Unseen insects buzz warnings from the distance: we are the keepers of these lands; you had better watch your step. Cold granite slabs glower from the green grass in which they lie. Engraved like scars, they hold the smallest summaries of lives, full histories of breathing and being condensed into first and last names. Underneath, two dates.
In this sacred land, it is the living who are out of place. Our ginger steps mean to say we wish not to disturb those at rest six feet below. What they really say is we wish to avoid, to the last minute, what we have come here to do.
Life and death surround us: the beating of the Florida sun, unrelenting even in January; birds taking limb and flight as their songs kiss unhearing ears; the oak shading us like a long-needed hug. Plastic flowers collect debris in stone vases; then, further below, deep in the earth: concrete tombs holding wooden caskets holding all that is left of the ones we lost.
When we reach the stone with her names and dates, we stand in silence, a circle broken. We are alone together. We are here to remember, to mourn, to honour. We are here to confront loss. Emptiness. Grief.
Five years ago, my mother died. She had been sick for about a year but kept the details of her illness from my brothers and me. The Atlantic Ocean between us, I could not see for myself the severity of her declining health. I did not know that she was so near the end of her life until it was too late. Numbness and disconnect swept me away in the wake of her death. I could not have anticipated how difficult the road ahead would be. I had no way to prepare for what was coming.
For that reason, I would like to share some of the lessons I have learned from grieving my mother. My deepest hope is that it may serve those navigating their own losses. If you’re struggling through grief, this piece is for you. I write to you directly to lend a shoulder and a promise that the weight of this loss will get easier to bear. In holding this weight, know that you will get stronger. At the same time, please do not forget that you can share the burden: you are not alone.
To enhance the practical uses of this piece, each lesson doubles as an affirmation that can be incorporated in meditation, reflection and other self-care practices. Through them, may you receive support, understanding and reassurance that not only will you survive loss: you will grow from it.
1. I am an active participant in my grief, willing to learn how to grieve.
The main lesson that I have learned over the past five years is that grief is a process in which we must be active participants. Since we will all inevitably experience this process, we may assume that it isn’t one we have to learn how to go through. In truth, that learning curve not only exists but can be brutal. Of healing, I was under the impression that all I needed to do was wait for time to pass. I learned, however, that time in itself does not heal; rather, the actions we take to treat the wound do.
2. I accept the help that will best serve me as I grieve; the tools for healing are readily available to me.
There is an abundance of resources that can support you in overcoming the learning curve of grief. One that I strongly recommend is talk therapy: especially that which specialises in grief. Affordable talk therapy is offered through councils and charities. Your GP can provide you with resources in your area. In addition, your place of work may offer short-term therapy options that you can access at no cost. Along with therapy, I found, and continue to find, activities that encourage creative expression and play, like dancing and singing, to be incredibly helpful. Experiences that also served me were speaking with a medium, becoming attuned to reiki and deepening my yoga practice. When exploring the tools that will best serve you in navigating your grief, don’t limit yourself: do what feels right.
3. I give myself permission to heal; in healing, I honour my loved ones who have passed.
For many years, I was resistant to the notion of healing. As a result, I held onto the pain of the loss like doing so was a testament to how much I loved my mother. Releasing my grip on this pain, even just a little, felt like a betrayal. During my time in therapy, the question of “how dare I heal?” became “to whom am I trying to prove the extent of my love and loss?” It became enough that I knew how much my mother meant to me. As soon as it did, I accepted my worthiness to move beyond my grief, understanding that healing—not holding onto hurt—is an act of love for both ourselves and for those who have passed.
4. I cultivate compassion for myself and others as we each heal in our own way; all of these ways exhibit the beautifully unique expressions of life.
The only thing worse than holding onto my hurt was judging my loved ones, who tried to put theirs down. In doing so, I added bitterness and resentment to the cocktail of anger and despair that I guzzled down in the aftermath of my mother’s death. What I understand now is that everyone moves through grief differently. More importantly, we are all doing our best in these, worst moments of our lives.
5. I honour the full spectrum of the emotions that arise as I grieve; when I am ready, I release the wound to welcome love and healing.
Just as we each grieve differently, grief can manifest within us in unexpected ways. From sadness and anger to guilt and blame, a slew of emotions bombarded me when I finally began to feel my feelings. I learned how important it is to be kind to yourself—if you lash out, judge harshly or otherwise behave in ways that misalign with your values, address that behaviour as soon as possible. Amend and apologise for any harm done; forgive yourself and go to the root of the behaviour rather than shying away from it. Examining it in this way will help you see the truth of the matter.
6. My loved one lives on through me.
Feeling is healing, as they say. Letting myself feel all of my emotions gave me back the happy memories I couldn’t see through the fog. This lifted my spirits until I eventually began to joke and laugh again. In many of these joyous moments, I could hear my mom’s voice and laugh on my own, thus giving myself even more reminders of the good times we shared.
7. I embody the care and love that I admired within my mother; I have the power to cultivate the qualities of care and love that I need and desire.
Shortly after my mother’s death, a piece called “Life after Death: Manoeuvring a Motherless World” poured out of me. However, five years on, I have realised that this is not a motherless world—and, importantly, I am not motherless. Not only do I have mothers in my life who uplift me, but I have learned that the qualities I associated with my mother—particularly the capacity to be understanding and love unconditionally—are ones I can cultivate from the inside.
As we shift our weight from foot to foot on the grounds of the cemetery, our eyes fixed on my mother’s tombstone, the memory of when we first came to this place enters my mind. My brothers and father had each dropped a shovel full of dirt on top of the concrete tomb that protected my mother’s final resting place. A family of landscapers, the gesture was an apt symbol of this final goodbye. As the youngest, the shovel came to me last. But I was not ready to say goodbye. I never would have been.
Still, ready or not, she was gone.
I pushed the head of the shovel into the pile of upturned earth that would soon cover her grave. It slid in with a crunch and little resistance. On the edge, my heart wrenched with what I must do: I was not ready.
Still, I dropped the dirt.
Back in this place, five years later, the sunbeams upon me: look how far you’ve come; you have made it through that dark and terrible night. Look how far I have come, I think to myself. I notice that the resistance to healing has almost gone. I take a deep breath, and whisper “I love you, momma” on the exhale. Looking up from the granite, I lace my fingers with my husband’s. “Ready?” he asks, his voice gentle. “Yes. I’m ready.”
And I know that, after all this time, I really am.
Melanie Albright is a Floridian writer living in London, UK, and travelling the world with the belief that creativity and wellness are powerful reinforcements of each other. By combining her love of creativity, wellness and travel, she delivers uplifting offerings across the globe. With over ten years’ worth of experience in managing business processes and even more in writing, Melanie is committed to helping others step into their power and share their unique stories.
“Thank you so much for reading. If you have any resources or recommendations in navigating loss, grief and bereavement, please share them with us; a supportive, loving community is one of the best medicines.” Melanie Albright