Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: I wrote in before about my mom having stage 4 cancer (bit.ly/Stage4Mom). Unfortunately, she passed away on Monday. I spent as much time as I could with her, but it still was not enough. Now what do I do? I cannot even fathom how I will get through the funeral next week, much less the rest of my life.

— Grieving

Grieving: I’m so sorry about your mom.

I hope I didn’t imply spending extra time with your mom could ever be “enough” — to ease the pain, blunt the force of the loss, preempt the grief, whatever else. I’m not even sure these are possible.

The reason for devoting your time was simpler than that: to enjoy her companionship while you still could.


(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

There are ancillary benefits, too, of course. Your presence no doubt was a huge comfort to her at a scary time, and now you’re also at lower risk of looking back and regretting that you weren’t there for her enough.

Now that she’s gone? You do as you did before: Keep living. The best you can. And I don’t mean being happy-happy-happy or excellent at everything or some other misconception of “best.” I mean by living fully, not trying to dodge the messier parts of being human. Cry when you need to, as hard as you need to. Don’t be afraid of the pain, or the intense love for your mom that makes this loss so painful. Don’t be afraid to love — and cry on! — others in your life. It might feel awkward sometimes, even scary, since love brings with it the risk of another loss, always. But such love at good times is the stuff worth living for. And is contained in the people worth leaning on.

Keep in mind, too, when you feel afraid of how much you feel: Such intensity can’t be sustained. It’s okay not to know where all the feelings are going to go. They will settle in their time, so trust that.

If you’re feeling dangerously out of control or bleak, then do seek help. Grief counseling often has a lower barrier to entry than other forms — in groups, for example, that you can find by calling a hospice provider for a referral, meaning no long preamble to an appointment.

As for the rest of your life, I know more about that than I ever wanted to, becoming a mother after I no longer had a mother myself.

Here’s the thing. I miss her, daily, awfully. But she is also with me in everything I do. What she taught me, what she felt for me, what I felt for her, even what mistakes she made, and what awful things I did and said to her as she raised me (or as she threw up her hands and let the universe take over) — all of it informs who I am and how I interact with the world. You guys don’t know how much you know my mom.

I used to be overcome with sadness that my kids would never know their grandma, but I don’t anymore because it’s so obvious to me now how much she is in their lives.

You will find your way through this. She raised you for this part, too.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.