Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dealing with the death of a family member as a new mom

(Motherhood, 1947)

10 days ago, our family lost our matriarch - my Grandmother - Maya's Great Grandmother - her namesake, Mary Josephine.

For the last 7 years she suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and this year she slowly made her journey to the last stage. Alzheimer's is always referred to as "the long goodbye" - as every day passes, they mentally disappear in front of you, while looking totally normal physically. It is very hard on the family, to watch somebody you love slip away in front of you, without being able to do anything about it - only to accept this progression.

(First meeting Great Grandma at 5 days old)

By the time my daughter entered the world, my grandmother was long gone (mentally). She could no longer speak, feed herself, and was immobile. We used to take the baby to see her every Sunday and she loved it. Her condition started to improve and her mood was uplifted, for the first time in this 7 year decline. Maya looks like all the babies in our family - she has the round face, the striking eyebrows, and our coloring - so it was almost like she recognized that this new little one was part of us - and part of her.

(On her 95th birthday - her last birthday)

We spent her last night on earth, all together by her side, as a family. We had somewhat of a warning because she had completely stopped eating - and she passed away 5 days later. So, I got to spend the last 5 days with her and say goodbye everyday. It meant a lot to me to say goodbye. I was fortunate for this. But still, when she finally did pass away, it was a shock. Even though we had been saying goodbye every day for 7 years (with the Alzheimer's). I was still unprepared. We got used to her always being there - even when she wasn't there. Now it feels like there's a big hole in our life - no more visiting Grandma on Sundays.

(Family vacation to Mexico - 1991)

It was a big loss, to lose somebody who had loved you, cared for you, nurtured you. Who was there for my entire life. I am still trying to figure out how to process this.

Grief is a strange thing. It comes in flurries of emotions, you never know when it'll hit you. On the day she passed away, I was okay. I said my goodbyes the night before, and she passed away at dawn. I went with my father and aunt to see her after she passed away, to pick out her outfit for the funeral. I grieved then. Then on the drive back, I was okay. Later on in the day, we ran out of diapers so we had to go to the Superstore to stock up. As we were shopping, I started to feel numb and nauseous. In the car ride back, I just started crying hysterically. 

It has been a struggle to deal with my grief around the baby. At almost 8 months, I wonder how much she understands. I don't want to stress her out, so I try my hardest not to cry around her. 

How do moms handle their grief around kids? How are you supposed to deal with your own emotions, while being the primary caregiver to a child? It is hard, especially with grief. It is hard to be supermom all the time. I keep telling myself that the only way I can honor her memory is to just love my daughter as much as she loved me. But I still miss her...

Motherhood is a 24/7 job. I don't have time to sit around and cry because I have to change diapers, make dinner, and play with my daughter. Coping with grief as a new mother is just another thing that women have to juggle. The fact is, death is a part of life. Birth and death go hand in hand. The same emotions that explode as we rejoice a life being birthed, are experienced with the same intensity when someone passes away. In the hospital where my daughter was born, the maternity ward was in the same wing as palliative care. Birth and death right beside each other.

(Motherhood, 1949)

A couple things that are helping me, in these early stages of grief:

- spending time with family - lots of family dinners, talking about the lost loved one in fond memories

- grabbing a few evenings away from the baby - to go get my nails done, go to an action movie with my mother, go to dinner with my father (things that help get my mind off everything) I need to get my mind off the baby AND the grief, just as a sanity saver

- being comforted by the baby's routine - I know what time she will feed, nap, play, etc.

- putting a few (not too many) dates on my calendar (eg. Wednesdays: library story time, Mondays: yoga) Don't over-schedule.

- journal, journal, journal. Write down your feelings in a meditative atmosphere, to just release them. Don't re-read what you wrote...just flip the page and keep writing. This is the main thing that's helping me right now. I write after I put the baby down to sleep (since I'm in a relaxed mood watching her fall asleep)

There's something to be said about fate, though. What if I had gotten pregnant 6 months later, like many women my age do? Then my daughter would have never met her namesake. It is if she was waiting for her, waiting for a great grandchild for her bucket list.

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.

Rather we should thank God that such men lived."

-George S. Patton, Jr.


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