By Steve Moran
It is funny what triggers thoughts and emotions.
I came across an article at Harvard Business Review titled “What to Say When Someone Cries at Work”. And it has great advice if you have ever struggled with that question. But reading it triggered this intense flood of emotions taking me back to my mother’s last few months on earth and the best advice I ever got; it was about how to deal with the profound sadness.
Three Years Now
It has been three years since my mom died in a small senior living community that did a great job of caring for her. I wrote several articles talking about our senior living adventures in that process. Nearly two years before she died, she had a stroke that left her physically undamaged but took much of her cognitive ability. We lost most of mom two years or so before she died.
She was at home with full-time help during the day and her husband with her at night. Then he had a heart attack. It was mild but left him unable to care for her. She ended up in my home for about three months and then had a precipitous decline landing her in the hospital. She was not eating and not improving, it looked like that was the end.
I was talking to Jack Cumming about how she was doing. And I honestly can’t remember the context, but he suggested to me that at some point tears would hit and hit hard. He told me to just let them go, to embrace them.
I appreciated the advice, but actually didn’t think much of it, until about 10 days later. I went out to the garage for something and I was hit with this wave of overwhelming sadness. It was odd to me because things hadn’t really changed for mom, except maybe even a tiny hint of improvement.
At first, I tried to hold them back, feeling kind of stupid for that wave of emotion that seemed inappropriate for the circumstances.
Jack’s words came back.
I just let it go. I stood in the garage and sobbed for 10 minutes. Real tears, coming down my face, dripping onto the concrete. I hurt so bad for the loss. Yet, even in the midst of the hurt and coming to grip with the reality that mom was going to be gone soon — that in a very real sense she was already mostly gone — gone a new peace and an acceptance of this new reality filled that hurt.
Mom decided she didn’t want to die yet (her words), started eating, and spent the last 8 months in assisted living. Her cognition never returned and it was a long slow slide. I was actually in my car driving to go see her when I got the call that she was gone.
I, of course, shed tears that day, along with the rest of the family. I continue to, on occasion, shed tears, but never as many or for as long or as vigorously as that night in the garage. It gave me the strength and perspective to navigate what was coming.
Senior Living Reality
Death is part of our reality in normal times and more so today. And it is so much more difficult because of the necessary isolation. I write this article for two reasons.
You may need to have your own crying session like I did because of what is happening in your community, to those you love, those you care for. If this is you I encourage you to go find a private place (or public if that works better for you) and just let the tears and the sadness flow.
You may have a family member or a team member who needs the same advice I got from Jack. You may need to, even today, offer this wisdom to someone else.