The longest shortest year

You can’t explain the first year to someone who hasn’t experienced the death of a parent. There are no words or explanations that can give life to the grief, the pain, and the loss that you feel as you navigate your new life.  Everything I’ve ever done that involved my Mom will literally never happen again. Not a birthday, not a Saturday afternoon, not a walk, not Christmas or Thanksgiving, and in that first year, you experience all of those firsts.  The first year of complete void and nothingness in the place where your Mother used to be.

“I just don’t know how you do it.” I have muttered to friends and people I love who lost their Mother, truly believing that I did not know how it could ever be done.  Also, truly believing, that my time to walk that path had to be many years from that particular moment.

How does life go on when the very star, the sun that centered your universe shoots beyond your line of sight and into another galaxy?  I don’t like to say she flickered out because I know she’s shining somewhere, brighter than ever.

How does life go on in the after of complete loss?

It just does.

What was I going to do?  Quit my job and stay in bed all day?  I mean, ideally, absolutely… that’s exactly what I wanted to do.  I wanted to fold into myself and sink into my memories and never come out, never come up for air, and never figure out how to do life without my Mom.  Well, being out of paid time off cured that want pretty quickly and I went back to work.  I was a complete zombie, but looking back, I think it helped.  I know it helped.

You go back to work, you pick up where you left off with TV shows you enjoyed, you visit friends, you go out-of-town… you. just. do.

You don’t “move on”, it doesn’t get better, time does not heal, none of those platitudes are even remotely true.  You just keep moving forward each day and hope you feel a little more able than the previous day.  Grief changes.  It permeates your being and becomes a fixture in your everyday, it becomes as much apart of you as the skin that stretches over your bones and it seeps into your molecular makeup.  You carry grief like a backpack filled with hardback books, all of those books written for and by your Mother.

At first, grief takes the shape of unbelievable sadness.  That sadness extends beyond any sadness you will ever feel.  Then, emptiness.  Emptiness as you wake up, slowly, and realize this world continues to exist without your Mom.  There will, quite literally, always be the before and after.  There is who you are when your Mom was here and there is who you are after your Mom is gone and those people are very different.

I was not okay for many, many months.  Mom went into the hospital on 10/20/2017 (one year ago today) and passed away on 10/24.  She was buried 10/28.  I don’t remember much of the last 2.5 months of 2017.  On New Years Eve I cried because I didn’t want to start a new year without her and I begged Chad to stay home from any events.  I couldn’t imagine facing an entire calendar year without her, though staying home wouldn’t stop that year from coming.  Nothing, not even the death of your most beloved, stops time.

Winter turned into spring and spring flirted with summer and if you’ve never broken down and torn apart the home your Mother lived in, I do not recommend it.  It was the impossible task.  Her sweet little items, her clothes, her cat, the list was endless and it all needed homes and those homes could no longer be in that house.  That house is still an open wound to me.  I dream about it often and she is usually there with me.  Even if you’re an adult and you have your own home, wherever your Mom is, that is also home.  When that home is gone to you, when every home from your childhood is no longer part of your life, you realize the only ties you have to those memories are the memories themselves.  That first time when you realize you can never, ever go home to your Mother again feels like having a heart attack.

It’s been the longest shortest year of my life.  It’s been years ago and it’s been as recent as yesterday.  I used to absolutely love the month of October.  Way before the culture of Pinterest and scarves and pumpkin spice, October was my birth month and I was obsessed with it.  I loved fall, I love the leaves, the colors, everything.  This month, I’ve tried so hard to enjoy those things that I love because Mom loved them, too.  It makes sense that she died on the day the foliage peaked.  I’ve tried so hard to find her in the cooling temperatures, and in the reds and golds that scatter the hillsides.  I know she’s with me, but boy do I miss her physical presence.

