Let's Talk About Grief And Why We Need To Normalize It


I am struggling. It has been just over 2 months since I lost my beloved mother and I am struggling. I am not ashamed to say it. My world no longer glows the way it used to. What is grief if not love persevering? All I know is grief is not what I expected it to be. 

I was shared this poem in my grief support group recently:

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time. 
- John O'Donohue
Grief is something very few of us understand. I certainly didn't understand it until I went through it. You may say well you knew your mother was terminally ill. It wasn't some great shock... How wrong you can be. There is no one on God's green earth who is ready no matter how much they prepare. If they think they are prepared like I was they soon see they are gravely mistaken. Losing the physical presence of someone you love is so final. So horrible that no one can adequately prepare for it. It doesn't stop your heart from being ripped from your body and broken in two with no way to put it back together again. It doesn't help that so many tell you (who mean well) "Your mom wouldn't want you to be sad", "it was her time", "time to keep living your life", "it was God's plan", “time to get over it”, “smile”, "everything happens for a reason", God wouldn't give you what you could not handle."
Well I can't handle it. Death is so final and I feel little to no comfort just over 2 months later. I laid on her grave and cried on what would of been her milestone birthday on Feb 23rd. I cried for an hour straight on the fresh dirt. It was also the 2 month anniversary of the day she died. I clawed at the dirt picking it up in handfuls in my attempt to get to her and feel her again. 

Flowers for my mom on her bday (the first one without her on earth)

Then I went out to a restaurant with my sister and my father and we tried to remember her. When I asked my sister what she missed most about my mom she let out a wail and the whole restaurant turned to look at us. You feel so exposed in grief. You feel so judged. Everyone just wants you to be normal and happy. When you can't read a book, watch TV, concentrate on your tasks or make decisions like you used to. People walk around going about their business able to function as you walk around with permanent broken glass embedded in your heart. These last couple of months have been appt after appt with banks, lawyers, Service Canada, ICBC, Insurance, grave monuments. There is so much financial stuff to do after one dies. I found it cold and harsh how people are treated as numbers in this world with only a monetary value. I couldn’t care less about it. I had to sign so many papers my head hurt.
I have sadly found that some of the people I was close to I no longer am now that my mom passed away. They just stopped talking to me. Grief scares people. Some people don’t have the capacity to take on someone else’s sadness. They don’t want to feel the disquieting feeling of someone else’s pain. They don't know what to say. They feel really uncomfortable when you tell them "No, I'm still not OK." In fact "no I am not fine. I can't put anymore on my plate sorry." "I am not happy." “I am overwhelmed.” Some people just stop replying or I stopped replying when they kept asking me if I feel better yet, as I am tired of saying the same thing. I wonder why people ask if they truly only want to hear one answer? Some people don’t even acknowledge your loved one’s death and act like nothing has happened. I don’t know what is worse. That feeling is also one that is foreign and makes you feel empty. They just carry on as if a bus didn’t just wipe you out. That’s a feeling that makes you feel dismissed as well. It makes one want to self isolate even more than they do already. That’s why I love animals, my cat is just there for me with no judgment all day long. Plus after my last cat Chester died, whom I loved so much, my mother picked Milo out for me when she was sick several months later. He’s special for that reason alone.
The kitten my mother picked for me "Milo"

Some want to fix you and take away or cure your pain. This is especially true if they love and like you. However, a loss like this just can't be fixed or the pain taken away. What would mean so much more is for people to just get it. For them to say "I know how much this hurts. It is hell....I am here to sit with you when you cry or just to stand by and hug you and listen while you tell me how you feel."

Heck, I get it though. I never knew the right words to say and probably said all the things with good intention but unintentionally hurt someone by my words. We are all human after all. Most days even though I am the one who is going through an immense loss I don't know how to make myself feel better. I feel helpless that I can't change the outcome or immense heartbreak. When I see the war in Ukraine, Yemen and Africa and little children being blown up, I no longer can go back to my breakfast. I will stare at the TV and cry because I know that child's family can't just flip the channel. They can't just get over it and get on with their lives... their lives will be shattered from now on.

