Handbook for the [Immediate Family of the] Recently Deceased


November 18, 2008 by 8junebugs

Mom’s favorite game was “What Movie?” Hence, the title. Any guesses?

Very sadly, a colleague and friend of mine (I’ll call her McFunkInstyle) lost her mom recently, too. Our mothers were diagnosed with different cancers at roughly the same time — she had six weeks with hers and I had six months with mine. We agree that both time spans were Not Enough.

But when she came back after her mother’s passing, she said to me, “Hospice, Hospice, Hospice.”

“You’re not ready for it yet,” she said, “but when you are, bring them in. They know everything, and they make it a little easier for everyone.”

What none of us knew, of course, is that it would have been a fantastic time for Hospice to get involved. But Mom was opposed to that, no matter how bad she felt. She worked through Tuesday, October 28, and died on Sunday, November 2. I loved my mom, but I would have felt sorry for the Hospice workers assigned to her care.

Example: When she went in for the exam that would lead to her emergency hernia surgery, she told the physician, when he poked her abdomen, “That’s my liver — that is NOT the problem.”

Her primary care physician, a local guy who turned up for support, reminded her “he’s a fucking doctor, Jeanne — he knows where your liver is.”

I wish I’d had time to take advantage of McFunkInstyle’s advice. But I didn’t, so I will share it with those who will face this someday, and add to it a few things I have learned.

  1. Feel whatever you want, whenever you want. You have permission to cry more at this time than at almost any point, especially if it is too damn early in your life to lose a parent.
  2. Be willing to say, “I’m sorry — I’ve just lost my mother recently, and I am having a hard time right now.” Most people are more okay with this than you would ever expect.
  3. Let yourself be scared. I don’t care who you are, how old you are, or whether you even liked your mother — losing your mother is HARD. It’s hard on 15 million levels, and it’s okay that it is THAT HARD.
  4. It felt awkward, when writing the obituary, to say “flowers are welcome,” but people like to send flowers, and my mom liked flowers. So…give yourself permission to give others permission to do what comes naturally.  If you live out of town or don’t want to have the flowers around after the service, there are plenty of places where they will be welcome. We had most of ours taken to Project Independence, a service for elderly and disabled adults in Addison County that has been important to our family over the years. There was an arrangement from a longtime family friend that we wanted to place at my Grand’s headstone, and we wanted one arrangement taken to the office where Mom had chemo, but otherwise, we just wanted someone to enjoy them after we no longer could.
  5. Do not be ashamed to accept help. You don’t even have to ask — people want to help, so take them up on it. People will bring picnic baskets full of baked ziti and corn bread and ask if there’s anything they can do, and they really do mean it. Think about the things that need doing, and think about what you would rather have someone else do:
    1. feed you
    2. arrange refreshments for after the service (thank God for Church Ladies)
    3. write the obituary (I did this myself, for obvious reasons)
    4. do any readings at the service
    5. feed you
    6. clean up the house (best $65 I ever spent, by the way — call me if you want a referral for a professional housecleaner in Addison County)
    7. pull together photos for the service
    8. pick up mail or deliveries
    9. feed you (I’m not kidding — whether you want to eat or not, you will not want to THINK about eating)
    10. deal with That Woman who will not stop bothering your family for the formula your mom used to dye her hair.
  6. Be willing to let the smaller stuff go. Find the best way for you to grieve and mourn and try to let others do the same. You may see behavior that bothers you, offends you, or makes you want to light someone on FIRE, but think ahead to how you want to live and what you’re willing to live with, regret, or apologize for. Save the scenes for things on which you absolutely cannot compromise…and let the rest of it go. Stay true to yourself, to what is important to you, and walk away with your head held high. Anger will do more to harm you than to harm its target.
  7. Be confident that your mother loves you and would approve of everything you do. If that doesn’t cut it, aim for a favorite aunt saying she hopes her kids do as well someday.
  8. Before any of this happens, do your best to make friends with people whom you can trust with your life. I assure you that when Alicia says “Drink water” and Shotgun says “Take a nap,” I do not argue. I have nothing to offer them that is thanks enough for showing up without asking, except that I would do the same for them.
  9. There is joy in every situation if you need and are willing to see it. There was no other way to make Mom better. As much as I miss her and will miss her for the rest of my life, we had Neil Diamond’s “Hello, Again” played at her service for a reason. Half of the people she loved best — and most of the pets — have gone before her. (Regardless of St. Peter’s decision on my Grand, we all know that all dogs go to Heaven.)
  10. Take care of yourself. Within reason, do whatever you need to do to stay healthy and manage your stress. Yoga, massage, knitting, writing, hunting, going to bed early…whatever it takes. Letting your emotional and physical condition conspire to keep you in bed won’t help.

I hate that McFunkInstyle lost her mom and that we have that in common in addition to needlecraft, humor, and a hairdresser. But this isn’t the kind of stuff we choose or plan — all we can do is face it as best we can, learn from it, and care for ourselves in support of lives that will outlast the grief.


4 thoughts on “Handbook for the [Immediate Family of the] Recently Deceased

  1. Amy F. says:

    5.10 – WTF is wrong with people? Seriously???

    Thanks for writing this. I often think to myself how will it be when this time comes as I am inordinately intertwined (for better or worse) with my mama. I will tuck this away for when I need it.

    For now, Monday or Wednesday? You need yummy food and a glass of wine.

  2. 8junebugs says:

    Hmmm…Monday, please. I’m working from home on Wednesday and would hate to HAVE to shower if I could possibly get around it.

    Re: 5.10 — Yes, seriously. I found the “coiffure card” on my mom’s desk, right on top of a stack of other things, which leads me to believe this woman was bugging her for it, too.

    Tempted though I was to “revise” it before handing it over, I figured I would hear less from her if I just let it go. Which is part of #6.

  3. Stacie Mincher says:

    Jen- I’m so sorry about your mom. I saw the obituary in the paper and have been meaning to say something. It must be so hard. I hope you are doing ok. Thinking of you. Stacie

  4. 8junebugs says:

    Thank you, Stace — I appreciate it. There are good days and bad ones. Most are in between.

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