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Stages of GriefJune 7, 2011

I've given up on today. I had a meeting this morning, and then I wrote 2000 words, and I think that might be all I'm good for. I was, in fact, out driving with the intention of going to Santa Cruz for the day, but then I got a milkshake and sugared myself right out. I turned the car around and went home (via the cafe, where I MADE MYSELF work for a while, gritting my teeth the whole time).

It's the little mama's birthday today, and I'm thinking about grief and what I know about it.

What I know is this:

Not much.

The way I, Rachael Herron, grieve for my beloved little mom, is not the way I'll ever grieve for anyone else, and not the way you'll do it for anyone, either. This is my mileage. Make of it what you will. *

The first month is awful. Let's not even think about that month.

The first six months suck with a white-hot fiery agony. Much of the time breathing feels like a check-box you'd rather not check. There is joy, of course, daily, because joy happens even when you'd rather it not. But there are nights of howling black loneliness even when you're surrounded by your loved ones. Everything feels heavy, especially your feet and your eyes, and neither are worth lifting. Dreams are dark, corporeal, and devastating.

The second six months are pretty bad, but there will be a day here and there when you forget about your little mama until nightfall, and then it will all come back in a rush, and it will hurt, but more like being socked in the stomach, less like being stabbed in the heart. You'll have one good dream about her (the one where she comes up behind you and says in your ear, "I'm here", and you'll cherish it, hugging it tightly for weeks).

The year and a half mark was, for me, a turning point. That was the first time I could think of her without pain. I could remember funny things, and even more important, I could remember her faults again (not that there were many, mind you). I could remember how she bugged me every once in a while. I could almost hear that grumbling noise she made as she walked around the house, picking up, and I realized that I (and Digit) make the same noise. Those memories made her into a real person in my memory, whereas before that time she was so shiny and perfect I could barely see her in my memory for the bright glow of her halo.

Now, it's three years this week (can you believe that? I can't). I'm multi-published, something she didn't live to see. Dad's getting married to his girlfriend in October (I adore her, hi Lola!), and overall, the world has kept spinning pretty well, even if it wobbles sometimes.

But Mom is still around. I know this in my heart, and you know I'm not a woo-woo kind of person. But our loved ones ARE nearby, and I see Mom regularly in my dreams (and sometimes she's grumbly. I love that). I can say to a stranger when asked about my mother, "she died," without breaking into unexpected tears. I don't even feel like I'm pushing the tears back anymore. It's just a fact now.

Just like it's a fact today is her birthday. She would have been 71. And I knew it was coming, and I've been through a couple of them, and I thought I would be okay. Today I'm not okay, though.

I am, however, very good at self-care. I've tucked myself back in bed, and I don't plan on leaving it until evening at the earliest. I have my computer, my iPad, my phone, and three dogs. The cats will follow when they realize where I've gone. Lala is being very nice to me, because she's had Great Loss, too, and understands. If I need it, she will go get me ice cream.

I'm pulling the covers over my head, but I also wanted to say, I'll be okay. I know that. And there's great value in that.


In New Zealand at Hot Water Beach

*(I was emailing a friend about the death of parents, and this has been on my mind. Yes, it's supposed to happen before the death of the child. Therefore, most of us go through it. But there is NO reason to discount it because of this. In some ways, it's the deepest, most cutting loss we'll go through, and I hate when it's made less because it's "just" a parent. I have Strong Feelings about this.)


oh Rachael, big big hugs. Grief is so unpredictable and overwhelming. I'm glad you are taking care of yourself and have your schmoos around to love on you. happy birthday to your little mama - that is a wonderful pic of you both.

I love you, darlin'. So much.

happy birthday to your mama. and strength to you. tomorrow will be a better day. maybe she'll visit you tonight in your dreams.

This is the best, most honest blog post about grief I've ever read. I haven't lost a parent yet, but loved ones, and I LOVE you for the paragraph about their flaws making them real again. Thanks for putting well chosen words on that.

*tucks you in*

*leaves a cup of tea on the bedside table*

Hugs to you. I miss my mother, too. I read a great book which helped me called "Motherless Daughters" - I don't know if it's your cup of tea, but I found it very helpful.

I want to hop on a plane to Oakland RIGHT NOW and give you a hug so big you'll feel it for months. And if I had the funds, I'd be bookin' that flight. I love you.

