I lost my mom on May 27th, 2014. Her death was sudden, unexpected and staggering. People talk about loss and the pain you feel when you lose someone but you will never really know, you’ll never really understand, until the loss is your own.
It’s been a year and a half since my Mom passed away; since her heart ripped apart and she was snatched from us in between one breath and the next. And there are still times when the pain is so enormous that it steals my breath. There are still times when something good will happen to me, or something bad, and my first instinct is to call her and tell her. I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away. There are still days that I miss her so much that I can’t fathom how I’ve been able to go on.
One night, about a month after my Mom passed away, I sat at my computer, completely overcome by my grief. I sat here, sobbing, trying not to wake everyone up because I didn’t want to share my grief, I just wanted to let it out. And I wrote this:
When you lose someone you love, it leaves a hole inside you. A gaping, weeping wound in your heart where that person once was. There’s sadness and there’s grief and you don’t feel like that hole is ever going to heal. When you lose someone you love, it feels like the whole foundation of your life is shaken, like your world is cracked and there’s no repairing it. When you lose someone you love, it feels like you are a boat whose mooring has been cut; a boat that’s being tossed around on stormy waves with no land and no help in sight. When you lose someone you love, a piece of you dies as well.
In the weeks after Mom passed away, there was so much to do. There was going to the hospital to see her and feeling the ice pick in my heart all over again seeing her lying there, cold and still and never again to kiss me on the cheek and tell me she loved me. There were funeral arrangements and long talks with case workers and social workers and lawyers (Mom was my nephew’s sole guardian and now we had no idea what was going to happen to him). There was going to the house to pack up all her things and move them to my sister’s house until the family could go through them because Dad just couldn’t look at her stuff anymore. There were calls from well-wishers that I had no interest in taking and messages from people I had no desire to talk to giving us condolences we didn’t want. No amount of condolences in the world were going to bring my mother back and that’s all I wanted.
At her funeral, I refused to let the preacher from the funeral home speak. He didn’t know my mom and I wouldn’t let him stand there and pretend like he did. So my sisters and I, while my dad sat on the front row and cried, stood in front of Mom’s coffin where she lay in her jeans and the “I love someone with autism” t-shirt that my sister had gotten her for Mother’s Day just two weeks before, and we gave her eulogy. That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, standing up there and trying to sum up my mom in just a few short sentences. I almost didn’t get through it, but somehow I did.
That became my motto in life in the days and weeks and months following Mom’s death. I almost didn’t get through it, but somehow I did. And then the things that I didn’t think I could get through started to come faster and faster and faster and I didn’t have time to dig myself out of one crisis before the next one hit.
And suddenly, everyone was looking to me to be the strong one, to make the right decisions, to be there if they needed anyone to talk to. Suddenly, I was expected to step into the role that Mom had always played. The role of peace-keeper and shoulder when someone needed to cry and ear when someone needed to vent. I was so busy being strong for everyone else that I didn’t have time to grieve. And when things calmed down a little, I had so much grief pent up in me that I was afraid that if I let it out, if I started the flood, that I would never be able to dam it up again. So I held it inside just a little longer and just a little longer until keeping it inside was the only thing I knew how to do. And then it turned to anger.
It was huge, this anger, and it was uncontrollable and it was just looking for an outlet. As the anger grew larger, so did my sense of free-fall. I knew that if I let this take over, this thing that was trying to eat me alive from the inside out, that I would never be able to rein it in again and so I fought it. I fought it so hard that I felt like I had nothing left to fight it with and then I hit another reserve of strength I didn’t even know I had and I fought it a little harder.
But no matter what I put into the battle, I felt the anger taking over and it started to leak out. I had no choice; it was so huge I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I began to lash out at those who I cared about most – my kids and my fiance. I yelled at the kids for no reason and I made them cry. I was so easily irritated that even the slightest thing would set me off. The anger was so huge that the sound of them laughing – the wonderful, amazing sound of my children laughing – made me angry. Why should they be happy when I was so incredibly miserable?
We know from a young age that we’re going to outlive our parents. That eventually the time’s going to come that we have to stand over them as they’re lowered into the ground but you can never prepare for it. And I was completely blind-sided by the anger I felt. Anger at the world, at the universe, at God, at everyone around me. Why was she taken from us? From me? It was so unfair, I wasn’t ready, I would never be ready.
It took me many long months to put my anger aside, to wrestle it into a place in my mind where it wouldn’t destroy me and everyone around me. I still struggle with it, with the pain and the sadness and the depression and some days are better than others. I still dream about my Mom almost nightly but it mostly doesn’t cause me pain anymore. Now I look at it as a way to talk to her, to laugh with her, to BE with her, even if it is only in dreams.
I know the pain will eventually fade. That sooner or later I’m going to have more good days than bad and I don’t know whether I look forward to those days or not. But for now I guess I’ll get up in the morning and I’ll pull up my big girl panties and I’ll slog through the grief to get to the other side. Because I know there is an other side. I just have to find it.
Those we love never go away. They walk beside us every day.