I try to keep things positive and not dwell on the negative in situations. But it is time for me to slow it down and get real. I was invited to take part in a blogger series by Alexa with Healthy Dash of Sass about perseverance – how I struggled through a situation and came through it. I am hoping that opening up about this and sharing my journey through the loss of a parent will somehow, someday help someone else. Help them see that there may not be light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel does come to an end, where life is more tolerable and even the small things, like the ability to breathe, become easier tasks.
Everyone is aware of the reality that we all pass on from this life at some point. We all suffer through grief and loss differently, yes, but we all typically go through certain phases of grief. So although your grief may not happen the same way mine did, you will at least recognize it.
My mother was my best friend, the one person who was in my corner no matter what. She was like ‘one of the girls’. She was so much more than a mother to me. It was so much more than “just” losing a parent. We talked daily, even more than that. She literally WAS the glue that stuck our small family together – we would all attest to that – and without her, we have fallen “apart”. We don’t talk as often as I would like and we aren’t together at times like we used to be, for holidays, vacation and such. It is the truth, a sad truth.
My first stop on my journey was not wanting to believe that I would not hear her voice again. I attempted to save her voice mails and emails in the hopes that I could continue to hear her talk to me over and over again in the future. Sadly, as we are coming up on a full decade now, I no longer have that old Blackberry phone, or even that old phone number, with the voice mails saved. Before the huge iPhone burst, sharing and sending voice mails was not as easily done. I’ve also gotten new email addresses where my sacred emails from her, telling me what things I needed to do to function as a 21-year-old “grown up” living on her own, don’t exist. I had a hard time imagining that this could all be true. That I wouldn’t feel her warm embrace, hear her encouraging words, see her smiling face or smell the scent of her favorite Victoria’s Secret perfume on her. But, as every passing day proved to me, she was not going to come back. It was not a nightmare I could simply wake up from.
I was so angry. At first, briefly, at my mother for ending chemo and “giving up” so I thought. Clearly, now I know that she did what was best for her. And it was selfish of me to think otherwise. I can’t even begin to fathom how hard of a decision that was to make, and I didn’t even support her.
I was also angry at my boyfriend at the time. We had had a long distance relationship for a little while and then were surprised by a pregnancy blessing. At that time I moved states away to be with him, leaving her in her last handful of months. Clearly this was my decision as much as his, but for a short period of time, I held that against him.
Just 16 days after my mother passed I had my first child, meaning they would never get to truly know one another. The residual anger I felt has been at other parent and grandparent figures. Mind you, NONE OF THEM DID, OR HAVE DONE, ANYTHING WRONG. I was going through such turmoil that I didn’t know how to direct my pain. I know this will come out the wrong way and sound bad. But honestly, I was just so damn angry that they were present when she couldn’t be. And for some, I was angry that they weren’t present when my kids were already missing out on one grandparent. I put an unfair limit on them expecting just the “perfect” (in my very tainted eyes) amount of attention – enough, but not too much. Honestly, at that time, I don’t think anyone could have gotten what I was expecting, right. I was going to be angry no matter what happened. I dealt with this anger for a very long time, and still to this day have a hard time allowing certain things to happen, simply because I am so hurt and mad that my mom can’t do it. It’s awful and I continue to try to work through this because I know it is so unfair to everyone else involved. They are amazing people to have dealt with me through all of this. They are wonderful parents and even better grandparents and I pray that one day I never have any resentment or anger regarding my mother’s inability to take part in things they want to do with my children. I do feel I have gotten a lot better than I was thankfully, my poor husband was stuck in the middle a lot!
I suffered, and still suffer with at times, so much guilt and regret for how I treated my mother in her last few years. I have had this discussion with many friends and coworkers over the years: Which is harder to deal with, losing a parent when you were aware all along that you were going to (terminal illness) OR losing a parent tragically and unexpected?
The answer is that they are equally awful and hard. In some instances you might feel as though you could prepare for someone suffering a terminal illness to pass. But in my situation, whether it was the denial or the fact that I was young and dumb and didn’t have my priorities in check, having that time to properly say my goodbyes or spend every waking moment with her only left me with a boatload of regret. I didn’t spend nearly enough time soaking up her love and her companionship. I didn’t go to lunch with her enough, I didn’t spend quiet afternoons with her enough or sleepovers with girly movies, popcorn and painting nails. I even moved away within her last year of life from the same town as her to states away. Knowing what I know now, there is so much time that I would have given back to her if only I could. Surprisingly, I know that those that lose their parents tragically deal with the very same issue.
My father, rightfully so, fell apart when he lost my mom. He went into a deep and severe depression, so badly that he even took some pretty extreme measures to get out of it. All the while, I felt so much fear that I would lose him too. I saw him dwindling further and further away from society and anything that would make him happy, almost not allowing him that joy any longer. We even moved him up near us and our children, hoping that would help, and it did. He began to work again and enjoyed spending time with his grandkids. And as I had hoped and prayed, he made it through his grief as well, has now remarried and has found a new joy within his life again. The loss and sadness is still there and he still remembers my mother all the time as his first true love. But he has a companionship and love that makes life easier and keeps him going.