This book I read a few weeks after my mother died called "It’s OK That You’re Not OK - Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand" by Megan Devine, talks about it. How 2 months is not a long time to lose someone you deeply loved. How 8 years is not a long time. To the person who lost that person it always feels so real no matter if 1 day or 20 years has gone by. To relive the trauma I saw which I do in nightmares is hard. I don't sleep much and will wake up with panic attacks sometimes calling out for my mom but of course she is not there to answer me. When grief hits me hard at night I walk over to look at old family albums. I especially like to look at pictures of when I was little and see pictures of her that remind me of the happy times and then I begin to cry. 
Through a ton of reading on grief especially in Devine's book I know the stages of grief are not real and grief is not linear and that there is no one way to grieve. We should accept this in others as well. We need to accept we can't fix a grieving person's problem or brush away their pain. Recovering from grief takes longer than most realize. We need to respond to people in ways that don't make their pain worse, prolong it or make them feel that their pain is dismissed. People who are grieving like me don't need unsolicited advice that tells us it will all be fine in a little while or telling me to do this or that to get over it. Believe me I try every day just to keep going. When someone you love dies you quickly find out who really is there for you. Who wants to bear witness to your grief, who will stand beside you when others run away because they are too uncomfortable to hear you aren't better yet and can't come out and be the old you.

I know I have felt all these things from some people who genuinely mean well but have really made me feel that they dismiss the immense pain I am going through. I know one person told me "well your mom lived a long life, it is not as if she were a child. You should be grateful for the time you did have." Boy did that one sting. It felt like they were really trying to make me feel bad for feeling my pain and trying to minimize the biggest loss I've ever had in my life. 

Even some relatives stop calling to check in. They make you feel like you got no right to be sad and angry anymore but just ready to keep your chin up and get back to work and life like before she died. I just can’t. It isn’t the way I grieve. Some people need to stay fully distracted from the pain so they go back diving into a number of activities.

I’ve added one new activity since she died I have been volunteering with Richmond Therapeutic Riding Association. I work with horses and children who are disabled either mentally or physically. The joy the kids get from being on a gentle horse uplifts me. When the first time a little girl clung to me after I helped dismount her from her horse I had tears of joy. Working with the horses calm me. I love animals. I started my university education in veterinary medicine. I got my Registered Animal Health Technologist diploma and then I seriously wanted to become a large animal vet but I decided to change course and do a bachelor of science geared towards working with wildlife, conservation and the environment instead. When I’m putting the saddle and tack on the horses and brushing them and walking them around the arena with the kids on them I think of her constantly. No matter how I distract myself I don’t forget and I don’t want to forget.

I know I have felt very angry at times. Most times it is just my sadness coming out for the unfairness of life. I've gone through stages of breaking dishes when I was washing them and was so sad this had to happen. Why did the oncologist tell her she was cured and that she didn't need chemo early on after surgery and radiation.. was that a fatal error he made? Would she still be alive now if he was preemptive with the chemo? Why did she have to suffer so damn much during all that god awful chemo? Why did she have to bleed out so much before she died? Why did I have to see that trauma? Why do I have to live without my mother? I still need her now!
So NO I am not fine and that is perfectly OK. In fact it is perfectly normal. I am not ashamed to write this. To those friends who check in and just listen to my pain and who say it's OK that you aren't OK. That means the world. To those who tell me you will never get over your mother being gone thank you. No I won't, not till the day I die. I know sometimes I feel guilt or regret over things I did or didn’t do. All of this is normal. I’ve learnt that the grief we feel more than makes up for any regret over past mistakes because it shows just how much they meant to us.

Sometimes I can't eat because my tears are so great that I no longer can pick up a fork or lose my appetite. My stomache hurts a lot these days. I've noticed my desire to watch birds has lessened. I love birds but I no longer am my old self. Once someone you love dies you lose a bit of who you were before. You just can't ever be the same again. Sure I still love birds but I don't need to chase every rare one I've seen many times before. Sometimes I'm too frozen to move anyways. Sometimes I want to stay in bed all day. Also, I can't go home and tell my mother about the cool bird I saw. The magic is missing. I miss her telling me she loved me every single night. Or calling me on a twitch to ask me if I got the bird and for me to send her photos. Maybe some days it's just too painful for me to look at birds right now.
Other days when I go out and hear a Fox Sparrow or Golden-crowned Sparrow sing its beautiful song it moves me so much. Every time I hear Andrea Bocelli sing or Maya Angelou (whom my mom and I got to see live together) recite her poetry, or when I saw the florist put in my mom's favorite flower for her birthday. Or when I look at my tattoo I got of a bluebird sitting on that peony with the words "mom" written into the stem, I can feel her love around me. In grief it is strange to feel so connected and yet feel so disconnected all at once. 

