Bold Grieving

How My Bold Mom Taught Me to Face Fear & Embrace Reality


"We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality." - Seneca

I remember running over the threshold of my playhouse when I was 7-years-old. As my right foot landed on the wooden floor, my childhood friend gave me a playful shove. I lost my balance and fell forward.

Sitting up-side-down was a child-sized ironing board. There was a metal prong exposed. The force of my leg landing on top of it led to the prong slicing into my skin.

Being that I was horrified of anything having to do with hospitals, doctors, and blood from the time I can remember, I nearly had a panic attack as I stood to my feet.

I ran to my Mom's room, blood gushing down my leg.

It was obvious I had to have stitches - so Mom gave me a towel and had me apply pressure to the wound -- then quickly ushered my sobbing being down to the car.

"Mom, I'm not going to have to have stitches, am I?"

The closer we got to Dr. Slayback's office, the more freaked out I became.

"Jennifer, you may have to and it's going to be okay," she tried to reassure me.

My 7-year-old brain was swimming in fear. I had never had stitches and was sure I wasn't going to make it through the procedure.

"Mom, maybe I'm not going to have to have them. Maybe he can just tape it together."

I imagined with horror that he'd stick a needle into my skin and was certain it would be the death of me.

We entered Dr. Slayback's office and he stood there to greet us. He had been a friend of my mom and dad before I was ever conceived.

"Dr. Slayback, I think you can just tape my leg together and I'll be fine. Just please tape it."

He took one look at it and shook his head.

"Jennifer, I'm going to have to give you stitches. There's no other way."

I did everything I could not to cry my eyes out. By that time my pride had kicked in -- I didn't want him to see that I was terrified and weak.

"Okay, Jen. Let's get this started," he said.

I was about to lose it and decided to stall.

"Mom, I need to go to the bathroom. Can you come with me?"

She followed as I limped along.

I sat on the toilet - my legs dangling a couple feet from the ground. Tears welled up in my eyes.

"Mom, I'm scared." She took her fingers and brushed my bangs out of my teary eyes.

"Will you pray with me Mom?"

I held her hand and she asked the universe to protect me. To give me strength.

"It's all going to be okay, Jen. You're such a brave girl."

There was something about Mom that always guided me to a higher state of mind and sense of peace. She was always giving me lessons about using "mind over matter" and her strength dove right into my bones.

When I was calm and ready, she walked me back to where the procedure was going to take place. I leaned back and held her hand in a death grip. Dr. Slayback brought out what seemed to me a monstrous needle. I began to panic inside and did my best to hide it.

"Just close your eyes," Mom suggested. I leaned back and followed her instructions.

Dr. Slayback waited for a bit as the numbing medication took effect.

"Alight, I'm going to start. You're being really brave Jenny," he said.

I asked to see the needle he was going to use to sew my leg up. He held it up for me to see.

"Is it going to hurt?" I was on the verge of panic again.

"No, not at all."

I closed my eyes and gripped Mom's hand again.

A minute or two went by.

"Are you going to start?" I asked.

"I've already started," was Dr. Slayback's reply.

I was shocked at the fact that I didn't feel anything at all. I opened my eyes to see what he was doing.

Then something really strange happened. I became fascinated by what was going on. I sat up and was transfixed -- then watched as he slipped the needle from one side of my wound to the other.

Mom let go of my hand and stood back. I'm pretty sure she was amazed at my newfound strength.

When it was over, we headed out to the car.

"Jen, I am so proud of you. You did such an amazing job in there. You nearly watched the whole thing!"

I remember feeling a new sense of freedom - having faced one of my biggest fears.

As I read the quote, "We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality," this morning -- my childhood experience with stitches emerged from my memory bank.

Our minds are often so filled with fears that are never realized. We fret for hours, days, weeks, months, and even years about things that never happen.

My mom use to drill the concept of "buying trouble" into my mind.  "Jen, the more you think about something and fear it, the more likely it may happen," she'd explain. "Your thoughts affect your actions and then there's no turning back."

Even up to the last days of her life during her cancer battle, she'd school me on this concept.

