Today is my mom’s birthday and I have to count to remember that she would have been 64 today. I’m sure my dad has thought a time or two about Paul McCartney’s song “64” and that McCartney wasn’t with his first wife at that age either, although their separation was for much different reasons.
My mom would have sang it to my dad and they would have laughed and smiled together.
But most days I’m not dwelling on what it would’ve been like to have my mom with me anymore. Most of the days I’m just enjoying my job at a high school that lets me get to know students instead of just teach them. I’m settling into our new old house that my mother almost feels a part of because I know she would have loved all the intricate parts. She would talk about the stained glass windows, wood floors and mantle pieces, and how “they just don’t make houses like they used to.” I’m appreciating time with Brandon and how he is such a perfect match for me. This year for my birthday he made me feel so special with secret gifts and guests, just like my mom always used to. I’ve been realizing that he helps make missing her less painful because he has so many parts of her personality in him. Most days I’m getting to focus on building stronger relationships with my dad and brother. There’s always a bright side that you can find in tragedy (something my mother taught all of us). I’ve found a real relationship with my dad and a renewed closeness with my brother. Those things would make my mom so happy. It makes it all better to know she would be so proud of all of us.
Most days now I don’t cry when I think of her. Most times when I’m telling stories I’m laughing and happy to remember. I feel grateful that so many people that I’ve met after my mom died have told me that they feel like they’ve met her just from the stories and pictures I’ve shown them. It’s an honor to carry on her stories, to continue her legacy of optimism.
So, today when I feel sadness and grief come back I welcome them. Grief no longer overwhelms me; now it reminds me of the gift that my mother was to all of us.
It’s a strange thing– this moving on and living life. Sometimes I fear that as life continues I’m walking further and further away from the memories of my mother. But today as I celebrate her I know that I don’t have to worry about losing her in that way. I hear her voice through my brother when he tells me that mom would be proud of me for standing up for what I believe in, and for working to educate and elevate those experiencing poverty and oppression. I feel her in the hugs from friends and coworkers who probably don’t even know that they remind me of my mother when they give that good squeeze. I see her in my own blue hair that I wouldn’t have had the guts to get if I wasn’t able to tell myself, “my mom would LOVE this!” And I hear her again and again in my head telling me she loves me.
Happy birthday mom. I love you now as much as yesterday, and I always will.
These past days (weeks, months?) I’ve been so caught up in a job and driving places and sharing in wonderful and major life events. It’s been like a giant train speeding ahead and all I can do is look forward.
And there my mother’s ashes sit of the shelf. Static. Cold. Still permanent.
This morning I woke up to the rain dropping through the leaves in my back yard. I think of my mother. I think of the new house I just bought. I talk about the first joint checking account I will open with someone. I talk about all the weddings I’ve been to and that they were just the right kind of love. I talk about you, and how I wish we could talk.
Last summer I got to write and grieve and write and grieve. It was a fevered sort of peace that let me process and had me desperate to hold onto you.
Then I took a job, and it has turned out to be heavy, and distracting, and full of its own consuming challenges. I can’t stop because the job won’t let me, because I love these little kids, because public education in the city of Philadelphia is a joke compared to what it should be and it tears my heart everyday that I can’t make it better.
You, there on the shelf, are you still a part of this struggle with me?
She comes back to me in waves while I’m moving through stress and joy and moments.
You still guide me when I feel like a failure and I need someone to tell me that they love me, that I can do anything, that there’s no reason to question myself because of course you know I can.
You are still there in pockets of my every day.
But I want to write you in permanently. I want to welcome you back through the words of your story. I want to remember you always: not just in the tattoo I want to get or a picture that shows your smile.
Sometime in 2014 you sent me a card that says on the front: “Every day is a gift” and in the middle: “Pretend tomorrow is from me.” You crossed out the part below that said “Happy Birthday” and wrote “Happy You are Loved day.”
Every day is a gift from you, mom. I miss you and I’ll never forget.
i carry your heart with me(I carry it in my heart)
Mom, I’ve been doing so much better. I can talk about you and feel pride and love instead of pain. I can go out and enjoy time with friends and not feel overwhelmed with thoughts of retreating into the corner to be alone. I can think about the future and feel good about moving forward without being afraid to go anywhere without you. I’m healing. I’m moving. Which is so scary mom, because it’s still away from you.
I think about you in every major decision, whenever someone is in pain, whenever someone is proud of me, or I hurt, or my life changes–you are a part of my future, even if I can’t tell you about it.
Today, sitting in a coffee shop with a good friend, I think about how you would laugh with me at the barbie doll girls sitting next to me, brood with me over the rudeness I felt when someone questioned my intelligence because I’m female, and cry with me when the house I was so excited about slipped through our fingers.
And because I can still remember you and feel you, it’s like you are sharing these things with me. I still fear that I’ll keep forgetting you, that time will erode away the strength of my sense of you. Will I be able to remember your scent, you hugs, the details of your smile and love 30 years from now?
Time is hard…and time is healing.
Grief has a way of making you change and develop even when you don’t want to, maybe especially when you don’t want to.
I can cry now. I couldn’t for about 5 years, unless it was about losing you.
I would never wish for this, but now that it is a part of me I will not begrudge it either.
