Between grief and relief

A number of years ago, when both my parents were into their 80s, a friend asked how I was going to cope when they both died. I thought a second and said, “I think I’ll take the first free breath of my life”. Now I’m there, my dad having died 2 years ago and my mother last month.

Right now, of course, the loss of my mother is fresh and in this case we’d been living in the same house for almost 24 years so I’m also feeling a general loss of companionship. I’m still at the phase of bursting into tears multiple times a day and wishing she could still be here.

But I also feel that sense of relief. The immediate relief is at being set free from the caretaker duties. I was glad to be able to keep my mom well cared for, but it was a lot, especially since my own health issues didn’t disappear just because she needed me. But concerning both parents the story had bigger dimensions.

They each survived a fairly awful childhood and both were clearly emotionally damaged. Besides being physically and emotionally abusive, they also had very vulnerable child-like aspects and I knew from an early age that they both relied on me–their only child–somehow to make up for their troubles, to keep them from breaking, etc.

After having met both my parents and spent some time, one of my friends told me that if I ever operated with a feeling of being watched all the time (I did) I came by it naturally as they were each intensely focused on me and my every move. I felt that pressure most of my life.

So, while I’m also sad to have lost them and sad that their lives held so much unhappiness, I also feel great relief peeking through the grief. I can take a free breath now. Sometimes I feel guilty for that relief. More of the time I feel like it’s only fair to get to live a portion of my life without their needs and expectations hovering over my shoulder.

I’m also really glad I went through the Fisher-Hoffman process long ago and continued to use the process to explore inner feelings, the past, etc. I released huge amounts of anger toward them long ago. With mom that remained a work in progress till we were finally able to just say “I love you” near the end and sit holding hands. With my dad I had actually managed to transform from the place of underlying anger constantly seething, to feeling much more balanced in my dealings with him, even tender as he grew more fragile.

I feel that work with the F-H process is helping me a lot to work through these shifting emotions and also studies with the same facilitator which she called “Emotional Mastery”. Both helped me to just allow emotions to move in, to feel the feelings, to know that I can choose to move to another, etc. Our society doesn’t do enough (anything?) to help people feel their feelings and learn to navigate them.

At a time like this, not only am I grateful for the calm and equanimity 36 years of yoga and meditation have brought me, but so grateful for all I’ve learned about feelings and emotions. Even twenty years ago I’d have fallen apart (and driven my friends crazy with my anxiety) at all I’ve had to cope with in the last 2+ years. I feel like I’m making my way pretty well through volatile emotions while still being able to get done what must be done so much better than I ever could have in the past.