It has now been over 1.5 years since my daughter…
The Love of a Mother
She would tell me over the years how hard she prayed to have a girl and how her prayers were answered when I came along. Because my mother was a single parent, I was always very protective of her as she was of me. I never doubted how she felt about me, because she would tell me all the time how much she loved me. I felt protected and unconditional love from my mom. As my mom would say, it’s us two against the world – meaning that together we were invincible. My mother loved my brother just as much as she loved me, however he was nine years older and at the age of 18 went off to college and then got married and started his family.
As I grew older and the years went by, there was blurring of the roles of my relationship with my mom. There were times when I took on the role of parent and she child. Having never experienced going off to college, living in a dorm or being on my own or getting married and having a family – our mother daughter relationship could not have been tighter or more interwoven. There were no secrets between us.
So in January 2011 when my mom became suddenly ill and we received the terminal cancer diagnosis – my world as I had known it for 44 years was destroyed. Through the three months of home hospice care, sea of medications and numerous health care professionals – I concentrated on getting through the moment refusing to speak the C word little alone death. I thought if we didn’t talk about dying or her cancer – then we would survive this terrible period. I insisted all visiting friends and relatives to only tell my mom to feel better soon and to never talk about dying.
Then reality would set in and I was reminded that this was a battle that mom and I weren’t going to win. One particular instance is when mom had just returned home from being in the hospital and I was fixing dinner in the kitchen and overheard her say to my brother she needed to talk to him. She said that she was depending on him to step up and help me when she was gone. “Candy is going to need you.” As I listened to her talk to my brother, I wanted so much to interrupt her and tell her that she was talking silly – that everything was going to be just fine. That she was going to get better. Thankfully I kept quiet and let her have this important moment with my brother.
Now when I look back, I realize that mom and I never spoke about her dying because she was trying to protect me while all along I thought I was protecting her. Later, this would become one of my biggest regrets – not talking openly with mom about dying and my fear of living without her. Another big regret was not taking Family Medical Leave from my job to stay at home with my mom to spend what precious little time we had together.
When my mom passed away Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 I was getting ready to go to work. One of the first of many miracles for me occurred when my inner voice told me to stay home that day because my mother needed me. Although my mother couldn’t talk because she went into distressed breathing, she said good bye to me. I was holding her hand when she tapped it three times and then she took her last breath. I thank God that I was with my mom when she died.
Since my mom’s passing, my heart breaks every day. As silly as it sounds, I always thought mom and I would be together forever. I never imagined a world without my mom.
The first year without my mom is the hardest experience in my life. Going through all the firsts without her – Mother’s Day, birthdays, holidays. The second year the grief is just as raw. I beat myself up and wish I could stop the replay button of what I would change over my 44 years with my mom. I cannot imagine ever loving anyone the way I love my mom. She was my soul mate.
I pray that God will grant me one more blessing – to have one more conversation with my mom even if it’s in a dream. I would tell her I regret not voicing my depth of love for her, or how much I admire her incredible strength through adversity and that she’s the smartest person I have ever known. I would also tell her how much I regret the stupid, silly things I said that were hurtful to her. To be embraced in her loving arms, feel her warmth and lovely smell – oh, what I would give.
Things that have helped me through my journey:
• to have my brother step up [keeping his promise to my mom] and be part of my life again. How nice to have the opportunity to get to know my brother now that we are mature.
• knowing that I’m not alone feeling this deep gut wrenching grief. I thought something was wrong with me that I should be handling my grief better or more maturely. I thought that everyone else had it so together and that only I couldn’t move forward. Then a coworker confided in me about her experience with the death of her parents. I learned that I’m not alone. It was a very freeing moment for me that it is o.k. that I grieve.
• find someone that you can talk to and will listen and doesn’t judge your grief – someone that won’ttell you:
o it’s time to move on with your life;
o it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you keep getting back up;
o keep a stiff upper lip;
o you need to be strong;
• a social worker that I connected with
• it is normal to feel regret – things I said or didn’t say. Whenever I feel overwhelmed with regret, I learned to say “I was a good daughter except for when I wasn’t”. This simple phrase helps lessen the unrealistic perfection I have of myself. This phrase I learned from my social worker. I tell everyone now, please tell your loved ones how much they mean to you all the time/every day. Even when you are mad at them – tell them I love you no matter what.
• spirituality – no matter what religion or faith. The thought of my mom in a far better place than Earth (no pain/illness, experiencing unbelievable joy of being reunited with loved ones) – gives me great solace. And, the thought of being reunited with her calms my fears of being parted.
• reading books/stories of people who have experienced death and come back – “Heaven is for Real” (child’s point of view), “Proof of Heaven” (Neurosurgeon’s experience)
• to be alone to process the impact of my loss and what I want to do with my life. Sometimes friends and family members feel helpless in how to comfort or assist me with my grief and they try to keep me busy. It’s o.k. to tell friends how much their thoughtfulness is appreciated, but I need alone time to figure things out.
• there is no time table for grief
• there is no right or wrong way to grieve. This is my grief and someone else’s way of processing theirs is different than mine.
• my eyes are wide open to the smallest miracles. I notice things now that I would never have seen before my mother’s passing.
• it’s o.k. to cry openly and in front of people. Our emotions are what makes us human.
• how blessed I was to have my mom for a mom. How sad that other mothers and daughters don’t get to experience the unique bond that I had with my mom.