I Can’t Find My Toolbox


I am a Death Doula and Grief Recovery Specialist. Which means I have been trained as specialist at how to recover from grief and deal with death. However, what happens when you have all these tools to deal with loss, but when you reach for them, you can't even find your toolbox? I have been looking for mine. My mother died 14 days ago.

The call from my father came just minutes before I walked my youngest daughter to school on her seventh birthday. We thought he was calling to wish our little one a happy birthday before she went to school. But after my husband answered the phone and I saw his grief stricken face, I knew. The Moment had come. It Was Here. I remember grabbing the phone from him and saying "Daddy?" I don't really recall anything until four hours later when I was on a plane to fly north to be with him, my brother and my mother's body. Days later my eleven-old daughter would recount to me that I took the handset and listened. And then I sank to the floor. I told my dad I would call him back in a few minutes. And then I told them that their Grandmere had died. My birthday girl asked "Why?" "Because her body stopped working." I answered. And then there was a flurry of slow motion.

I now barely recall my husband on the laptop booking a flight, our nanny arriving with open arms on her day off after my husband texted her, gathering my death doula kit so that I had the items I needed to wash an anoint my mother’s body, our nanny ready to walk my only-today-seven-year-old to school and me kneeling in front of my little one to tell her that I wouldn’t be at her birthday dinner that night because I was going to fly up to be with her Grandmere and Papa. And that we would probably need to post-pone her birthday party that Saturday because I didn’t know when I would be back. She asked what “postponed” meant. And then once she knew that it didn’t mean “cancelled,” she asked, “Can’t Daddy do it?” I asked, “Do you think Daddy can make jellyfish out of Japanese paper lanterns, ribbon and crepe paper?” She looked slyly at me and responded, “Prolly not.”

…ALL OF ALL OF IT… and then tonight.

My expectation of this experience was that it was totally okay that I was a “griever.” But also that “I totally had this,” because I knew what I was doing. I was trained. I was a professional. I also knew what I was not doing. What I was avoiding. During the planning of and the actual funeral for my mom I was: an event planner, a counselor, a professional, a rock. And manic, heartbroken, sad, strong, funny, a voice of reason. A daughter. A sister. A mother. A griever. And I had never done this before. I had never had my mom die before. I had never had my mom die when I was a mom. And I had to be okay that I didn’t know what I was doing, and to be gentle with myself.

My mother died on a Monday and was buried on that Friday. Pretty quickly for a Catholic. A really long time for a Jew, of which I had converted 17 years before. Today, on the drive home from her middle school, I checked in with my older daughter, what was the experience of Grandmere’s death and funeral like for her? She answered thoughtfully, that it was quick. And the Mass was confusing to her. And that was all she offered.

Fourteen nights later, when I was hysterical and hyperventilating in the downstairs bathroom, barely able to gasp out her name for help, after she brought me a lunch-sized paper bag to breathe into, and talked me down, “Mommy, you need to breathe slower. It’s going to be okay. Are you okay? Do you need me to call Daddy? Do you need me to call 911?” I told her how sad I was. How much I missed my mom. How I couldn’t believe that the world kept moving. How I didn’t feel I had had a minute or a moment to mourn my mom. That I had responsibilities – I was a wife and a mom. That I had clients to see and a house that needed to still run and I couldn’t Just Stop. She said that I needed time to sit shiva, and not have to do anything, like dinners or homework or dishes or anything, so I could be sad for the loss of my mom. That suggestion sounded like an oasis, like the escape I was craving and needing. But what happens when your parents are Roman Catholic and you are Jewish and you are a Grief Recovery Specialist, but you still can’t wrap your head or heart around how to grieve this loss and don’t feel that you have any right to ask for permission to have that time? That space? That suspension of time?

I am looking forward to beginning to embrace the process of my loss. Allow. Acknowledge. Accept.


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Leslie Gelfand

Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®

Grief Recovery West Los Angeles

(310) 461-4146

leslie@griefrecoverywestla.com