July 11, 2011

Sadness and Grief Will Be My Traveling Companions

When I heard that my mother had died, of course, I was sad. But I had already done some of my grieving as the dementia started to take her away from us. She was no longer my mother; she gradually became a patient who needed round-the-clock care for even her basic needs.

She regressed - first to the wheelchair, then to diapers. Her food had to be pureed, and she wore a bib at meals.

She lost words, lost the ability to recognize her own children. She had worked in a grocery store for forty years (most of it in a produce department) - when we visited her in December, she kept calling the grapefruit hanging on the trees 'apples'.

Her death, as harsh as this may sound, is a blessing. She did not linger, her pain is gone. She is no longer frustrated by what she can't do, by what she can't remember.

Yes, I'm sad, but it's not coupled with the shock of a sudden death.

I got that shock this week too.

The day my sister-in-law called to say that my mom died, I thought about the neighbors my mom lived next to for forty years. I thought some of them would want to know.

There was one family I wanted to call, but something told me not to...I had the sense that I would be bothering them, although I wasn't sure why.

Instead, I called Mrs. Lexa, our old next door neighbor. Mrs. Lexa told me the horrible news.

Pat and Roger, the family I didn't call? Their daughter, Dana, age 42, died the same day as my mom. An automobile accident took her life. She left her parents, a sister, a nephew and her two children behind.

A parent should never have to bury his/her own child.

I used to babysit Dana and her sister, Tammy. I spent a lot of time at their house, even when I wasn't babysitting. Their house was a refuge from the craziness I found in my own home. I'm sure I overstayed my welcome on many occasions, but they never let me feel like I was unwelcome. I learned about "normal" there - how a wife should treat her husband, how a loving family was supposed to act.

Their daughter Tammy was the cheerful, practically perfect child. Dana was not. She was a force to be reckoned with. She was never bad, but she liked to test limits. She was rough and tumble, in contrast to Tammy's daintiness. They lived in a home filled with love and care...and it showed.

When Dana was sixteen, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her parents did everything to keep her from taking her life - they scoured the house for sharp objects (and found razor blades hidden inside picture frames). She even drove her car off an embankment, but survived that attempt.

When she went to college, she attended a local university so she could return home every three days for medication - they didn't trust her not to take all of the pills.

After college, she moved away. She got married. She had babies. She was doing well. 

When The Boy was diagnosed with bipolar at age six, mother Pat was the one person I called. I needed to know what to watch out for, what doctors and hospitals to become affiliated with. She gave me comfort and a reason to hope that The Boy could be successful.

Dana moved back to the area a few years ago. Her children got to spend more time with their grandparents - and I'm sure they doted on them.

Ambivalence fills my mind. I want to see them, yet I don't want to intrude on their grief (or maybe I am just too afraid to intrude) - a grief that I can't even begin to fathom. I've sent a sympathy card, even though I know that there are no words that can make sense of their tragedy.

I find that I am so much sadder about Dana's death than I am about my mom...and it makes me feel bad.

I wish I had the wisdom to know how to comfort and reassure Pat and Roger...and somehow, in some small way, take away their pain and sense of loss - partly as a way to thank them for all that they did for me, when I was an adolescent.

When we drive to the cemetery for my mom's burial on Friday, I'll think of Dana as we pass the mausoleum where she now rests. I'm sure I'll cry, and nobody in my family will be the wiser about the proportion of tears being shed for my own mother's passing.

Mom's and Dana's earthly journeys are complete - it is us who remain who are left to make sense of the incomprehensible.


  1. The way you grieve is unique to everyone and very personal; I think you should try not to feel badly about it.
    The story of your friend/neighbor is so sad.

  2. Kim, my heart goes out to you. Usualyy the fullscope of loss doesn't hit you until later. When my mom died there were five consecutive funerals to attend. I was numb. Hugs to you.

  3. I would suggest you call them. I think they would love to hear from you hun, even now.. someone else to share the love and memories of their daughter with.

  4. I dont think you should feel bad about how your grief varies...you can already come to some resolve over the impending loss of your mother. Sending hugs and prayers your way.

  5. I'm so sorry to hear about this loss ... it sounds so tragic. I know you feel like you want to stay away but I bet they would want to hear from you. Don't be afraid to call or stop by ... at least you know now what happened so you aren't going in "cold."

  6. Hi Kim,
    My heart and prayers are with you, and Dana's parents too.
    While everyone grieves differently, I'm certain Dana's parents would be comforted hearing from you. Words and gestures of kindness are especially comforting to a parent who has lost a child, no matter how old the child is or under what conditions.

  7. This is so sad, but I agree that you should call your former neighbor. You were an important part of their family, and I also think they would appreciate that you remember them, even during your time of loss.

  8. Hi! You have some great, heartfelt comments above. I agree that Dana's parents would probably love to hear from you. We don't know why younger people are taken before their parents, but there must be something really special about them and their energy was needed someplace else.

    Sending you prayers and hugs.


  9. I think you should contact them. You will know what to say the minute they answer the phone. When my son was about 12 he had these friends that were twins. They went on a trip to Washington State and were hiking in the mountains when one of the twins fell over the edge and they never found his body because there was a big river below. I felt the same way. I was friends with their mom, and I was terrified of what to say to her when we went to the funeral. But, like I said, the words will come from deep in your heart, and you will feel so much better after you talk to them. Well, not better, but glad that you talked to them, especially since they were a safe haven for you.


Thanks for stopping by. I love your comments...I get all warm inside just reading them!