Recently I had an opportunity to fulfill my mother’s wish to spread her ashes at sea. It’s been a few years since she died; rather suddenly, at the age of only 72. My husband and I planned a memorial trip to Savannah, GA, where we lived when I was a very little girl. The last big family vacation we took, some time ago, was also to that coast, and I have fond memories of watching my children get to spend a week enjoying extended family. So it seemed a fitting, symbolic place, to perform this last rite of my mother’s passage.
I’ve been working with grief and loss professionally and personally for more than 25 years now. Since it’s been some time since Mom’s death, I felt ready to take care of this, and was convinced I was prepared for the process.
So, I was caught off guard, and surprised by the level of emotional pain that this journey brought me. This memorial, and scattering of ashes, wasn’t what triggered my grief as much as being actively in the headspace of thinking and processing memories of my mother. Initially my husband and I were prepared to spend a few days in Savannah afterwards, enjoying ourselves. I found that I was unable to disconnect from the loss long enough to be able to casually sightsee through the beautiful city and ultimately, we cut our trip short and came home.
I hadn’t compartmentalized my grief when she died, but instead processed through the stages of grief. She and I had a rather typical mother-daughter relationship. And, I was in control of the memorial situation, having chosen the place and timeframe. But still, grief came rolling into my heart and head like a two-ton truck, and I was bereft once again.
I remembered good times, and the painful ones. I saw her face, and heard her voice, as clearly as I did the day she died. I remembered little things, like watching up at her in awe, as she got ready for parties when I was just a girl, and how I believed it would be marvelous to grow up and be as beautiful as she was at that moment! I treasured the memories of her support of me at the young age of 40, when I became a widow. I reflected on the love written all over her face every time she held my twin sons, and became a grandmother for the first, and only time. I spend several days dancing with my old friend, Grief, once again.
Once we have a loss, grief is with us, always. Studies show that the strength of grief fades, but that our lives grow up and around it. It doesn’t go away. We carry it through our new experiences. Grief can be a silent passenger, showing up when we least expect it. As they say, we never really get ‘over’ a loss, we get ‘through’ the loss. I believe that connection lives on, and that no true love is ever really lost. My trip to Savannah allowed me to memorialize this amazing, creative, and unique woman who gave birth, and mothered me. We even found a wonderful artist’s glass shop where we were able to have a handmade glass memorial with a few of Mom’s ashes swirled through the center—shining in angelic white through the colors of the sea. I’ll have that memorial with me at home to remember her, and this trip, by.
I’m grateful for the closure I now have, after scattering my mother’s remains, at sea, as she requested. I’m also grateful for the reminder that grief is a sacred space, and a beautiful, terrible, wonderful, journey. As I work with grieving clients, I want to remain close to the memories of my own grief, so I always truly empathize with their story.
Sharing our grief, telling our stories, allowing the memories to come—this is how we will move through the experiences of our losses.