It’s been 90 days since I heard my mom’s laugh.
There are some days that I still can’t believe that she is gone. I have a record playing in my head, “I hate you, cancer.”
I am in the grips of grief, finding relief some days and others, not so much.
This experience has opened my eyes as both a therapist and healer. I am always trying to understand why I am on this journey and I am starting to believe that I am going through this in order to help and support others (wishful thinking?).
I have been up and down, happy and sad. This second I am just plain mad. (Hello, roller coaster!) and I miss my mom like a child misses their teddy bear. It’s strange to feel this way because our relationship has been super complicated all my life.
We didn’t talk for six years because I had to walk away so that one day I could return in the hopes that the relationship would be healthier. (Sorry, I know that’s vague. It’s a whole story.)
I found out through the grapevine that she was sick with fibrosis of the lungs with only five more years to live. I had a million thoughts racing about what I should do and consulted many people very close to her. I know thank them profusely for their insight of “live life without regrets” and, “Michelle, keep it simple, just call her.” Woah! Call? I sent her a card:
“Mom, I am sorry you’re not feeling well. Here is my new number… ~ Michelle.”
I didn’t know if she would even respond or not, but I remember thinking that if reconciliation would happen, it’s now. I remember the moment she called me and I felt relief and happiness.
We talked weekly and then daily. She would email me beautiful messages signed, “Love you bunches.” Over the next year and a half we had the healthiest, loving relationship that any mother and daughter could hope for. We were having fun! Then I got a call that she was to go to the hospital after a chemo treatment. Her amazingly empathic nurse practitioner told us she would have one to three months left.
“What?! I thought I had five years! What is happening?”
All our options were used and now we would “keep her comfortable” (quoted for sarcasm, obviously). Two weeks later, my family and I spent two weeks in her Parisian shabby-chic home giving 24/7 care.
Then it happened. There I was, in her room alone, holding her hand whispering through tears, “goodbye.” I get choked up just thinking of those last days, hours, moments. Even proofreading this hurts. She was so strong. She never complained and she had an amazing sense of humor.
She wanted so badly to visit Paris so we brought Paris to her. Laughter and love filled her apartment. These are the memories I hold. Not the chemo treatment rooms or the long rides home pretending that she was going to stand next to me when I get married or meet her grandkids (ugh.. tears my heart out).
Now I am holding on to dear life on this roller coaster. No one tells you how you’re supposed to deal with grief so I am blindly finding my own way. Let’s just say, the last months have not been pretty. I’m like a schizophrenic Chihuahua. I can’t pay attention to anything longer than 2.3 seconds, I’m bored by reading and basically everything. Yoga used to be my go-to but now, oh man, after one vinyasa flow I’m distracted. It’s like ADHD induced by loss. I’m in a constant search for something that feels remotely normal or even just one second of peace.
So, rather than wallow today (maybe tomorrow is a wallow day, who knows?) I found these tips/tasks to be helpful in my healing process from the words of William Worden in, Tasks of Mourning:
1. Accept the Loss
“The mourner should face he reality that the death happened and the person will not come back. Some people however refuse to believe that the death happened causing them to be in denial, thus getting stuck in this first task.”
This might feel a little clinical and harsh but I get the sentiment. I face it every day when I look at pictures and realize I can’t call or visit. She won’t be at any major life events. There will always be that bittersweet feeling when something amazing happens and I can’t call her.
2. Process the Pain of Grief
“The person needs to acknowledge and work through their pain. If they do not, then they will carry the pain with them throughout their lives.”
No crap! This doesn’t get done overnight (I know). I was told by hospice that this process develops around three to four months after the loss. For me it involves coming to terms with finding old voice mails or not being able to talk with my mom about something crazy I saw walking in New York City. I am still figuring out how to adjust to life without my mom. “Who am I without a mom?” This is something that rocked my world. I would think, “Oh my, I don’t have a mother!” or “Oh, she will never meet my children I’ll have or see me married.” I had to make spiritual adjustments. I started searching for meaning in what I was doing (more below on this).
3) “Live effectively in the world by finding a place for the deceased in your emotional life.”
I love this idea! I like to find connections in daily life and nature that help me feel connected to my mother. I started walking on the beach a lot and praying (yes, I prayed. That doesn’t come out of my mouth often). I will say, “Okay, Susie Q, Tell me you’re here. Show me a sign.” Sometimes, I would get them and it is an amazing relief.
I started baking up a storm things my mother loved. In the early weeks, it was such a great distraction and a release. We also have pictures of her (yes, a shrine) and we talk to it as if it is her (don’t judge). Believe me, she had comments for everything and I just imagine her saying something while shaking her head. She would love to say, “Oh, Michelle!” after I said something just to shock her. My boyfriend, the doll he is, still says, “Oh Michelle,” to keep her spirit alive.
Lets face it, our loved ones would want us to heal and be happy. I hope my story helps you know that you’re not alone!
Author: Christie Page
Volunteer Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Travis May
Photos: Jeronimo Sanz via Flickr / Author’s own.