For example, I'd walk into the room and she'd be so quiet. My imagination would make me believe she wasn't breathing anymore. Her eyes would snap open and she'd say something sarcastic.

"I'm not dead, Jen! I'm perfectly fine!"

Her reactions were strangely funny, and we'd both giggle a bit. Then she'd give me a lecture about not being so scared of what was going on in her body.

"What are you going to do when I'm gone? You'd better get your head screwed on straight."

She was right.

As the weeks went by during her sickness, I was increasingly infused with the strength I needed to get through it all. Things got tougher for her. Sometimes she'd panic and ask for me to pray with her -- just as she did during my first bout with stitches.

"What am I going to do, Jen?" she asked me one night.

She needed for me to be strong, and all I wanted to do was weep.

(It makes me wonder... did she feel like weeping when as a child I came running to her with my leg split open? Did she want to weep when I asked her to pray with me?)

I stared back at her and did everything I could to assure her that she'd be okay. Her soul was going to be fine.

"Mom, you are such a special human being. Everything is going to be okay."

I stroked her head and tried to calm her.

All I know at this point is that each day, each moment is a new opportunity to look my fears in the eyes and not be overtaken by uncertainty.

"Don't buy trouble"... I try to use my Mom's words and wisdom to fight my own invisible dragons -- those fears that will probably never become a reality.

It's all in the here and now. The real question I need to be asking myself is what can I do in this moment to live and breathe my full potential. How do I use my mind and my talents that will lead to a better and more beautiful future?

There is nothing to be gained by living in fear - by being frozen in "what ifs" and unfounded fears.

I want to dig in and reconnect with the kid I was when I learned that stitches weren't going to kill me. And know that living within me is the strength of my mom whispering softly, "you're so brave Jen. Everything is going to be okay."

The Truth About Tears, Moms and Inner Strength

A few nights ago, I was driving in the dark of night. You know that feeling when you're a bit vulnerable in life and you just want to call your mom?

Well, that's what happened as I barreled down the 5 Freeway on the way to dinner.

I was thinking about next steps in life, and for a moment I just wanted to connect with her. For her to answer my phone call. To hear her voice.

Numerous memories of her looking at me with supreme love converged into a big wave of energy that swept through my body.

"Jen, you have such a special heart," she told me way too many times to count.

She had this way of making me believe that I was on this planet for a reason. In my darkest of nights after my father died, she'd whisper in my ear about how my heartbreak would lead to my becoming a strong and beautiful woman.

It was hard for the 10-year-old me to reckon with how my dad could be so very alive one moment and gone the next.

No matter how old you get, when you lose someone that you love with all of your heart -- you keep waiting for them to walk through the door.

Just days ago, I was working on a storage unit containing the remnants of Mom's house. I opened boxes that contained photos that she'd carefully organized -- with labels like "Jen's School Photos," "Lake Havasu," "Europe" .... there were arts and crafts made by me and my siblings as kids. And there are antiques that she carefully curated over the years.

When surrounded by these things, my imagination makes me believe for brief moments in time that she'll appear.

People often tell me that she can hear me, she can see me, but when I find myself wanting to hear her voice, or have her tickle my arms, or listen (in a way only she could) it surely doesn't feel that way.

As I drove the other night, I let every tear out that I was holding back.

"Oh, my Mom ... I really wish I could talk to you. I wish I could be near you."

If you've lost a parent or a friend, I just want you to know that we all have these moments. When we have to let the floodgates open and cry out to the heavens. It doesn't mean we're weak or that we don't have faith. It just means that deep within our beings we're still connected to those we've lost. Their souls have taken root in the deepest part of who we are.

If we didn't feel -- if we didn't reach out for them in the darkness of the night or even under the blazing sun during the day -- we wouldn't be the magnificent creatures that we are.

Let the torrential downpour of your tears cover your face and drift down toward your toes.

When I got to my destination the other night, my eyes were a bit puffy. I confessed to one of my best friends that I had cried my eyes out for a bit.

She gave me a massive hug, and said "Oh, Jenny, I love you."

It wasn't the hug of my mother, but of someone who gets it and who gets me.

More times than not, I hold it all in. I think I need to be strong for those around me. But more and more I'm realizing how important it is to share. To let my guard down.

