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Navigating Grief

Grief is something that we all experience. Nobody escapes life without grief. It’s also something that we aren’t taught how to handle.

I think one of the reasons we aren’t taught how to handle it is because everyone experiences it in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Not only that, but what works for one person may not work for another.

When most people think of grief, they think of somebody dying. Yes, that is the most common form of grief. However, there are so many other things that we grieve over whether we acknowledge those or not. Nobody in the world can truly say that he or she has not grieved over something.

Recently, grief has been at the forefront of my mind. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last December. Two weeks ago, we learned that her cancer metastasized.

She does not have long to live and it’s heart-breaking. There are so many layers to this, and each layer brings up many different things for me as grief often does.

Explaining Death to a Child

My four-year old son is the first part of this grief that hits my heart. Of course, he doesn’t completely understand death or what it means to be sick and dying. We are navigating that by explaining that Mimi isn’t able to do the things she used to do with him.

I’ve also been able to talk to him about our cat we put to sleep. He somewhat understands that our cat’s body is no longer here and is not ever coming back. I know it will be much different when the day comes soon that it’s his dearly loved Mimi and I am far from prepared for that.

My husband and I have also explained that my father died many years ago, but that we are still able to talk to him. Explaining the concept of being able to communicate with a spirit, angel, or whatever you want to call it is hard, but somehow my son understands that.

There are other layers within that layer of the grief that will come for my son. These layers are hitting me really hard. They are hitting me so hard, that I wasn’t even sure if I was going to write about it.

That’s the reason that I haven’t written a post in a while. I knew that I wanted to write this post but was frozen. Her death has brought up the grief I have experienced with my own mother who is still living but is not a part of our lives.

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Layers of Grief

The first part of that is extreme sadness for my son. He is losing the only grandmother he has and will ever know. He won’t have a grandmother to watch him graduate from kindergarten, play sports, talk to him, spend time with or do any of the things that he has been able to do with her for four years.

The second part of this for me is the grief I have over losing a mother who is still living. I wrote a post about Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent and just like grief does, I am being flooded with that grief all over again.

Grief isn’t something that is ever complete. That’s one of the many reasons that it’s so hard. There’s no final step in the grieving process, no matter what anybody says. It’s controversial, I know, but I don’t agree that there are certain steps to the grieving process.

We may feel that we are at a good place with our grief and then BAM! Something hits us hard, and we feel like we are right back where we were when it first happened.

Fortunately, I have done a lot of work over the years grieving the loss of the relationship with my mom. I don’t think I’m back where I was when I first began that grieving process, but I am at a tough place with it.

At the beginning of my grieving process with my mother, I had extreme sadness over ending the incredibly toxic relationship with her. So much so, that I was depressed for quite some time.

The Need for Grandparents

Now, my grief has turned into sadness for my son and also mixed in with a little anger that my mother has chosen not to heal her “stuff” to be a part of her grandson’s life. My grandparents were such an important part of my life throughout my childhood. They were my “safe place.”

My son will not have a grandmother to be an instrumental part of his life as mine was. He will not have a grandmother he can spend a weekend with or visit when he wants. That brings tears to my eyes just writing it.

I do find comfort in the midst of this grieving though. I recognize that my son has two loving, emotionally available, affectionate parents and that is something that I didn’t have. He will not have the void that I had which resulted in my huge need for my grandparents to be my “safe place.”

He has that with me and my husband. That brings me an intense amount of pride because I worked so hard on myself to be that for him prior to him even being born.

There’s another big piece to my grieving right now that has also surfaced. This is an extremely difficult piece for me to write about as it requires a lot of vulnerability.

Thinking You Know What Somebody Needs

My mother-in-law is from the generation where you’re supposed to pretend you’re fine, as that is viewed as being strong. I know she is not doing well emotionally, and obviously, physically, but she is attempting to tell me that she’s okay.

I cannot imagine and hope that I never have to experience knowing that I am dying sooner than I’m “supposed to.” I have found myself trying to force her to do things that I think she should be doing to grieve all that she is experiencing and to prepare for her death.

I have been frustrated that she is not taking the steps I think she needs to take. Many times, I have tried to get her to talk to me about what is going on for her. Almost everything I have tried to get her to do has been resisted.

Stepping back, I recognize that I am trying do for her what I will never be able to do for my own mother due to not having a relationship with her. I am trying to support her in the ways that I think she needs support. I’ve even been really frustrated that my support has not been accepted.

As I sat and thought about her rejecting my support, I arrived at a little bit of peace. I was using what I thought she needed as a way to connect to the only mother figure I have left in my life. That hit me really hard.

Surely, I wouldn’t do that. Surely, I would support her in the ways that she wanted or was willing to accept. Well, that was not what was happening.

Deciding What Others Need

Grief can pop back up and slap us in the face without us realizing that it’s even grief. The grief over the loss of my living mother was driving my actions with my mother-in-law.

I was trying to force her to go on hospice. I was trying to get her to make videos for her children and grandchildren when she’s not ready or emotionally able to do that. I was trying to get her to talk to me about how she’s really feeling.

All that got me was frustration and it probably frustrated her as well. So, I have completely changed my approach. All I am doing now is checking on her, letting her know I’m here if she wants to talk, and finding as much time as possible for my son and husband to spend with her.

She’s made it clear that when she’s with us, she doesn’t want to discuss the hard stuff. Instead, she wants to pretend like everything is normal. It’s not normal, but that is just where she is right now.

It’s also where I am going to be with her, until and if that changes for her. This has been a huge lesson for me to not decide what I think she needs and try to force her to accept it. I’m letting her be where she is and accepting that’s where she needs to be for her own emotional safety.

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Working on Your Grief While Grieving with Others

If you are ever in a position where you are fighting to get somebody to do something you think he or she should be doing or want him or her to do, step back. Ask yourself what the reason is that you are trying to get the person to do it. It might just show you where you have some processing and healing to do.

That is what has happened for me. The end of my mother-in-law’s life that is coming soon has shown me that I have some more grief work to do with my own mother. That’s something that I am committed to doing and will do.

Also, it’s probably something that will be lifelong for me. That’s okay though because the more work we do on hard things, the easier it gets when it pops back up to let us know that it is still very much there.

For those of you who have been through a similar experience, what did you notice about how you handled it? Did you allow yourself grace and compassion or did you spend most of your time taking care of the person who was dying without stopping to take care of yourself when you needed?

If you’re willing to share, please leave a comment and I will respond to you. Grief is such a difficult thing to experience. As I said, it’s also something that we will all go through.


This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.

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I’m sorry for what’s going on with your family, facing the death of a loved one is so difficult. My husband lost his brother to cancer a year ago. The hospital visits were difficult I accompanied him once, I have a 37 year old son who has schizophrenia I wasn’t able to go to his services, I did ask my husband to take me to the hospital. I grieve the loss of my sons mind. I can’t get over the fact his mind is broken and I’m so broken I find myself crying the majority of the time. It’s something I will never fully heal from. It’s difficult he had his future ahead of him he was 22 years old, he was attentive the University on his last semester before graduation. It’s been 15 years it was more difficult when he was first diagnosed. I never knew my grandmother’s we left Mexico when I was 3 years old, my mother’s mom abandoned her at the age of 7, she never bothered to try to find us.

Marcella Morales

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