Heartbreak

I’m Grieving For My Mother — But She Isn’t Dead Yet

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mother and daughter holding flowers

Everybody tells me I should write my mother’s obituary now, while she’s still alive because it will be more difficult after she’s gone.

So, I attempt to excavate the juicy stories from her life.

"When you went to Italy as a young woman, was that the happiest time of your life," I ask her.

"No," she says. "The Italian men were charming, but…" Something invisible competes with me for her attention.

She stretches her arm out in front of her and stares at a spot on the wall above her.

"What do the colored lights mean?" she says more to herself than me. 

11:45 a.m. and it’s time for her hallucinations.

My mother has been dying for a while now, but a couple of weeks ago it seemed dire. She wasn’t eating, was depressed, and slept a lot.

It was especially concerning when her caregivers described her as being "serene."

My mother has been angry for the last few years — her rage has been what energized her.

RELATED: 50 Words Of Sympathy & Condolences For The Loss Of A Mother

Serene is a bad sign.

I texted people to come and visit her, saying, "My mother isn’t doing great." 

I couldn’t say she was dying and this was their chance to say goodbye. I couldn’t make that call.

My boyfriend and I made the trip to see her, and my mother rallied. Now, she’s eating more than a boiled egg a day, sleeping less, and seems to be slightly more cheerful.

"It’s like a roller coaster ride," the hospice nurse said.

The process of dying or life in general?

I didn’t want to seem like an idiot, and I know I’ve asked her the same questions repeatedly so the answers will sink in.

In terms of my mother’s eventual death, I still don’t know anything.

I want her to feel better but not so good, she’s kicked out of hospice.

Looking at her in bed, her body is a bunch of bones in a flesh bag curled up in the fetal position, she isn’t the image of someone with much time left.

Her senses have started to pack their bags and go.

Goodbye, eyesight!

Farewell, hearing!

Arrivederci, mind.

RELATED: 3 Steps To Mourn The Death Of A Loved One Who Hurt You

I’m grieving for who my mother used to be.

There have been several versions of my mother — all of them narcissistic, self-centered, and eccentric, but she wasn’t always the worst.

The dying version isn’t as enraged as the old, healthy one — that one was mean, always telling anyone what she thought of them, which usually wasn’t good or tempered with kindness.

She was antisemitic, anti-women, and ultra-conservative.

And that’s not the mother I grieve for.

The mother who inspires my grief is my mom — the mother I had when I was growing up, who wasn’t antisemitic or anti-anybody.

She voted Democrat and occasionally went to the Unitarian church to find people to be friends with.

This mother came through for me a few times such as the time she made sure I got the good science teacher, even if it meant I got out of school an hour early.

I say to people, "I wish you’d known her before she got old."

I’m grieving for the mother I never had and soon never will.

The concept of a mother who loves her child so much she’d give up her life for them is one that’s hard for me to grasp.

A mother who doesn’t put her needs before her children’s?

I see it with my friends and their children and witness their closeness, love, and affection.

I missed out on that kind of motherly love.

My mother didn’t go to her only son’s funeral but to be fair, neither did I.

It was held at a Kingdom Hall as his ex-wife is a Jehovah’s Witness. My brother and I weren’t close and I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness, so it felt wrong of me to go. But I still think my mother should have gone.

A few years later, my mother was on the beach and felt that a seagull was my brother or had a message from my brother. Fritz, the bird, said that he was at peace, and my mother felt better about my brother’s passing.

She told me this story, and it still didn’t occur to me that she might be mentally ill.

My mother had and still has a gift for passing off her eccentricity or worrying behaviors as interesting, unique, or charming when in reality they’re symptoms.

Am I grieving in the right way or too soon?

I hoped I might not feel any grief at all, but I don’t think that will be the case. I’ve already cried, and it feels strange that my mother won’t be here.

She may be a mentally and emotionally absent parent, but she’s been existing in the world for my entire life.

Unlike when my father died of a heart attack, we have some warning that soon my mother will die.

I’m trying to get used to the idea, to practice the different types of grief I might feel.

RELATED: When Your Mom Dies, The Sadness Never Really Goes Away

This grief practice is known as anticipatory grief.

As you can probably guess, it’s when you try to prepare for a death so it’s not as much of a shock as a sudden death. You think about how you might feel and how you feel now.

The truth is no matter how much you try to prepare or anticipate grief, you will probably be wrong.

You can put things in place which will support you and help you deal, but you can’t rehearse your emotions.

I don’t think I’ll feel complicated grief. That type of grief is more intense, lasts longer, and can affect how you function in your everyday life.

I question if I will go through all the five stages of grief.

Denial won’t apply nor will anger.

There’ll be no bargaining with death over my mother, she can’t wait to leave this life, and I want that for her too.

Depression, maybe, but I hope not.

So, it’s right to the acceptance stage, and here I am, grieving for a mother I never had or the one I had for short moments when I was growing up.

Grief, while ever-changing, is still grief.

I’m grieving for me.

I’ve made most of the arrangements, so all that’s left is the obituary.

I still have time between hallucinations of strangers peering down on my mother from the ceiling to find out what her proudest accomplishment or what brought her the most joy was.

If I’d had another kind of mother, I’d know these things, and I’d know the right kind of grief to feel, and when to feel it.

RELATED: How To Cope With Grief When You've Suffered From A Devastating Loss

Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.