It’s been a little over two months since I lost my mom to cancer. When I say the words “I lost my mom” out loud, they don’t seem right, because a lost sock can be found again. This isn’t just a missing sock. This is a huge hole in my gut, which will never, ever go away.
Losing a parent means you’ve joined a club with people who understand that just walking out the front door with your shoes on and your hair washed can be a challenge. It means that grocery shopping and picking up brussels sprouts, and remembering how much your mom loved to eat them once she realized she could cook them in the oven rather than boiling them, and they actually tasted good, makes your eyes start to burn.
It’s wanting to go for a run to create endorphins to stop the screaming of, “Your mom died!” that keeps running in your head over and over, but you can’t because you also want to curl up in a ball and cry while watching “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix because it was “your thing” growing up with her.
There are a million things that change and take on new meanings and shapes. There are a million words that suddenly don’t seem so nice anymore. There are a million faces that don’t bring comfort like they used to.
I know time will help. This isn’t my first loss, but it is the hardest.
So here are a few things that happen when your mom dies, in case you wanted to know where my head has been lately, or if you’re trying to figure out why your friend who lost her own mom smells like a garbage can half the time, or cries at a simple Pampers commercial.
You cry a lot, and at random times. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen a cute commercial and started sobbing hysterically. Maybe the character’s mom was cheering them on at a soccer game, or maybe she was just giving them a hug. Literally anything that shows another mom in it will have you crying.
Don’t even get me started on walking around in public and seeing another mom with their child. I’m planning a wedding right now and almost started weeping when I was at a wedding show and they asked for mother/daughter duos to come on stage and win a prize. Sure, it wasn’t meant to hurt me, but it burned.
You may get closer to your dad. This isn’t really a negative. When you lose your mom, you suddenly realize that you need your dad’s support and strength more than ever. While he’s grieving as well, there’s something special about sharing this together and being able to reminisce as a pair. You realize that you start telling your dad about your day in the same way you used to tell your mom, in hopes that maybe things will feel normal. It doesn’t, but it does help a little to know that someone still has your back, and you’re not going into every situation alone.
Life seems like you’re permanently wearing sunglasses, never the same brightness it was before. I don’t know how to explain this to someone who hasn’t lost a parent. Just trust me, nothing will have the same brightness after you lose your mom. Those cute shoes at the store you were eyeing suddenly just seem like a stupid idea. That new casserole you wanted to make? Its ingredients are still at the back of the pantry collecting dust. You’ll get back in the routine someday, but it won’t be today.
You’ve joined a club with supportive people—one you never wanted to be in. No one ever wants to join the “I lost a parent” club. Fortunately when you do, you’ll find that these are the people you needed in your life and they came at the perfect time. These are the people who will set their cell phone to a different ringer for you so they absolutely won’t miss your call at 2am. These are the people who let you cuss like a sailor every other word because life is just not fair anymore. These are the people who will let you still be upset a month, a year, even 10 years from now. That brings me to my next point…
People seem to expect you to be okay after about a week or two. If they aren’t a part of the “I lost a parent” club, people expect you to be okay pretty fast. Once the shock of the funeral (if you had one—we didn’t) wears off, people will slowly start to forget about your pain and expect you to be normal again. It’s okay to avoid people for a little while. It’s okay to still be grieving. Remind those you love how hard this is. Sometimes people are so focused on themselves, they forget how to be a real friend.
You can never fully grieve because something new hits you every day. When my mom passed away, I was on my second day of a three-week trip overseas. I had to push my grieving back because I wasn’t home and I had school and places to see. There was no funeral, so no reason to go home. My mom had wanted it this way.
I tried to push through and be okay, I really did. But grief would slip out of me and I would find myself hysterically crying in the middle of a street in Dublin. When I got home, I still felt like I should be okay, at least for my son and my dad. I didn’t want them to think I was falling apart. So I held a lot of my sadness inside. It’s hard to fully grieve, especially when you’re a parent. When I’m trying to remember what ingredients my mom used in her special lasagna, I find myself grieving all over again. It never really stops, you just learn to accept it.