A tattoo for mom

I was reading a book I found after she died. A baby book she made for me... you could read how excited she was to give birth to me as she kept every single “congratulations on your baby girl” card and had multiple photos of me in her belly. Then she took multiple photos of every stage as I grew up. I guess most moms do...The words she wrote about me from the day I came into this world until the book ended at age 7 were so full of love. Boy was I lucky to have a mother like that. She really was my best friend. Mothers are such special people. Once they go away from you it is hard to breathe. It is hard for me to breathe, to brush my hair and to just put one foot literally in front of the other right now.
When life gets really dark I think about the kindness my friends and those in the birding community have showed me. Many came over to my house and brought me flowers right after she died. Others brought me baked goods and skip the dishes and uber eats gift certificates. You learn quickly how hard it is to cook when you are grieving. Many sent donations without even telling me in my mother's name to the Canadian Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Society of Canada, BC Cancer Foundation and to the American Cancer Society. Some made donations to the Wildlife Rescue Association in her name as well. That was all so beautiful. THANK YOU. Others pick up the phone and talk to me and ask me to tell them about my mom. I talked to one friend for an hour about her while I was in Revelstoke chasing a Brambling and then he called my dad in Vancouver to see how he was doing too. Parents of young birders  in the program I founded check in on me with no judgment frequently and you can tell how much they truly care. Young Birders and adult birders have sent me many sympathy cards and young birders and their parents showed up at my mom's funeral to give me their loving support. Those type of people you got to treasure. 
When my sister and dad went to dinner at West Oak restaurant in Yaletown on her bday the manager knew why we were there and he brought out 3 expensive desserts for us. None of us felt like eating desserts but we did eat it because it was such a kind moving gesture and they were delicious. There is still so much kindness in this world despite all the injustice, hatred and cruelty. I try to focus on the kindness of people when I feel like collapsing.

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

- Maya Angelou
I took down my Christmas Tree and Christmas lights at the end of Feb. I took so long because my mother loved Christmas and it was the last Christmas Tree she laid eyes on. I only put it up for her so that she could see it. I didn't feel like celebrating Christmas that year and that Christmas 24 hours after she died was the hardest one I ever went through. Christmas won't be the same for me again now that she is gone. Ilya tells me we will continue her legacy and traditions to honour her and I will strive to do that each Christmas going forward. He has helped me to keep going birding even when I would rather curl up in a ball and die. The night my mom was dying in my arms I was so scared he was there encouraging me and promised me we would get through this tragedy together. In a world that doesn't understand grief I am sorry he lost his mother too but it is a comfort to be able to talk to someone who knows the immense pain of such a loss.

My grief counselor encouraged me to journal, to draw my pain or to go to smash therapy. Smash Therapy was new to me but it is a safe healthy way to express anger, sadness and pain. You go to this place to literally break and smash stuff. I love to paint but haven't been able to paint these days but boy can I smash stuff right now.

I have learnt that the way to survive grief and pain is to allow yourself to feel that pain and not to cover it up and not to try and rush it. You never ever get over a loss like this. You just get on with life but that pain and sadness doesn't go away. You learn how to live with it. Right now things feel like torture for me but I'm working on moving forward NOT moving on.