Anxiety came along with that fear, especially regarding situations that were out of my control. My most immense fear though has been the fear that I might get the same illness, or any terminal illness for that matter. That my children will have to suffer the same early loss that I did. That I will miss out on all their special moments. And let me tell you, from being in their shoes, that is an extremely devastating feeling. I have taken the appropriate genetic testing to put my mind at ease. And although it doesn’t mean that I am completely in the clear, my not having the specific BRCA gene does give me some extra hope that with the correct awareness and keeping up with preventative testing and measures I will hopefully be OK.
Loneliness & Sadness
My mother was truly my best friend. The bond between a mother and her (only) daughter is so strong, but exemplified tenfold when they are also best friends. She was my rock and did everything for me. She worried so much about me all the time. And although at the time it drove me absolutely bonkers, she would email me probably 10 times every day to check in and make sure I was doing the things I needed to. It is so damn lonely now, without all that. Graduating from college without her there to support me and be so ecstatic because it was something she wanted so badly for me, an achievement she never accomplished for herself. Walking down the aisle without her, shit, planning my entire wedding without her was one of the hardest times in my life. I found it hard to even get excited about a lot of it because I felt like I was being shafted by the world not having my mother there to go dress shopping and try cakes and pick out flowers. We made sure to make her present at the ceremony and wedding though. Not sure if you can see her photo, but we had a beautiful picture of her up with my bridesmaids and flower girls and a lavender candle, which she loved, burning next to it as well as bouquet of her favorite flowers holding her seat in the front row.
But the ultimate pain came with each child that I had. Especially the first one, being born only 16 days after she passed. To know that no matter how much I told them about her or showed them her pictures, they would never truly know her. She was an amazing mother and an amazing great-aunt, so there was never any doubt in my mind that she would have been the best grandmother possible. Three times I have had to go through pregnancy, birth and life with children not having her to call on for advice or simply just to spoil them like every other grandmother does. Don’t get me wrong, my husband has been wonderful through all this, and both my mother-in-laws have been tremendous through it all. But not having my mom there…it’s just a different loss that makes everything not quite right, no matter how hard anyone tries.
This stage is a long one. I say that because I am not sure that I am really out of it, and I feel like I have been here for quite a while. I guess it would make sense that it’s not a stage you would go through and leave. It has been almost a decade now and I have come to accept that I won’t be able to spend Christmas or vacations with her. I won’t be able to take my kids on a long weekend to go see her. I won’t hear her voice any more. I think this stage just becomes your new normal after so long. You will start to look forward and plan things for the future. And eventually you will be able to think about your loved one without pain, sadness yes, but that wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate good times to come and even find joy in living those moments.
Life goes on
Having Ashur shortly after my mom passed definitely helped give me purpose and keep me occupied so I couldn’t sit in my depression over losing her. I find that getting a hobby, accomplishing goals that would make them proud or (in my case) having children can help you move forward in life.
Another good idea is to find ways to memorialize them. I have photos of my mother all around my house, I have her ashes (since my father has remarried) in my home. I also started to keep a journal simply for my memories with her. I never want so much time to elapse that I forget any of them, so when I think of one I make sure to document it in that journal. Being her only daughter, I also have her wedding ring which I wear as my own. My husband proposed with this most meaningful ring and I get to wear it every day and think of her when I see it.
There are a few ways that I plan to also memorialize my mother, I want to use her handwriting to create a meaningful piece of jewelry like this one to wear. I also want to use a small bit of my mother’s ashes to create a beautiful item like one of these that I could wear daily, to keep her with me. These gorgeous paper-weight like glass items are also a beautiful way to keep your loved one.
Looking back now, I only think of the good times I had with her. My absolute most favorite memory is when she was very near the end and the brain tumors had taken over. She would easily forget things and would stumble a lot when she would get up, then she could not speak or eat. My husband, then boyfriend, and I were going down to visit her frequently during her last month. One time she got up to use the restroom, and one of us would always need to assist her there. As she got up, unannounced, she began to fall and my husband was quick to catch her in a face to face standing embrace, she simply began to sway back and forth and dance with him. It was one of those moments that you just smile and tear up, one of those moments that I will never ever forget. I think in that moment is when I knew that he was the one.
Do these small things. Remember them, don’t attempt to not think about them or forget them. I know that she would want me to be happy and live my life to the fullest. And it is ok to be sad some days. That is normal. But life, for you, does go on. Recreate that new normal. The pain and anger all will fade. But your love for them will not.
I wish you all the best in your journeys through grief of a loved one passing. Please feel free to comment below to let me know of ways you memorialize your loved ones or what helped get you through the phases.