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Carolyn Hax: A beloved mother’s sudden death and the grief left behind

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My mom died three weeks ago of an aggressive cancer that had been diagnosed just a month prior. I’m having a really hard time. I still can’t fully grasp that she’s gone. I am filled with grief to think I’ll never talk to her again. We talked every day. I know you went through this with your mom and would love to hear any advice for dealing with this.

— Grieving

Grieving: I am so, so sorry.

I wish I could take some of the pain away for you, but I don't think it's in anyone's power.

Feeling the pain, though — in this unrelenting flood of it now, then in waves as the waters start to recede, then intermittently throughout your life, whenever it feels like washing over you — is how you get through it.

The pain is going to find you whether you let it or not. When you give yourself over to it, though, you take the intensity upfront, and get started early on the body's process of adjusting.

I’ve said often that intense emotions are hard to sustain; we naturally adapt to them and to the changes that brought them. So, you won’t love or miss your mother any less, you’ll just be able to think of her and miss her without the acute sense of loss. This can be hard to envision now, so just trust that it’s coming.

In time, too, you will be able to see this yearning as a way of keeping her memory close. You hurt so much because she meant so much, and you were so lucky to have had each other. You carry a lot of her with you, and just because you are no longer adding new memories of her to your collection, that doesn't mean you won't rediscover some of the old ones or see her in new ways as you move through your life.

Readers' thoughts:

· I lost my wonderful, beloved father just as unexpectedly, and you’re in for a very rough ride that you will survive. I feel more terrible for you than I can say. The first Mother’s Day, birthday, holiday season — they’re all terribly hard. I just want to add my support to Carolyn’s, plus one thing my grandmother said: The pain doesn’t get any less, but your ability to cope with it grows. Hugs.

· After my mother died, I found great peace as I sat down and wrote a biography of her. Remembering sweet memories, some honest memories and seeing her through my adult eyes instead of childhood eyes was very meaningful and comforting.

· My mother died of cancer when I was a teenager, when my opinion of her was deeply tinged with adolescent conflicts. Then I watched my friends’ relationships with their mothers as adults, and when I achieved something, I imagined how she would appreciate it. Sometimes I find out something new about her, and once I found a pair of letters from her to me at camp that I had forgotten about. So her memory lives. This will happen for you. You can bring your mother forward into your life in this way.

Carolyn: I’m the one whose mom died. Reading these responses feels like a hug. Thank you, thank you.

— Grieving again