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.