On Being a Motherless Mother

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Today marks five years since my mom passed away. Like every single day, I miss her terribly and wish she were here. This year is especially difficult because I am a mother now as well and feel like I am missing out because she isn’t here to experience it with me.

The night before my mom died, I remember thinking a few different things. The first thing that crossed my mind was, How are we ever going to celebrate the holidays again? Thanksgiving is next week. The next thing I thought was, I am never going to have children if it means that she won’t be able to meet them. I swore to myself that there was no way I would ever want to have a baby because my child would never know their nana, and she would never meet her grandchild. I felt this way for a long time, but then my best friend, Christina, gave me some amazing advice that made me change my outlook on the situation.

During my pregnancy, I mostly ignored the fact that my mom wasn’t around. This was especially hard because pretty much every baby book and website tells you to turn to your mom, sister, or aunt when the baby arrives. Also, doctors constantly ask about your mother’s pregnancy and labor, so I was continually having to tell people that she had died several years prior. This always led to looks of sympathy and apologies on their part and lots of awkwardness on my part. I turned to my dad for answers to my questions about my mom’s pregnancy – Did she have a lot of morning sickness? How long did she work? Were there any complications? How long was her labor? Did she have an epidural? What was her recovery like?

Then Baby E was born and the second I looked into her eyes my heart swelled with more love than I have ever known in my whole life. And I finally understood my mother. I realized in that moment that all the times she asked about my day she wasn’t trying to be nosy, she asked because she cared. When she wanted a hug she wasn’t being weird and pushy, she just loved me so much. When she sacrificed things so that I could have something, she did it willingly and without regret.

I miss her now more than ever because I finally understand her. When I sit in the dark with Baby E, rocking her to sleep and holding her little hand, I sometimes cry because I can’t tell my mom how much I appreciate her and everything she did for me. We sit in the chair in the nursery underneath a photo of my great nana, my nana, my mom, and me. I love that photo more than anything because it inspires me to always be as strong and kind and loving as the women who came before me.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Except it doesn’t feel like Christmas. At all. And it’s not for lack of trying, let me assure you. Our halls are decked, our stockings are hung, and we trimmed the heck out of our tree last night.

I used to be that completely over-the-top Christmas person, thanks in no small part to my mother and her infectious Christmas spirit. In high school, I would wear my red and white striped knee high socks with my uniform, wrap garland around my bun, and if my nails weren’t airbrushed with Christmas trees, then they were at least painted alternating red and green. With sparkles. My room was decorated with a miniature tree, garland was wrapped around my banister, and carols blasted from my stereo as soon as they started playing on the radio stations.

It wasn’t really the presents that made me excited (although they certainly didn’t hurt either), but it was the overall feeling of Christmas and the holiday season that got me going. The pretty sparkling lights, the happy music, the build-up to a day of food and fun with the family. What’s not to like?

Then my mom died.

I didn’t put up a tree that year or decorate at all. Hubby went to the store and bought pretty much the entire Christmas department at Target to try and cheer me up, but I made him put it all away because I couldn’t bear to look at it. We had Christmas morning at my dad’s like normal, except that we kept having to take breaks to bawl our eyes out or blow our noses.

My mom used to start preparing for Christmas months in advance. So when she died in mid-November, she had already bought several of our presents. The rest were delivered over the next few weeks, which was incredibly disconcerting to us to be receiving packages from her after she was gone. We put the unopened parcels in the dining room and finally opened them on Christmas morning. There was a package of tea for me, an Ireland shot glass for we’re-not-sure-who, and a charm bracelet full of Irish symbols for me. It was both traumatizing and comforting to be able to open presents from her even though she wasn’t there. We thought that was the end of it.

The following year, a package was delivered to the house addressed to her. It was two Irish ornaments: one for her and one for me, that she had bought in advance. We got two more last year. Also last year, my dad gave me a bunch of her Lenox decorations, one of which was a gingerbread house that we had never seen before. I opened it up and it’s personalized with my and hubby’s names on it. It was a gift she never got to give us. I imagine she was waiting until we bought a house, so it was fitting that we discovered it on our first Christmas in our house.

I don’t want to become the Grinch. I am desperately clinging onto whatever little Christmas spirit I can muster, for myself and for her. I know she would be devastated to see me so sad and struggling to find joy.

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for days, and I just read a post over at Robin’s Chicks that completely sums up what I am feeling in much better words than I could formulate. It made me realize that I’m not alone in my feelings and that it’s not just the motherless (fatherless, sisterless, etc.) that struggle through the holidays.

