I guess I’ve been fortunate in the sense that I didn’t lose someone close to me until almost five years ago. Oma, my maternal grandmother, was feisty, German, and the most amazing cook I’ve ever known. No one can make eggs benedict like my Oma. I’m fairly certain my love of cooking and baking came from her DNA.
I vividly remember the day my mom called to tell me she had passed away. I was at the stove laboring over a pot of spaghetti sauce. Suddenly, it felt like a part of my history was gone, and all sorts of my childhood memories with Oma came flooding back.
I learned that grieving is a process, and you never know what may trigger a happy memory or bring you to tears. As painful at it was to lose my grandmother, I can’t imagine the depth of grief when you lose a parent.
My husband, Chris, lost his dad, Nolan, almost 12 years ago. Nolan traveled a lot during Chris’ childhood and he wasn’t particularly close to him. But after Nolan died, Chris still had a sense that the ability to find out about the part of his life that was his father’s history was now gone.
But Chris was very close to his mom, Nan. He was the baby of the family and as he would say, “I wasn’t the neighbor’s boy, I was always my mama’s,” if you were to ask if he was a mama’s boy.
Almost two months ago, Nan passed away. She’d been in frail health the past several months, and we’d had few close calls when it came to her pulling through different emergency situations. But she was stubborn, tough and always managed to recover, amazing us and her doctors.
But then we got “the call.” It was 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Nan wasn’t doing well and we needed to come to the hospital to say good bye. And wouldn’t you know, she hung on until the last grandchild said goodbye that evening, then peacefully passed on. That’s Nan for you.
My husband has his doctorate in counseling. He is a trained therapist and counselor. How do I comfort him when both of his parents are gone? How do I help him occupy the strange space of living without his parents?
I did the only thing I knew how to do. I was present.
I endeavored to give Chris space, but let him know I was there when he needed me. When I asked him how I’ve helped him during this new normal for us, he said, “You held the space for me to be free to talk, have a range of emotions, asked questions when it seemed appropriate and really listened.”
We cried together. We laughed together when he’d share his childhood stories about Nan. I asked him questions about Nan that I’d never thought to ask before, because I wanted to know her history. Because that’s also my husband’s history.
Grieving is a process, and I’m committed to supporting Chris through it. Whether it’s in the trenches, when we find ourselves crying over breakfast when he talks about a dream he had about Nan, or on the mountaintop when a thought of her brings a smile to our faces.