Milestones on the Grief Journey

 Markers on a grief journey may be less well known, like these rocks next to Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, OR. Photo by anne richardson, July 2018.

Markers on a grief journey may be less well known, like these rocks next to Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, OR. Photo by anne richardson, July 2018.

Marking milestones were important when my children were growing up. First baby tooth to come out. First day of each grade in school, then graduation. Soloing in a jazz band concert. First overnight away from home without a parent. Reciting a poem for the talent contest. Many had photos to mark the event. Some celebrated with cards still kept in storage. Others: a note jotted in a journal. The postcards of a journey toward adulthood.

With death and the journey with grief that follows, milestones are less defined and certainly not celebrated, with the exception of various cultures/beliefs that have maintained traditions around remembering the dead and supporting the bereaved.

Today it is six months since my mother died. A milestone. Why?

When I worked in hospice and was talking with loved ones after a death, I would offer that “the six month mark is when you may start to notice a shift in your grieving.” Typically this is because the memorial/funeral/celebration of life is over and most people have returned to their routines. All the paperwork and other “necessary” steps of dealing with death in our society have “resolved.” Friends and co-workers tend to be done asking “how are you doing?” fearing you may be truthful and say, “not well,” depending on the day, and then what are they supposed talk to you about? Then there are those people who want you to “be better already.” And others ignore you, their invitations, phone calls, texts, and emails drying up. Suddenly all that support you had early on is gone and the space you craved initially, feels as vast as a Siberian steppe. When you cry out, grief is all that rustles in the wind.

This is a generalization. Grieving is different for everyone. But it is a valid generalization based on my experience in deeply listening to those trying to understand their new life with grief in residence. It is why hospice organizations send a bereavement letter out at the six month anniversary date of a death. This lets the bereaved know grief is an ongoing journey and they are still being supported. Of course for those who don’t die on hospice, this day will go unmarked unless those grieving have the energy to notice.

So what did I do today to mark this milestone-the first six months without my mother? Sitting here writing this post for one. And I have been telling people, even those I don't know, “My mom died six months ago,” so they can offer their condolences. Strangely comforting. Yesterday I kissed a photo of the two of us, told her I loved her and missed her. I do miss her. I keep thinking of questions I wish I had asked before her memory slipped away and want a magic phone app to connect with her for answers. I checked. There isn’t one. She is doing well when she makes occasional appearances in my dreams. I am grateful for that, but she is not chatty.

My timing is off this week. So while I feel like I’m “doing fine,” deeper down, grief is whispering, “remember to take a few moments to breathe, to rest, to eat chocolate. All your busy work can wait. This is what’s important.” So this blog marks the "six-month milestone". I have been without my mother for six months. Half a year. And it will be my birthday in 18 days. The first without the woman who gave me life. Another milestone. No cards for that. No photo. Maybe a note in my journal.

If you ask me how I am doing, I'll probably say "fine," because I really am, today.

What milestones do you (or did you) notice around deaths in your life (or other deep loses?) What do you (or did you) do to honor or recognize them? Did anyone else remember and how did it feel to have them acknowledged or ignored?

When I worked in hospice and was talking with loved ones after a death, I would offer that “the six month mark is when you may start to notice a shift in your grieving.”
— anne richardson
 
 A life milestone-commemorating my graduations from seminary with my mom in 2003.

A life milestone-commemorating my graduations from seminary with my mom in 2003.

 

************************************************************************************************************Another milestone on the grief journey is coping during the holidays. Check out my workshop on Honoring Grief During the Holidays  if you are interested in finding out more.