It all started when my mom passed away. The months leading up to December 19, 2011 were some of the hardest of my life. It was the end to a slow deterioration dementia had cast my mom, and thus our life, into that brought everything crashing down around me. It took a herculean effort to go on without her. I could not imagine living my life, reaching its biggest milestones—graduating college, getting married, and one day having children—without her there by my side. To grow up, to change, even just to turn another year older would mean I was no longer the same person I had been when she was still alive in the world. I was afraid, as I so often am when I feel the sadness start to creep back in, that my grief would consume me in bottomless despair.
The pain of simply getting through each day sometimes seemed unbearable, especially in the days and months immediately preceding her death. Following only a month after she had passed, I was at work as a hostess in a restaurant when a woman came in with her family to celebrate her 99th birthday. As the hostess, it was my job to take the cake back to the walk-in freezer and notify the server upon the family’s arrival. Imagine the shocking blow of devastation I felt upon reading the curls of pink icing amid the roses—Happy Birthday, Betty!—and the name of my mom. It felt so unfair that this Betty should live to a ripe old age of 100 happily surrounded by family, while my beautiful mother lay buried in the cold ground having perished in her prime at just 54 years of age. I burst into tears and ran into the bathroom to collect myself.
Many such moments peppered the first months and years after her passing, and though they come less frequently, even still to this day. In the days preceding Mother’s Day, the grief I somehow always think I will be done with one day resurfaces. This is why I find myself, on the eve of this dreaded holiday, writing once again about my pain and loss.
My first instinct is to stuff those feelings deep down inside, to avoid feeling the loss of my mom again, and I wish (not for the first time in my life) that I could simply skip over this point in time and go back to being happy. Pain and sadness are there for a reason though, and feeling them is a necessary part of the human condition. The natural balance to joy is sorrow, and one must allow oneself to feel the entire range of human emotions, not simply pick and choose those which are most convenient.
Because the truth is feelings are rarely ever convenient. They are fleeting though, tied entirely to the present moment if only one can pause to quietly observe them and then let them go. It’s why meditation is so frequently recommended. However, if you couldn’t tell by now, I am not very good at letting things go. Instead, I try to stuff my feelings into boxes and push them deep into dark recesses of my mind to deal with later, which is to say never if I had things my way. Eventually though, life forces you to pull those boxes back out, blow off the dust and uncover them to deal with what’s inside. Let me tell you, it is almost always worse after you leave things to fester in the dark for a while.
Tomorrow marks the sixth Mother’s Day I will observe without my mom. And while I really wish I could say that it gets easier for those of you who have recently lost someone, I am sorry to say that it does not. Not really, anyway. The feelings change, of course. Grief constantly evolves; it is an ever-changing presence, but it is always present. Sometimes there are moments when a quiet calm settles over you, and the bliss of peaceful serenity allows you to feel thankful simply for having known and loved the person. Then there are times when you are wracked by overwhelming sadness for the loss, both your own and theirs. Because a life cut short is a tragedy, and it is just so damn unfair.
Something I read today helped put the grief of this loss in a new perspective for me. A friend recently showed me the site Modern Loss where I came across this letter from a mother to her late son. It’s called “I’m Not Done Being Your Mom.” In it, she addresses many of the same feelings I have and experience, but told from the opposite side of this mother-child relationship. The thing is, I still have a relationship with my mom. I’m not done being her daughter simply because she is no longer physically here with me. She is still present, though now in an entirely different way of course, at every major milestone in my life. When I think back on my wedding or the day I graduated from college, I remember thinking of her and feeling her presence with me as I crossed the stage to receive my diploma, or squeezed the hands of my soon-to-be-spouse as we recited our vows in the warm breeze off the coast of the island of Puerto Rico. Even though it’s not enough, it’s all that we have for right now. Sometimes you just have to readjust the expectations you have for a relationship. I will always be my mother’s daughter though.