Dear Christina

Dear Christina,

It’s been two years now since you’ve been gone. There have been countless times when I’ve wanted to text or email you, so many times when I’ve thought to myself that it’s been too long and we should have a sleepover soon. Then it all comes crashing back that you’re not hanging out in your apartment watching anime and you’re not only a phone call away.

There are times when I’m at peace with your death because we were able to talk about it so much and because I was able to say goodbye. We don’t have any unfinished business.

Then there are times when I remember how much you suffered, not just during those last two months, but from the moment of your accident onward. I still struggle to understand why it had to happen. People do stupid things every single day and walk away without a scratch. Why did your bad decision have such catastrophic results?

Every so often I’ll Google your name to see what comes up. Right after you passed, there were tons of blogs and articles written about you and how you chose to end your suffering. A lot of people who didn’t have a clue who you were thought they were qualified to judge not only you, but all of us left behind for “letting” you go through with it. I can’t tell you how much their words hurt. They actually thought that none of us cared enough to let you know that you were never a burden or that we never tried to stop you. They knew absolutely nothing about your life other than what they read in a poorly written “article” that skewed the truth to make everything sound so much more dramatic than it really was. Yet they thought it was OK to call you names, to criticize you and your family, without thinking that maybe your loved ones would read those words and they would cause even more pain.

Sometimes those people made me feel like I didn’t have the right to grieve for you. I mean, after all, you chose to die, right? As if that somehow negates the fact that you’re gone and not coming back.

I’ve grown stronger since then. I realize that those people don’t matter. Their opinions don’t count. I am justified in my grief and it’s OK to miss you and feel sad.

I wish that I could talk to you. So much has happened since you left and I feel incomplete without my best friend. I know you’re OK and I know you’re with my mom and Shavon and everyone, and that does give me a tiny bit of comfort, but I’m selfish and I want you here. I want things back the way they used to be.

You left a lot of requests behind, and I hope I’ve made you proud. I admit that I’ve only read your goodbye letter once, the day you died, because I just can’t handle to read it any more than that. I took your words to heart, though, and I’m trying my best to follow your advice.

I miss you.

lylas,
Er

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Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

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Oh, how I miss these two. Knowing that they’re together now gives me some sense of comfort, but I’d much prefer to have them both here, healthy and smiling and alive.

This was Thanksgiving 2005. It was Christina’s first Thanksgiving post-accident and she was still living in the nursing home at the time. Her family didn’t want to/couldn’t/wouldn’t come pick her up and bring her home for the day, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her spending the day alone with strangers in a place she hated, crying and depressed about what her life had become. My mom didn’t even think twice about it: Christina would come to our house for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t even an invitation, really. It was more of a statement. A demand.

Hubby and I went to pick her up that afternoon and drove her the 30 minutes to my house. I believe he left to go have dinner with his family and then he came back later. I don’t remember much of what we did or said on this day, but I remember it being a happy one. I was relieved that Christina was surrounded by “family” and I think she was grateful to not have to be alone. I know it was hard for her – I think it was the first time she came to my house after her accident and it was quite different this time around, not being able to bounce through the front door like it was her own home and plop down on the sofa. This time she was transferred in and out of the car by me and hubby, carried in her wheelchair up the stairs by hubby and my dad, fed by me, and weight-shifted by all four of us whenever she started to feel sick or dizzy. It was hectic and different, but it worked and we had a nice time.

This picture pretty much sums up my mom around the holidays: thematic sweater, festive pins, full of warmth and love. This is what I miss so very much, and what I am trying to emulate now. She adored all of the holidays from the big ones like Christmas to the smaller ones like Flag Day. She had decorations for every square inch of the house and herself: ceramics, banners, stuffed animals, festive socks and sweaters, pins, necklaces, and those giant inflatable lawn ornaments.

Today I will celebrate the fourth Thanksgiving without my mom. It will be my first Thanksgiving ever not having dinner with my dad either, as he has other plans this year. It’s fine; I’ll be with hubby and his family and my dad is coming over in the morning for our traditional breakfast of Entenmann’s cinnamon rolls while watching the parade (although is it really the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade without the balloons?). I don’t do well with change, but I’m learning to be more accepting and willing to adapt. I can’t promise that I won’t shed any tears today, but they’ll be a mix of both sad and happy ones as I remember all of the happy holidays we’ve had together.