The release of emotions - the willingness to be open and real - these are the things that make our bones stronger and our roots deeper. These are the things that are going to allow for us to move forward and breathe life into moment.

When I cried out for my mom that night, there was no answer from the heavens. But from within my soul, there bubbled up the love that Mom planted in me. It's there. It's real. If I can only dare myself to be silent and feel, she's always whispering... always nurturing... always giving.

She's me and I'm her. And so I go today with purpose and with kindness - Dignity too - to fulfill my purpose on Planet Earth. Whatever it may be as life ebbs and flows.

What's Surrender All About? What I Learned from My Mentor, on the Camino & What I'm Learning Now

I first met him in a bookstore. He was tall, lanky, and in his early 60s -- his eyes turned bright as we bantered about books.

"You should really check this one out," he said.

He handed me one about the brain and its connection to the heart. "There's so much more to the heart/brain connection than we know, this book explains it all."

I thanked him and put it back on the shelf -- not ready to take the dive into his recommendation.

Little did I know in that moment that Rob would become my writing mentor -- a sort of guru. It would take weeks for that to come about.

There was something familiar about him - a sort of soul recognition. Maybe I had met him before?

As the days went by, I didn't think much about our meeting. Weeks later, I went to a nearby cafe for some breakfast and there he sat reading a book and writing in a journal. We spoke for a few minutes and decided we needed to have breakfast the following Thursday.

Our first Thursday breakfast meeting was so insightful that we decided to make Thursday morning meetings our ritual. This lasted for two years -- and I am certain the universe had made it so.

Rob spoke of surrender.

Over and over again he'd talk about surrendering to the here and now. Believing that the universe knows your order. He led me to a book by Michael A. Singer entitled The Surrender Experiment. It's about a man who decided to say "yes" to what the universe threw his way. This led him to move, to change his life's focus, to learn to meditate, to buy a piece of property that eventually became a haven for those seeking to deepen their meditation practice, and so much more.

I couldn't put the book down. My life had become so strange and there were so many things I had no power over -- the end of my relationship, my mom's sickness, my Mom's death, and trying to keep my head above water in life and matters of the heart.

I wanted nothing more than to surrender - to be happy with the results - knowing that the universe had my back.

"Am I better off making up an alternate reality in my mind and then righting with reality to make it be my way," writes Singer. "Or am I better letting go of what I want and serving the same forces of reality that managed to create the entire perfection of the universe around me?"

This question hit me quite hard.

I so wanted to surrender and let things unfold. To believe that everything was happening for a reason. It became clearer and clearer that I had far less control than I had ever wished to believe - that failing to surrender could break me.

And so I tried to surrender. I learned to be thankful for the things that pained my soul more than words could describe. I tried to say yes to new opportunities as they came flooding in.

I know I'm not alone in the battle between trying to control my world and surrender to what is. Each day, we're all presented with challenges that push us to our limits.

One of the ultimate examples from my life was in May of 2015, four months after my Mom died. For my birthday, I had decided to go with a friend to Spain to walk the Camino. Prior to leaving, I read all about the transformations that people had along the way on the Camino and had a fantasy that I'd have revelations and experiences that would launch me into a new, inspired life.

When I hit the ground in Spain, I felt as though I were starting over -- that the future was so full of possibility, I could barely contain my enthusiasm.

The further we trekked along the trail, the happier and freer I became. During moments of silence, I'd think of my Mom and see her beautiful face in my mind. When we'd stop at the small countryside churches, I'd light a candle for her and thank her for being my best friend and guide. As I'd walk away from each church, I'd think of her light burning brightly within its four walls and my heart would fill and expand.

A few days into our trip, it happened. Life happened in a way I never had expected or wanted.

I got a text from one of my brother's workers saying he was worried he'd had a stroke. "His face seems to be drooping on one side. He needs to get to a hospital."

The world spun on its axis.

"What???" I texted back. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, he's not remembering any of our names. He's really acting strange."

All of my new found enthusiasm and charge for life was instantly drained. I sat down on a large boulder and tried to reckon with the fact that I was being forced back into a caretaker role. Without my Mom around and my brother being single, I had no choice.

