What Grief and Loss Looks Like 33 Years Later: Remembering My Mum
by Clare Sillence, World of Psychology
August 22, 2018

Today would have been my Mum’s 87th birthday. My Mum only made it to 52 years of age. I have been without my Mum for most of my adult life. Today is a day of remembrance and gratitude for me. I remember my Mum as a beautiful, elegant, creative, talented and generous woman.

Life becomes magnified in those moments of remembrance.

After thirty three years the grief no longer has jagged edges. Like a piece of beach glass, it has softened around the edges. This doesn’t mean I am ‘over it’ or have forgotten, or have ‘let go’. I have learnt that Mum plays a different role in my life now.

Beliefs about grief
We tend to shy away from grief rather than embrace or acknowledge it. Many of us are taught to keep our feelings to ourselves after that initial period. We are taught to present ourselves as okay even when we’re not. Emotional grief can be so painful that our natural or learnt response is to push it away. We can carry these beliefs that we learn from our families, cultural norms, or societal norms that tell us we “should” be ‘over it’, or “moving on by now”. “How come you still cry about it?” Why do I hide this part of myself? Maybe it’s so that I don’t make others feel uncomfortable, or maybe it’s that voice inside my head that says that others will judge me, or they’ll be tired of hearing about it now. When it’s someone who was love and admired so much by others, it can be easier to talk to them. Even then, there is still a voice in my head that says, “it’s thirty three years, what are you going on about?”

Feelings and thoughts about grief
Emotional grief can be so painful that our natural response is to push the pain away.

Why am I writing this? I am writing this because writing is a way of processing for me and for a way of remembering someone who left the earth way too soon. It is also a way that I can share and normalise with others those often unspoken feelings of grief and loss. It is a way to explain that if we can allow ourselves to fully experience the impact of our grief, that it can in a way, help the process and open up a space for a different energy that was previously consumed with the grief.

Normal Processes
As most people who have some experience with grief know, there are usually different responses or processes we go through when experiencing loss. Shock and disbelief is one such response. Even after thirty three years (I am noticing that I am passing judgement on three years), there are still (another judgement) moments where I wake up and think, “How did this happen? I can’t believe it happened? Oh yes, it really did happen, and I’m not dreaming. Did it really happen?” Backwards and forwards through belief and disbelief. This can often be a way we try to protect ourselves from the intensity of our feelings.

Grief can look and show itself in many different ways. For me the loss was anticipated and I feel like I actually did a lot of the grieving before Mum even died, and then when she actually died, there was a struggle with accepting that she really was gone. Once the acceptance comes, that’s when the grieving in all its many forms comes along. Yep, there’s that backwards and forwards process.

Some of the feelings and reactions we can experience include shock, crankiness, anger, sadness, tiredness, loss of appetite, body pains, lack of concentration, and many more.

Things are not the same, but they are my ‘same’. As I said before, Mum plays a different role now, and I can accept that, and live in the present with all of the experiences whether they are sad, happy, or fulfilling. These are all meaningful parts of my life.

Supporting yourself
I have supported many, many clients over the years with their grief and loss experiences. The bottom line is, there is no time-line or limit on grieving, and in allowing that natural process and release to occur, allows us to gently connect to what is important to us. I have learnt over the years to check in with my own emotional responses, and as a mental health practitioner, this is an important part of my self-care so that I can be present to my clients’ needs. I take responsibility for identifying and processing my emotions. I have learnt that I will not make excuses for my feelings of grief and loss, and I will feel what I need to feel whilst practicing self-care and compassion.

  • Ask yourself the question, “What do I need in this moment?”
  • Allow yourself to go through the grief process;
  • Do special things for yourself that are self-nurturing – eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, connect with important people in your life;
  • Write about your feelings;
  • Book a massage – this produces the ‘mother-bonding’ hormone oxytocin which can be helpful when you are feeling intensely;
  • Open up to family and friends;
  • Find gratitude in things – I watch my children and see the gifts my Mum has passed onto them;
  • Find something new to do – a project you have been thinking about, or a new activity;
  • Remove mementos;
  • Find ways to be of service to others based on your values;
  • Practice mindfulness as it allows you to examine the emotional pain, make space for it, and live a meaningful life;
  • Ask for support when you need it;
  • Breathe – this engages the parasympathetic nervous system which provokes a calming response.