When I came across this list from americanhospice.org it rang true for me. I was happy to feel that I have been healing. I know my mom would be proud of me to know that I am growing on and growing stronger.
I hope that others can feel resonance with the progress of this list. Maybe you feel some of these changes happening in you after you’ve felt pain or loss. Maybe you haven’t yet, but you will.
As we all move forward through the complications of life, filled with loss and joy, I hope time can continue to bring growth. Time is hard, but time is healing. Time is hard, but time is growth. Time is hard, but time is life–and she would want us to live it well.
You Know You Are Getting Better When…
By Helen Fitzgerald, CT
The progress through grief is so slow, and so often of a “one step forward and two steps backwards” motion, that it is difficult to see signs of improvement. The following are clues that will help you to see that you are beginning to work through your grief:
You are in touch with the finality of the death. You now know in your heart that your loved one is truly gone and will never return to this earth.
You can review both pleasant and unpleasant memories. In early grief, memories are painful because they remind you of how much you have lost. Now it feels good to remember, and you look for people to share memories with.
You can enjoy time alone and feel comfortable. You no longer need to have someone with you all the time or look for activities to keep you distracted.
You can drive somewhere by yourself without crying the whole time. Driving seems to be a place where many people cry, which can be dangerous for you and other drivers.
You are less sensitive to some of the comments people make. You realize that painful comments made by family or friends are made in ignorance.
You look forward to holidays. Once dreaded occasions can now be anticipated with excitement, perhaps through returning to old traditions or creating new ones.
You can reach out to help someone else in a similar situation. It is healing to be able to use your experience to help others.
The music you shared with the one you lost is no longer painful to hear. Now, you may even find it comforting.
You can sit through a church service without crying.
Some time passes in which you have not thought of your loved one. When this first happens, you may panic, thinking, “I am forgetting.” This is not true. You will never forget. You are giving yourself permission to go on with your life and your loved one would want you to do this.
You can enjoy a good joke and have a good laugh without feeling guilty.
Your eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns return to what they were beforehand.
You no longer feel tired all the time.
You have developed a routine or a new schedule in your daily life that does not include your loved one.
You can concentrate on a book or favorite television program. You can even retain information you have just read or viewed.
You no longer have to make daily or weekly trips to the cemetery. You now feel comfortable going once a month or only on holidays or other special occasions.
You can find something to be thankful for. You always knew there were good things going on in your life, but they didn’t matter much before.
You can establish new and healthy relationships. New friends are now part of your life and you enjoy participating in activities with them.
You feel confident again. You are in touch with your new identity and have a stronger sense of what you are going to do with the rest of your life.
You can organize and plan your future.
You can accept things as they are and not keep trying to return things to what they were.
You have patience with yourself through “grief attacks.” You know they are becoming further apart and less frightening and painful.
You look forward to getting up in the morning.
You stop to smell the flowers along the way and enjoy experiences in life that are meant to be enjoyed.
The vacated roles that your loved one filled in your life are now being filled by yourself or others. When a loved one dies he or she leaves many “holes” in your life. Now those holes are being filled with other people and activities, although some will remain empty. You are more at ease with these changes.
You can take the energy and time spent thinking about your loss and put those energies elsewhere, perhaps by helping others in similar situations or making concrete plans with your own life.
You acknowledge your new life and even discover personal growth from experiencing grief.
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)
My mom has a secret cupboard where she stores extra presents that she bought.
I guess it wasn’t actually that secret; my brother and I knew that if we looked in the cupboards in the basement across from the big freezer we would ruin our Christmas/Birthday surprise.
Surprisingly, it was easy for my brother and I to resist the urge to spoil our presents and we mostly left the cupboards alone. That task became more difficult as time went on, though, because my mother had a bit of a present buying addiction and the cupboards had a way of overflowing. She would buy gifts from January until December and usually by around October she’d bought more than enough presents for everyone she knew, so she’d start buying “emergency gifts” or extras for the next year.
It was one of her best and most hoarding-like qualities.
Even though she gave gifts prolifically to those around her and her family, those cupboards in the basement across from the big freezer are still full of “extras”.
This summer I found two Dr. Seuss books there (Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat) that I brought to my new elementary classroom. I knew that she would have wanted to give me a starter care package for my new job and my new kiddos—the cupboards made sure she still could.
And last birthday my dad ciphered through the “extras” and gave me the “Happy Birthday” black socks with cake pieces all over them. This Christmas he found a beautifully hand painted mug still with the tag on the bottom from Ten Thousand Villages, but politely with the price torn off (my mother always taught me it was rude to let someone know how much you’d spent—or saved—on their present).
This was the best gift. This was the gift that read “From: Mom”. This was her still giving and giving even a year and a half after she was gone.
I wonder if some tiny part of her knew…
Knew that she would have to leave early.
Knew that she didn’t want to.
Knew that we would need a cupboard of presents to last us through the years.
I haven’t ravaged through all the extras yet, I still want to be surprised by my mother’s quirky gifts at Christmas and birthdays. But, I have taken a peek and seen baby clothes and house warming wine glasses.
These things won’t make up for the fact that she won’t be there when we move into our first house or if I adopt or have a baby, but a little part of her will be there.
A little part of you will always be here.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart) –-E. E. Cummings