Your child’s curious words will make your heart hurt. My son is four so death is not something he’s used to. Trying to explain to a four-year-old the idea of someone being gone is pretty impossible. We tried the “Mom-Mom is in heaven and she’s an angel and always looking down on you” stuff. And for the most part it works, but then there are the days where he’s reminding me, “Mommy, you don’t have a mom anymore,” where my heart breaks all over again. He doesn’t know it’s mean, he just says it like a statement. Because it’s true, I don’t. But man do those words hurt.
You’ll experience a whole new kind of pain when you start to see how much it’s affected your children. On the flip side to him being curious, he’s also very sad. When my mom began receiving Hospice care, my son regressed and started wetting the bed at night again. We’ve tried everything to make him stop.
When I’m tucking him in and his tiny voice says things like, “I miss Mom-Mom,” or, “Why does Mom-Mom have to die?” my heart aches. He constantly brings her up and while he might not always sound sad, I can tell that this is harder on him than he lets on. I just wish I could hold all his broken pieces together so he doesn’t have to experience this kind of pain.
You may try to scour their phone, Facebook account, Netflix account, etc. searching for one last message, and it’ll likely drive you bonkers. My mom and I shared a Netflix account which I now feel so thankful for. It’s weird, but all I want to do is know my mom better. I searched through her phone looking for advice. I check Netflix to see what shows she was obsessed with. I went on her Facebook account looking for answers to questions I didn’t even know I had.
I try to find notebooks with her handwriting, hoping maybe she left a note for me somewhere. It will frustrate you to do this, but you can’t help it. You just need one more piece of her, however tiny it is.
You’ll be jealous of everyone else who still has a mom. (Especially when they take her for granted.) From this point forward, you shall never complain about your parent in front of me again. Because darling, you have no idea how lucky you are and how much I want to be in your shoes. Cherish them. Love them. Be thankful you have one more day with them.
Hug your babies tight. Tell your mom you love her. Seek her advice and wisdom. Don’t take these moments for granted. You only have one mom, and when she’s gone you’ll wish you’d never said an ugly word to her your whole life.
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I’m due in 2 weeks with baby #3, a girl, and our last baby. I have a girl named Jane (always goes by Janie) and a Maxwell (nearly always Max). I swore if I ever had another girl, I’d name her Audrey. I’ve loved the name forever.
Somewhere in this pregnancy, though, I also fell in love with the name Nellie. We’d use it as a stand alone, mostly because we don’t love any of the more formal names for which it has been derived. I feel like it works alone as it was in the top 20 in the early 1900s for years. My kids love the name, my husband loves it and really I love it too. But I’m so worried that I’ll regret never using Audrey. I’d bump Audrey to the middle spot, but we’ve already selected a family name for the middle from my husband’s side (which has been largely neglected during the naming of all of our children). Do you or readers have thoughts or clever solutions?
Other considerations: I’m worried about my Janie feeling like her name is “boring”, so I’m resistant to using more flamboyant names (Penelope comes to mind). Our last name starts with M and we already have a Max so I’d like to avoid using other M names.
One possibility is that you love the name Audrey, you have always loved the name Audrey, you WILL always love the name Audrey, and you are just having a little fling with the name Nellie—but will come back to Audrey in the end (though we are running out of time for that to happen). Another possibility is that you love and have always loved and will always love the name Audrey, but now you have discovered the name Nellie and so all names have been re-ranked, and the challenger has defeated the champion.
I’m interested to know what the situation was with your first daughter’s name. Had you always loved the names Jane and Audrey, and it was a huge struggle to decide which name to use first, and you finally decided on Jane but with the comforting thought that you could use the name Audrey next time? Or was the name Jane the clear favorite over the name Audrey? Or was the name Audrey the favorite, but there was another motivating reason (honor name, etc.) to use the name Jane?
All of these things factor into the current decision, and I can’t tell from the letter which things are most likely to be the case. This is the kind of thing that would work best over coffee and doughnuts, while sitting in comfy chairs. We would pick through it piece by piece, and doughnut by doughnut.
It is not uncommon to decide on a name, and then get nearly to the point of using the name and decide against using it. Sometimes it’s that a name seems like a great idea until an actual baby is on the way / almost born, at which point things click into a new kind of reality and the name doesn’t seem right at all. Sometimes it’s that a name is the chosen name for so long, it gets a little…stale, or something. Sometimes a name that would have been EXACTLY RIGHT at one point in time is, for whatever reason, no longer exactly right at a different point in time. Sometimes a better name comes along. It can then feel weird to change one’s mind—and, for some of us, it can feel worryingly RIPE FOR REGRET. What if we wish we’d stuck to our original decision??
