There is no timetable for grief but the average resilient person experiences intense mourning after the death of a loved one for about seven to twelve weeks. For those weeks, we question the purpose of life, we may cry, we may scream, and we often long for just one more day with the one we lost. And then the pain starts to come less often and without the same intensity. Slowly we recover our momentum and we go on.
I’ve been thinking about that lately.
My husband has been part of my life for my entire adulthood. We have raised our children and cried together with the tragedies that life brings, but we have laughed more than cried. We agree and disagree many times every day but we talk every day. He will face my death in quiet grief as he sits in front of the computer pretending to be busy. He will continue to take care of the children and the dog and never let anyone down. He will be there for them when they call but will likely not call them for help for anything.
My children’s memories will fade and special events such as weddings and babies may trigger mourning but they will forget the Mom I was. They will never remember the nights I spent pacing up and down with a crying baby that could not sleep, the nights spent rocking children through earaches and colds and feeling sick. I remember the events that they will never remember.
I think about a lifetime ago when I never got the chance to sleep through the night for years on-end. I think about the 12 years I spent pregnant or breastfeeding 4 children. I think about the mindless games I played with them to keep them occupied on long car rides, the trips we took to Disney World and the weekly museum trips two hours from home, the endless rides to activities, and the music / swimming / tennis lessons. I shared my love of Star Wars, comics, conventions and great movies. I taught them to ride a bike, to drive a car, to care, and to be socially responsible and curious. I taught them to read and love books, to write, to do math, to use technology, to do calculus. I taught them to solve problems and think scientifically and be compassionate. I taught them how to do their own laundry, to cook, to love unconditionally and to never ever be prejudiced. They did not learn everything I taught them but then most of the lessons we learn are honed by life. My son once said to me that his deepest regret was that he could not be a writer because all writers have a terrible childhood and I deprived him of one.
I hope they remember me how I was and not the weak and fragile being I am becoming.
They will mourn for me but they will recover and move on. They will forget what wisdom came from their mother and what they learned from somewhere else. Mostly, they will believe that they learned it on their own and that will be true because that is how we live our lives. Despite the foibles of being human, I always tried to model the best that I could be. I was over-protective, held them to high expectations, and loved them unconditionally. I also trusted that they did their best just as I tried to do mine. They will find others to do the things I do for them or they will just do it themselves.
I have been the department mom to thousands of students. Only some will even remember my name. However, some will remember my endless stories, my encouragement and my hopes for their futures.
In seven weeks, memories of those who loved me will start to change. The events and actions in my life will be less meaningful. They will talk about me less. Although I remain alive while they are alive, the intensity of my life will have started to fade in just 49 days.
To paraphrase T S Eliot:
This is the way my life endsNot with a bang but a whimper.