Fifteen years ago, with Christmas lights and cheer everywhere, I was alone on a journey. My Mom died after a fourteen year battle with breast cancer, which conquered her bones and liver. She was only 63 years old, and I only 36 with three young children. I lived several hours away and logged many hours on the highway between our homes, torn between caring for my children and my mother. When I was with my Mom, I felt guilty not being with my children; when I was with my children, I felt guilty not being with my Mom. A double-bind many of us face.
After my Mom died, we were wrapped in love by so many friends who grieved with our family. My mom was the first of her peers to die. Her friends missed their raucous, loud, sassy, the life of the party friend as much as we did. I was not alone in my grief.
Once I returned home, no one knew my Mom and the silence that came with her death. I was no longer in the cocoon of love, and her absence was a daily void. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t focus. The world moved too quickly for my tired body and foggy brain. I was one of the first of my friends and neighbors to lose a parent, one of the most profound losses any of us will experience. Most of my peers were still in their 30’s had little experience with death other than a goldfish or a dog. Only a few knew what to do or not to do. Their lives kept going, and mine couldn’t keep up. Every day was a blur; time was so distorted. A week ago felt like a year ago, a year ago felt like yesterday. I felt alone.
I needed someone to speak with me about death and the grief I was feeling. I needed someone to be present. The conversations just weren’t there. People often didn’t know what to say or didn’t want to touch the subject. I made people uncomfortable if I brought up my grief. Death and the grief that accompanies it are facts of life, universal truths Americans masterfully deny.
I felt alone.
Every aspect of my life was changing. Changes are not uncommon, but no one articulated the impact or profundity of these changes death brings. No longer did we have the primary nurturer in my family; my father was distraught, my healing delayed again to care for others. I became acutely aware of my mortality and did the math. If I died at the same age as my Mom, I only had only 27 years left to live. Am I living the life I want to live? Is this as good as it gets? How do I want to be remembered?
My gifts and passions around grief, healing, living with intention, and nurturing my soul led me to formal ministry. I found ministry doesn’t have to happen in a church; often, it is between people when they connect with compassion, share kindness, share sorrow, and sow love. The mission and ministry of Whole Person Conversations are to affirm the entirety of grief in all aspects of our lives. To teach others to comfortably and compassionately hold space for the grieving and inspire all of us to live intentionally as a light to others.