Standing in front of the Chippewa River with my mother on the day of my wedding reception in 2008.
At 11:50 pm on January 11th, 2012, my sister called to say my mother had taken ill and I needed to come home as she may not make it. As I felt the air escape my lungs, I saw my husband jump into action and start packing my suitcase. We agreed I should take the suburban as it rained that day, froze, and then began snowing.
It was so late when I left, and I tried not to think of her possibly dying. As far as I knew, she wasn’t sick, and she was only 64 years old. As if the road knew her fate, snow eerily whipped across it like the grim reapers boney fingers grabbing at life.
When I arrived at the ICU, I learned her carbon dioxide levels were poisoning her. My mother had COPD. She died around 9:28 am on January 12th, 2012. I was devastated, but I thought I would be okay as our relationship had been strained over the years as she was an alcoholic. However, I was not okay. I was gutted. My grief was instant. My mother died too soon, and we never got to reconcile.
At the time, I was not chronically ill, but I was a secret alcoholic- more on that in a different post. Besides losing my grandparents, this was the first time I tragically witnessed dying. I was in a depression for five months following her death. I could feel my body reacting to the stress, but I ignored my symptoms. I allowed my grief to consume me.
My father-in-law, Chester. He was a highly respected large animal veterinarian in Cornell, WI. RIP Chet the Vet.
In 2019, my father-in-law, Chester, died of congestive heart failure. This time, I was chronically ill. I lived with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis since 2018, although the symptoms of my disease started in 2015- possibly earlier.
Chester’s health had been declining for six years before he passed. In that time, I sobered up, rehabilitated myself and my little family, opened a small business, and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I was consumed with my wellbeing and developed a great deal of anxiety surrounding his health and mine.
I felt powerless and sad for my husband and his family as I knew the pain from the death of a parent. I had many emotions around some of the decision-making in Chet’s care as my husband and I were secondary caretakers of him and my mother-in-law. As the in-law, it wasn’t my place to interject my opinion. My mother’s sudden death triggered me during Chet’s decline. Consequently, from all of my grief, Dave and I were fighting more, my relationship with my in-laws was deteriorating, and my children were scared as grandpa Chet was their world. I developed IBS and had to have a colonoscopy. I knew I was putting my health in jeopardy. I had pseudo-MS flares and would lose vision in my right eye, have spasms and tremors on my right side, and at times could not feel my right hand. I was very emotional and felt the anxiety in my chest and throat daily.
All of it felt overwhelming. I knew I needed to decrease my anxiety so I called my doctor and started Buspar. It had an immediate effect. Within weeks I was less anxious, and my stomach returned to normal. I started sharing my grief with others and the connection was healing. I didn’t realize how much time I lost with Chet because of my meltdowns and fear. Once I could relax, I made my health a priority, and I became more present for my husband, my kids, and his family.
Addyson’s baptism. L to R, my mother, my husband and Addy, me, my mother and father-in-law.
Friends, death sucks. It is tragic and unexpected at times. It catapults us into grief. It forces us to feel, to listen to our bodies, and to cope. I created the video below in 2019, a month after Chester passed, but I am posting it now. Ironically, we are still in a pandemic where many of us have experienced losing loved ones, jobs, relationships, health, and so much more. We are at a time in our lives where we have no choice but to accept the deep hardship we have experienced. Please take care of your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing and allow your grief to organically flow through you.
Know I am here,
Copyright 2021 SHELLEY RAMSEY DEJONGH, LPC, CSAC
"I recognize why it’s SO HARD to accept a life-altering diagnosis. Embracing who I am has been the single most important aspect of healing for me. I look forward to uncovering what emotional healing is all about for you."