My mom died 12 years ago, and I've been finding my way through grief and the dreadful missing that comes and goes the whole time. When my wife's mother died the week before Christmas, I had no idea how it would affect me, or even if it would.
I liked my mother-in-law. She was a broad in the best sense of the word. Great sense of humor, sharp as a tack, fear-filled, and so adept at stirring the family pot that we swore she was born with a spoon in her hand. And, she died. Aged 92. Having lived, by her lights, too long.
To witness my sweetheart go through the beginning stages of mourning is a privilege. I am able to remember that my task is to provide a container to her process. I need to let her weep, let her rage, let her crumble, and gather her up like Humpty-Dumpty till the next time she falls apart. I have become the glue-you-back-together-for-now expert. All in a day's mourning, so to speak.
The most interesting issue to me in this process is the dilemma around letting go of her family of origin. I released mine many years ago. When my mom died, the glue of our family dissolved with her. I like most of my siblings, but I don't know them, and they don't know me. I did, however, create a family of my own--a chosen family.
Family patterns, especially sibling behaviors, can be stark in the face of death. My darling and her brother and sister act out in a startlingly classical way. I think most families do over death. Their childhood roles take over their adult personalities and their actions (and feelings) become distended and imaginary.
This dilemma around biological family is what the death of the final parent provokes. For any of you who have been there, you know whereof I speak. If you have not been there, namely, still have a living parent, you cannot know what I mean. Even if you can understand it intellectually.
The initial aftermath of death is so often a flurry of activity. We have to let the flurry settle down before we can even self-talk sanely, let alone make conscious choices. The tendency in the blush of the moment is to make dramatic statements, to make dramatic gestures, to make dramatic ultimatums. None of these are helpful--either with self or others.
Wait for the drama to die down. Give it some time, if you're in this situation. Let the flying fur settle. Then give yourself even longer to process what it means to live on the planet with no living parents. The principle effect is, of course, that the only approval you need is your own. That's a life-changing truth.
You'll keep your biological family--I speak to mine on holy-days and birthdays, or you won't. You'll create your own chosen family, or you won't. You'll have your mourning process, or you won't. Don't rush, dear one, grieve, mourn, cry, wail, gnash your teeth, and let yourself become who you will become when the death of the final parent finally comes.