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Emails to my Therapist

Coping With Losing Mom

Dear Nicholas, This subject gets harder to write about. Writing a tribute was easy. Now three weeks after

coping with losing mom, flowers, funeral, brilliant color, memorial service,  her death, losing Mom is no longer a hurricane-style crisis full of shock and activity, but instead the start of coping with losing Mom, a long jagged process of dealing with the emotions and changes.

First, we threw her a wonderful memorial service, carefully custom-tailored to her tastes. She loved brilliant color, wore it  almost every day. So we got the wildest combo of flowers we could find. (On the left. Aren’t they gorgeous?)

Call the Piano Player

She’d left very explicit written instructions about how she wanted this event handled, including the phone number of the pianist she wanted to play at the reception afterwards.

She specified that he be sure to play “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” where she and my father lived for a while shortly after their wedding.

She named the hymns she wanted, which psalm to read–she’d told me long ago after attending a funeral that she didn’t want any new translations. I was to make sure that the scripture read: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

Certainly it should not be: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?”

Of course she wanted it in the church where she’d been a member for 71 years. None of us would have imagined otherwise.

However, the church sanctuary where she’d sat all those Sundays had been damaged by Hurricane Florence which tore through  her town about three weeks earlier. At first it seemed that the options were limited to two: go to another church or have the service on her church’s basketball court.

But by the day of the service, an edge of yet another hurricane, Michael, had passed through–and the company in charge of drying out and de-molding the sanctuary declared it safe, just in time.


Mom Had The Last Word

She’d asked for a standard Methodist service, with “no speeches.” But she’d also said to “make it happy.”  So my brothers and I gave the presiding minister plenty of good material, lots of funny stories about her, to include in the memorial homily.

memorial service, united methodist church

Mom’s instructions included that the minister end with the word, “Shalom.”  As the Rev. DiGiuseppe concluded, she said, “Margaret always liked to have the last word.” And so the service ended with “Shalom.”

What a Good Funeral Ought To Do

For me, this service and the preparations for it did what such a ceremony ought to do:

*provide a celebration of her life that reflects her soul

*let the world know what it has lost

*draw friends and family closer

*mark a turning point

*give the bereaved the satisfaction of creating a good send-off

*supply those feeling the loss most keenly with a warm blast of sympathy


A sort of high followed the service for me, at least what passes for a high in such circumstances.  That faded over a couple of days. When I resumed my usual routines back home, three hours drive away, I found that I was:

*continuing to scarf down sweets as I had when people were bringing food for the bereaved. Not in a scary binge, as in my long-ago eating disorder days, but still, too much sugar.

*having a few one-day bouts of depression, not sharp pain, just a sense of futility

*feeling fine some of the time, especially at work

*dialing the first half of her phone number before I start to think

*sleeping a lot

*and after two and a half weeks, going cold turkey on sugar for a bit, which is where I am now

The Next Step

The business of death isn’t finished. We have to deal with her belongings. I dread this. However we handle it, it seems to me the dismantling of her world. Of course her world extended far beyond “her stuff,” but for me every object of hers I think of pulls up so many memories and so many never-agains.

As I write this, it’s the start of Mexico’s  Dia de los Muertos, the annual festival that celebrates the dead, with food offerings, including a traditional sweetened bread, placed on altars for spirits.  Both my parents loved Mexico, so to them the pastries I’m not currently of the dead, coping with losing Mom

Fortunately, I do believe that, in some form, souls live on. That and Mom’s long and joyous life –and the living loved ones who surround me–are the best help.  Also, the fact that she’d be incensed if I didn’t handle this well. When she took me to my first time at a week of overnight camp, she said, “I will not be flattered if you call up wanting to come home….” You get the idea. One other Mom-ism: when my father died forty years ago, she said, “We honor the dead by doing our own work well.”

Margaret Payne, Harry Payne

So, on with the coping. And I welcome tips and experience here from any and all.






