Sara Watkins

It has been a while since I have written a column. Since the last one I wrote, though, my mother passed away somewhat unexpectedly.

I have mentioned my Mom several times in my column; she suffered for years from Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. While I knew she would eventually succumb to her illness, I was not prepared for it to happen when it did; or for her death to make me feel the way I do now.

I have spent the last month trying to figure out how to navigate grief and loss and all the complicated emotions that come with losing a parent. Since I felt like I had already lost the Mom I knew to her disease, I didn’t think her being physically gone would hit me so hard. There’s just something about the finality of it all, though, that caught me by surprise. Her mind may have been something unrecognizable toward the end, but she was still my Mom and she was still there for me to visit and hug and talk to, even if she didn’t always talk or hug back.

I have never dealt with this kind of grief before, especially publicly. And by that I mean that people everywhere seem to know or have heard about my Mom’s death. But no one really heard about the time she and my Dad had to tell their children about her heartbreaking diagnosis.

And we certainly didn’t broadcast the day we moved her into her memory care home two and half years ago. In all honesty, that was the hardest, most painful day of our lives; both singularly and as a family unit. But it hasn’t been easy to share the details of such a relentless and unforgiving disease with others. In fact, when she passed away, there were many people who still had no clue about her declining health.

Death is different, though. I have to say, prior to my own firsthand experience, I was firmly in the “There's nothing I can say to make it better” camp when someone I knew suffered a loss. I would send my condolences to those I was very close to, of course, but not necessarily to someone I did not know very well or had not talked to in a long time.

I know now – and I’m here to tell you – that is not a productive place to land when a friend or loved one is grieving. I truly believe that saying something, acknowledging the loss in some way, is always so much better than ignoring it.

I say all of that to make this one important point today: Reach out to those who are hurting or affected by loss. Don’t simply assume they need space or they wouldn’t want to hear from you or there is nothing you can say to make it better. Of course you can’t fix it or make it better. That’s not the point. If you are coming from a place of care and concern, I promise you will do no further damage by offering them a sliver of light to cut through the darkness.

I have felt so blessed and uplifted by every single comment, text, phone call and hug I have received over the last four weeks. People – some of whom I have not seen or spoken to in many years – have sent cards, flowers and thoughtful gifts; they have shared wonderful stories and memories of my Mom; they have brought meals so I don’t have to worry about cooking for my family; they have donated to Alzheimer’s research in my Mom’s name.

I never in a million years thought these acts of kindness would go so far in helping heal my wounded heart. But they certainly have. And I am ever so grateful.

The outpouring of love my family and I have received in the wake of my Mom’s passing has moved me so much that I will no longer hesitate to reach out to someone who is going through what I am going through now. And I will encourage others to do the same, no matter how uncomfortable or intrusive it may seem. Make the call, write the card, send the flowers or deliver the meal. Whatever you choose, even if it’s a simple text made up of mostly heart emojis, find a way to show you care. It will go so much further than you – or the person who is grieving – could ever imagine.

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