In deference to The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos, Nov. 1st), a Mexican national holiday, we had a day of remembrance at church. We were asked to bring a photo of a loved one (including a pet if you wanted) who had passed on and put it on the altar. I brought a favorite picture of my mom in her 20s. In it, her blonde hair blows in the wind and she reaches up to put it back in place. She looks so young and happy in that picture.

Craving belonging but living on the outside

During the church ceremony, we sang songs and did thoughtful meditations on loved ones and their memories. I sat next to a woman who lost her husband only a month ago. She reminds me of my mother, with her perfectly done hair and makeup and well-put-together outfits. This new widow is kind, gracious and sweet. The church congregation has been very helpful and supportive of her. I can’t help but wonder what that kind of support would have done for my mom. She craved belonging.

Mom spent too many days of her last years alone or in unhealthy relationships. She never seemed to find a community she wanted to graciously give to or one that graciously embraced her. My mom seemed permanently stuck between too good for and not good enough. From the outside, it seemed like she chose to abstain from certain groups because she was too good for them, but I know in many cases she felt inferior to others.

When the emotions find a safe space to spill out

So many thoughts swarmed through my mind and heart during the church remembrance ceremony. That morning, I served as an usher with the new widow. I am sure her mind and heart were preoccupied as well. I found myself getting emotional and the tears just kept coming. I knew I had to pull myself together to do my ushering duties but I also let myself have those moments to grieve.

Grieving alone

I realized I’d only really grieved with others during the week after my mom died and during the burial of her ashes  a year later. Once those ceremonies were over, it was back to juggling my life.

My sister and brother-in-law had close relationships with my mom too. They would know all the stories about her. I could grieve with them but we live in different states and only see each other once or twice a year. We could call and talk about Mom, but sadly, it rarely happens.

I miss talking to my mom.

My children were not close with my mom because they only saw her once or twice a year. Lately, I find myself saying, “This dish was my mom’s” or “This is Grandma Linda’s recipe”. I hope someday that means something to my kids. I remember how my mom used to say those things about her mom’s dishes and recipes. I even hear my mom’s laugh in my own. But no one here notices that because they don’t remember how she used to laugh. I feel compelled to keep my emotions in check around the kids, especially my sons. They are so uncomfortable with strong emotions.

I do a lot of solo grieving, which is not as satisfying.

Thank you for asking

Two days after the Day of the Dead service at church, there was a similar ceremony in my Women in Spirituality class. Again, I placed my mom’s photo on a decorated table. In this case, we wrote memories about our loved ones in a folded program. Again, the tears just kept coming. The gentle woman sitting next to me, a retired psychologist, asked when my mother passed away. I told her the summer of 2015. I told her about Mom and her special dishes. She told me she lights a candle and puts her dad’s picture up on his birthday. There was something so nourishing about sharing our memories and mourning.

I have a client whose long-term relationship ended abruptly. He lives far away from family and his closest friends. I know he too, is mourning a loss on his own. He knows to reach out via phone calls to help himself heal but he also feels pressure to buck up and carry on.

The problem with revering independence

Our culture’s penchant for independence, toughness and perceived happiness, makes it difficult to ask for someone to witness your pain. But when we feel heard… so beautiful. The opportunities to share grief/happy memories with others offered such relief to me. I am grateful for those cathartic moments.

I give you permission to voice your losses, to ask others to listen, to share memories, to cry in public. I don’t recommend dwelling in that space all the time, but tears cleanse our bodies and hearts. Connecting with others validates our humanity.

Do you feel like you have to mourn alone? Handle your emotions by yourself? 

Looking for a listening ear to witness your grief, loss, pain, etc.? Contact me for personal coaching and empathic listening.