I read an article that came out last month in the NY Times called "The Power Of A Good Cry" by Wesley Morris. Its contents really moved me. I could relate. Some people are EXTREMELY uncomfortable when you cry in front of them. Like my sister crying in a public place may be viewed by some as undignified and not the social norm, while in fact it is a courageous act. To express your emotions and love through tears shows how brave you are. It doesn't show weakness like society has us to believe. When you cry like that in a public place you don't care what the world thinks. You can't help it. You feel sad so you will cry here and now. You loved your mom and can express it. You will never see the other patrons in the restaurant again anyways. Plus it is time we normalize grief. Just as no one looks at you when you laugh, no one should look at you when you cry. There is dignity in tears. 
Crying is an honour, this article said. Crying is also a salute Wesley wrote. We don't need to explain our tears to anyone. I admit I like to cry in private. It's just easier, you don't get the probing questions "what's wrong?" You don't have to answer "I'm fine, don't worry" just so the other person feels better.

My mom was not a crier. When the oncologist told her it was time to stop treatment and she knew she would die soon and not see her kids or husband anymore she had a few tears. When I saw her cry it broke my heart. I didn't want to cry in front of her to make her feel worse so I left the room and went where she couldn't hear or see me. Then I came back and held her all night. I know now there was no need to run away and hide. I could of showed her how sad I was and how much I was hurting too. It is OK to show how difficult your emotions are. Crying is never inappropriate.
I will never forget the tears my sister and I shed the night my mother died. The confusion, the disbelief and shock, the screams that were so loud I too wondered why the neighbours didn't call the police on us. At times I wondered if I could stop my sisters despair when my own heart was breaking. I was unsuccessful but held her as she fought me flailing her arms in the air and screaming through a sleepless night beside my mother's lifeless body. She had got there 20 mins too late and only saw my mother after she had passed away. I woke up beside my sister and mother the next morning with silent tears pouring out of my eyes. I never had that happen before in my life. I knew my heart was eternally broken.
Wesley Morris said he went through the same thing:
"I once did that sort of crying, on the day my mother died. She was ill, so her death was anticipated. Still, there’s no preparation for the foreign force that takes over. I had always imagined her death drawing out calm sobs, something “dignified,” like the old movie actors. What came up, instead, was violent and wild. I stalked around a hallway outside the bedroom where I found her, as though I were hunting for something that had been misplaced — my mother’s life, her soul. The wailing was disbelief. It was helplessness and futility. It was abandonment and finality. I cried so loud that I worried her neighbors would call the police: Yes, I’d like to report a murder at 1044. My eyes had shriveled to raisins; all I could see were tears in a queue patiently awaiting their drop, an infinity pool of anguish. Her death was peaceful, almost as we had planned. And yet — only an actor prepares. It’s a peculiar experience, crying that way: undammed, with your entire self, with everything in you, roaring out. I felt as if I had died, too — because, in a way, I had."
Yep everything he said is true. The day my mom died a big part of me died too.

Sometimes, people who are grieving have a Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief (STUG). You can be going along pretty well until boom you are driving on a highway and your heart breaks all over again. They are intense, unsettling and unexpected moments of intense emotional grief. You suddenly feel blindsided and wonder what could of possibly triggered that pain. You feel that a tsunami of heartbreak has washed over you. You don't know why all of a sudden you feel so lonely, heartbroken, helpless and inconsolable. You can't talk, you feel like someone is stabbing you in the heart. I know this has happened to me while driving that I had to pull over on the shoulder until this episode passed. I felt like I was going to die and almost vomited. In my case half an hour later I felt a bit better. Yes no one gets grief until they have gone through it. I surely never knew this happened to people. I never knew what to say or do.
When I took all her clothes to thrift stores I broke down, same when I returned her equipment to the red cross or donated her wigs to the Canadian Cancer Society. It felt like pieces of her kept going away from me. When we had to settle her estate it all felt so cold and transactional and that these people only cared about her money and theirs. I am so glad that paperwork is behind us. It is so bloody hard navigating this difficult world without the person you lost whom you loved to no end. Without that person's physical presence life is so unsatisfying and frankly frightening at times.


Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts
Where no storm on night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives,
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of color.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the alter of the heart,
Your mind always sparkled
With the wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was alive, awake, complete.

We look toward each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our souls gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Besides us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

By John O’Donohue

One thing I am now convinced of is that not feeling or letting out the pain inside will hurt you more in the long run. Grief is not a mental illness, it is not abnormal. It is a full body experience, physical and emotional that we must move through. The more you loved someone the more you grieve.

