How Can I Have Peace When an Estranged Loved One Dies?
BY REBECCA COOPER
We all think that we have more time than we really do to travel, do things we love, and make things right with loved ones. But one day, the last grain of sand drips through the hourglass and there are no more weeks, days, or minutes to resolve a relationship with an estranged loved one. So how do you make peace after a loved one passes if some issues were left unresolved? I’m glad you asked, but hate I have the life experience to answer.
A Lifetime of What-Ifs
My mom and I had been in a tense place for several years brought on by me deciding to establish boundaries late in life. As an only child, I became the glue that held a dysfunctional marriage together, a therapist from an early age to listen to my parents’ issues with each other, and an escape for my mom from her non-existent relationship with my dad. I became the one she did everything with and we were tight, but I didn’t realize it was unhealthy until much later in life, after years of built-up stress from all the roles I held in her life. When I finally figured how to get some distance from mom, it was hurtful to her, thus painful to me. Long story short, I didn’t speak on a regular basis to my mom for seven years. When we did talk, it was often about how she wanted things back as they were and then the comment that hurt the most… ‘The day you got married and left, my life ended. Why didn’t you just stay home?’ I realized there was no going back, and keeping her and my dad at arm’s length was all I could do. Fast forward to a day in July of this year.
My mom was in an assisted living facility and had been there for six years for memory loss and dementia. I spoke to her off and on over those many years. She began to decline and I went to visit dressed like a surgeon, covered head to toe due to the COVID issue. I sat by her side, her breathing labored and her eyes closed, and just covered our life together as mom and daughter, in a rambling monologue. A few times her eyes opened, but I don’t think she knew who I was or where she was. Mom was fighting to stay after not eating for two weeks, so I told her that she could go and that I would be ok. I knew the life that awaited her when she left the frail body she was trapped in was far better than the one she was in now. That time together was much needed for me to accept the past and what I was actually grieving.
You’re Never Prepared
Even with the time I had with mom and the six-year decline of her physical and mental health, I wasn’t ready for her to go. I hadn’t prepared my heart or my mind for what the loss would mean. Since we weren’t close, what exactly was I grieving anyway?
It finally hit me during an uncontrollable crying spell, that more than anything, I was grieving the loss of the dream of what I always wanted the relationship to be. I pictured myself as that little girl standing between her parents, refereeing a verbal fight, thinking, ‘Can’t you just love each other?’ I held on to that dream until the moment I walked out of my mom’s room. I also grieved the fact that there was no time left to mend the wide chasm between us. It really was done and had come to its end.
As I held my mom’s hand in my gloved hand, I knew that not only did I have to let the past go, but I had to let her go. So I whispered in her ear, the names of those who awaited her on the other side and that Heaven was beyond anything that we could ever comprehend and I didn’t blame her in breaking her earthly bonds.
Mom passed in mid-July of this year, and with everything that has to be handled, I don’t think my grieving has begun. I looked up the stages of grief and in one instant I want to go through them fast and get them over with, and then in the next, I want to feel so much of what I haven’t most of my life. So I wait and have turned it all over to God and asked him to walk me through each day. So far he hasn’t let me down and I doubt He will.
If you find yourself in this situation, no one should judge you because no one knows what went on behind the doors of your childhood. I know in my heart that I reached out over the years to reconcile and mom wasn’t interested in a healthy relationship, but wanted the unhealthy one back. The time two weeks before she passed was priceless. Do I think she heard me? I’m not sure; some say it is possible, and others say it’s doubtful, but I know we connected on a level we hadn’t in years and that is what matters. Even if we couldn’t get our relationship right in this life, I know in the next, it will be perfect.