“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” (Vicki Harrison)

Even with my many years of experience as a care manager with a background in nursing, I still second-guessed the decisions I made for my mother before she died. Should we have been more aggressive with her medical treatment? Was the timing right when she was admitted to hospice? It’s one thing when I’m helping other families. It’s quite another when it came to my own surviving parent. Even with my “nursing cap” on, it was difficult to balance the range of emotions I felt. My heart said one thing; my brain said another.

My mother had Alzheimer’s disease and initially she lived with me and my family. I hadn’t wanted to institutionalize her in her final years of life because she had been orphaned at age 6, and had lived in an institution until she was 18 years old. However, as the disease progressed and robbed her of her memory and judgment, the time came when she could no longer stay with us. It wasn’t safe for her and the care she needed was more than we could provide. Ironically, it was perhaps the childhood years she spent living in an institution that helped her adjust when we moved her to a facility. She socialized with the other residents. The daily routines helped stabilize her moods.

And so it was that we, like so many of the families I have worked with, went through the longest goodbye.

It’s only been a few months since my mother passed away, and I realize it takes time to grieve. I’ve gone through periods of guilt, wondering if I could have, should have done something differently. I’ve suffered stress and insomnia. There are times when memories flood back and the emotions hit like a wave. It was a revelation to me that I was now an orphan as my father had passed away 37 years previously. Now there was no one alive who knew my whole history, who had nurtured me from the moment I was born. But it also put things into perspective, remembering that my own mother had been an orphan at the tender age of six. Somehow she made it through.

I know that I will too. Losing a parent can feel like losing a part of yourself, no matter how old you are. Grief increases our awareness that all things change, and losses in life are inevitable. All we can do is cherish our memories and learn to stay afloat on the ebb and flow of the tide.