Five Things I’ve Learned About Grief

When I turned my phone back on again this morning (I had turned it off the prior evening, a rarity) there were some messages and one voicemail awaiting me.

The voicemail was from my boyfriend, calling to say goodnight. He sounded a bit worried but I had forwarned him that I was checking out for the evening. I seriously needed to be alone and just let everything go for a nice chunk of time.

It felt good to have no more fucks to give for a change of pace, an exceptionally freeing and guiltless act of self-care.

There was a message from one of my cousins, sending love and encouragement for the hard day ahead. Another message from my friend Cheryl, sending the same kind of thoughts.

I sent them both a heart emoji because that’s all I had in me to do.

My aunt had texted me “Morning Merry! Call me when you can.”

Since we don’t talk often, once I had woken up enough to think straight(ish) I found her number in my contacts and dialed her. She didn’t answer so I left a message.

She called back a few minutes later.

“I must have been in the bathroom, sorry!”

We discussed my mom, of course. An entire year now. We both agreed that it had gone so fast.

There were tears, a couple of laughs, many shared memories of her, several personal thoughts and then a rant about our annoyance with the cemetery, which throws everything that we bring to the grave away once a week.

I usually stick with plastic dollar store flowers. Some of them are really pretty.


I’ve lost my fair share of loved ones over the years. I’m not a newbie at this.

Yet my mom dying has been absolutely the most difficult death to accept and move forward with.

I’ve been as proactive as I could within the last year…attending a grief group, finding a new therapist that I really like, seeing my awesome doctor on a regular basis, writing as often as I could, plus reading, learning and exploring the topic of grief. I don’t like to stay stuck and the more knowledge that I have, the better my chances are for personal growth.

Rekindling my relationship with the big guy in the sky has also been wonderful, like being thrown a life preserver in a stormy sea filled with sharks.

Anyway, I’ve learned a few things about death, loss and grief but I’m keeping it very simple.

EACH EMOTION IS VALID

When I got the call early that Monday morning a year ago, my first thought was that of pure relief. Relief that she was no longer suffering and was finally at peace. It was also a feeling of relief for myself, that I no longer had to witness how very sick she was. One of the hardest things is to watch someone you love in pain and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

Of course, I felt guilty for feeling that way, until I read about something called anticipatory grief. She’d been ill for so long that deep down I had already begun the process of grieving before she even died.

LET IT OUT…OR NOT

Trying to act tough will only make matters worse. If you feel like ugly snot crying, do it. On the other hand, if you can’t cry and just feel numb, that’s alright as well.

There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to grieving.

IT’S A JOURNEY YOU WALK ALONE…MOSTLY

Once the first week or so is over, people will go back to their lives and you’ll be left alone to try and figure out how to move forward without your loved one.

Pay close attention to the people who reach out to you during this time and if no one does, then reach out to them. (When you’re ready.)

THE EMPTY SPACE

There will always be a void that will never be filled again once someone dies and as much as that reality sucks, I personally wouldn’t want anyone else to fill in for my mom. That’s how much I continue to love her and always will.

She was special and one of a kind.

That empty space will belong only to her for the rest of my life and I cherish the fact that she resided there for so long.

SIGNS ARE ALL AROUND IF YOU LOOK

My mom is still with me.

Those first few weeks after she passed away, I kept waiting for some profound thing to prove to me that she was alright. She’d told me to keep an eye out for her.

But it’s not usually like that.

It’s a certain song on the radio, a bird, a feather, a dream…and often, it’s just a feeling you have, that you cannot explain.


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My mom was almost my age in this photograph that I took of her, while we were on a family trip to Hershey, PA way back in 1989.

She had a zest for life and this photo represents that perfectly, I think.

I miss her so much.

I Lost My Person

My mom would’ve been 75 years old today.

As one of my cousins commented on my Facebook post this morning, happy heavenly birthday, Aunt Sandy.

I love that. Happy heavenly birthday.

I snot cried after singing to her today, like I did every year, even though I always (and still) sound like a walrus in heat when I try to carry a tune.

