There are none. Honestly. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone else, you need to do whatever you need to do to get through it. But I’ll share one piece of advice, although you’re probably not asking for it.

What I suggest you do is let it happen. Whenever it comes, however it comes, let it happen.

Denny was the most wonderful man and he was my rock. One thing he was not great at is being sensitive to others… which is one reason why I’ve become so tough. I needed that to toughen me up. Anyone who knew me well pre-Denny could tell you I was someone who could easily melt down with the simplest stressor. Now I can flourish under the most chaotic of circumstances. He would support me and build me up. But if I ever became a puddle on the floor, he was very uncomfortable and said something like “…Um… what… Uh…. what do you want me to do?” It wasn’t his strong suit. There are reasons for that I’ll talk about eventually too.

For grieving my mother’s death though, it wasn’t smart for me to handle it the way I handled it. I was told to let it happen many times after my mom died and I wouldn’t allow myself to feel it. I didn’t like making Denny uncomfortable. And I knew why he was that way and didn’t want to hurt him. So when I would get waves of grief and fall apart, I would push it down. I would literally change my focus. I would distract myself immediately. I would do whatever I could to stop the crying.

My mom died pretty rapidly. She had stage four lung cancer for two plus years. So we knew she wasn’t going to live forever. But she was the most “obnoxiously positive” person (as Denny would tease), and it was hard to believe that she wouldn’t survive for a while longer. She got sicker the last couple of months, but she was still doing pretty well. Other than when she was in immense pain, she was positive and joyful and optimistic. The cancer wasn’t going away though so we tried Radiation. She was in Radiation two days before she died. We never would have put her through that had we known.

Denny and I helped her go to radiation on Thursday. Friday she had someone else take her because Denny and I were going to our 16 week appointment for Piper. We were finding out if we were having a boy or a girl. When I called her to tell her, she was out of it. But we assumed it was the pain medication.

The only picture I can find of just my mom and Denny

Saturday she didn’t ever really wake up. Saturday afternoon she stopped responding to stimuli so we raced her to the ER. Denny left work and brought a minivan for us to transport her comfortably and he and my sisters carried her carefully to the car.

By 2 am Sunday, we had to make the decision to pull the plug. They could do a surgery but she would have to be intubated, have no pain medication, and it would only prolong her life for a few more days or weeks maximum. We couldn’t do that to her. We maxed out the morphine and let her go peacefully.

Do you know what makes me sick and actually hurts my heart? That I couldn’t be with Denny at those last moments. I wish so badly that I could have held his hand and sang to him. I wish I could have teased him about his dumb beard and had his kids kiss his crooked nose. I wish I could have laid next to him on the bed while he took his last breaths. I wish I could have watched his heart rate slow and comforted him and told him how much I loved him while his spirit left his body. I would have told him what an incredible father and husband he was. I would have told him how much I would miss him and all the things I wanted him to help us with from the other side. I would have told him how grateful I am for these sweet girls that couldn’t be more perfect or more Denny. I would tell him how he helped me and healed me in so many ways and how he was my best friend. I would have told him that the things we had been through together were the things to prepare me for this next part of life. I would have told him that he was the absolute best thing to ever happen to me. Because he was. He is.

As quick and traumatic as my mom’s death was, it was nothing compared to this. Nothing has ever hurt me more. Nothing has ever been so painful in my life. In fact, all of the horrible, hard, and scary things in my life previous to this all added up still don’t compete. The biggest difference of the aftermath though is that I’m recovering. As my therapist says, I’ve been through the denial phase and the anger phase and the despair phase and now I’m rebuilding. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have moments of despair or denial or anger. But I am rebuilding because I have truly LET myself feel the despair and denial and anger all of the other feelings that come with grief.

A few weeks ago when I had all of that anger? I felt it. Oh I definitely felt it. And once I pawned off my kids for a minute, I drove around in my majestic minivan screaming at Denny for leaving me and the girls and for his irresponsible and hurtful choices. I let the tears roll for hours and hours when I really didn’t want to and it was very inconvenient timing. But that’s the point is that I let it come. And honestly, that’s what you have to do.