Often, I replay the Friday to Tuesday turn in the ICU at King’s Daughters through my mind, trying to remember every single detail.  There were moments of laughter and terrifying moments of fear.  There was not one single part of me that thought I would never her bring her home when I drove here there on this date one year ago.  She was in a great deal of discomfort.  We listened to the Johnson Central/Ashland game on the radio and I tried to distract her and give her Dylan’s stats for the game and for the entire season.  It worked out perfectly that Central played Ashland at Ashland since that’s where KDMC is located.  Tommy and I got her to the ER, Andi soon joined, and we waited.

We waited what felt like an eternity.

Around 5:00 am, she was finally given a room in ICU.  Stage 4 cancer with pneumonia certainly warranted intensive care.  The nurse asked Mom a million questions, and finally, asked her if she had a living will on file with the hospital which is a standard question.  She burst into tears and said, “I’m just so tired” and I said, “I know, Mommy, we’re almost done with the questions and then you can rest”.  I will never forget the look on her face and how she wilted, and even more so, how apparent it was that she was ready to rest.  She was so ready to rest.

Some of the memories I have from those four days haunt me.  The memory of her sweet face looking at each and every one of us as if she was memorizing our faces gets me every single time.  She wanted to go home, but at the same time, she didn’t want to leave any of us.  I remember feeding her her last good meal, baked potato and salad from Wendy’s.  Tommy, Melissa, myself, and Chad surrounded her bed and she commented how handsome Chad is with a beard and was in the best spirits.  This was Saturday night. With Sunday came saturated lungs that only worked at 37% anyway, ever complicated masks to help oxygen flow, and ultimately the bipap mask that sealed the deal.  It was horrifying.  That mask was miserable and I couldn’t and wouldn’t ask her to wear it for one more second to accommodate an arbitrary date.

She was everyone’s everything and that is not an exaggeration.  She wasn’t the same Mother to me as she was to Tommy and Andi — she was what we all three needed.  She wasn’t the same sister to Sharon and Pam — she was what each of them needed.  She was everything.

The fruition of my Mother’s faith came to pass on my 31st birthday.  That’s a beautiful and absolutely truthful way to put what happened that day, but it doesn’t begin to encompass the feelings I have since navigated.  I have been very angry.  Not about my birthday, but losing her in general.  I get very mad at the choosing of my most precious, wonderful person and not someone else who I feel deserved death more.  But, that isn’t even close to how it works.  She was ready.  That 110 pound shell was done.  Even still, coming to terms with the how and why is extremely difficult.  But, I think I have found that peace or I am at least actively working toward it.

As I sit 4 days out from that anniversary, the marking of the first year and my 32nd birthday, I chose to write and post this before the exact date.  My Mom would not want me to dwell on the sadness on that day.  If she could have changed it, I know that she would have chosen to pass on another day, but that isn’t something you ever get to choose.  And honestly, that’s okay.  It’s okay.  It was a special day to her before and it is the most special date to her now.

There will never be a day that I don’t miss her.  Not one.  But, I know that she isn’t here in this unexplainable void and sadness.  She is in the sun, she is in the leaves, she dwells in goodness and light, in the voices and faces of my siblings, her sisters, and my niece and nephew.  I find her in the mirror, sometimes.  I find her in my own voice pretty often.  I find her, always.

I will find her always.

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183.

I talk to God about you and I ask Him what you’re doing.  I hope He hears me. I hope you do, too.

I imagine you walking through fields of flowers, flowers I’ve never seen, but I try to cling to the colors of what might be.  I wonder if your hair is still red, do you still have freckles, and if your hazel brown eyes are still the same. I hope I would recognize you if I saw you, but I can’t be sure..  You’ve visited me in dreams, just like you were on this Earth, and in those dreams you look the same, but I know you’re different, too.

Is your house beautiful?  Is it a cottage like you dreamed?  Are Sawyer and Sally there? How close do you live to Mamaw and Papaw?  Granny and Papaw? I have so many questions, six months worth of what ifs and what could I have done differently and every variant thereof.  I sleep under a blanket of your pictures and it was supposed to just be for a while, but now it’s comforting. Sometimes I lay my face against your picture and cry.  Sometimes I just whisper, “Oh, Mommy” and sometimes, I don’t say anything at all.