"Grief… happens upon you, it’s bigger than you. There is a humility that you have to step into, where you surrender to being moved through the landscape of grief by grief itself. And it has its own time frame, it has its own itinerary with you, it has its own power over you, and it will come when it comes. And when it comes, it’s a bow-down. It’s a carve-out. And it comes when it wants to, and it carves you out — it comes in the middle of the night, comes in the middle of the day, comes in the middle of a meeting, comes in the middle of a meal. It arrives — it’s this tremendously forceful arrival and it cannot be resisted without you suffering more… The posture that you take is you hit your knees in absolute humility and you let it rock you until it is done with you. And it will be done with you, eventually. And when it is done, it will leave. But to stiffen, to resist, and to fight it is to hurt yourself."
One day I went out to go birding in mid February and I ran into a birder that said nothing to me. He just came up to me and put his arms around me and hugged me. I felt so much peace in that moment. He didn't have to ask me anything, he didn't offer any advice. He simply hugged me and told me he has my back and that he knew what it was like. I'll never forget the relief I had in that moment. When he left me I cried but they were happy tears. I felt better. He had held my grief. He had understood. We didn't care about COVID in that moment. He just wanted me to know he could hold my grief with me and he understood my pain. Before my mom died another birder I told would just walk beside me at the dyke whenever I would see him. He would get off his bike or slow down his pace of peddling and just cycle with me and talk about my mom and how strong I was and how proud he was of me. I didn’t believe it then but somehow I got here today continuing everything I had to do despite every day being a painful hellish struggle.
On the night of my mom's bday, when my sister and dad told me they didn't want to celebrate with a cake after I didn't push it. It is hard to celebrate and be joyful over her bday when she couldn't be there and on the 2 month anniversary of her death no doubt. I wanted to do a cake for her though. So I went and bought a small one at Save-on-Foods. I asked the baker to put "Happy 75th Bday Mom" and then I got home and went into my room and lit the candles in the darkness and sang Happy Birthday to her through silent tears. My mom loved birthday celebrations and cake so I had to do that for her. It was the saddest birthday, the first one without her. I still haven't got any sign yet from my mother. In my grief support group many of the participants talk about signs from their children, parents, siblings, grandparents who have died. I am still waiting for mine. Maybe when I get it I will feel some sense of comfort.

Mom and I when I was a little girl

I told my father tonight that I hate that she is gone and hate life without her. He felt the same. I made him cry talking about it. I hate to see him so unhappy too. I don't try to take his pain away though I sit with him through it. I am anxious and afraid of the day he will pass. When he’s gone I won’t be able to cope even less than I am now. Every sunny day is a little less bright for me and every gorgeous landscape is a little less gorgeous now. Even seeing a lifer recently didn’t bring the magic it used to.
I've learned that there is no closure in death, even if you know exactly how they died and why. You can't get that person back and you cannot forget them if you truly loved them. However, we can look for meaning and we can look for signs. This video I wanted to share gives one a bit of hope when you see how a loved one can live on inside of you. In a way a person’s story will continue until the last person who loved them dies too. I plan to take a much needed holiday soon and I will carry her with me on every step of the next adventure and honour her there as well. 

The poet John O'Donohue has been helping me through with his words of comfort. I want to send love and comfort to anyone who has had a significant loss in their life who reads this blog. It is OK if you are not OK. Cry and don't explain yourself to anyone just keep putting one beautiful foot in front of the other. Cling to those who can hold your pain and grief. Those are the people who will help you get through and help you to move forward to a new normal without moving on. Treasure every single person that means anything to you and let them know how much you love them because life is short. There is a Japanese art-form called Kintsugi. It is the art of putting broken pottery back together and using a gold lacquer to hold them together. It celebrates the beauty in something broken and how one should honour the history of an object, flaws and all, without hiding them. It is a good reminder for us to live our lives in that way as well; especially when we deal with the so-called “messiness” and  pain of grief. 
With loving kindness.


  1. Losing a parent is hard. Grieving is difficult. But you will get through it. I wish you all the best.

    1. Thanks Brian it is a life long process. appreciate it.


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