Entering Into Grief

I’m writing this the day after my mom’s memorial service. There had been visitation that morning and the night before, and we the family were consoled and encouraged by scores of those who came in from the concentric circles of relationship formed around her or us.The service was faithful to the path she had laid out years before—the hymns she wanted sung, the scripture she wanted read, the pastor she wanted to deliver the meditation, and the thunderous climax of an organ rendition of Handel’s hallelujah Chorus at the end. There was a light lunch afterwards, then a gathering of mom’s children and grandchilden plus spouses to disperse the contents of the house that had meaning to whomever took them. It was a busy, day, a day of celebration and remembering more than sorrow.

Now everyone except my youngest son is gone. He’ll fly back to Washington state in the morning. It’s quiet, even quieter than the days after mom’s death, when the sounds of her voice and the medical equipment that ministered to her were suddenly stilled. I had to remind myself I no longer had to check on her, give her medication, feed her, or make sure she was comfortable. I could leave the house even if no one else was there to care for her. I was free. Yet freedom felt like emptiness. I wasn’t tearful or openly grieving. I was glad that she got her wish to be done with the constraints of her decrepit body. I missed her, though.

There is a passage in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which earth has been destroyed.  Arthur Dent, who has been wisked away by aliens, feels nothing when he learns the fate of his planet. He can only get a sense of what earth’s elimination means by focusing on smaller losses: not England, but Nelson’s Column, not America, but Bogart films. He finally feels the full weight of what’s happened when he realizes that McDonald’s hamburgs are no more. In the same way, my feelings of loss haven’t been evoked so much by the general thought that mom is gone as by the specific things that won’t be the same again, ever. A mortar and pistle sit on the kitchen counter. Until about two months ago, mom was crushing her pills there to take through her feeding tube. She’ll never do that again. She’ll never sit at this desk and read her daily devotions; will never pick up that lip gloss to use, will never look at herself in this mirror. She’ll never squeeze my hand again.

Quite a few of mom’s possessions have been taken by her two sons and daughter during the two weeks since her death, and even more were taken by grandchildren yesterday. A set of dishes. Antique pewter plates. Prints and paintings. Toys that great-grandchilden played with. The mantle clock.

This last absence had the most to say to me today. For ten years, I wound it every week, looked to it for the time, and listened to its chime. I took my picture with it. I still look towards it when I walk into the room, but its not there. I put one of the remaining pewter plates and a candlestick where it had been, so there would be something there, but the absence still looms. My son brought up the oddness of not hearing the clock mark the passing of each quarter-hour. He pointed out that the other sound endemic to that room was that of the wind chimes that still hung outside the door to the patio. Yes, I thought, he’s right. And I often am oblivious to their sound. I need to appreciate them while I can. I went outside to look at them. I wanted to soak in the sound of them, to remember them forever. Maybe I didn’t appreciate the clock enough. I would appreciate these.

The place the clock had been.

Thus it goes; we try to hold on to what we will inevitably lose. We want to freeze the river of time. But it meanders on underneath the ice our psyches generate. We know better, yet we are determined to do the impossible. There are so many paradoxes in grief. Mom will always be with me; she also will recede from my awareness. I’ll remember lots about her, but I’ll forget plenty as well. I’m glad her journey ended, but wish it hadn’t. It has been a long time since she died and it just happened. I see her life as a whole more clearly now that she is gone than I did when she was here.

I haven’t written in this blog for some time. I didn’t think I had much to say. Mom’s death is stirring something up that suggests otherwise. You didn’t intend that stirring, mom, but thanks for it anyway. Maybe it’s your last gift to me.


About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at bobritzema@hotmail.com.
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6 Responses to Entering Into Grief

  1. Brian Hertel says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights about your mom’s passing and about those who were there with you during this time. I will keep you in my prayers and thoughts as you discover new meaning and insights from the past and present experiences. Keep in touch.


    • Bob Ritzema says:

      Thanks so much, Brian. Yes, let’s keep in touch. I should be more able to travel this coming winter, so we might even get together.

  2. Mary Vander Werp says:

    Beautifully written. How difficult not to hear the clock chime every quarter hour. The mortal and pestle struck me also but you’re living with the reminders every day. It must be difficult. Love and prayers 🙏🙏🙏

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Bob Ritzema says:

      Thanks so much, Mary. The house is starting to feel quite different! I think I’ll notice it today especially now that Elliot has left. Prayers for you as well!

  3. dw says:

    The clock reminds me of my grandparents’ house, the constant tic-toc, the chime every fifteen minutes, the sound of the gears turning to pull a little brass hammer only to let it go to strike a coil. I haven’t thought about it for decades, but your writing brought it all back. A gift. May you experience many such gifts as you walk with your grief.

    Grace and peace to you…


    • Bob Ritzema says:

      Thanks for your memories of your grandparents’ clock, dw. Somehow, clocks like that take up a prominent place in the sights and sounds we recall decades later.

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