"I can't handle this," I told my trekking partner. "I can't do it."

I hiked along in the middle of nowhere, wondering how I was going to pull it together.

Surrender -- fucking surrender. I'm surrendering, alright! 

I was angry and frustrated. My internal dialogue was tearing me apart on the inside.

My friend would try to get me to smile and laugh, but the knowledge of what waited for me back home made it nearly impossible. Thanks to my cousin and sister, I was able to finish the trip to Santiago.

I tried my best to surrender to what awaited me. It wasn't the trip I expected, but I attempted to enjoy the beautiful landscapes, the towering trees, the cafes we frequented, the wine we drank and the fresh food we ate after miles of walking, the dogs I fell in love with, and the people I met along the way.

It was as if the universe was giving me the ultimate example of the bittersweetness of life. There will always be painful challenges, but nonetheless there is beauty everywhere.

Upon reentering the US, I went straight to the hospital and it all started over again. The care taking. Decision making for a loved-one, doctors, medications, follow-ups -- along with having to spend hour upon hour in the hospital that my Mom fought her cancer battle.

It didn't end there, and it isn't over. My brother is now living with me and I'm trying my best to surrender daily.

Through it all, there have been moments of beauty. Moments that make it all worth it. Like the time I was driving with him and a bank of clouds swept over the hills from the ocean.

My brother's eyes opened wide and he pointed at the scene with wonder. "Look! How beautiful! Isn't it beautiful?"

I saw what he was pointing to and tears crept into my eyes. That simple moment made everything worth it. His amazement made it all worth it. The fact that we were both driving down the street living, breathing, and seeing. It made it all worth it.

My brother was so often caught up in his work life and busy world before his stroke that a moment like this would probably would never have happened. A simple, yet profound moment shared between brother and sister -- and the clouds, how beautiful they were as they floated into view.

This life isn't easy. But I'm learning more and more that I must surrender. To listen to the universe's wisdom and to grow as I'm meant to -- knowing that it will lead me to where I'm meant to be.

I know everyone faces his or her own challenges. If you're facing one, I can only suggest that you take in a deep breath, hold it for a second, and exhale with a sense of surrender. Know that it's going to be okay and look for the simple beauties that surround you.

It's there.

The human mind is an interesting beast. We hope for the fairytale. We want things to be easy... but it doesn't always work the way we dream.

Instead we are pushed to our limits, and if we look close enough -- we can find the meaning behind it all.

"Everything is perfect, Jen," my mentor Rob would tell me over and over again during our meetings. "It's the way it's supposed to be... where you are here and now."

Who knew that Rob was preparing me for my ultimate lesson in surrender. Thank goodness he came into my life - to be a guide.

And, so I attempt to surrender -- even when I hurt. Even when I have no clue -- actually especially when I have no clue as to what is next or where I'm supposed to go.

One breath at a time, one second at a time... life will spell itself out and beauty will arrive as it should.


Mom's Last Surgery & What It All Means Now

November 17, 2014 marked one of the strangest and toughest days for me and my family.

It all started around 4am, when my mom, sister, cousin, and I trekked to the Loma Linda Hospital to face the inevitable. Mom's endometrial tumor had returned in a monstrous form, and her surgeon was going to do his best to save her.

We pulled up to the curb in front of the hospital. I couldn't help but giggle as Mom climbed out of the car in her massive fur lined trench coat. She wore nothing but a semi-skimpy nightgown underneath, and her feet were protected by her flimsy house slippers.

While this was an unconventional way to show up at the hospital, she was still as regal and beautiful as ever.

We waited to be taken to the OR prep room and Mom was in pain. She'd sit for a few minutes and then slowly pull herself up to stand. The tumor pushed against her pelvis, making it nearly impossible to sit for any length of time. I could see the discomfort she felt in her brow -- it furrowed, she frowned.

"Mom, I just love your outfit," I said in an effort to make her smile. It worked for a few seconds.

"At least I'm warm. It's freezing in here. And by the way, if I don't make it out of here alive, I want you to bury me in this thing."

She was always cold, that feisty mother of ours.