And our fears are not totally baseless, because it’s also not uncommon to decide on a name, and then get a crush on another name and go spinning out on that idea for a bit, but then come back with relief to the original decision. I am susceptible to that myself: Paul and I agree on a list of names, decide on one name from that list—and then I hear a name on TV and OH MY GOSH I LOVE THAT NAME, WHAT IF THAT IS THE NAME?? But soon the name-crush fades and I’m back to our previous choice and glad the baby wasn’t born during that brief interlude when I was entertaining another name.
But sometimes a name turns out to be not a crush but a dark horse. When Paul and I were naming Henry, we were down to two finalists, one of which was the near-certain front-runner but I didn’t want to give up discussing the other option yet, when abruptly a new name came out of nowhere: we had never considered it for any of our babies before. I thought it might just be a name crush, but after awhile it seemed more as if the reason we couldn’t commit to either of the two finalists was that neither of them was Right, and this new name was Right, and we did use it, and I’m glad. (I do think our previous finalist would have been a really good choice too, though, and I don’t think I’d have been sorry if we’d used it.)
I think it can help to differentiate between a DECISION and an INTENTION. You can decide at age 12 to name a future daughter Emily because it is the most beautiful and perfect name in the world—but a couple of decades and an acquired co-parent and several actual pregnancies and a decade of Top-Ten Emilys later, that decision turns out to have been an INTENTION: the elements of the decision were not yet in place at age 12, so no decision was actually made. I would say you intended to name your second daughter Audrey, but now that all the elements of the decision are actually in place, this is when you get to make the actual decision. I don’t think you should feel bound by your earlier intention (if you ARE feeling at all bound by it).
It has helped me, with time, to find that I maintain tender feelings for names we almost used, but in not a single case so far do I wish we’d used the Almost name instead. I think you can pick Nellie/Audrey (whichever you end up preferring) as the given name, and end up just feeling ever-tender toward the name Audrey/Nellie. I have several Almosts on my naming list, and I mention them pretty often on this blog in the hopes that others will use them, and I use a couple of them as pseudonyms for the kids, and I have secret hopes of seeing any of them used for grandchildren—but I don’t have any serious regrets about not using them. More like a fun “That was the name we Almost Used for you!”—but the name we Actually Used seems better.
I think one option is to name her Audrey and nickname her Nellie. I can be on the conservative end of the spectrum about nicknames, and so you might expect me to be opposed to such an idea—but in this particular case it seems like it has the potential to solve the whole thing nicely. Anyone wondering about the connection can be told a cheery “She just SEEMED like a Nellie!”: even I, so conservative about nicknames, would think “Oh! Okay! That makes sense! Sometimes things happen that way!” And the name Audrey doesn’t have other any natural nicknames to fight for the role. And I like the parallel set-up of Jane/Maxwell/Audrey and Janie/Max/Nellie (instead of Nellie being the only one who has just one version of her name), and I like the idea of her ending up with a more formal name if she wants one later on, without you feeling forced to choose a traditional long-form you don’t like much. And the combination Audrey/Nellie sounds right to me in a way that makes me wonder if I once read a book with an Audrey called Nellie. And also I just for whatever reason want you to have BOTH. I am perhaps getting soft in my later years.
Oh wait! I have had another idea, and it is my top favorite: name her Nell. (Unless you already considered that option among other more-formal names for Nellie, but I am imagining you were thinking more along the lines of Eleanor and Penelope, because of the reference to not wanting to get fancier than Jane.) It’s less diminutive than Nellie as a given name, while still letting you use the diminutive as you do with the name Jane/Janie, and it gives her a name/nickname just like her siblings. Jane, Maxwell, and Nell; Janie, Max, and Nellie. My one concern is that this option highlights the similarity between the -ell of Maxwell and the -ell- in Nellie.
And I think it’s worth reconsidering the middle name situation to decide which option the two of you like better / feel better about: using the honor name, or having a way to salvage/save the name Audrey. Sometimes honor names just don’t come out even, and that’s okay, especially if this is a situation where your husband’s family has been honored in everyone’s surname.
Mom and dad’s sleep patterns are disrupted long after that child, officially, can sleep through the night.