|Top: Mom with my oldest (my son). Bottom: Mom with my firstborn daughter.|
“Heaven is a place we can feel in our hearts and visit in our dreams.”
Grieving My Mother
The words above are how I explained heaven to my young children when they asked to visit grandma while at the same time I was grieving my mother. This coming December, it will be eight years since I said goodbye to my mother. I left her hospital bed and drove home, stopping to drive through my hometown’s downtown for the holiday light show, which is always spectacular. And I needed something spectacular. My heart was shredding and all I knew was I would be devastated past what I could imagine in a very short time.
|Downtown Rochester, Michigan, Holiday Lights.|
My mother spent one week in hospice in the hospital, at her choice. Before that she had been at home. Luckily, she was not “sick, sick” for very long. At the time of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, the prognosis was three months. She fought, with chemotherapy and radiation, for 18 months; most of that time she was incredibly healthy.
I was blessed to live across the street from her for that last year. She was even able to babysit my oldest child, my son, and he developed a deep, abiding love for his “Meme” and would wave to her out the front window. He would take her hand when she came over to walk her back out the door and across the street for cookies and tea with our neighbor and surrogate grandmother.
Anniversaries of deaths are hard. No one outside the immediate family and very close friends tends to remember. If you say something, people are kind but don’t know what to say. How do you find the words to encompass the loss of a life that means everything to you?
|Our favorite pic of Mom.|
The week before mom went into hospice in the hospital, she was at home being taken care of by her sister, who is a nurse, and all her nurse friends. Mom was a nurse for 30+ years and most of her closest friends were nurses. They all showed up to care for her when she needed it.
While I took on the “primary caregiver” role during most of the 18 months she fought pancreatic cancer, it was primarily about driving her to doctor’s appointments, helping her when she was having a bad day, and hanging out with her. When the time came for an advanced level of care, I was overwhelmed and tapped out. I will be forever grateful to the army of women who stepped in and provided the intimate care that was needed in those final few weeks.
One week before she went into the hospital, my mother was lying in her recliner in the front room. She was fatigued and in and out of consciousness. I was terrified and felt lost. How could I survive without the woman who had anchored my life?
My mother began speaking, but not to anyone in the room. She spoke to her grandmother and her mother, and it was clear she was slipping away from us. She talked to them, she spoke of “a seal breaking” and it was at that line, that point, that I felt the end was coming fast. I don’t know why, but it hit me like a wall. We called every family member and her best friends and held vigil for hours.
But mom is a fighter and refused to give up. She held on for five more days. I knew that the day she saw and spoke to her mother and grandmother that no matter how painful the parting would be when I said my goodbye to her, I would see her again. I had glimpsed what was beyond the veil and it brought me comfort in a moment when there is little to be found.
For the past seven years, I have curled into a ball, grieving my mother and refusing to face the world on the exact day of the anniversary of her death. The day causes physical pain and aches, my heart feels heavy and my stomach is gutted. I don’t know that this year I will do much better. But I know that this year I have been able to cry less and remember more of the joy she brought into our lives. I have boxes of her unfinished craft projects, and the lingering scent of her doesn’t destroy me but comforts me.
With luck this will be the year I get the sunflower tattoo that she got a month after her diagnosis and that all the women in my family have. This year I will still be grieving my mother, but I will meet the day of her passing and go out with my sisters and friends and laugh and enjoy my life; because when I hear stories of her, I know she did and would want us to as well. I will always be grieving my mother, but now I know
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