I didn’t do that with my mom and I stuffed it up and it all came out about five months later when my baby girl came out of my butt (Come on, I know anatomy. But Winnie asks a lot of questions so we explained it to her by saying the doctor was going to pull the baby out of my butt. It was sufficient for a 2 year old and now 3 year old. A palate cleanser for this serious post). But really, I struggled after Piper’s birth. The mix of hormones and the built up grief just came out as postpartum depression. It was minor compared to many of my friends who have really suffered. But it was there. And it sucked. And it took a lot of work in therapy to learn how to grieve my mom and to finally deal with it.

So today, when Winnie had a friend over who kept talking about her dad, I was heartbroken. Winnie kept saying, “My daddy is up in heaven!” And the friend said, “My daddy is over there!” Pointing to her home. I let myself be sad about it for a minute, and the wave passed, and I continued to watch two 3 year olds destroy my house, as 3 year olds do.

I took Winnie to therapy today and there was a couple there with their baby. I can’t tell you how much I wished that was Denny and I. Getting marital counseling. Yeah. I would have him back in a heart beat. Even if we had to do counseling for the rest of our lives. We never actually really needed marital counseling, only individual. But how I wish we could. I felt this sting and this sadness and missed him and let it wash over me for a minute in the waiting room while Winnie walked around showing random people pictures of her daddy. I know people were looking at me and her like, “Why in the world does that happy, intelligent three year old need to be here? And she clearly is here a lot because she and the secretary know each other’s names and are friends…” I wish we didn’t have to be. I wish we didn’t have to do this.

The two best analogies of grieving I have heard are the ball in the box one and the waves after a shipwreck one. Here is the shipwreck one I found written out beautifully on Reddit:

Click here for the actual post.

I have waves every day. They’re not as big anymore. And they’re not as frequent. But rather than closing my eyes and pretending they aren’t happening, I feel them and ride them. I promise you, it’s easier this way. Feel it, then get yourself together, and get back to swimming.

One huge positive I have noticed in our “aquatic” grieving adventures is a big difference in Winnie after each therapy session. Today she left skipping and singing. It’s helping. It’s really making a difference and she’s getting the anger and sadness out and learning how to show it in an appropriate manner. It’s so good for her. And that makes me so happy.

“Daddy and his beard” from therapy today

Winnie leaving therapy:

5 thoughts on “The Rules of Grieving

  1. Dani, you need to write a book. Your writing is incredible! Your descriptions and mentions of little things that not many people would think to write is amazing and keeps me wanting to read more. I find myself going through the emotions you’re feeling as I read your blog. The little victories make me so happy, the waves crush my heart. I know through this blog that you are in the process of healing and that making your healing process public may be uncomfortable at times. But I thank you for it! As much as I hate for anyone to be in this kind of pain I am thankful for your vulnerability and views and feel you have and will heal many people with your writing. Another reason I think you should write a book. You are a healer! You are a chosen and powerful daughter of God. I wish nothing but the best for you and your family. <3

  2. I know the feeling all too well, that you would have wanted to be there as he took his last breath, to comfort him. My son was 15 years old, made some bad choices, stole a van, (only 2nd time ever driving), went on a police chase, crashed into a concrete barrier at 85-90 mph and died instantly. This was unlike him. He made remarks that day at school that was out of character. Why didnt someone notice? Did he regret his choices? Was he scared? Did he think about his parents? Did he know how it was going to end? Why did he feel so helpless that day? Why did he make the remarks he made to his friend? Did he want to die? Did he think things wouldn’t get better? Was he scared? (Yes, I know I said that twice). Did he want his mom? Could i have changed his mind? He was only 15 and still needed his mommy. Could I have done something different? Could I have helped him through whatever he was going through? Could I have just held his hand? Did he cry out to God before taking that last breath? ……. I could go on forever.

  3. I lost my mom 2 months after my daughter was born and wish I had actually allowed myself to grieve. You are so, so right. Thank you for letting us in. I think of you and your girls everyday.

    Erin, TX

  4. It is so awesome how you are handling everything. You totally amaze me. I’m so glad you are letting yourself grieve and not trying to hold it in. It has to come out eventually and then it’s worse later (like you discovered with your mom). BTW your mom is beautiful, I’m so sorry she’s gone. I’m so glad Winnie is doing so well in her therapy. You are the perfect mom for her. Love and hugs to you and your girls.

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