we might affect with our thoughts, words, and actions. Looking out over the labyrinth I thought about all the people my mother influenced – her siblings, her children and grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, the people in our town, the Girl Scouts she worked with. So many people influenced in one way or another by her.
As I started my journey out of the labyrinth, I thought about the ways I honor her. When I realized I was in a state of depression after her death, I knew that the best way to cope was to get outside of my own head and volunteer, something she did her entire life. That volunteer role ended up turning into a short “new career” for me which saved my life. I crochet and I sew like she did. I am the best mom I can be to my daughters. There were times in my life when I did not have the relationship with my mom that I would have liked due to religious differences and I made sure that I would not do the same to my children. Yes, walking back out the labyrinth and maneuvering the piles of poop reminded me that no matter what life has put into my path, I will find a way to walk around it, avoid it, and keep on going. Like my mother, I try not to sweat the small stuff, to love unconditionally, and to give back to my community.
I stood on the outskirts of the labyrinth, envisioning Mom in the center, all of her loved ones and the persons’ who benefited from her life circling around her – with me on the outside of all of them. I said “Thank you for being my Mom” and then said one final goodbye before turning to walk back up the hill to my car.
In terms of people supporting my grieving process as in Coleen Wrights’ notes, my husband was supportive in the immediate aftermath. He recognized that I went directly into organizational mode once I got to my mom’s house as I assumed the role of overseeing the ‘emptying’ Mom’s house of all it’s contents and tried to help me relax and regroup. At the time I had no “room” to stop and deal with my emotions. I think because I was so “organized”, people assumed I was doing okay. My sister, who was my other closest confidante, was dealing with her own breakdown after Mom died so I felt I couldn’t share with her. I don’t think anyone realized how much I was suffering internally as, not only did I hide my grief, but it took me a long time to even figure out how badly I was doing. My husband worked full-time and wasn’t aware and I had pulled away from seeing friends so no one knew what was going on. And I did not know how to ask for help. I did eventually listen to my internal voice which sent me in the right direction and enabled me to start healing.