Updated: Jan 22, 2020
This time of year always triggers my grief. The memories of my Mother’s sudden death fourteen years ago rise to the top of my consciousness. Maybe it's the way the sun ricochets light through the trees at a lower angle, or the smell of fresh dirt in the morning air, or the sound of school buses riding children to school. But my senses all know what this means. It is the anniversary of my mother's untimely death. After fourteen years, it's still painful. After fourteen years, I always find it hard to believe she is gone. After fourteen years, I still want to hear her voice one. more. time.
My daughter and I walk around a church in town frequently because she has a crush on baby Jesus. I am a spiritual person, but wouldn't normally spend so much time in church. She loves it, and I like to say a prayer, so we go. It's always during the week when nobody else is there. The other day we were letting her three-year-old voice play with the echos in the hollowness of the church. On our way out, I came across a pamphlet for mother loss. It described exactly how I felt fourteen years ago — feeling like I lost the majority of my history.
I was only twenty-six when she died. She was my closest person, although we didn't always get along. I did my laundry and grocery shopping at her house in NJ midweek, even though I had my own apartment in Philly. And then on weekends, I would often find myself at her house again. Without these frequent visits, I felt very alone. I wondered who would make me tea when I was sick. Who would pick me up in the middle of the night when I had the stomach flu so violently I could hardly walk. And the good times... those were even harder to think about. There would be so much of my life she would miss. Of course, I had family and friends to support me, but in the dark of my room at night, it was just me. I would lay awake thinking about her last moments. Did she struggle to breathe? Did she try to call me? She was also alone. Nobody was there to help her. The realization at twenty-six that we all have to face hard truths about life on our own reverberated through my body with a nightly panic attack.
As the days wore on, I found more strength and medication #endmedicationstigma. I went to therapy. I grieved intentionally by looking at old pictures and crying for hours. I took care of my body. I spent time doing things that made me feel alive. I also made some hasty decisions and let my heart fly before my head. But this sense that I had lost my history, had lost my original foundation stayed with me, long after the intense grief period faded.
So that is why sitting in church with my daughter, who just said a prayer for my Mom, reading a pamphlet that described my exact feelings of grief fourteen years ago felt like divine intervention. The brochure explained how losing your mom means losing the person who knew "you" before you did, before you had memories of yourself. How it means losing your record keeper and the person to which you compare yourself, the reference point in your life.
Losing my Mom was like a ship losing its mooring during a storm, and floating out to sea without a tether. Not knowing it's way back to shore. As I stood in the gray church, surrounded in more than one hundred years of history with my daughter solidified my understanding of this type of loss even further. My daughter won't have memories of these early years the way I will. I am the person who will be able to say to her "you loved going to church since you were a baby", or "you have been a strong-willed, independent child since you were born", or "your determination and strength has been with you since day one, and I know you can get through anything". I am her connection to her primal self before she was even born. I am the one who can tell her she used to keep me up at night while she hiccuped in my womb. Or how her favorite book as a baby was the one I read to her while I was pregnant. In times when she doubts herself, she will have me to remind her, for sure, of who she is. In a world where sometimes people make you question yourself, I will be her reminder. I will always defend her when she needs it and hold her accountable when she slips. I will know her. I am her historian while I am here, and it is a role I treasure now that I fully understand it’s value.
So as I revisit these feelings of loss each year, I still feel untethered, but less so. Motherhood has brought me ashore. A place to wash up against, and bump into for a while — a spot I'd like to get comfortable with and weather the storms together. I hope I can be the mother I don't have to my daughter. And maybe this will help me ease forward, just a little bit more, each day.
If you have a child in your life coping with the family separation, loss and grief, please take a look at my children's book, A Grandfamily for Sullivan. It is a tool to help children who no longer have their parents in their life manage their big emotions and find healing in their hearts. #motherloss #motherlessdaughter #grief #deathofaparent #deathofmom #griefandloss