During this time of year, I am often filled with sadness. I said goodbye to my beloved 52 year old mother five years ago, following a sudden and unexpected death. My first thoughts as the day approaches are always of great sadness. She has missed so much in the past 5 years. She wasn’t able to meet my two beautiful daughters, now 4 and 1. She wasn’t able to watch my son start kindergarten and move on to the first grade. She wasn’t able to cheer on her 6 grandchildren as they participate in their activities. She has missed birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, family trips, once-in-a-lifetime cruises with her husband. Likewise, we have missed hand written birthday cards, daily texts, the best Christmas gifts that only she could pick out – Ones we didn’t even realize we so badly wanted, and that only she could find.
From Sadness to Anger
Sadness turns to anger in mere seconds. It’s not fair that everyone I know gets to call “grandma” to watch their kids when they are sick. My kids’ grandma would love the opportunity, but she’s not here. She can’t get that call nor can she help. I’m mad that I don’t get to call my mom when I am frustrated with work. I NEED her to help calm me down on days when I get home and have 3 crying kids during the mad dash of throwing a family meal together. It’s not fair. Why did it have to be her??
There are fleeting moments between the tears and the rage where I forget this is my reality. My baby takes her first step and I instinctively reach for my phone to share this beautiful milestone with my mom. But I can’t. When the reality hits me, it hits me like a ton of bricks. I feel like my body is paralyzed with shock and all breath leaves my body. There is an ache in my chest where my heart used to be. Is this a panic attack? Am I dying? I just wanted to call my mom and tell her my baby walked.
I have celebrated 10 birthdays for my children where my mom was not on the invite list. At each and every one of those parties, it is inevitable that time will stop for me at some time during the festivities. I will look around at the smiling faces, of family members reconnecting and sharing simple stories about their jobs and their loved ones. I will hear the birthday song being sung. I will see a happy face blowing out candles. I will cut the cake and ask how many scoops of ice cream. But in the midst of the chaotic fun that is a child’s birthday party, I will feel her absence. I will long for her to be there. Singing. Giggling. Sharing stories. Smiling. Eating. I will go inside of my head and silently bargain with God. I could have done more. I should have asked more questions of the doctors. I should have come home earlier. Did I not pray enough? Did I not do good enough in life that she had to be taken from me? Please God, take anyone. Take anyone, but HER.
Learning to Smile Again
After the sadness and the anger and the shock and the bargaining, there is reflective peace. This is my world. This is my reality. I cannot change it. I cannot will it away. There is nothing that the doctors could have done to save her. There is no one to blame but simply a reality to accept. My mom is gone. My person is dead. I am living in a world that I no longer share with my mom. But my mom is with me always. She accompanies me to work each and every day. As I see the purity in my young students’ writings, I know how my mom would respond if I could show her their work. As I see the innocence in the face of my children, I am reminded that they are here because she was here. They are extensions of her life. They carry inside of them the joy that existed in her soul. It is up to me as a mom to encourage that joy and to allow them to see joy inside of me.
My kids can’t be picked up from school by their grandma, but they can hear stories of how their grandma helped nurse me back to health when I was on a sick day from school. My kids can’t be cheered on at activities by their grandma, but they can see pictures of grandma cheering on the world around her during they days that she could cheer. I can’t call my mom to tell her about a frustrating day in the classroom, but I know her well enough to know the advice she would pass onto me. I know what she would tell me on my good days where everything goes just right. I know how she would encourage me on the days where things were slightly askew. My kids will never get to hear Grandma singing them happy birthday, but because of how special she made birthdays for her children growing up, my kids will feel her love through my need for thematic, over-to-top, children-inspired birthdays.
My relationship with my mom will never have new stories. That chapter of creating memories is over. Reflecting on the 52 years of life she lived, and the 29 years I got to spend with her was enough of a journey to last a lifetime. I am so blessed to be my mom’s daughter. I am so thankful she loved me the way she did. I am beyond humbled by the upbringing she gave me and the example that she led in living life.
I am blessed because SHE happened.
Be sure to check out Grief Is for more stories on surviving loss.