Susan’s Story: Honoring Loss with New Traditions

It was one thing after another.  Susan’s mom had knee surgery, then fell and broke her shoulder, then her arm, then her hip.  Her father did all that he could, but in time it became clear that her mom required more care, and they made the difficult decision to move her to a senior center. “She always said that was the last place she wanted to go.  It broke my heart, but she needed that level of care.”

In addition to her work as a music teacher, Susan spent every free moment helping her dad to cook, do laundry, and help with paperwork and bills, then rush to her mom’s apartment to make sure it was as cozy as home.  Her mom liked all the special things that Susan did for her.  “I washed her hair in the sink and did her nails.  I loved doing these things for her, and it gave us time to be together,” Susan recalls.

A Tragic Loss

This tolerable compromise soon ended with a double blow.  First, Susan’s mom fell, broke her knee, and had to go to a nursing facility to recover, then the pandemic viciously tore the mother and daughter apart.  “I wasn’t allowed to go in to see her at all.  She’d phone me in the middle of the night and want me to come and get her.  It was so wrenching.”

Though her mom wasn’t infected with COVID-19 Susan believes it was because of the virus she died.  “It was the lack of family and loneliness.  She kept getting weaker and weaker because we couldn’t be with her.  It was the hardest thing to be apart from her.”  When her mom was finally placed on hospice and moved to the hospital, Susan was able to stay by her side.  “I was with her the whole time.  I was holding her hand when she passed.” 

After losing her mom, Susan had another challenge to face.  Her dad wasn’t able to keep up with the house and moved to a senior facility.  “I had to break down the house where my parents lived for over 50 years.  Seeing all those things from my childhood go away was so painful.  I cried every day.” 

Cleaning out the kitchen was the hardest. It was a tradition for decades for her mom to cook dinner every Thursday.  “She made all the wonderful Hungarian dishes that she and my dad loved.  My daughters came with me when they were little, and when they grew up, I came by myself.  I’m grateful to have memories, but it’s hard knowing those days are gone.”

Finding Hope in Loss

While Susan worked with contractors to have the house renovated to be sold, her friend suggested she go to the Hope Grows Morning Tea for Caregivers.  “She had gone through loss, too, and she could tell I needed the special kind of help that only Hope Grows can give.”

Soon after Susan attended the six-week Joy of Living workshop.  The interactive discussions, workbook reading assignments, and notebook writing exercises provided tangible ways for Susan to stay engaged.  “It made me feel better to be with people who cared and understood.  People don’t understand unless they go through it.”  Susan also credits the Caregiving Counselor who led the sessions as a big reason she began to heal.  “She was so gracious, calming, and kind.”

Knowing she can’t change the way the pandemic prevented her from being with her mom, Susan now focuses her energy on the time she is able to spend with her dad.  She calls him every day, meets him for lunch once week, and has started a new tradition reminiscent of her mom’s Thursday dinners. “My fiancé Ed and I pick Dad up every Sunday, we cook all the Hungarian dishes my mom used to make, and we pack up some for him to take home.  We watch a good movie or a game and spend the day together.  He looks forward to our Sundays and has such a great time.” 

Susan still experiences grief and emptiness without her mom. “I never really thought about life and death until my mom passed and now, I see that people, animals, and plants all have a life cycle.  You have to accept each stage.”  As the days grow longer and the weather warms, she is looking forward to walking through the Hope Grows garden to experience its peace and healing.  “I look at the sky in its different shades of blue, see flowers starting to peek out, and know that there is hope.”

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