Stressful Saturday

When I get stressed out, it usually manifests itself in at least one of three ways:

1. Hunger
We went to Trader Joe’s last night to pick up “a few” things. That turned into $103.00 worth of meatballs, frozen meals, cookies, wine, and… wait for it… COOKIE & COCOA SWIRL. My friend Cyndi has been raving about Cookie Butter for weeks, so I checked it out while I was there. There is a sign on the shelf advising there is a 5 jar maximum per customer in order to allow everyone to enjoy it. Wow. I was thisclose to buying some, but then I saw the jar next to it which taunted me with claims of cookies AND chocolate together in one harmonious jar of wonderful. How could I pass that up? So, this happened:

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The jar tells me to put it on pancakes or waffles or sandwiches, but that sucker is getting eaten with a spoon straight out of the jar. It’s seriously GOOD, you guys. Go get some.

Despite the fact that I’ve been eating as much of whatever I want, whenever I want, I weighed in this week for the first time in about a month and I have only gained one pound. I’m back to tracking every single bite using MFP and I’m trying to get on the elliptical as much as possible. My big problem at the moment is eating things that I can’t track–like General Tso’s Shrimp from our local Chinese food place, or the veggie club sandwich from Houlihan’s. I need to stick to things that have labels.

2. Rage
Well, I feel like this post alone sums up my ragey issues lately.

3. Physical Pain
It’s the slow season at work. This means that my day is spent mostly doing a lot of data entry and system updates, which requires pretty much the exact same movements ALL. DAY. LONG. Ctrl+V, click, save. And repeat. Not only are my eyes suffering from staring at the computer screen all day, but I’ve felt it in my back and shoulders as well. Couple that with my mom’s recent anniversary, the upcoming holidays, and my general cheery disposition (please note the sarcasm), and I end up with frozen muscles in my back, neck, and shoulders. I woke up at 4:30 this morning unable to turn my head or move any part of my body really, without intense burning pain. I somehow hobbled downstairs to the couch and managed to turn the heating pad on and I waited for the pain to subside. It didn’t. I dozed on and off for the next several hours, wincing and on the verge of tears any time I needed to shift my position. I woke up hubby and had him massage my shoulder, but that didn’t help. I sat with the heating pad again for a few hours, took a hot shower, downed some Tylenol, and even worked out thinking that maybe the blood flow and movement would relax my muscles. I ended up having to drive to the pharmacy for the big guns:

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On a brighter note, one of my Christmas gifts arrived yesterday. I didn’t want to open it, but hubby made me just to make sure everything was OK with it. I may have squealed in delight when I saw it:

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A signed first-edition copy of Someone Else’s Love Story by my favorite author. I don’t know why I didn’t start buying these earlier, but I’ll definitely be buying all of her books this way from now on!

 

Throwback Thursday: How I Made My Mom a Fan of the Mouse

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My mom has never been a fan of Disney, except for Donald Duck — she liked him because he’s always grumpy and feisty. Growing up, I was repeatedly reminded that I didn’t need a prince to save me from anything and that I was strong and independent. I had always wanted to go to Disney World, but for reasons unbeknownst to me at the time (it was REALLY expensive and we didn’t have a lot of money), we never got there. About a month before my college graduation, I decided that hubby (then-boyfriend) and I were going as a graduation present to ourselves. We fell in love with all things WDW and go there every year.

When it came time to plan our wedding, I knew I didn’t want a big ceremony with a lot of guests. I was desperately trying to figure out how to invite immediate family only without offending anyone, but let me tell you — that’s impossible. I started to look into destination weddings and discovered that WDW offered wedding packages. I thought they would be completely out of our budget and that no one would come, but we made it work and it was fabulous. We were limited to a certain number of guests, so it was the perfect excuse to only invite our immediate family members. I didn’t have to make small talk with a bunch of people I barely know, we didn’t spend a ton of money for everyone else to party, and we made wonderful memories — perfect.

I know that my mom was disappointed in our chosen venue even though she never said anything to me about it. The only thing she ever asked me was if we were going to get our marriage blessed by the Catholic church when we got back. I told her I’d think about it (we finally did that on St. Patrick’s Day — in her honor — last year). I knew that having to go to “Mickey World” as she called it, was not her idea of a good time. Not to mention it was August and it meant she had to get on a plane (she had flown many times in her life, but never post-9/11 and she was extremely nervous).

I never in a million years would have predicted that she would have a good time. But take a look at that smile on her face — complete with “princess” ears! She had the time of her life and wouldn’t stop talking about how great it was right up until she passed. In fact, she had SUCH a good time that she and my dad came down in 2009 for an entire week with me and hubby. We took them to all the parks, to character meals, on rides, and they even stayed on property. She bought ears and pins and shirts and jewelry. It was a wonderful sense of accomplishment for me to turn my mother into a fan of WDW — it was something she was so against yet grew to love because of me. She thanked me so many times for getting her to see the light.

