The loss of a parent creates a void that is indescribable.
These first 12 months without my Mom have made me realize how I’ve wrestled with two very distinctly different types of loss.
My pain felt predictable and was anticipated. It was the immediate feeling of loss. A feeling that for me, was also tied up in all of the tasks that accompany being the executor of an estate. It occupied my thoughts for several months. Deep down I was glad for the distraction as it was good for me. It helped me process the grief I was feeling as I’m a task master so it served me well in those early days.
This was also the time I felt my grief turn into anger. The anger expressed itself as road rage combined with a healthy dose of yelling at strangers in the grocery store.
One day someone behind me in line started placing their items on the checkout counter belt while I was placing mine. This is definitely a pet peeve of mine. If it were a normal day, I would have probably given them a dirty look and continued on my way, but not this day. On this day I yelled. I verbally attacked this stranger and I shamefully admit how good it felt to release that dam of anger inside me. It immediately made me feel lighter and a created a sense of freedom I hadn’t experienced in months.
I should have done more to release that anger bubbling up inside me. That’s not how a girl who grew up in the 1970s was taught to deal with her emotions. We didn’t talk about the big stuff or the tough stuff. I learned most of what I needed to know about the birds and the bees from my friends at school because that’s just how it was back then.
Fast forward 35+ years, and here stands that 48-year-old girl who’s now in the grocery store yelling and screaming in her car when she’s alone. She has so much anger and sadness built up. She doesn’t know where to put it but doesn’t want to direct it toward her girls or her husband. So I put it on the shoulders of strangers. It seemed easier to yell at people I didn’t know.
Sorrow settled into my bones and my gut. Sorrow has absolutely no rhyme or reason as to when it will appear. Just as I was starting to have a normal day, sorrow barged in and dragged me right back to the day she died.
Sorrow takes your breath away when you least expect it.
Months passed and it stared to get quiet. Life marched on, people stopped asking how I was doing. It’s a natural part of the process and that’s exactly when this new deep feeling of sorrow started to infiltrate my mind and came over me like a wave. It presented itself to me in the form of many little reminders of what my new normal had become—life without my mother.
For years since my two girls started kindergarten, my mom would join us to go school supply shopping. The endless lists and having to cross things off and find precisely what was needed was right up Grandma’s alley as she was so unbelievably organized and the girls loved this tradition.
This past summer, the time approached for us to tackle the school supply shopping. There it was. The unexpected “first without Mom and Grandma” that I didn’t plan for and it hurt my heart in indescribable ways. This was sorrow for me. It wasn’t an event we were anticipating like Mom’s birthday where we decided to plan a family trip to celebrate and remember her. This feeling of sadness came out of nowhere and struck me at a moment I least expected. We all felt the void and it was crushing.
I asked my daughters if they wanted to order their supplies on Amazon, and they immediately said yes. There were no questions, no discussion about it; I knew they felt the sorrow, too.
I’m grateful for the sorrow. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that it’s been the processing of the sorrow that has allowed me to make space in my heart and mind for some of the goodness to come back in. The fun memories of mom, the funny things she said and did.
The other day my sister called and shared she needed new capri pants for spring. She laughed which then triggered me to start giggling and there we were. The two of us giggling on the phone together as we vividly recalled Mom calling us what seemed like every single spring to announce she needed to go shopping for capri pants! It made me laugh and I loved the feeling.
Then it came to me, a memory that perhaps my brain didn’t let my mind wander to until I was ready to receive it.
It was my birthday. I unexpectedly spent the afternoon and evening in the emergency room with my Mom after she had been rushed there. I remember arriving and the nurse escorting me to her. As I was walking down the hall, my mind’s eye envisioned the mom I knew my whole life. My mom with her hair done just so sitting up waiting to greet me. But when I first laid eyes on her, I thought the nurse brought me to the wrong person. I didn’t recognize my mom even though I had been with her three days earlier.
After being in the ER for hours, I decided it was time to take her home. She was quiet most of the ride and reclined in my passenger seat with her eyes closed.
She then turned her head and in the most normal voice I had heard her use in months said, “So sorry I ruined your birthday.” I looked over at her and replied, “Oh, please, are you kidding? I just turned 48 and would much rather we forget about THAT!” And we giggled. We giggled!
It was only about a 20 second exchange but the sound of her voice, her little laugh allowed me to feel, even for a brief moment, everything was normal again. As if we were just driving down the road together after one of our shopping trips like we had done so many times before.
It was such a gift.
That exchange turned out to be the last words Mom ever spoke. We were not talking about how she felt, medications, or doctor’s appointments like we had done for the previous four months. It was just the two of us having what was to be our last moment of funny banter and I’m so incredibly grateful for it.
I’ve replayed that drive home from the hospital over and over because I questioned if we said anything else to each other that night. There were no other words exchanged between us while I was getting her settled into bed. She was so weak and tired, I wanted to get her tucked in and thought I would talk to her in the morning. I sat on her couch as she started to take what turned out to be her last breaths.
It has taken the better part of a year to identify the beautiful gift my mom left me. This bittersweet moment between us in the car, hearing her little laugh in my head, will be my birthday gift every single year for the rest of my life. This is how it should be, and is by far the best way to honor her going forward. To focus on the good memories, the laughter.
It’s a process. The grief, the sorrow, which if we let it do it’s job, can lead us to the gift of memories.
And Mom, I know you know, I’d rather forget about turning 49 as well.
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