Eventually we were led to a prep room, where various medical personnel hustled around in an attempt to get Mom's vital stats and info. The four of us tried our best to fit around her rickety hospital bed.

Mom was on fire with her quick wit, and I was filled with adrenaline -- wondering how this last ditch surgery was going to play out.

Before we knew it, they were ready to transport her to the OR.

"Anyone want to go with her?" asked the woman tasked with transporting her.

I headed out the automatic doors with them, and we began the trek. We passed a massive bank of windows. The early morning rays enveloped the hallway.

Mom looked outside and was awed by what she saw

"Oh, what a beautiful morning," she said.

Tears formed in my eyes as I looked outside. "It really is, Mom. It's so beautiful."

She always taught me to enjoy the simple joys of nature. It was so her to point out beauty, even when being wheeled into a terrifying surgery.

We were taken into another prep area. It was freezing cold and stark white. Mom asked for me to get her a pile of blankets. As she began to warm up, she voiced a thought that made my stomach drop.

"Jen, you know what scares me most? That they won't be able to take the tumor out. What if it's too big? What will I do then?"

I looked into her eyes and stroked her head. She was almost panicking. I tried my best to comfort and soothe her, as she did when I was a little girl.

"They'll get it Mom, they'll get it."

An anesthesiologist approached us with a massive needle to numb her from the waist down.

"Hold my hand," she sweetly asked.

The pinch was severe enough for her to shriek a bit. She squeezed my hand with everything she had in her -- or at least it felt that way.

Once the torture was over, her doctor walked up to the gurney and hugged us both.

"You're going to get it, right?" Mom asked.

He took her hand and looked at her endearingly. "We've got a good chance. I'm going to do my best. Gonna do my best for you."

Prior to her final departure to the OR, I said a short prayer with her. I thanked the universe for my beautiful, unconditional mom -- and asked for her to be given peace whatever the outcome.


The surgery was expected to last 12 or more hours.

"If we run into complications, we'll call you," her doctor had promised. In the meantime, I was getting texts from the OR as to how things were going.

Janine is now sleeping peacefully. 

The area is being sanitized and surgery will begin shortly.

Janine is stable and everything is going well.

The doctor has opened the abdominal cavity and things are proceeding nicely.

A few more texts streamed in, but about an hour in they stopped.

About 20 minutes went by and there still wasn't any word.

My phone rang...

"Hi Jennifer, this is Dr. Gomez."

My heart began beating so fast that I thought it was going to explode.

"I'm sorry. We tried so hard, but the tumor is too large. It's connected to too many things. We have to close her up."

"That's it?" I asked. "What do we do?"

"Just enjoy her while she's here. Just love her."

"How long does she have?"

"I'd say two or three months. I'm so sorry."

I hung up and sobbed.

How was I supposed to deal with this? How was I going to tell Mom? How was I going to tell my siblings?


It had been about two hours since the doctor called. I was getting antsy as I waited for word that Mom was being transported from the recovery room.

The call finally came, but it wasn't quite what I expected.


I assumed it would be a nurse.

"Jennifer... it's... Mom."

Her voice was faint and broken.


"Yes, it's me. Ah... they couldn't get it."

I was shocked that she knew already.

"They told you!?"

I was upset that she was told when she was all alone.

"Yes, we have some things to talk about."

"Are you okay?"

Tears were flowing down my face again.

"Yes, I'm okay. I had... a feeling this was going to happen. Just come up to see me... please."


They say in life that things never happen the way you expect them to. I never in a million years thought my Mom would have cancer, let alone die from it. And once again, there was a massive twist to it all.

I had envisioned consoling her about her death sentence, yet she was more prepared to calm and protect me, her child.

It figures, though...

That's how heroes roll. Especially, Janine my ultimate hero.


We're nearing two years since her death - January 17, 2015. She lived exactly two months to the day that I received the call from Dr. Gomez.

What does it mean to me now?

It means everything, really.

I had a few horrible days recently -- in which I couldn't quite catch my bearings. I was tired, overworked, and feeling off.

Instead of giving myself a break for dealing with the pains and strangeness of spending my second Christmas and New Year without my Mom, I judged and pushed myself. I bought into the idea that I was weak and insecure, rather than admitting I was exhausted and overwhelmed.

