These are the last pictures I have with my mom. We went to Florida to visit her that April. I did not want to go on this trip. My husband kept pushing for us to go, but I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach something bad was going to happen. Anyone who knows me knows that my “feelings” are almost always 99% right. I finally agreed to go. My feeling was right.
While we were walking on the beach I asked my mom to take a picture of my husband, my baby, and I. She was having the hardest time pushing the button on my iphone. I asked her what was going on. “I just haven’t been able to make my fingers work right lately. It’s like they won’t do what I’m telling them to do anymore. You should see my handwriting it’s awful!” My mom had the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. “Part of my lips and jaw feels numb too, and I’ve been having trouble finding the words I want to say.” I was an oncology nurse at the time. I knew what this meant, my moms cancer had metastasized to her brain.
Once we got back to her house my husband and I went for a walk. “I’m pretty certain mom has a brain tumor and I don’t know how to tell her.” How in the world was I going to talk to her about this. She made me promise her I would always be 100% honest about this stuff, but damn.
Later that evening I was nursing our son one last time before he went to bed and I heard my mom’s husband call my name. He called my name in such a way that I knew it was bad, I knew it was that feeling I had before I left home coming true. I knew this was that defining moment where we were going to be turning the corner of her diagnosis, the corner that you don’t come back from. It was only six years prior that I had already lived through all of this with my dads diagnosis and death. I ran to her as fast I could.
Once we made it to the hospital it was confirmed that she had had a seizure, and possibly a small stroke. It was also confirmed that her cancer had metastasized to her brain. She underwent brain surgery, which left her with little speech left, weeks of therapy, full brain radiation, and more chemo. She died three months later.
I was seven months into motherhood. I had to learn to be a mother without my mother. I could not wrap my mind around it. Who was I going to call five times a day to ask questions? Who was going to teach me how to potty train him? Who was going to tell me I was doing a good job on the days that I felt like the worst mother in the world?
Grief is consuming. In my experience grief can begin even before the death occurs. When my dad died I didn’t have the responsibility to keep another human alive. I didn’t have to wake up in the night to feed a baby, I didn’t have to change diapers, I didn’t have to cook anyone dinner, or do laundry. I could lay on my bed and weep. I could be selfish.
Right away my in laws wanted to take my baby so I could have time to myself. That was a firm no from me. Admittedly, my in-laws and I are like oil and water, but I also had no desire to be away from my baby. At a time when I didn’t want to get out of bed, or do much of anything, my baby gave me a reason to without even knowing it. The minute my mom died I felt this piece of me go with her, and then I looked down at my son and felt that empty piece fill up with this amazing love. I was sure I would never laugh again, but the minute I looked at him I smiled. He saved me. He was completely unplanned, the biggest surprise of my life, but at the same time it was so obvious that he was meant to be here. I was surrounded by grief, but he made me see all the joy still left in my life. He showed me the beauty in the darkest time.
It has been three years since my mom died. The grief doesn’t go away, but it does change. There are still incredibly hard days, but there is also always something beautiful about each day.
Everyone’s grief journey is very different but I would like to share some things that helped me, and still help me:
-talk about it. to a therapist, to a friend, to a loved one….just talk about it. not only does it help, but it keeps the memories alive.
-ask for help. i am the worst about this, but especially in the early days you will need help. you are not weak if you ask for help.
-DO NOT EVER LET ANYONE ELSE TELL YOU HOW TO GRIEVE OR FOR HOW LONG YOU SHOULD BE GRIEVING. Everyone has a different story, a different path, a different situation. If someone in your life is telling you how you should be feeling, or processing, you need to shut them down.
-crying is not a weakness, if you want to cry you should. if you feel like yelling because you’re angry, do it. don’t apologize for letting out your emotions, and feelings.
-find someone who is going to hug you even when you don’t think you need a hug. there is healing in human touch.
-just know that if you think you will never laugh or be happy again, you will. you will probably feel guilty as hell for feeling any sense of happiness during grief, but it’s okay to laugh and smile.
-surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally. they are going to see you at your worst. you are probably going to take some hard days out on them. you are not going to be fun to be around sometimes. the people you need in your life are the ones that show up everyday, not just the good days.
-i’m not going to tell you that it will get easier, but you will get through it. the grief will change, but it will still be there. on the worst of days i try to fill my mind with the best of memories.
to read more about my moms diagnosis: Her Name Was Judy
Thanks for stopping by!