When the Grief Bus Runs You Over Unexpectedly … Again

Watching the funeral service for Senator John McCain this week was like getting run over by the grief bus all over again. Not only has it left me bawling like there’s no tomorrow, knowing his family will now have to deal with the “aftermath” that I went through (and still going through), but it has stirred up a lot of anger I have related to my mom’s sudden passing less than two years ago.

While I may not have agreed with McCain’s politics, he certainly was a good man who wanted to make an impact on the country he loved so much. He was a war hero, a husband, a father, a patriot. And like my mom, taken way too soon. (To me, anyone who dies before they’re 100 is taken way too soon!)

In grief, there are many stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They never come in any particular sequence, mind you. And you never know which stage is going to strike or when. (Grief is a personal journey, so how I grieve is different than you. And the sequence of these stages doesn’t always occur the same for everyone.)  I’d already been a bit weepy this week, thinking about and missing my mom (as I do every day) because she’s the only one who “gets” me and can talk me off the ledge when I go through difficult times. But now, thanks to McCain’s funeral, it’s hello, anger stage.

Why the anger? I’m angry that McCain’s family had time to say goodbye—had I known my mom was dying, I would’ve said more, done more. Angry that they knew how much time he had left (those with glioblastoma diagnosis usually don’t live longer than a year)—my mom was fine until a month before her passing when she suddenly got “the flu.” And angry that he had time to plan his own funeral—my mom never expected to die and didn’t plan anything. She kept saying, “I’m fine. I’ll be home. It’s just a virus.” No, Mom, it wasn’t a virus.

Once you’ve lost your person, witnessing the loss of someone else really hits home. Harder than expected. This week, it felt like someone clubbed me over the head with a baseball bat and I can’t focus or shake the grief. I walk around, shaking my head, “I can’t believe my mom isn’t coming back.”

However, listening to the eulogies and hearing other people speak so fondly of the senator—including those that opposed him politically—left me thinking back to my mom’s passing and what others thought of her. She worked at our town library, and everyone that knew her loved her. She was the person who never said an unkind word about another—not ever, not once. “You never know what another is going through or what they have to contend with,” she’d say. When she passed away, I received countless sympathy cards from people who loved her and were devastated to hear of her sudden passing. Library patrons sent me the sweetest messages. I didn’t know most of them. But as I read the cards, I remembered my mom telling me of them when she’d get home from work, and I could hear her repeating those stories in my head.

My mom touched many lives. Even now, nearly two years after her passing, I still run into strangers who stop me in town to see how I’m doing and share a fond memory of my mom. The best compliment they could ever give me is, “You look (or sound) just like your mom.” Since I always wanted to look and be like her, it makes my heart sing. Yes, my mom is gone, but she is far from forgotten by those whose lives she touched, especially mine.

Vice President Joe Biden said of McCain: “We have to remember how they lived—not just how they died.” And while I’m still angry that she’s not here, she will always be a part of me. Knowing that helps me, even if just a little bit.

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