I'm reminding myself today, that it's okay to feel and to hurt once in a while... and make mistakes. It's even okay if people around you don't get it.

While the pains of life inspire the ego to harden up, I want to continue to soften. To love. And forgive. Both myself and others.

Above all, I can't forget that my magnificent mother's blood rages within my veins. I want to share in her sense of wonder that was even alive and well as she was being carted off to surgery. Oh, to marvel at the rays of morning sun, rather than being blinded by the fear of the unknown.


When I walked into my Mom's room in the hospital that shitty day in November, my sister joined me. We were both nervous.

Mom saw us and held out her hand. I sat next to her and wrapped my arms around her.

We were entering a new era -- a scary one.

Mom continued to throw out silly jokes. My sister made sure Mom's breakfast was ordered for the next day.

And we were happy, just to have Mom for another moment.

How to Avoid the Shattering Effect of Loss -- Or Can You Really?

The world never seemed so quiet the day they took my Mom from her bed. I was downstairs as they carried her lifeless body down the stairs -- wrapped in a sheet.  They placed her on a gurney by the fireplace.

I couldn't help but take a look as they situated her covered body and laid a corny fake rose over her stomach. The two young men tasked with taking Mom away stood quietly waiting for a signal from me to let them leave.

Panic ran through my body, knowing she'd never be home again.

They took her through the garage and placed her in a van. I could see the outline of her toes under the blanket.

They drove away.

Silence. The early morning was  so silent.


That's how I felt. That's how my sister felt.

Inside the house, we were surrounded by objects we'd seen most of our lives. The things Mom had so carefully collected over the years were in their places. Her clothing still hung in the closet. The signs of her struggle with cancer remained -- the morphine, mouth swabs, and various comfort items kept by the bed.

"Where do we go from here," were the words that we couldn't say. They drifted through the early morning air.


I know that my story is no different from yours - or from someone you know. People die. Moms die.

“He said the world is filled with people who have suffered horribly and crawled away broken. They never reached catharsis; they just got shattered and stayed shattered,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert in a article entitled “Your Pain, Your Gain.”

After reading these words just a few minutes ago, I couldn't help but wonder if I'm one of those people. Of course, I want to say "Hell no. When I fall down, I get up and keep moving."

I  want to be tough, and some of my questionable actions reveal my false sense of strength. It's easier to laugh it off when you want to cry your eyes out -- or pretend that you don't give a damn when your heart is broken.

But those moments creep in -- when the shit hits the fan and the broken pieces reveal themselves.


A perfect example is a handful of weeks ago when I dove for a ball during a softball game. My finger dislocated, and I'd never experienced so much pain. I tried to get help -- someone who could put it in place, but I was forced to do it myself. I almost fainted the moment it slipped back into position.

I did everything not to appear shattered. My teammates scurried around to help find ice and pain meds. I joked and did everything I could not to break down.

Once I collected myself and got into my car, I drove home and cried like a baby. I sobbed and sobbed.

Yes, my finger hurt so badly, but there was something even more devastating. This was one of the first times I couldn't call my Mom to tell her I was broken. More sobbing -- at one point I cried out to the universe and asked why I couldn't have my mom anymore.


So what's the secret to not being irreversibly shattered? How can we keep from being shattered?

I'm realizing that there is no such fucking thing. From the time we come out of our mother's wombs, we are shattered.

It's just that for some reason we don't want to embrace that part of ourselves. We're so driven to "survive" that we create defenses that tend to shatter us into even more pieces.

It's obvious, there is no magic formula to heal from loss and pain -- whether it be through death, a broken heart, or thwarted ambitions.

What I do know is that it's important to admit our brokenness and not be afraid of what this does. Healing can only come from a deep sense of inner truth. One that says, "I hurt" and "I'm vulnerable."

In admitting these things, it is then possible to surrender. To throw our arms up to the heavens and sob like a baby.

Don't hide away from what is happening. Don't medicate with a false sense of strength that will eventually kill our most beautiful parts.


I've been asked many times by my friends who haven't experienced any significant deaths yet, how I do it. How do I keep my chin up? How do I not stay shattered?