I think Heaven is real and you are there.  I think about it a lot. I think about what it would be like to hug you again and feel you embrace me with both arms wrapped around me.  I want to ask what it’s like to have full use of that left arm, to feel no nerve pain, to be whole. I never wished for more time or prayed for it.  I just prayed that you wouldn’t suffer because I knew I could handle thinking about what you have gained easier than I could watching you deteriorate.  I told you that in 2016. I said, “Mommy, I can do this. I can put you on the point [family cemetery]. I can do this life without you before I can watch you suffer on this Earth” and we both teared up, eyes big, staring at each other.  Your eyes told me you didn’t want to leave me as much as I never wanted you to.

I wish for more time now.  I have a lot of trouble with the last two and a half months of your life and coming to terms with not seeing you enough.  We talked everyday, but I didn’t visit enough and I didn’t change my routine. I remember lamenting over not wanting you to feel like I thought you were dying.  I can’t explain it; I knew you were dying, but I didn’t think you really would, which I realize sounds insane. After you died, 3 books about healing scriptures came in the mail to you.  You ordered them at the beginning of October, so I don’t think you thought you were dying, either. You didn’t plan to leave me here. You didn’t plan to leave on my birthday.

My life is measured in who I was before 10/24/17 and who I am after; Those two people are not the same.  In some ways, I am much better. The kindness and softness you offered people is something I aspire to have and be and something I could never quite reach prior to losing you.  Maybe it’s part of my call to fill that gap, though I will never be as kind and inviting as you, I imagine. I feel like I have aged in dog years in the last 183 days. I feel like it’s been one million years and one day all at the same time.

 

 

Everything I have written since October has been some form of a letter to my Mom.  It’s gut-wrenching to read anything I wrote just after her passing and relive that initial loss and pain.  I try to go there as little as possible. I thought I would shift gears in this particular blog and change the voice and stop writing as if I am speaking to her.  I am always speaking to her. I carry her with me in my heart everywhere, but life requires me to be present and I have to keep pressing and pushing myself forward.

I could probably teach a masterclass in loss and grief.  If you’re reading this, you might know me personally or you just follow on social media. You’ve likely watched as my posts veered away from my Mom and back to real life.  Life continued and that is still the craziest thing to me. I had to go on. At some point I realized that moving forward was not forgetting my Mom because of course I could never do that.  Moving forward was healthy, it was living, it was part of the process. The long, never ending, arduous process of grief.

For several months after she passed, time stood still.  I went through the motions of holidays but I don’t remember much about any of those particular days.  On New Year’s Eve, Chad and I went to a friend’s house and I had to heavily self medicate because I was so worried someone would ask me how I was doing.  Spoiler — absolutely awful was the answer. I hardly remember anything about that night other than being in a room full of people I love but feeling like I wasn’t there at all.  I was different, but I knew I had to find my way back to myself.

More often than not, tears sting my eyes at the mention of her name.  When I see pictures of her, I cry and smile at the same time. The joy my Mom brought to my life was unspeakable and everything since her passing has been marked with tangible sadness, but still, we move forward.  She would want it that way. Mom would want her legacy to go on exactly how she lived; full of hope, kindness, and love for people and the Lord. She would want nothing more than for all things concerning her homegoing to be worked together for her children and grandchildren’s good.  She placed her entire life firmly upon that word found in Romans.

I miss my Mom.  Every second of every single day.  I’m not lying when I tell you that a single hour does not pass without her crossing my mind.  I was her clingy child, I held her hand as an adult when we were in public together, I rested my head on her shoulder in church, I was very affectionate with her to the point that I probably annoyed the life out of her.  Never did I truly envision my life without her, without her voice, her laugh, the hilarious faces she would make during conversations, her sometimes too close talking, and how she would bug her eyes out and just peer right at you.  I just didn’t know how this would be. The answer is hard. It’s very hard.

My love for her transcends time and space.  No matter where she is in the universe, she is with me in my heart.  I hold on to that when things get hard, when I feel like I can’t go on without her.  My sweet little Mommy, the most beautiful person I have or will ever know.