We had plans to go back together in 2011 — after she “got better” — but obviously that never happened. That was the only year that hubby and I didn’t go either. It was just too hard to be there knowing that she was supposed to be there with us. As much as I miss her and as much as it hurts, I can’t help but smile when I look at the pictures of her with the characters. She was always just a big kid and it comes out so much in these photos. Although I’m sure she was already very sick in this picture (from 2007, and she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in June 2010), this is how I want to remember her: healthy and happy and having fun.

Three.

Today marks three years since my mom passed away.

As usual, it’s been the days leading up to today that were the hardest and not the actual day itself. I think the anticipation is what stresses me out the most because really, today is just as bad as any other. It’s not like I miss her more today than every other day of every other year. It’s not like the hole in my heart grows bigger today or that her memory is stronger.

Maybe I’m doing this whole grief thing wrong, but it doesn’t really get easier. Sure, it’s not as intense and all-consuming as it was in the very beginning, but it hasn’t really lessened either. I don’t cry uncontrollably every day anymore, but I still think of her almost constantly every single day. I still miss her. I still feel incomplete without her here.

Three years ago today my entire world came crashing down and my identity was tossed up in the air. I don’t know what it is, but losing my mother, watching her suffer for months and then die, really messed up my sense of self and who I am. Despite the fact that I was 29 years old at the time, married, and living on my own, I was still her daughter – and now who am I if she’s not here? This loss is unlike any other I’ve ever experienced.

Three years ago today I learned a very difficult lesson: praying about something, begging God for something, won’t make it happen if it’s not in His plan. And oftentimes, His plan is very different from our plans. I prayed harder than I ever had in my entire life for God to heal my mother, for Him to take her cancer away and give it to me instead, but it didn’t matter because that’s not what He had planned. A year later when I prayed and prayed for Christina not to die, that didn’t matter either. She died anyway. I realized today when I was thinking about it, that it’s not that I’ve suffered a blow to my faith in God, but rather that I don’t believe prayer does any good anymore.

I realize this all sounds very depressing and gloomy, but let me assure you that 99% of the time, I am OK. I go to work and out with my friends and laugh and have a good time. I am a functioning member of society. I do what I need to do, but I also have my moments and I think that’s OK. I think it’s OK for me to still miss her. I think it’s OK for me to still hurt. I think everyone grieves differently and that it’s OK if I’m still dealing with this loss three years later. It has not stopped me from living my life, but I am most certainly not “over it” like many people probably imagine me to be. I don’t think I ever will be, as her death is something that permanently changed me.

I have not yet reached the point of being able to talk about her and smile about the good times (key word in that sentence is “yet” – I am still hopeful). Just having to say the words “my mother” out loud brings me to tears. I don’t talk about her with anyone other than my husband and dad, and even that is rare. It’s not that I want to forget her, it’s that I’m tired of feeling sad about her and it’s easier for me to just not talk about it. I deal with it in my own private way and that works for me.

Don’t Think About Pink Elephants

I realized this morning when I opened Facebook that it’s Veterans’ Day, which means it’s November 11, which means that three years ago today is when my mom was rushed to the hospital. As soon as I realized this, I told myself not to think about it. I did pretty well all morning, but the afternoon went downhill quickly. The more I tried NOT to think about it, the more I couldn’t STOP. It’s not that I want to remember this day, in fact I would prefer to have no memory of it whatsoever, but those horrific images still pop into my head against my will.

I went to Target after work to pick up a few things (which of course turned into $152 worth of things, as is common with that store and all it’s wonderful goodies), and I saw the Christmas display. I knew I should avoid it. The little voice inside my head told me to ignore it and go check out. I didn’t listen. I wandered over, almost in slow motion, the whole time knowing that it was a bad idea. I picked up a penguin mug and started to get emotional, so I choked back the tears and hurried out of the store.

I got in the car and turned the radio up to almost full volume, hoping that would drown out the awful memories. It didn’t work. I cried the whole way home. And rather than deal with my emotions in a healthy way like a normal well-adjusted adult, I instead proceeded to eat them in the form of miniature croissants, leftover Halloween candy, and various cookies. And now, rather than drone on and on about the same old things – because what good does it do, really? – I will go on trying to ignore the pink elephant and pretend that everything is fine and I am happy and not dreading the next two months of festive merriment.

Throwback Thursday: Memories of My Mother

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I decided that I wanted to dedicate all of my TBT posts in the month of November to my mom, but I’ve had the hardest time thinking of what to write about her today. I spent all day at work, went to lunch with hubby, and then went straight to the in-laws’ for my MIL’s birthday, so I’m just sitting down to write and I’m feeling slightly pressured to come up with something both entertaining and moving in the next hour and a half.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my mom. I had never even seen it until after she died. I believe she’s about 16 years old in this photo and she just looks so happy. I have no idea who took it, where it was taken, or what the occasion was, but she looks stunning. Photos like this help me to remember her from before she got sick.