My answer is this... I will always be shattered. The best thing you can do is be both shattered and brave. In the realest way possible, acknowledge the loss and allow the love you received from that person to live within your heart. Shout out to the heavens if you need to. Ask why. Be upset -- then quickly forgive. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and admit that you are shattered too.


Every time I visit my hometown, I stop by and visit my mom and dad at the cemetery. Sometimes as I'm sitting in front of their shared headstone, I secretly hope I'll get some sort of message from beyond. One that will help me be a little less shattered or help me understand where I need to go from here.

Usually I don't notice anything significant. I walk back to my car with tears in my eyes knowing that I've got to keep balancing surrender and the push forward.

I'm learning to embrace myself just as my mom use to -- but now from the inside out. When I was a baby entering the world frightened, she was there to hold me, but now I've got to learn to soothe myself and sometimes even ask to be soothed by someone else.

Sometimes I want to push love and support offered by others away -- maybe out of fear they'll wander away too or that I'm appearing too weak. My lesson there is to open my heart and let others in. Quit saying I'm fine when I need a hug.

Being shattered isn't a horrible thing. Actually, I've heard it "lets the light in." If we're brave enough, we can embrace that light and become real, authentic, and brave in the most honest way possible.

Why the Dying See Their Deceased Relatives Before They Go – And What My Dying Mom Told Me She Saw

My quest to understand what the dying see began when I found out that my mom only had a few months (if that) to live. I wanted to be familiar with the stages she would go through and how I could best be there for her.

One of the things I read about the dying is that often they see deceased relatives or friends right before the end. In the world I grew up in (as a Seventh Day Adventist), I was taught that such things simply couldn’t happen. Yet, I read and heard story after story of men, women and children on their deathbeds who saw their dead mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and friends. The same is true with people who experience “near-death experiences.”

The logical response to this phenomena is that lack of oxygen and the consumption of various drugs can do crazy things to the brain. Who knows what can occur when a person is hanging on by a thread?

As we neared the last days of my mom’s life, I so wanted to understand what she was feeling and seeing. The day before she took her last breath I decided to ask her.

First I wanted to make sure she could comprehend what I was saying. I told her I loved her, and she raised her eyebrows in acknowledgement. Then I shared a funny story about a conversation my sister and I had. The corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. I could tell that she was taking in every word.

And then I went for it.

“Mom, can I ask you a really serious question?” She turned her head and opened her eyes fully. I could tell she wanted to grasp every word that came out of my mouth.

“Mom, do you see any of our dead relatives in the room? Do you see your dad?” she shook her head to indicate “no.”

“Do you see your mom,” she shook her head.

“Do you see dad?” (my dad had died when I was 10). Her response was quite different this time. She began nodding her head to indicate “yes.”

“Is he here in this room right now?” she nodded. “Can he see me?” she nodded again. And then she tried to communicate with words, but was frustrated when she couldn’t get the words out. I could tell she wanted to share her reality with me so badly.

The next day mom was in a different realm. She wasn’t responding to me or my family members, yet she was having full-on inaudible conversations with a being I couldn’t see. Maybe my dad?

At times she would become quite animated, speaking deep within her throat and making guteral sounds. At one point, she kept shaking her head and saying “no.” It was obvious she was fighting something. I sat down next to her and tried to hold her. My sister also came into the room to let mom know she was there. I then called my brother and let him say hello.

Shortly thereafter, mom began having conversations again. When she spoke to the invisible being this time, it was as though they were having a cohesive conversation — one that I still couldn’t understand because by that time her vocal chords were shot. She’d talk and then listen and talk again. It was as though she was trying to make sense of what she was being told.

The conversation ended, and a bit later her body constricted. Her brow furrowed. Then something profound happened. Her soul (the mom I loved and treasured so much) completely left her body. Her body continued to breathe, but there were no more conversations. No more frowns or grimaces when you’d adjust her legs or back.

What I saw led me to conclude that she finally agreed to go. Could it be possible that she went with my dad? That he was sent to take her away and keep her safe along the way?

While I can’t be certain, this is what it seemed to be.

According to David Kessler, author and expert on death and dying, the following things often happen when a person is about to die.

