I’m not ashamed to say that I loved my mom. From childhood through adulthood, she was the one constant in my life. When other kids would pick on me, taunt me, even physically hit me, Mom was the one I could trust to be there for me.
As I grew, my relationship with my mom matured, but she was still always there for me. I loved sitting in the kitchen sipping on a cup of coffee while she prepared breakfast, talking about the things that were important to each one of us. She was wise yet knew how and when to give me advice.
One day, she told me she wasn’t feeling well. I took her to the doctor, and the news was not only not good, it shocked me. I knew she wasn’t going to live forever, but she was too young. It wasn’t time. I needed more time with her! No matter how much time we have to prepare, it’s never enough because it isn’t about time. It’s about emotions and feelings and how much you love someone.
My heart longs to go over and visit, to pick up the phone and call, to pick up her favorite dress at the cleaners – just one more time. I always pictured her wearing that dress to a graduation or a wedding but never in her coffin.
Now, twenty-five years later, I'm still dealing with death. I still hear her voice, remember her smiling at the granddaughter she loved so much, and feeling guilty that I didn't get to say Good Bye.
The Complexity of Relationships
During those last days, my life began to come apart. Although I loved my mom more than anyone in the world – or maybe because I loved Mom more than anything else in the world, I just couldn’t bear seeing her in pain. I would pick up the phone to call, but I could hear the pain in her voice and it broke my heart. I tried to visit her in the care facility. They said the woman in that bed was my mom, but I didn’t even recognize her. The pain lines across her face tore me up inside. I had to get out of there and get some fresh air.
It tore me up inside that I was so weak and I couldn’t stand to go to visit her. But no matter how hard I tried to do it, I just couldn’t. My sister and family were getting frustrated with me, I could tell. They didn’t understand how a son, as devoted as I had been all my life, wasn’t sitting with her in her final hours.
I was so wrapped up in my own pain and turmoil that I failed to see the resentment building up and my relationships with my family pulling apart. I remember being puzzled that I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had done something wrong because I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. My world was falling apart, but I couldn’t stop it. And with those feelings, I developed a tremendous sense of guilt about something I didn’t understand.
Memories are supposed to be beautiful things, but while you are going through the grief process, they can be extremely painful. Everywhere I went, everything I did, there was a reminder. Her favorite television program – oh, how we laughed. Her favorite park – how many times had we sat on that old wooden bench and talked about our days? A call from my sister to ask something about funeral or estate matters – I can’t deal with this right now! The sound of an ambulance could stop time as I remembered the one that took her away that day. The day I was taking a shower and suddenly found myself sobbing uncontrollably.
How do I deal with having lost her? I turn to look for her whenever I need her, but she’s not there. Suddenly, she is gone without even saying good bye. I can no longer call her at home to say, “I just felt like hearing your voice” or “I just feel like seeing you.” I can no longer sit in the kitchen drinking coffee while she cooks breakfast.
The Final Good Bye
How one grieves depends on the dynamics of their relationship with the individual who passed away and the other members of the family.
I looked at everyone at the funeral home and wondered: “Why did it have to be her?” “She never hurt anyone,” “She was so young,” and “I did not get to say good bye.” I share the burden of this loss with everyone in the room.
I can see, feel, and touch those moments that connect us to Mom. Those moments when she was there for me and I was there for her and how I let her down in the end cloud my judgment and my decisions. I try to second guess myself. Why didn’t I go visit her in her final moments? If I had, I would have been able to say good bye.
Do not make the same mistake I did. Any visit could be the last time you hear her say “I love you” or “I just felt like hearing your voice” or “I miss seeing you.” Do not let your inability to deal with her condition be the reason why your sister has become distant and you do not know how to forgive her.
The estate can become another issue that drives family members farther apart. Some cannot see beyond their own greed which creates a sense of betrayal. In cases like mine, where one family member refuses to speak to another, the emotional abandonment may lead to family members turning on one another as they fight over the estate in court. In extreme cases, loved ones have been known to assault one another. This, of course, may destroy the dynamics of any relationship the family had, and often these family members live to regret that they never spoke to each other again.
Guilt is not something that we should dwell on because death can come at any moment, and unless you intentionally did something to cause that death or cause them to hold any sense of resentment toward you, then you have no reason to feel guilty about it. All you know is that one moment they were there for you to reach out to, and then the next moment they are leaving you with all kinds of unanswered questions and unresolved issues.
There are many reasons you may not get the chance to say good bye. You could be like me, unable to deal with her pain. Or you may live some distance away and you can’t make it before she has passed away. It doesn’t matter what the reason, you may start feeling guilty about not taking the time to make that call or not going by to see your loved one before they passed away.
You must now face dealing with a loss that has become part of your emotions. You must find a way to answer those questions for yourself. You must understand the family relationships as your loved one perceived them to gain new insight into your relationship with everyone they loved, which begins to return control to your life.
I loved my mom more than anyone in this world, but I let her (and myself) down when she needed me most. That created an intense sense of guilt for me and an enormous hole in my relationship with my sister. While I learned what not to do the next time I lose someone I love, I cannot go back and change the past.
Do you love your family? Spend time with them every chance you get. Tell them how you feel about them while you can. And never forget to say “Good Bye.”