Caregivers Corner: Grief is like emptying a storage cabinet

Nicole M. Clagett Image
Wednesday, February 12, 2020

No matter how many times you have experienced losing a loved one in the past, each new encounter with grief is a different experience.

I remember the day I was at a radio station recording a caregiving segment and my phone rang. I looked down and the call was from my father. I thought to myself, "well, that's odd, why would he be calling me at work?"

I instantly wondered if something happened to my brother. I pressed on with my interview. A few seconds later, I saw a call come in from my brother and I thought, "OK, something IS wrong, and it's not my father or brother, so that means it is my sister-in-law, niece, or mom."

Moments later the phone rang again and this time it was my husband.

I thought, "this can't be good, he hates talking on the phone" as I laughed to myself. My radio co-hosts looked at me and said, "maybe you should pick up those calls" and I said, "obviously something bad has happened and there is nothing I can do in these next five minutes to change that." We pressed on and completed our segment. Internally, I knew my life would be different from the moment I placed the call and it was.

My mother had passed away suddenly.

The hours and days that followed were like a movie. Going to the store to pick out clothing for the wake felt surreal. I remember wandering through the clothing like a nomad until I finally asked a saleswoman to help me. I don't even remember the flight to my hometown, and very little about the few days I was there.

Tears for me don't come easily and they really never came following my mother's death as I was too busy making sure everyone around me was OK. I remember telling my kids that their grandmother died, and each child reacted quite differently. I cried only when I saw their pain.

To me, grief is like going through a storage cabinet. Life has gone on pretty much as normal in the years since my mom has passed.

I think of her and wonder what she would think of her grandkids or even have flashes of memories when we tell stories sometimes.

Recently, my dad was going through a cabinet and took a photo and texted it to me. He asked what he should save in there for me. It was almost like going back in time as I pinched to zoom into the photo to see what was housed there. Memories flooded back triggered by items last touched by my mom's hand. I texted him back and told him which items to save for me and suddenly I felt the weight of a life gone.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross says there are five stages of grief:

1. Denial and isolation

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance, and that people who are grieving do not have to go through all the stages.

That's the case for me, at least with respect to losing my mom. For me, grief is like going through a storage cabinet. You pick some things up and they feel light, you pick other things up and they feel heavy. Some things you want to display, others you want to throw away, and there are still others that you just need to pack away for a while and come back to later.

Everyone grieves differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally and may not cry. If you are trying to support someone who has lost a love one, please try to not judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.

If you are grieving for a loved one you have lost, please be patient with yourself as there is no "right" way to do this. If you are grieving and are feeling lost and need support, there is help out there. Others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. There are even free grief services available, including, locally, Transitions GriefCare.

You are not alone! Hop on over to ABC11's Caregivers Corner to get support from the nearly 1,000 other people in our community who are faced with similar challenges. Join us biweekly for our live Caregivers Corner where we answer your questions about caring for a loved one. Get connected to resources and support.