Grieving When You Don’t Feel Grief

Two big things happened since I last popped in here: One, we went to New Zealand for three weeks in November. It was an amazing trip and I plan to blog all about it. But not today.

The bigger thing that happened is that my mother died in September, which is such a weird thing to type/say/think about. Weird because I have not really had what might be called a “traditional” reaction to it. Especially compared to my sister. I know that “everyone grieves differently,” but for me, I feel only a sense of relief that our mother is finally gone.

The fact is, our mother had been sick most of her life – first, with Type 1 diabetes in her mid-30s (and entire myriad of related medical problems that came with that over the years). Then, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her mid-40s. Finally, Alzheimer’s and several forms of dementia in her 50s and up until she died at 66. In addition, we suspect her mental health issues actually date back even further (probably to her early 20s, maybe earlier) and were just undiagnosed and untreated, but they were always very present in our lives.

All this to say: our mother was very, very sick for a very, very long time. It was the slow, draining type of sick that required my sister to become her full-time caretaker 15 or so years ago. The kind of sick that slowly takes away every single little thing until you are just left with a body that can’t perform its’ most elemental tasks on its own and a mind that doesn’t know or care. So yes, I am relieved that my mother is finally gone and no longer enduring the life she was barely living. Which makes me feel like a monster for thinking it/saying it/feeling it.

It’s also a weird thing to get my head around for reasons that have to do with how relationships are complicated and fragile, and ours was definitely that. We were estranged, or more accurately, I was estranged from her, and had not talked to her in at least 14 or so years. In that sense, I had already said my “goodbyes” to any traditional mother-daughter relationship with her a long time ago. And that’s the only grieving I’ve really done – grieving for that relationship that never existed and never would. Grieving for two little girls—one who walked away and one who stayed—but both of whom deserved so much more than what they got in the parent department.

Over the years, when I would tell someone that I did not talk to my mother — that, for many, many deep-rooted reasons and for some that were even fresher and not-so-deep rooted, I did not believe I could not have a relationship with her — I would always be told, “You’re going to regret this when she’s gone.” People both close to me as well as those who were just getting to know me were so sure that I should let go of the past. They counseled me to make my peace and mend our relationship before it was too late.

The fact is, I keep looking for this regret. I really do. I keep poking various parts of my psyche trying to find it. I read books and blogs and all kinds of articles on what I’m supposed to be feeling over the loss of a parent. I’ve become quite morbid at holiday parties: if someone mentions they’ve lost a parent, I probe them to find out how they felt and when and why do they think that might be. And there really is truth to the adage: everyone grieves differently.

But here we are, three months on, and I do not feel any regret – only relief. Relief that it’s finally over and I don’t have to explain my relationship to people anymore. The discussion now ends with “my mother died.”  

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