Complex Grief, Pre-Mourning the Loss of a Parent

My mom is now in hospice care. And the pain has hit me full force, in fact I can barely type this through the tears flooding my face. I stop and calm down but as soon as I start typing and see the words I start crying all over again.

I thought I had more time.

I’m working furiously on myself, to heal, to recover to a more stable ground. I needed space from my mom and brothers after my suicide attempts last year and they granted it to me. I have not seen or heard from my mom, no visits, calls, not even an email in so long. Because I asked her not to.

Because I thought I had more time.

I withdrew from everyone this past year, went deep into myself, into my fortress of solitude where I regroup, lick my wounds, and learn how to go on. I’m doing that now. I’m starting to open up again, bit by bit, as the world appears safe and I test the waters with each wary step.

With complex PTSD comes complex grief. Even though I more clearly understand my mom’s role in raising me in the chaotic, traumatic world, contributing to my feelings of shame and worthlessness, allowing me to be abused and feel unloved and unlovable…as I heal and go through this recovery program I’m better able to feel and identify my emotions in the moment. I don’t hate or resent my mom. I am disappointed that we were never close, never had a strong supportive relationship. I do appreciate the times she tried, and the times she apologized. I don’t think she intentionally caused me pain, I really don’t. I think she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to my abusive father, herself also being a victim. I can understand all of this. It saddens me. I feel she did her best with the tools she was given.

I forgive her completely. I truly do. I had hoped to have a limited relationship with her again at some point.

But I thought I had more time.

So now I am forced to make a choice. I don’t feel ready to visit her, not out of the blue. Plus my brother has told me she looks terrible, the cancer has really taken its toll on her. I’m not sure I can handle seeing that, my brain will fixate on that image forever.

I’m trying to get up the nerve to call her. I haven’t heard her voice in years. I got her phone number from my brother. I keep staring at my phone. All I have to do is push the button, but when I try I start shaking and crying. I don’t want to talk to her like that. I want to let her know I care, that I’m sorry this has happened, that she is suffering, that I’d never wish this on anyone let alone my mom, and that I wish we had more time.

I wish we had more time.

But here’s the thing. My brother said mom is at peace. She is relieved to have an exit plan. She has wanted out for decades. She’s been living like she was dying for as long as I can remember, so she has finally gotten her wish. Is this better than being distraught? To happily give up and have no fight in you? I don’t know. She never had any fight in her. A victim of life for life.

I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to welcome death. I want to fight. I used to fight.

I keep thinking of a song by Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying” because of one line in it. I’ve been hearing this song in my head, endlessly since I got the news about hospice.

“Talkin’ ’bout the options and talkin’ ’bout sweet time.”

I’ve spent an entire year in my bed or recliner. Like I already died. Partially I was healing, but partially I had given up and was only going through the motions.

So I’ll keep trying, and eventually I know my finger will press the call button. While I keep trying, here at home I’m looking through photos of mom with my kids, going over some memories together. My daughter asked if she could have a locket to put her Grandma’s photo in, I said yes we would get her one.

And then I saw how social support networks are supposed to work – when you don’t isolate yourself. My daughter said she told her friends at school and received comfort and sympathy and many questions. This generated more discussion here at home and we hugged and cried together.

My daughter made a beautiful card for my mom, in her favorite colors, full of flowers and butterflies, and poetry. My son painted a picture. We are going to mail her a care package along with some photos of us since I don’t think we can visit.

I have this gnawing feeling of guilt like I SHOULD visit, like I HAVE to visit, but my counselors say I don’t, and that those are shame gremlins speaking. If I WANT to see her, then maybe I should try to manage it, that is if mom even wants to see me. But I don’t have to operate out of that place where I’m the good girl and satisfying urges to squash feelings of guilt and obligation.

This is so complex and each day brings up more powerful emotions for me. I wish I had more time to sort it all out. I’m doing the best I can with a difficult situation that I can’t control. And I’m doing it moment by moment. I might change my mind once these feelings settle down.

I’ve included Tim McGraw’s song here in case you don’t know the one I mentioned earlier. I’m going to listen and cry again. You’d think my well would be dry, where are these tears all coming from??

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5 thoughts on “Complex Grief, Pre-Mourning the Loss of a Parent

  1. I love this song! I’ve also spent way too much time wishing for death. I also want to live life to the fullest. How sweet and wonderful to create a care package. Praying for you to feel peace and know what to do to that end. If it’s staying home and taking care of you and your family, may you know in your heart it’s a good choice. May you also continue to allow yourself to grieve for however long it takes. ((r2b))

  2. So complicated, and so hard to know what is the choice that you can live with; which way will give you the most peace, and perhaps also allow her some peace as well? Putting together a care package sounds like a very healthy step, and allows you an opportunity to include a note or letter telling her some of the things you wish you had been able to talk about if circumstances had been different. Even if you don’t mail the letter, it is sometimes very helpful to write it.

    I know that I was very fortunate to have made peace with both my parents before they passed. I’ve known so many people who never got that chance, and it continues to haunt them. We all have a tendency to think we have time, but we never have any idea what is around the next bend in the road. Trust yourself to make the choice that will bring you peace, and trust that it is okay to reach out for help during the process, to help ensure you are keeping yourself safe and healthy.

    Sending strength your way, as you navigate this difficult time. So sorry to hear that your Mom is in hospice care, but take comfort in knowing that she is receiving tender loving care under the hospice program. I have worked with and volunteered with hospice for many years, and wholeheartedly believe in their ability to allow for comfort care, not only for the relief of pain and physical symptoms that might be present, but they also do an extraordinary job with the psychological and emotional side of the equation, as well as the spiritual side of the equation, as it applies to each individual person. You might want to consider seeing about getting in touch with her hospice coordinator, if you can obtain any sort of contact information, as they can be great as a third party intermediary to help facilitate any sort of contact / letters / phone calls, etc.

    No matter what you choose to do, know that you have our support. Sorry for this difficult chapter, but I am confident you will work your way through it, and learn some valuable information in the process. Hugs to you. Remember to be kind to yourself during this process. 🙂

  3. I have not seen my mom for years. We only speak on Holidays. I think sending a care package is a great idea. If you are up to it maybe a card with a personal message. As far as seeing her, only you know what is best for you and what will make you feel like you did everything you could at the end. A card may be as much as you can do.

    My mom is not dying and I am so sorry to read what you are going through. I hope you find the answer within yourself.

  4. You don’t have to see her. That you have forgiven her, well that is huge and compassionate. Maybe just letting her know through a letter, maybe telling her where you are in your heart. Maybe that is enough for both of you.

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