On Being a Motherless Mother

10154429_10100308106189928_8168197604952203850_n

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.

My First Mother’s Day

Today is my fifth Mother’s Day without my mom, but instead of feeling sad and alone like I have in the past, it has been a joyful day because it’s the very first time I’ve been celebrated as a mother! Our little one isn’t here yet, but I’ve still received lots of well wishes and gifts and congratulations.

We had dinner last night with my dad and his girlfriend – it was meant to be a “Farewell BBQ” at his house since he’s in the process of selling it, but they gave me a lovely card and a gift card to Babies R Us. I’m sure that will come in very handy in the near future as we start to buy the things we’ll need for the baby’s arrival.

IMG_20150510_183513

This morning hubby surprised me with a card and a gift – a baby book! It’s funny because I was just looking at them online on Friday and had picked out the exact one he ended up buying me.

IMG_20150510_183616

We then went to Mass and they always give out small pots of flowers to all of the mothers. The priests are generous and have always given me one in the past, but today was the first time I actually deserved one! After church, we went to his parents’ house and had a nice breakfast with the whole family, took some pictures, and we came back home so I could nap. We’re going to get chicken parm sandwiches from my favorite place for dinner, and then maybe head out for ice cream sundaes if I’m still awake, LOL.

20150510_185201

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

IMG_1525

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:

photo2

 

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:

photo

 

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:

photo3

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

57022_606740305808_6291694_o

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.

Throwback Thursday: Role Models

20131114-180939.jpg

This photo is of me, my mom, my nana, and my great nana, sometime in 1982 I’m guessing. It’s one of my favorite pictures of all time because it has all four generations on one couch. I still make that face sometimes.

I don’t remember much about my great nana. She passed away when I was 9 and spent many of the previous years in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. I do know that she used to live downstairs from my mom and grandparents when my mom was growing up. She and her nana were the best of friends and used to hang out all the time. When my mom got older and moved out, they kept in touch with phone calls, letters, and visits. I could always tell by the way my mom spoke about my great nana that she was her favorite person in the whole world and that she looked up to her. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my mom when great nana finally passed away because she lost a grandmother and a best friend all in one shot.

When we moved to NJ, we moved into the upstairs apartment in my grandparents’ house – the same apartment that my mother grew up in. And now MY grandparents were the ones living downstairs. My nana and I had a spectacular relationship. We (and my grandpa) would spend every Friday night together watching TGIF – Full House, Family Matters, Step by Step, Just the Ten of Us. We would lay in their beds (they were old fashioned and had twin beds that were pushed together!) and talk and laugh and just have fun being with each other. I would tell them about my day at school and my friends while I braided the few strands of hair my grandpa still had left.

I used to wake up at the crack of dawn on the weekends and watch the clock until it was 10:00 so I could go downstairs and hang out with nana. I would spend all day down there with her, doing who knows what, but it was wonderful. My grandparents didn’t have cable, so we watched a lot of Bob Ross and often talked about wanting to take up painting ourselves (it never happened). We would play make believe and pretend to be rich ladies who lived in a mansion and passed the time by having our servants bring us things. She had diabetes, so they never really had snacks, but she used to cut up apples for me and put them in a bowl with a little water and some cinnamon. She would microwave them for a few seconds, just to get them warm, and it was like heaven in a bowl.

I was 11 when my nana died. I can still remember sitting in the living room upstairs with my mom and hearing my grandpa banging on the railing in the back hallway while yelling my mother’s name. We both ran and seemed to fly down the stairs. I peeked into their apartment from the stairs and saw my nana laying back on her bed as if she had been sitting on the edge and fell backwards. Her eyes were closed and it looked like she was sleeping. She went into cardiac arrest while getting ready to go out and died instantly. My mom shooed me out of there and back upstairs. We drove to the hospital later that night and when my mom went into the room to say goodbye to her mother, I asked if I could go too, but they wouldn’t let me. I was too young. It would be too scary for me to see my dead grandmother. I don’t think any of them realized that I had already seen her earlier that afternoon.

My nana was the kind of woman who always looked well put-together even if she was staying in. My mom valued comfort over style at all times. Both of them would speak their minds freely even if it meant being the odd one out (this was the source of many of their arguments, I imagine). Neither of them went to college, but they both valued education and always pushed me to do my best. They were both kind and loving, excellent mothers and wives. They were independent and stubborn and did the right thing even when it was hard.

I grew up with these strong women surrounding me, teaching me to be like them even if I didn’t realize it, even if THEY didn’t realize it. Sometimes I stop dead in my tracks when I hear my mother or my nana come out of my mouth. I wonder when it happened. When did I become like them without even realizing it? It’s a good thing. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside because I always looked up to them and wanted to be as kind and beautiful and smart and confident as them. I don’t think I’m even close, but I strive to achieve all of those things every single day. I hope more than anything that I am making all three of them proud.

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

51745_606739986448_3304643_o

 

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.

 

Two Years

So, today is two years since my mom passed. It feels like I saw her just yesterday and forever ago, all at the same time. Last year I took the day off from work (luckily it’s a Saturday this year) and my husband and I spent the day with my best friend. Of course, I can’t do that today because she’s gone now too. I’ve been keeping myself busy, trying not to think too much, but it’s been hard. I had a really hard time falling asleep a few nights ago because I kept picturing my mom in the ER when she was conscious and on the vent and coughing up blood. I haven’t thought about that in a really long time because it was traumatic and horrible and I don’t want to remember it. I don’t know why THAT image popped into my head. Then I had a dream about her on Thursday night. It was Thanksgiving and everyone was at my parents’ house and my mom was there, but she had come back from the dead. This is the second time I’ve had a dream like that. The first time, I was crying and just ecstatic that she was back. I kept telling her how awful it was while she was gone and how much we missed her. This time, I knew that it wasn’t permanent. It was like I was avoiding her in the dream because I didn’t want to get too attached. At one point I realized she would be gone soon so if I wanted to talk to her, I had better do it then. I was trying to find her but other people kept distracting me and then I woke up. Last night, I had a dream that I had just gotten back from Ireland with a former co-worker of mine (the Ireland trip actually happened 3 weeks after she passed). I knew in the dream that I had had some kind of argument with my mom, so I was desperate to see her and tell her I loved her. I saw her in the airport in a crowd of people me I gave her a kiss. Then I got home (to my current house, which my mom has never been to) and she was here waiting for me in the living room. She was crying softly and hugged me and told me how much she loved and missed me. Then I woke up. Needless to say, it hasn’t helped with how I’m feeling today.

All that being said, I never imagined I would make it to this point. I thought I would always feel that raw, overwhelming sadness that I did in the beginning. While I still miss my mom like crazy and it still hurts, it’s different. Other people told me my grief would become a part of who I am and I would learn to live with it. I didn’t believe them, but that is exactly what has happened. I deal with it. I get through the days and do what I need to do to be a normal functioning adult, but it’s always there in the background. Some days are worse than others. But lately I have finally started to feel a tiny bit more like myself. I can listen to some Christmas music and look at holiday decorations without breaking down into a sobbing mess (not all the time apparently as a Christmas pig at Home Depot last weekend sent me right into a deep depression all day). I can laugh and have a good time without feeling guilty now, which is something that I thought was lost for good.