Two Years Forward… One Looks Back.

by Friday, April 8, 2016

There is truly no loss like the loss of a mother. I mean, at one point, you were actually connected to her body, so it’s only natural that watching the woman who gave you life die feels like one of the cruelest things out there.

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Two years ago today, my mom passed away. After a dozen years enduring the highs (cancer free!) and lows (the last three months) that come with chronic cancer, she went as gently as possible (just as she had wished) on 11:04AM on April 8th, 2014.
So here, two years later, with a clear(er) head and a grateful heart, I would like to take you on a trip back to the what seemed like the hardest 24 months of my life… and the six things I’m learning in the process.

1. Don’t feel bad if you still feel bad.

For real. Grief comes at you in a million different forms. Somedays your flying high and just like that, a bittersweet memory comes fleeting into your mind and a sorrowful “why her?” wave crashes over you before you can yell help. The death of a parent is truly a wound that will never quite heal no matter how many years go by. It’s okay. Embrace that you still long for them so deeply. It’s a beautiful reminder of the unconditional love we have for our parents.

2. Hang with your “there’s-still-life-after-death” friend.

Perhaps we are very lucky (or perhaps very unlucky, however you want to look at it) that my best friend from childhood lost her mom three years before mine passed. I went to her mothers service and I remember leaning on my mom on the way home thinking how grateful I was that I still had her to hold on to. Fast forward 34 months and I had collapsed on my couch, sleep deprived after spending ten nights on hospital cot, and literally out of my mind sad, when this same best friend came over with a big turkey club (I needed it but would have preferred Wild Turkey) followed by a chocolate cake (quite possibly for her, but who cares, right?) and we just cried it out… she’s been my rock since 7th grade.. and has especially helped me since that living room moment. She is the person who says “I know exactly how you feel” and actually means it.
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Seek out someone who understands a monumental loss like this to commiserate (and eventually celebrate life) together. Ceileigh and I now embrace our forever friendship and strong bond to our mothers (who art in heaven!) every time we can!

3. Find hobbies, not habits.

During the first few weeks after my mothers death, I opened up more red wine instead opening up to friends. Some people gain grief weight… I began numbing my thoughts with goblets of the grape juice. It felt easier to not process everything (and to avoid any “so sorry your mom died” conversations) by toasting to my mothers life and tossing a few back. (Hell, I was a bartender at the time, so I had the whole medicine cabinet behind me nightly.) What I quickly realized is that if I was to keep living (in a way my mom would be proud of) I would have to find hobbies and not give into my vices and habits. “You’re alive goddamnit,” I’d remind myself. Health is most surely wealth and over these two years especially it became important to be mindful of just that.
So I’d go for a good walk. I’d write about what I loved. I drank tea before bed. I’d make sure to plan time with my sisters so we could take trips in honor of our mom. Everyday, I look around with eyes wide open and just in awe of this crazy world and grateful for the thirty years I spent with my mom.

4. Seek professional help if you need it… And you probably will.

The unbiased third party (i.e. therapy) has been one of my saving graces before, during and after my mothers passing. A month after she died, I was in an extremely dark place when I got back to Nantucket and found that I couldn’t shake the anger out of my bones. (And definitely wasn’t sure where I lost my ability to fall asleep, but I needed some help.) My therapist would have me talking through these restless nights and really feeling my feelings by asking the tough questions that made me think of the big picture. What would your mom tell you to do? How would she feel knowing you aren’t sleeping and aren’t taking care of yourself?
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I would dig deep, finding those answers and continuing to live with my mothers voice in my head… and my heart. Having someone who isn’t family or friends tell you these truths makes them an easier pill to swallow.

5. Keep the lines of communications open.

I still talk to my mother every morning. I say to myself that I am grateful for this day and that I am grateful that she is no longer in pain. I write her cards on special occasions. Sure I don’t mail them, but I put my heart into them and read them out loud. I tell her what’s going on. How Sanna is pregnant, how amazing Christina is as a mom. How my business is going. How life goes on… just like that show we watched when we were kids. I tell her how I miss her. Oh, how I miss her voice and her soft hands and her soothing voice when she’d tell me everything would work out. Then I’d sign it with love and put it in my journal. And then something funny would happen…Her favorite Fleetwood Mac song will come on the radio later that day and I’ll smile. I’ll find a good note from her while rearranging my desk.  I’ll say something that she always used to say and laugh. It feels like she is still with me.
The last big vacation she took before she got real sick again was a road trip of the USA. She told me how much she loved the coast of California and enjoyed showing me pictures of the jagged coast and the stunning blue ocean.
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So this year, my boyfriend and I took a two week drive up the Golden State. I felt like I saw her everywhere. I talked about her everyday and loved thinking she had her toes in the waters where I did too. We make new memories now… but amazingly, she is still here with every one.

6. Always remember your inner courage, strength and hope.

Those are the three words that my mother carried with her throughout her illness. She courageously fought a tough twelve year battle with Leiomyosarcoma. She embodied strength mentally and physically with her zest to live and to go on. To try the trials. To put her body through hell and back. And she never gave up Hope. Hope to move on. Hope to get better.
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Hope that led her to watching Sanna get married and hope that gave her the ability to be a Grammie for a few good years. And after everything…. even now after she’s gone, we got another Hope…
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in the form on her second grandaughter Hope Ruth, born just eleven months after she passed.



I leave you with this. I gave my mom a Proust Questionnaire right before she died.  When I asked her what her life’s greatest achievement was she said “having you three girls.” When I asked her what her life motto was she stated “To Thine Own Self Be True.” And when I asked her what her favorite journey had been, she replied “the one on which I am about to embark.”
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And when I look back at all this, my realizations are always the same: That there is no love like a mothers love. That in life, regardless who is around you, you have to be your own advocate. And finally, that even though it seems so unfair, sometimes death can ultimately be a most peaceful journey.
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So here’s to the journey.
Here’s to Ruth.
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