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  • October 31, 2018 at 3:49 pm Reply

    A wonderful woman and wonderful memories – a huge, necessary loss, which you and the rest of us who knew her will be long mourning .

    • Peggy Payne
      October 31, 2018 at 6:50 pm Reply

      Thanks, Bob

  • Ruth Sheehan
    October 31, 2018 at 8:57 pm Reply

    I love reading and hearing your stories about Tuck. I can absolutely hear her voice in that quote on your way to overnight camp. I think about her all the time. xo

    • Peggy Payne
      October 31, 2018 at 9:30 pm Reply

      Thanks, Ruth. There’s a wealth of stories. I keep hearing tales I haven’t heard before.

  • Judy Carrino
    November 1, 2018 at 12:23 am Reply

    I am sure those tales are a comfort to you – at least, they should be. She was (evidently) larger than life. I think it will take a while to process through her death. Don’t rush it.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 1, 2018 at 12:31 am Reply

      Not rushing, Judy. The tales are a comfort, and writing these posts help me. Thanks.

  • Margery Garrabrant
    November 1, 2018 at 12:55 am Reply

    My dear little Peggy…..wonderfully said and everything you are experiencing is perfectly normal !! Your Mom left many great memories to cherish!! Loved the picture of your Mom and Dad!! So many times he walked me home after babysitting for you, Harry and Franc!! I remember when your Dad took a picture of me when I was delivering newspapers for my brother and the bike with the huge basket fell over……and it had started to rain!! I also remember when your Mom painted one of the twins toenails to be able to tell them apart!! Take your time, my dear!!

    • Peggy Payne
      November 1, 2018 at 2:46 am Reply

      I wonder if my brothers know about the nail polish, Margery. Thanks for passing these stories on. I’ll definitely take my time–don’t think I have a lot of choice about it.

  • Lee Grohse
    November 2, 2018 at 11:06 am Reply

    Glad to have this to read. It’s giving voice to my recent experience. My father died in July so I am on this same path, just a few months ahead. For me, it seems also to include a long good-bye to my hometown. It was a place I could not wait to leave for as long as I can remember, but one where there was still somehow a base. And like with your mom, a place where my dad was well known and loved. B ut even at his funeral I realized that most of the people who knew him and talked about him only knew the older man, not the irrepressible scamp of a boy, the handsome young sailor,, the formidable young man. The people who could remember that part of him were all gone. I felt compelled to find a way to keep that person alive at the funeral and in people’s memory. I know that when I wind things up and sell his house, there won’t be any hone base anymore and no place where my family as a entity exists anymore. At this late date I am feeling sort of like a wanderer in life with no place to go home to.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 2, 2018 at 4:13 pm Reply

      You’re sure right about the loss of a home base. I felt that Wilmington was collapsing behind as we drove out. My brother Franc and his family still live there, so we’ll be there a lot still. But we won’t be gathering in the same den.I hope your wandering finds you a place to call home.

  • Robert J Braxton
    November 4, 2018 at 12:21 am Reply

    For decades after Daddy’s July 1988 death I saw him over and over in night dreams. After decades, absent in night dreams. Recently a return visit. Eventually he was healed and in the dreams this puzzles me. I determined to discuss this with “him” in the recent dream.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 4, 2018 at 3:42 pm Reply

      Very nice sequence, Bob! I hope the discussion happens and you learn what you want to know!

  • Kathy
    November 13, 2018 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Having lost lots of family members over the years and a spouse , your writing brings smiles and comfort. I so enjoy reading these. However, one note on the appearance of your site…I find the dark background makes it extremely difficult for my “older” eyes to read. Loookong forward to future columns.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 13, 2018 at 4:10 pm Reply

      Thanks, Kathy. And my eyes are getting older too. I now require a magnifying glass to do the Sunday Times crossword, or attempt it, I should say. Will reconsider the color. Does increasing the size help you?

  • […] every difficulty, including his own death. As I’ve written here before, my family has been dealing with loss in recent […]

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