My mom died exactly three weeks ago today. It’s hard for me to move forward with even the most mundane of tasks. I’m knee-deep in grief and can’t really put myself in a position to help others through their loss just yet. But, what I love most is couple’s therapy and it gives me joy to be back in my office giving of my time. It is a practice that, for me, helps spouses have the tools they need to support their partners through life’s biggest and most traumatic happenings. Like, when your mother dies.

To honor mom, please let me tell you about her. She was young, only 67 years old. She was an absolute HOOT! Everywhere she went, she made people laugh; it was part of her DNA to make people happy through her humor. Admittedly, I mostly just rolled my eyes at her shenanigans (I’ve always been the “serious” one in the family), but to other people, she was the person who put a smile on your face.

As a mother, she was amazing. We had our hardships growing up (we all have the momma drama, don’t we?), but where we really flourished in our relationship was when I had my own children and had some major “a-ha” moments. I understood how Mom was fearless, tireless, strong, courageous, loving, supportive, and overall, just there, no matter what. It is that there-ness that I am so missing now.

As a grandmother, words can’t begin to describe the depth of her love. When she looked in my children’s eyes, there was pure joy there. I don’t know what it’s like to be a grandmother, but I’m told it is the most amazing thing, which I can’t imagine since I think being a mom is pretty high up there. My daughters really shined – and giggled! – when they were with their Meme. She did all the naughty things I wouldn’t do, like take them to eat cheap pizza, let them have soda, and take them shopping at the Dollar Store. Oh, how I loathe all of those things! But oh, what I wouldn’t give for her to be back doing them all again.

I want to keep talking about Mom because it helps me grieve her. My closest fiends and confidants allow me to do that. When mom got sick suddenly with small cell carcinoma, then died only four days later, I found myself reaching out to anyone for help. I couldn’t grasp what was happening to my world. I couldn’t make sense of the depth of pain, and my desire to just hole myself up, pretending this horrible thing didn’t just wreak havoc on all parts of my life. I couldn’t find my footing.

Those who reached back are my rocks. They are the people who still call and text me everyday, knowing I probably won’t answer (grief does that), but just to let me know they are there. And I need that. I need them. I need to know I’m actually not alone in the world, although the loneliness feels earth shattering.

There are two people who have kept me tethered to the earth for forty-two years. One of them is Mom; the other is my husband (he’s only been around the last twenty). I’ve now lost 50% of that support, so now, more than ever, I am leaning on my husband. And, he’s there for me. He doesn’t always know what to say, and I can see that he struggles when I struggle. He is in pain because I am in pain. He tears up when I cry. He holds me when I feel my chest caving in and I can’t come up from air because the pain has become unbearable.

My husband hurts with me.

Through the years, he has taught me what love is, and probably I’ve taught him, too. Over the past several years I’ve consistently moved into seeing more and more couples in my practice because I recognized early on in my own marriage a few things. One, we need a tether to the planet; our spouses can be that person. Two, we all want to feel unconditionally loved. When a parent dies, for most of us that means the one person who would love you unconditionally, no matter what, is gone. A spouse can fill that void, and should. Last, marriage is really, really hard work, and we need help knowing how to be our partner’s tether. Those are really big shoes to fill, and it doesn’t just happen automatically when we say “I do.” That’s why I love doing couple’s therapy.

I am still grieving the loss of Mom. Even as I write this, I can’t believe she is gone. I push it away for most hours of the day so I can move on, inviting some normalcy back in. But when it’s quiet, mostly at night, I cry hard. I know that’s normal, and I’m thankful to have all my rocks checking on me, letting me know they love me – this includes my husband. One of my very good friends told me I should write about it, and she’s right (it pays to have close counselor friends). I know someone else will connect with my loss by reading these words; furthermore, I hope to help spouses find their own tether in their partner. That brings me joy, which I’m searching for in all corners now.

Have you lost a parent to sudden and unexpected death? I’d really like to hear from you. Share your story in the comments.