Monday, December 13, 2021

In Grief: Dreading Mom's Stone-Setting Ceremony

[Reviewed and updated August 2, 2023]

Believe you can and you're halfway there.  ~ Theodore Roosevelt

A reader writes: Today is 9 months to the date and day that my dear mother passed away. I miss her more than words can express, but I know you know exactly what I mean as you can relate it to your loved one that has passed on.

Anyway, it is customery in the Jewish religion to have a "Stonesetting" within the first year after a loved one has passed on. It's a simple ceremony at the gravesite that dedicates the headstone to the loved one who has passed. There are a few passages read and whoever wants to say anything can. When the headstone is placed, which is prior to the ceremony, there is a piece of muslin over the stone and sometime in the ceremony my brothers and I take it off. I am DREADING this!!!

When we had this for my dad, I was sad but not as sad as I'm going to be for my mom. During her funeral, I was in shock and numb and sniffled mostly, but didn't cry as much as I did before she died or the months after she died. By now I have had a lot of time to process and understand the grief process and I'm much more in tune with what's going on.

My husband and kids and I are flying back for this and the Stonesetting will be on the day after we arrive. This will be my first time back at the cemetery since she has passed away. I will see both my mom and dad's graves side by side right next to each other. I am scared that I am going to explode!!! Thankfully, it's not a long ceremony and it's more casual than a funeral. We have other family things planned for the weekend before we fly home. I'm kind of glad that it'll be busy and that I'll have lots of family around me in case I do need a shoulder to cry on.

You have been so generous in the prayer department...can you spare an extra one for me to help me get through this with grace? I want to be strong. I want to talk to my mom alone at the cemetery after everyone leaves. I want her to know that I'm there for her and that she will always be with me. She and my dad will always be within me. After all, they created me.

I'm very nervous about it. Every time I think about it I freeze and my stomach feels like I'm going down the worlds largest roller coaster! Any words of wisdom from you would be kindly appreciated!

P.S. I never use the word kindly when I write, but my mom always used it! It just came to me naturally as I am writing to you! I love when things like that happen!

My response: As you picture yourself at the cemetery for this stonesetting ceremony, my dear, ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?” Do you think you will cry uncontrollably, lose control of yourself, or otherwise “fall apart” in front of the other people there? If so, how do you suppose those others would react? Would they pass negative judgment on you, or would they instead accept this as normal and even expected behavior in such a setting, perhaps even reading this as a measure of how much you love and miss your mother? Would they be appalled at your behavior, turn around and leave in disgust? Or would they empathize with you and recognize your need for support? And who are these people who will be at the cemetery with you? Will they not be your closest family members, the ones who know you best? You say you’re glad that you’ll have “lots of family around me in case I need a shoulder to cry on.”  That sounds to me as if you like the people in your family and you can trust that they will “be there” for you in a compassionate and supportive manner, just as you would be there for them under similar circumstances.

If you really believe that you will lose control of yourself or do something embarrassing during this ceremony, what would happen if you share your concerns with one or two of your closest family members in advance, and ask for their understanding and support ahead of time? For example, you could say something like this: “I have no idea how this will go for me today, but for weeks I’ve been scared to death that I will do or say something stupid or silly or worse. If that should happen, please just bear with me, and know that I am doing the best I can. I need you to be there for me today, and one day, when you are in my shoes, I promise I will be there for you, too.” I’m reminded of something I read several years ago that I’ve placed on my website’s Comfort for Grieving Hearts page:

Remember that it won't always feel this bad. Somehow it does change. It does get better. At the moment, take heart from those around you who want to care for you and be present for you in your distress. They don't always know how, they don't always do it right, but they try. Sorrow is a matter of taking turns. This year, it's yours. Next year, it might be you setting the table for someone else who feels that they cannot cope. ~ Deidre Felton

You say, "I want to talk to my mom alone at the cemetery after everyone leaves. I want her to know that I'm there for her and that she will always be with me." Why not let your family know (again, in advance of the ceremony) of your needing private time to do this? You could even designate one family member who, at the agreed-upon-time, could quietly usher everyone else away from the site, so you can have your private time to to talk with your mom alone. 

The key to all of this, my dear, is good communication with your family members. You know yourself better than anyone else does, you know what you want and what you need to help you get through this, and you also know which person(s) in your family you can most rely upon to help you. In addition, you know that I will be there with you too, because you will carry me in your heart ~ won't you? 

Afterword 1: Marty, what you say makes sense. I will tell my husband to make sure that I need some alone time with my mom at the cemetery. We are a pretty tight family, so I don't think anyone would care if I cried. They would completely understand. I'm just nervous about it. It's the anticipation of not knowing how I'll be. But since I don't know how I'll be until I get there, I guess I shouldn't worry about it as much as I am. Another thing that has me a little concerned is that I won't feel anything while I'm there and regret NOT feeling anything. Like a protective shell...afraid to feel. I've felt so much these last few months that I don't want to go back to those awful dark times.

I know in my heart how much I love and miss her and I suppose that is the thing that matters most of all; not necessarily how I'll react to this event.

I know you will be with me and I really appreciate that!

Thanks again  for your thoughts and prayers!

I also wanted to tell you that my mom ALWAYS called me "my dear"! It was comforting to see that in writing, especially from you. You have been like a mom to so many of us. Your tireless understanding never ceases to amaze me! You truly have a beautiful gift...the gift of giving of yourself! Love to you always...

Afterword 2: I'm back from my trip back east. We had my moms stonesetting and it really went well. Yes I cried and yes it was sad, but some people spoke and it was very nice. I spent a little extra time at the gravesites of my parents with my daughters at my side and we said some private words to both my mom and dad. I actually wish I had more time to spend at the cemetery, but we had a busy weekend with other family events. We also went to a family reunion from my dad's side of the family. I was able to see some cousins that I hadn't seen in years. They were all glad to see me, my husband and children and they all had so many nice words to say about my mom and dad. I really feel like I made a real turn around a huge corner after this trip, all for the better.

This healing journey is so up and down, but the further time gets away from when my mom died, I am starting to see much progress in this journey. With my daughters upcoming wedding just about 7 weeks away, there are a lot of positive events coming up. I think somehow my mom had a hand in planning when she was going to die so as I could start the grieving process in enough time to be prepared for my daughters wedding. I know that sounds funny, but I really do believe that. I know my mom would have done anything to still be alive to have made it to the wedding, but somehow, she knew that she wouldn't make it but still wanted me to be ok for it. When she was in the hospital, she stressed to me to not deeply grieve for too long, and to keep keep the family together and to continue with planning for my daughters wedding. I am going to honor all of this as she would want me to do this.

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