This Mother’s Day we want to acknowledge those in our community who may have a hard time this Mother’s Day due to their passing. We send you love and this note of survival, process and relearning how to live.
Some deaths force us to relearn how to live.
I’ve survived one such loss. When the keystone of my family died, suddenly the world — life itself — seemed unstable. I had lost half the foundation of my childhood — my mother. Gone was the woman from whom I had gained so much of my identity. Gone was my first female role model. Gone was the woman who had birthed me into being — the first woman I had loved, the first woman who had loved me. My mother had been such a large and important part of my life that I feared her death would kill me. How could I possibly survive the reality that she was no longer living?
When my mother passed away, at first I believed that to maintain anything less than a state of perpetual sorrow for the rest of my life would be to dishonor her memory. But I also knew she’d want me to rediscover my joy. So then I spent years feeling guilty for wallowing and guilty for feeling happy.
I’ve had to let go of what I used to think mourning a loved one meant. I’ve had to make sure that I didn’t let her death stop me from living because, for a while there, I stopped actively participating in my life. I put everything on pause internally while I waited for “the real me” to return. It took me a while to realize I would never be (could never be) who I was. There was no “real me” to wait for. I’d have to find a way to mourn but go on living. I’d have to find a way to survive her death — to let it change me, but not destroy me.
Surviving my mother’s death wasn’t easy. I was in a sad state. The pursuit of sanity was driving me crazy. Trying to seem stable while I was still emotionally raw and psychologically fragile was exhausting. I’d wake up every day and search the ceiling above my bed for a reason to get out of it. Keeping up appearances (and holding on to my job) became my only modicum of motivation. I’d go through the motions of responsible adulthood, but it was all just a façade I’d built to look like life.
In reality, I was empty. Living felt like dying. I was suffocating in a world full of air. The simplest task — getting dressed, showering, or cooking a meal — felt like climbing a mountain with another mountain on my back. Any happiness I managed to scrounge up would quickly evaporate. I found it difficult to care about anything.
For me, mourning is like surviving a botched amputation. First there is pain — acute, debilitating pain. Then grief spreads like gangrene, making everything dark and black. More must be cut away. My mind would play tricks on me at first. I’d think I heard my mother calling my name or her key in the front door. I’d see a woman who, from a distance, looked like her. Time passed (months upon months — years) and those phantom sensations began to occur less and less often. I stopped seeing her in a crowd or hearing her voice in the silence.
Eventually I learned how to manage (as opposed to faking it). I found emotional crutches and prosthetic relationships. It all took some getting used to, but it helped. Some days I could almost forget the loss, but other days I was keenly aware of being incomplete — of that missing part. On my worst days, the wound felt fresh. On my worst days, I felt entombed by her death.
Losing a loved one is a lifelong process.
It’s been more than a decade since my mother died, and I am still figuring out how to live without her.
I’ve never mastered mourning. I’m still learning. I’ve spent a lot of time failing and flailing and pulling away from the world. Fortunately, I have loved ones who will faithfully wait in the wings for me until I reemerge.
Even though it pains me to admit it, life in the wake of my mother’s death has become normal — which is different from easy.
I don’t have anything that smells of her any more. I’ve lost the taste of her cooking. In a few years, the time our lives overlapped will become less than half the years of my life. I’m no longer trying to be who I was before she died. I now recognize that version of myself as a mirage.
My mother’s death forever changed my life’s trajectory, but her life affected me even more deeply.
She was an amazing woman. She spoke her mind with complete and loving honesty. She was beautiful and smart and funny. She had her imperfections, but she wore them flawlessly. Her eyes lit up when she smiled — eyes that looked like mine, but not as squinty! Her faith humbled me. I marveled at her ability to spend hours poring over the “boring” parts of the Bible. She knew how to splurge, save, and give generously. I miss her for a lifetime full of reasons and a good woman’s worth of qualities.
My mother’s death is the hardest thing I’ve yet had to survive. And the second loss was the version of me that also died.
I’ve had to relearn how to live and move through the world. Now I must say that I am who I am because of and without her.
[Feature Image: A photograph of a person’s face looking upward at a tree. They have straight black hair. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diophoto/7082694959/]