Heartbreaking, honest, and ultimately lovely -- as only you can write. ((hugs you))

Ah. I rarely comment - but I wanted to say - you are right. This is very close to what I went through too when I lost my daughter at 5 days old. Not even worth discussing the month right after. I really barely have a memory of it (well, the grief and the fact that all her twin sister did was CRY). First six months sucked - and I couldn't see things getting better. Then things mellowed out. I realized that sure, I missed Nora, but that I had two great kids and a great husband and a great life...

The pain is there. You will always miss that person... but the grief changes to something bearable in time. Which I think it's good to try and share with someone else going through grief - even though they may not believe you at the time!

I lost my Dad when he was 40, I was 14. Nothing has impacted who I have become more than this. I know it has made me appreciate love and relationship more than some. That was a gift, a diamond from the ashes.

There is no good time to lose a parent. A friend said "I'm not ready." we can never be ready. Either we miss the relationship, or we wish we could heal it and it's too late.

Tears honor the importance of the lost one. Grief comes in waves, and we are not in charge of when they come. I still cry occasionally but I've adjusted to knowing he's gone. Find safe friends for those times. Sharing does help grief lose its grip on our lives.

Fathers Day is hardest for me, after 37 years. I can remember a birthday alone or call my brother, but when the world seems to have what I miss, it's hard.

Good for you, tuning in to the need to nurture yourself. It does really get better.

Loss is loss regardless of who or when. I'm so very sorry for yours.

You are surrounded by love, Rachael.

Thank you for sharing your stages you grief. You're a brave, beautiful person. I lost my grandmother (who raised me emotionally) almost 13 years ago. She was 85 and I barely 30. I still think of her daily, and tears still well up in my eyes when I talk about her. I miss her so much it hurts, still. I tell my kids and friends about her, that way she stays alive in us. xox

Yes, yes and yes. My mom has been gone 13 years now (13?! How did that happen and how did I survive?) and I can't really say I got over her death but I can say that I've learned to live without her. Her birthday is this Friday and she would have been 80. That's also hard to believe.


Next Wednesday will be my twin sisters' 51st birthdays -- and then two days later it will be 6 months since one of them died. It's so weird... to be a mother and a daughter and a sister and experience her loss in all of those ways... and then some.

Ugh, it just sucks.

So, sending more hugs. And thinking that a cherry would be nice on top of your ice cream, if it comes to that. And, also, that you have both a Lala and a Lola in your life... well, that's just amazing.

Hugs. ; )

I found that the grief eased after about 18 months as well. I think by then all the anniversaries have passed. First birthday, wedding anniversary, Christmas and the anniversary of the death itself.

It will be three years for me this September and I still have to just lie down and cry sometimes. Whenever I do, I say "I love you mom." Because that what it means.

Who in blazes would say, "Just a parent"?? That's crazy. In Judaism, the official mourning period for a parent is a full year, whereas for other relations, it's 7 days. And there are particular rituals for the anniversary of the death date every year thereafter.

Anyway, it's good that you've got the self-care down, and you've got Lala.

You write such beautiful tributes to your mother.

Take care.

"You'll have one good dream about her (the one where she comes up behind you and says in your ear, "I'm here", and you'll cherish it, hugging it tightly for weeks)."

You got my tears flowin' right there. They continued until the end. That picture! The two of you gleaming! A connection like that doesn't ever go away; it lives inside you, humming in time with your heart. There is no way to describe great loss, yet you seemed to capture the pain and heartbreak and shaky acceptance perfectly.

With you in spirit today. xoxo

Oh, yes, they are still here with us, in so many ways, woo-woo and otherwise. Mom will have been gone twenty years this December; she never knew either of my boys, but the oldest one is her spittin' image in both looks and personality. Thanks for the wonderful post. It made me realize all over again how important and how necessary it is to grieve once in a while, even twenty years later.

Can I just send a big hug? And ask who are these heartless people who would ever suggest that mourning someone you love is "just" a parent? WTF, people. I'm glad you're doing good self care today.

Hugs to you Rachael. And Happy Birthday to your mom. My dad passed away in 1997, and sometimes I will suddenly have a grief moment hit me out of the blue, like a truck slamming into me. Losing a parent is a sad, painful loss. I feel grateful though, that I am lucky enough to have had happy memories of a great relationship with my dad. It sounds like you have the same of your mom, which is a precious thing. Take care of yourself and it sounds like you have a nice plan to cuddle with the pets and maybe have some ice cream.

What a lovely piece! Sending big hugs your way. Sue

A big hug first off!

