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How I faced the news that my mother was dying

madre muerte

Ground Picture - Shutterstock

Hija atenta abrazando a madre moribunda con cáncer en el hospital

Sheila Morataya - published on 01/26/23

When I found out that my mother was dying, working through the stages of grieving and the power of faith helped me find healing.

Getting the news that you’re going to lose your mother produces a unique sadness and a feeling of emptiness in the soul.  It causes a kind of suffering that’s often beyond our reach to overcome on our own. Psychotherapy can help, but it’s only through the power of faith that we can fully assimilate this pain and heal. 

How can we prepare ourselves? 

Poets, writers, artists, and people of every walk of life – even criminals – often have spoken with deep emotion about the most important woman in their lives: their mother.

But can anyone ever prepare for their mother’s death? In this article I simply want to give you some ideas for your own process that, in the end, have helped me.

According to the research of psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a pioneer in studying the dying process and an expert in palliative care, a person in the grieving process goes through five stages: deep sadness; anger; denial; bargaining or interruption of usual activities; and acceptance or the need to reorient one’s life. I will briefly explain each of them. 

The five experiences of heart, mind and soul

1. Deep sadness

When we receive the news that our mother is terminally ill, we experience shock and spontaneous disbelief. We all know that dying is part of the process of life, but no one is prepared for this bundle of experiences and feelings that produces a deep sadness. How can we manage it? 

First, observe it: What’s happening to you is normal. You are not clinically depressed.

Second, accept it: Do it soon, and set your mother free.

Third, live it: If you need to cry, cry. If you need to go to therapy, go to therapy; if you want to talk to a priest, seek one out. You don’t have to go through this process alone. 

2. Anger

All of us will feel anger at the loss of our mother. However, those who lose their mom suddenly may feel it more intensely. Such was the case of Prince Harry of England, who tells in his memoir how he remonstrated with his mother, Princess Diana, that she had left them that way. For this reason, every grief – every loss – is unique. 

What should you do if you’re angry? Voice it to God, to your spiritual director, to your psychotherapist, or to another person you know will listen to you, will not judge you, and will guide you.

Don’t hesitate to cry. Cry inside a church, in the presence of God, or with your spiritual director, or with your psychotherapist. All of this is healing and therapeutic. Crying during the funeral doesn’t mean we’re weak or lacking in faith as a Christian who believes in the afterlife and in the resurrection. 

3. Denial

As I explained above, everyone experiences great difficulty in accepting that they will soon experience a loss. This is why many people go on with their lives as if everything were fine. According to neuroscience, this is also normal, because the brain doesn’t like change. It may take at least 90 days for us to accept that our mother is gone or will soon be gone.

4. Disruption of usual activities and bargaining

You may be a person of faith, a strong, mature person with a family and a stable professional job… However, the moment you learn that your mother is going to die, suddenly you cannot focus the same way. A black cloud often settles over your head; you stop exercising, cancel some social engagements, and find yourself thinking about her frequently. All of this is normal, as long as it doesn’t completely paralyze your life and relationships.

In reality, grieving the loss of a mother begins the very moment we receive the news that she has only a short time to live. But there’s a very important difference for someone with faith: God will fill us with strength and we will manage the sorrow with God’s grace.  

5. Acceptance and the need to reorient one’s life

Losing your mother is like a call to take stock of your life, to look for what matters and let go of many superficial aspects of life.

The death of our mother can bring us closer to God, and make us reflect about how our life will be without her. It also makes us value her more and think about all the things she did for us starting in our childhood.

In my personal case I can say that my mom inspired me to work with joy and dedication. In her time, she enjoyed great prestige teaching cooking classes to hundreds and hundreds of women in El Salvador.

We experience this need to reorient our life because – unconsciously in most cases – we know that we are now the older generation, the one that has the responsibility of leaving a legacy equal to or greater than the one our parents left us.

Pope Francis spoke in his audience on June 17, 2015, about the difficulty of losing of a loved one, emphasizing the hope that comes to us from Christ:

Death is like a black hole that opens up in the life of the family and for which we have no explanation. (…) 

In the People of God, by the grace of his compassion granted in Jesus, many families prove by their deeds that death does not have the last word: this is a true act of faith. (…)

And let us remember Jesus’ deed: “And Jesus gave him back to his mother,” so he will do with all our loved ones and with us when we meet again, when death will be definitively conquered in us. It was conquered by Jesus’ Cross. Jesus will give us all back to the family!

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