  • The dying are often visited by their dead mothers.
  • Their hands often reach up toward a force that can’t be seen. (My mom did this)
  • Family members and friends of the dying can’t see their visions or participate in conversations.
  • Visions often occur hours to weeks before they die.

While there is no “proof” that their visions and communication with deceased family members or friends are real, some death and dying experts are adamant they should be taken seriously.

“People think it’s just confusion or the drugs,” explains Maggie Callanan. As a hospice nurse for more than 27 years, she has helped more than 2,000 dying men and women in their last days. “But frankly, the confusion is ours. The patient knows what is going on.”

Dr. Martha Twaddle, chief medical officer of the Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter, explains further: “You can write it off and say it’s a hallucination, they’re not getting enough oxygen in their brain, but no, it doesn’t apply to many people in these situations. I have to believe they are transitioning; they are in a phase we don’t understand physically or metaphysically. And it is profoundly reassuring to see it happen.”

Following the death of my Mom, I am more open to the idea that something amazing (like my father being there to take my mom away) may occur. The experience is one I can never forget — and honestly I never want to forget.

Just a few weeks ago, I was wondering why I haven’t had many dreams of my mom since she died. As I was driving home from work, I said out loud, “Mom, it’s about time you come and visit me in a dream! Where are you anyway?” I then laughed it off and enjoyed my drive through my favorite canyon.

That night while I was sleeping, it happened. I had one of the most lucid dreams I’ve had in a long time. Mom was dressed beautifully. She peered at me with a HUGE smile. Her eyes were bright and full of life. She was happier than I had seen her in years. And she was younger, maybe her 45 or 50-year-old self. We didn’t exchange any words, but it was clear that she is healed, happy and free.

I woke up with joy in my heart.

Click here to read all about “5 Things I learned from My Dying Mother and How I Said Goodbye.”

being strong

Sometimes I forget That I Am Strong

Both during and after the loss of my Mom, I've been taking a lot of notes and find it important to share my thoughts on what I'm experiencing. In my mind, if one person who has lost a loved one or is going through a difficult transition in life can benefit from a word or two, I've done something right.

This evening I went to yoga -- and to my mat I brought a mix of fears, frustration, and tension. No joy.

Honestly, since the death of my Mom and the stressors that have come with the aftermath, I've really found it challenging to find joy at times. Not that I'm miserable or madly depressed, but I'm still processing a lot of what I saw and experienced. Plus, there's the void that comes with not being able to connect with her -- to ask her questions when I feel I need answers so badly -- or giggle with her until our eyes overflow with tears.

And so tonight, I went to yoga feeling completely overwhelmed. I had the urge to leave the moment I walked into the studio. However, I stayed and began to push my way into the first few minutes of class. Before I knew it, something profound occurred.

Somehow I entered into a beautiful flow. I became stronger than I could have ever imagined. My body knew what to do, and my mind let go.

It quickly became apparent to me that my resistance was all smoke and mirrors. I began feeling joyful. Not the kind of joy that comes easily, rather the kind that comes when you've climbed a massive mountain or reached a goal you never thought you'd attain.

As the yoga class intensified, my body and soul began to sing a bit. The words "I forgot that I am strong" kept echoing through my mind.

By the end of class, I was completely drenched in salty sweat and it felt amazing. My teacher brought a cold, damp cloth with hints of lavender oil sprinkled on it. She lay it over my brow and I was in heaven.

I had pushed my way through my resistance and was rewarded in a way I will never forget.

Life has brought me the greatest challenge in my lifetime in my Mom's death. Being parentless feels weird. It sometimes makes me feel very alone. Who knew that not being able to pick up the phone and call her would be so devastating?

Not that I don't have amazing friends and family, but it makes me feel like a baby bird that has been pushed out of her nest.

I'm being told to fly, but I hurt in ways that are unfamiliar. I'm exposed to the world in a way that is new to me. No longer do I have any buffers.

I'm learning it's all okay. Day by day, I'm learning. Over time it will take the perfect blend of momentum and surrender to help me understand where life is supposed to lead next.

Or better yet, for me just to be completely at ease with wherever I am at any given moment...

- By Jen Engevik