Some of the things I miss the most about her are the things that drove me absolutely out of my mind when she was alive. She used to call my cell phone while I was at work to tell me the most mundane things, so I asked her several times not to call unless it was an emergency. I explained that an emergency constituted an injury, accident, or fire. Otherwise, she was to wait until after 5:30pm to call me. She took that to mean that she should still call me during work hours if she wanted to tell me a story, but that she should preface her voicemail message with, “Erin, it’s mommy. It’s not an emergency…” She spoke so slowly and loudly, as if she were an old lady using the telephone for the first time and she wasn’t sure it was working or that I could hear her. She also always told me it was her – she couldn’t grasp the concept of caller ID or the fact that a daughter would recognize her own mother’s voice. I would give anything for one of those calls or saved voicemails now.

She would make “five minute friends” wherever she went. If she was waiting in line at the pharmacy, she would strike up a conversation with the person behind her. If she was at the doctor’s office, she would chat with the receptionist. I clearly do not take after her in this regard. She was the kind of person who always gave strangers a chance. She immediately liked everyone and they would have to give her a reason to think otherwise. After running her errands, she would then come home and tell me about Bob or Sue or whoever, and she would refer to them by first name giving me no frame of reference whatsoever. To say this frustrated me is an understatement. I never had any idea who she was talking about, and I would have to stop her and ask her who Bob was, and then she would get exasperated and explain he was some guy in the checkout line at 7-11 as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

My mother was the loudest nose-blower I’ve ever met in my life, and I challenge anyone to try and beat her. She had horrible allergies all year round and would routinely blow her nose whenever it was bothering her, no matter what the circumstances or her location. Silent waiting room? No problem. Dinner out at a restaurant? It’s gotta be done. It was horribly embarrassing when we were out in public, and it was something that got on my nerves even when we were at home. When I say that people would turn around and stare, I’m not exaggerating. If she, my dad, and I were having a conversation and she pulled out a tissue, my dad and I would have to wait for her to finish because we wouldn’t be able to hear each other over her. Funny that I miss that now.

 

When a Sandwich Is More Than Just a Sandwich

Whenever Christina and I used to go to Friendly’s, I would always order a tuna melt. Most of the time she would, too. On our second road trip up to Maine in 2004, we drove my car and we took turns driving the 10 hours. We stopped for lunch at a Friendly’s somewhere outside of Boston, and we had our usuals. I don’t know why this meal stands out to me; we didn’t talk about anything special and nothing out of the ordinary happened. We sat in a booth and we chatted like normal, laughing and excited about our week away in exotic-to-us Bangor. We had big plans to lounge around her grandma’s pool and go hiking at Arcadia National Park and just relax.

ImageYesterday at work, we were discussing what to have for lunch today for my co-worker’s birthday. For whatever reason, I had a feeling she would choose to order from the diner and I thought to myself, “Ooh, I’ll order a tuna melt.” Immediately I was back in that Massachusetts Friendly’s with Christina and this overwhelming sense of longing hit me in the middle of the workday. I haven’t seen her in almost two years and sometimes it just gets very lonely.

I have plenty of friends, and a loving husband and family, but a best friend is someone who cannot be replaced. She and I could finish each others sentences, and I knew that no matter what, I could talk to her about anything. She always offered the best advice and seemed to just instinctively know when I didn’t need anything more than an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. In my experience, those people come along only once in a lifetime and they are to be treasured.

It seems as though I constantly have something I want to tell her, or ask her about, or reminisce about. It’s very weird for me to think that those times it was just she and I hanging out are now my memories alone. I can no longer say to her, “Hey, remember when we…?” and laugh about whatever stupid thing we did. I can tell the stories to others, but it’s not the same as retelling the story together with someone. Just last week, we were talking about Sweet Sixteen parties at work and I was thinking about my own 16th birthday. I didn’t have a party. My parents told me I could invite some friends to dinner and the movies, so I chose four friends and we went to the Olive Garden and to the movies to see “The Game” (with Michael Douglas, remember that movie?). I was trying to remember who was there and I realized that Christina wasn’t. I thought to myself that I would have to ask her why, and in that same moment, almost at the exact same time I was planning an email or a phone call, I realized that I couldn’t ask her anything anymore. Like I said, it’s been almost two years, yet my brain still sometimes forgets.