(Insert hug here)

(More hug)

(Still hugging)

(Creepy now, stop hugging)

You can rest happy in the knowledge that things like these make the things my mother says annoy (that word always looks wrong) me less. And that is a hard thing to do.

And by the way, 2,000 is still a whole hell of a lot of words.

If you can take one more hug, I am sending one. My personal experience with grief is that it never gets "better", it just gets different, and most days, I can go forward with different. A strong cup of tea, a snuggly pack of dogs and a Jane Austen movie also work wonders! hugs........

You have your mother's smile and it is beautiful.
My father died 25 years ago, when I was 17, and I still wonder what our relationship would have been like. Glad you are taking care of yourself today.

Hugs! I can't even begin to find words. My love to you and your family.

I'm glad you are taking care of yourself! And shame on anyone who would say it's "only a parent. Every loss is huge in its own way.

It's been 3 years since my daughter, and 2 years since my sig-ot. I am a basket case from March 12 (his birthday) until May 21 (her birthday). In between there's my birthday, the anniversary of her death, and the anniversary of his). At least my mother has quit telling me to sell all my sheep, since they are what get me up in the morning, and once I'm up I can at least stumble and fake my way through most days.

Grief sucks! Think I'll go hug a lamb

Thank you for sharing. My mom died 4 months ago. Now at age 60 I am an orphan. Not a day passes, when something will happen and I'll think, "Oh I should call Mom and share that with her".

Grief does suck, but I do think we get better at it as we get older. Just like anything else, it seems I know more about grief & my reaction to it, so it is at least familiar to me.

My dad died in 2000 and it feels like yesterday (or this morning) some days. Other days, I have to work to get a memory to surface....how horrible is that?

Thank goodness for my animals. They have pulled me through some grief-sloppy-tear filled days.

Work helps too. I remember working so many hours, just so I would be exhausted enough to fall asleep.

Take care of yourself!

Hugs to you and Birthday wishes for your Mom wherever she may be. I think I will go call my Mom...

Thanks for the reminder to treasure what we have while we have it.

I think ice cream is in order.

Today is the five-year mark of my Dad's passing (Mom's will be in September). Though I was blessed to have them for 43 of my years, it still shocks me sometimes to realize if I'm lucky enough to live into my 90s, I'm facing more than half my life without them.

Personally, I don't think one year is enough time to process grief. It's taken me five years to finally remember I have a life too, and I'm important, and that I represent more than My Dead Parents and Their Legacies.

Happy Birthday to your little mama, and great big bear hugs to you. The self-care is important, and it'll help you get through.

Happy birthday to your mama and much love to you. I go through something similar with my big brother who I lost 7 years ago. Life is good but it isn't always easy, that's for sure. I'm glad you are taking care of yourself and that you have Lala too.


I don't thin grief ever goes away. Thank goodness I haven't lost a parent yet (I'll need serious sedation when that happens) but I did lose my best friend (the sister I never had) when I was 15. I still grieve for Bug and it's been 37 years. It's not the searing grief that it used to be but a very deep sadness and sense of loss.

I know you'll get through this and you're doing exactly what you need to do. Lala and the animals will help you take good care of yourself.


Hi Rachael...you my dear, can bring tears to my eyes faster than anyone! Your writing is so spot on and much of it mirrors my own emotions this week and somehow I just can't find the words sometimes.....my greatest wish is that my daughter and your mother are both smiling down on us and wanting only the best for all of us. I keep thinking that it might get better later on but two years is just too soon to tell. My heart breaks when I think of the fact that two of the most important days in your world are in the same week....sweetie I wish I could hug you!! I don't know whats better, to just climb into bed and hide for a week or to do it in June and again in November....and sometimes I wonder will it ever be okay. Will I ever want to not be in bed under the covers on those two days. Hmm, I guess only time will tell.....I'm guessing I know you more than I thought I did...before turning on my computer after work today, I grabbed a box of Kleenex!! I knew one of us would NEED it....(smile) love you sweetie, say hi to Lala for me!!!

You and I are very much kindred spirits. My mom has been gone 7 years now. As I read your post it took me back to the first month, first six months, first year, first birthday, first holiday....a lot of firsts. Even though 7 years have passed there are still moments that make me stop in my tracks. Those moments are grief. I appreciate each and every one of your words.
Thank you so much.

beautifully written.
this is one of the reasons i like yahrzeit memorial candle traditions. an excuse to stay home and watch the candle light flicker.