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Blame it on genetics, man.

But between us, I think she loved it.


The day she died, I lost my person.

I no longer have a certified person anymore. I’m almost positive that the majority of us can relate to that concept in some way.

I have my daughter, my brother, a few remaining family members, my boyfriend and a handful of good friends. And I love them all dearly.

But the day that my mom passed over to the other side, I lost the only person who always made me feel…tethered to the ground.

Safe.

Fucking valuable, worth the trouble and effort.

I find myself floating aimlessly often, not knowing who to reach for when I need someone (no, I won’t use the lyrics to Candle in the Wind, I promise), confide in, cry with, laugh with, share with.

Go bonkers with, lose my proverbial shit with. You know, all the fun mental health shenanigans that only she was able to deal with until she started getting really sick.

Ain’t nobody got time for that shit, bringing Mer back to planet chill the fuck out.

If I really think about it, I lost her long before she actually took her last breath. I didn’t want to add to her suffering so I began to swallow it all down. Everything was about her and I kept it that way on purpose.

It was all I could do for her those last few horrible months.


Grief is such a lonely experience and as I’ve found out (always the hard way) these last few months, many people do NOT like to discuss their emotions and the person who died.

Grief is best kept locked inside and all that jazz but not for me.

I don’t do it like that.

Personally, I love to talk about my mom. I bring her up daily to anyone who will listen, usually the two people that I interact with the most, my daughter and my boyfriend. They are (luckily) fine with indulging me.

Sandy O’Leary LIVED. She might’ve left this earth and her physical body but she continues to LIVE on through me, her son, her grandchildren and the numerous people that she touched throughout her lifespan. This is why she remains a continuous presence, by those of us who loved her so much.

Who are not afraid to mention her name and share the memories that she left behind.

I lost my person and they’ll never be another who’ll ever come close to filling that void inside of me. This has been a gigantic pill for me to swallow, definitely not one of my favorite instances of good old radical acceptance.

I’ve become slowly more accustomed to the fact that for the rest of MY life, I’ll always be seeking her again, to come to me in my dreams, leaving me her little signs by way of songs, birds, feathers and her multiple sayings that I’ve now adopted as my own.

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This is the feather we found on the top step of our new house the day our realtor took us to see it for the 1st time. We close on March 3rd. The photo was taken by my daughter. We both looked at each other in amazement and awe.

My mom told me to keep an eye open because she’d be around and you wanna know something?

She wasn’t bullshitting me.

Both My Privilege and Heartache

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As excited as I am about moving, I find myself missing my mom now more than I ever dreamed was possible.

Since my mom’s death, my relationship with my daughter has strengthened. Also, my brother and I are closer than we’ve been in many years.

Since we were mere kids, really.

(Sometimes shared grief pulls people together; sometimes, it pulls them apart.)

I am thankful but they both work long hours and are busy with their own lives. My brother has a family of his own, so I can’t be constantly messaging him with every little fart that happens in my world.

I scramble to find somebody to tell the highs and lows to, besides my boyfriend. Nobody is able to fill in the empty hole in my heart. Like everyone else, he’s often distracted by his own issues (and smartphone.)

I sit for long periods of time and contemplate who I should try to reach out to.

Who will give me their uninterrupted attention?

Those last few months of her life, when she became so ill that she couldn’t even leave the couch, she was often grumpy (shit, if I had suffered as she had, I’d have been grumpy as fuck too) but she was thereĀ with her unconditional love.

I have yearned for a father figure ever since my sweet, hilarious Uncle Jerry moved farther from me and then sadly passed away back in the early 2000’s. He stepped up to the plate after my dad died in 1986.

It’s occurred to me recently that I’ll never be able to replace her, although nobody could ever come close anyway.

But despite that knowledge, am I now yearning for a mother figure?

For fuck’s sake, I AM a mother. I’m an old lady now, not some young woman, like my daughter.

It’s both my privilege and heartache to want both of my parents back with their beams of love to light up my life again.