My dad died 4 1/2 months ago. I really needed to read this tonight. Thank you.

Thank you for writing this! I really needed to read this tonight, just to know I'm not alone.

Today I tried to buy a Father's Day card for my father-in-law and almost lost it in Target. My father passed away three years ago, and I've had my own stages of greif. Some good, some terrible, and some so heartbreaking.

I'm glad to know other dream of the parent they lost. I often have dreams of my dad, mostly around holidays and when I'm stressed out.

I've learned something from you. I've learned that it's okay to go to bed and just be for a day. I've learned that I'm not the only one that finds comfort in eating ice cream. And, I've learned that I'm not the only one noticing that life still goes on and that it's a beautiful thing.

You are a wonderful person!

Love and hugs to you!

If I lived by your Bay, I'd bring you ice cream. {{{HUGS}}}

After reading today's entry, I gave my mother a long-overdue call. I know I am fortunate to still have my mom with me - and it was way past time to let her know it. I hope I have honored your mom by reaching out to mine.

{{{hugs}}} to you. My mom right now is fighting (and losing) her battle with cancer. We don't know when she'll go, and it will probably (hopefully) be a while, but not too long a while, probably about a year, and I dread the dark days ahead of me.

Take care of yourself. Or, even better, let those who love you take care of you. It is all they can do to help you through your pain.

When my young cousin died a few years ago, I discovered that the first year was OH SO HARD. So unbelievably difficult to get through, but we did. What just knocked me out, though, was the SECOND anniversary. Totally blindsided me, and I cried all the way home from the cemetery that day. Just sobbed. Grief is strange. It comes up and bites you when you least expect it, and the best you can do is feel it, experience it, and deal with it in whatever way works best for you.



My mom died in 93 and I still find myself wanting to tell her something or ask her something. It gets easier to live with but it never goes away. Love and hugs.

Love you very much, Rachael. The picture of Hot Water Beach reminds me of all the smiles the whole family had in New Zealand--40 rolls of film, all with grinning Herrons. We will be thinking of Jan all this week, and need to remember the cherished times too.

Lots of hugs,

Ironically, or karmically, take your choice-- leading an anthropology six-week study-abroad trip right now, in New Zealand, and we were at a hot water beach (outside of Whitianga) last week.
My father died of cancer, when he was 36, and I was ten. Grief never, ever goes away. I am 42, and would like to tell my friends now in the process or having recently lost parents that it goes away with time, but it doesn't. The grief CHANGES over time, but it never truly goes away. It is something you always carry with you. I wish more people in our society were honest about this, as you have been in this and previous posts. Many will tell you "give it time" or "it will lesson with time" but that is not really true or accurate. It is always there, just like our parents were always there before. And I truly wish I had better words to explain it.

sending love to you and your family. xxxx

Hang in there as best you can. Hug the beasties. Lala, too. You are in many, many thoughts.

aw pooh.
the little mama is missed.

Lots of love and hugs to you ...

It's been 30 years since my dad passed and you are so right about the stages of acceptance that they are no longer physically with us... but still reside deep in the safe places of our hearts and dreams. We, my dad and I, had a very special connection, I was the daughter he always wanted, and for me, he was the perfect dad, it made for wonderful memories and yep, you are again so right about the halo effect… it can be blinding.

For my dad’s birthday, my mom and I would go to Duarte’s in Pescadero, have a wonderful meal and share stories, keeping him alive in our hearts forever… I still have those days where I wish he was still here and I can still cry over the loss of him.. but they are few and far between, thankfully… Have a nice sleep in today… and start fresh tomorrow…

Hugs to you, Rachael. I have not yet lost a parent, though cancer is threatening to take my MIL sometime in the next couple of years (currently in remission, but people just don't survive this cancer). I am really grateful to you for this honest look at what you've been through. I hope you are doing a bit better today.

Hi Rachael,
I lost my mumma in Feb this year. I am still in the 'cannot believe it' phase. I miss her every minute and I feel like I am wavering without her - not sure how I can make decent decisions without her wisdom ever again. It really brings out your inner child again - I wish I could get a cuddle again.
Anyway, I am so sorry about your mum - it's like having your heart ripped out and your anchor thrown away all at the same time - but times a million.
Jude xxxxxxx

I am glad you know how to take care of yourself. So important. When my mother suddenly died, she became the first person I knew who had died. It was very weird for me. I wish you good things and send hugs. Love lisa

Big hugs to you sweetie. My dad died 4 years ago today and it still hurts even as my life marches on.

So many good posts here. My dad died 31 years ago and still sometimes I am incapacitated with with the grief of missing him. I still feel his presence. It was a different kind of grief when my mom died 5 years ago this Friday, I miss her so much, too. You are so smart to acknowlege your feelings and take such good care of yourself. Be around people who may not fully understand but support you no matter what you are feeling.

Grief is so debilitating. My husband passed away Dec. 2010 and at six months I am feeling so much pain and loneliness.

Hugs to you. The fact that you can express your grief and find comfort is healing.

I am so restless and have anxiety now. It's not a good place to be.

Beautifully written, as always. Thank you for sharing.

And yet...I have an unexpected and sad reaction, because I am jealous of your grief.

My relationship with my mother is troubled, to put it mildly, and while I will grieve in some way when she is gone (passing of an era and all that), it will certainly not be with the pain of loss that you describe.

And I am indescribably sad that I don't like my mother enough to feel the pain that you and your commenters describe.

Ah, another growth opportunity, dang it.


My Dad died October 7, 2007. I was 27 and my sister was 24, and that day our lives were forever changed. When you lose a parent, your whole outlook on life changes, and it changes the person that you are in that moment. My sister wrote me an e-mail a year ago, and she said, "When Daddy died it was catastrophic, but it's our job to survive." So for awhile we did just that, we survived. But after awhile, as the numbness and the fog started to clear, we beggan to live again. Like you said there are moments of joy all the time, even though you wonder how everyone can be happy when you know one of the most important people in your life is gone. My sister met a wonderful man, someone our father would have adored and this man has the same shade of bllue eyes as our Dad. They are getting married this evening, and it's absolutely wonderful, but bittersweet in many ways because it should have been in part about our family of four and Daddy should be giving her away to her fiance, but he's not here to do that. So my Mom is giving her away but she says that it's she and our father giving her away. Daddy is here, we can feel him as we have walked through all the planning for this wonderful celebration of life and love, but we still miss him with every moment that passes. I know that he's smiling down from Heaven on this blessed event, and there are many moments and tributes in the ceremony that honor his place and his memory. You are so very brave to write about your grief and it sounds like both you and Lala are taking the best care of you. Many *hugs* to you and thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts and feelings!

just back from out of town, so late to post this but still thinking of you and your mom, and the love you share. So glad you still see her in your dreams...

My father would've been 98 on June 8. He has been dead for almost thirty years and I miss him more every year. Perhaps by now he's met your "litte mama" and they are up in heaven playing Canasta til we get there. Hope it is a long game!

My Grandma died last summer at 95.5 exactly, and nearly one year later I haven't cried in a while, but I made breakfast for my DH and forgot to take off my apron. While eating pancakes I inevitably dripped syrup like mad and said I was gonna tell grandma I should finally have those matching bibs made for us. I love what you've written about your journey, it's what I could never wrest sense of from my diaries in the 15 years since I lost my mother.

Thanks for sharing. You have beautifully described how individual the stages of grief are.

Losing a beloved parent is hard no matter what your age. Sending you virtual hugs and thinking of you.

How Can Memorial Day Help You Get Through the Stages of Grief?

You never stop missing your mom. It just hurts less the more time.

Beautiful and Heartbreaking. My Dad died 08/04/07 and while grief changes, it never really goes away. Peace be with you and to all those commenters who posted with their own losses.

Just read this, since I haven't been on the web much in the last two months, because my Mama died on May 4th. Every day since then there's been something I wanted to tell her.

So glad you took care of yourself, and wrote it up to model for others one method of self-care. It's important. I'm so sorry for your loss -- I remember stories about little mama from your blog many years ago.

Grief is a strange and fluid thing. I missed my father more than I have in years, in the first weeks after Mama's death. I would call *her* when I missed him; now I will call my cousin when I miss my mother, but right now it's EVERY DAY and so I don't call her every time.

Love and hugs from the internet. My new sweetie and I will be sure to try out that chicken and waffle place (and the pie!). Be well.

This was beautiful, Rachael, and it made me cry, sitting here at work. I will share it with a friend who unexpectedly lost her husband a couple of months ago, and I will remember it when, someday far in the distance I hope, I lose one of my parents, and then the other.

Thank you for sharing, and I hope your mom continues to pop up in happy dreams with regularity.

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