Downstairs, on the other side of my closed bedroom door, there was an eruption of laughter. The other five members of my family were relishing a moment I was not a part of. I was in bed, barely awake, wondering what was going on.
My four children, who would routinely yell “Mom!” when they scraped their knee or a sibling spat transpired or a shoe became misplaced or a rogue basketball to the face caused tears—now yell something different.
Instead, from my bed, I heard “Dad!” or the name of one of many amazing grandparents or neighbors or friends who had been a constant form of support, love and help for our family over the past few months. Whenever I was able to hear a, “Dad, guess what!”, I would strain to hear the news from under my covers.
Imagine, for a moment, missing your whole life for 229 days. What a bizarre curse, right? That’s what happened to me. I was removed from my place in the driver’s seat and I involuntarily placed my entire to-do list squarely in the hands of others—while I lay hurting in my bed.
Out of the clear blue sky, with zero prior warning, one morning when I woke up:
I was no longer the kisser of boo-boos, the knower of all things, the driver to preschool.
I was not the soccer mom or the flag football mom or the dance mom or the swim mom or the basketball mom.
I was not the cooker of meals, the baker of cookies, the helper of homework, the counselor of woes.
I was not the mom at the bus stop kissing my kids goodbye, the exercising role-model, the picnic maker, the joy-giver.
I was not the fight mediator, the therapist, the teacher-emailer, the sport-register-er, the carpool converser.
I was not the laundry do-er, the bed maker, the floor sweeper, the counter wiper, the basement tidier, the bathroom cleaner.
I was not the weekly schedule keeper, the birthday gift buyer, the manager of all the “special” days of school (i.e. pajama day).
I was also not the fun wife, the celebrating friend, the present daughter, the thoughtful sister, the helpful school event committee member.
And while it was only seven months, it was seven months. I actually missed bits of all four seasons—the end of spring, all of summer, all of fall and half of winter. Instead of going to the gym and to birthday parties, I was in my bed or in countless doctor’s offices and emergency rooms and hospital beds, experiencing explosive, soul-crushing, unbearable pain.
Important games that I normally would have observed from the vantage point of a sideline now were recorded snippets sent from my husband and thoughtful friends, that I watched and cheered through my tears.
This was my life in 2018.
I was bounced from doctor to doctor trying to make sense of my symptoms. We’d wondered if it were Lyme Disease or another tick-borne illness. Or perhaps it was a mosquito bite that carried an awful disease? Then we thought it might be viral meningitis. I’d been told my brain was behaving as if I’d had a concussion or a traumatic brain injury… without any insult.
Then we moved on to maybe it was a neurotropic virus that was attacking my brain. Not one specialist knew what was going on with me or how to classify my pain—for month after excruciating month. But in seeking a second opinion, we confirmed our data-backed suspicion that perhaps this was connected to my birth control—a Mirena IUD.
Sure enough, that was it and I was finally given a diagnosis by an incredible neurologist. Intracranial Hypertension from my hormonal birth control medical device.
But do you know something beautiful?
Moms see other moms. Moms know all that moms do and all that they need. Dads too. And there was a deluge. There was a village of a thousand faces who showed up for our family and filled those roles for our kids on what felt like a thousand different days in a thousand different ways.
Some were my very best friends I knew would always be by my side, and other people I became close with because I had fallen sick. Some of these assists I know about and I’m sure there are countless others that I’m not even aware of.
Dear friends and neighbors who hugged my kids when they fell or shared their packed lunches at the pool. Who cheered for my kids at games. Who texted me when my little ones did something special or cute. Who high-fived my guys after they tried their best in whichever activity was in season. For all of this and more—my heart and soul are deeply grateful.
As I’ve come up for air in the aftermath of it all, there have been many lessons waiting for me. Letting go of the whats and whens and hows and whys have been both unnatural and illuminating all at once. I am not a perfectionist in the true sense of the word, but, upon reflection, I guess I do like things done the way I like things done. (Ahem, does that make me a perfectionist?)
There was no energy or time or capacity to notice this for months and months but now that I am coming back to life, with this new set of eyes and appreciation in my heart, the truth is, really, the majority of things we worry about don’t matter.
I’m also learning to live in real time. The truth is, my fun-loving husband kept our family afloat and then some. While he and I share common values in life and parenthood, our approaches have often been different. I’m more of a by-the-book rule follower and he’s more of an ice-cream-for-dinner-and-stay-up-late kind of parent.
I rock the day-to-day, he brings the magic. It’s a balance we both need in the other. He can totally handle the day-to-day just as I can create magic, but by nature, we are fundamentally different. These differences, prior to this life-changing illness, sometimes bred quibbles.
But guess what? Time has gone by and seven-plus months later—the kids are doing just fine. They may have been bathed less or gotten less sleep or eaten more ice cream, but, they’re okay.
I now know that it’s okay to accept help from your people, mamas, and I wish I realized that sooner.
It’s okay to rest and heal when you need to and let someone else take over for a bit. Other approaches or schedules (or lack thereof) are not only acceptable, they’re necessary—both for our kiddos to become flexible and for us parents to learn and grow.
It’s okay to let people see you when you’re down—to bravely and vulnerably ask for a hand.
I missed loads of joyful and stressful moments these last 229 days—time I can never get back. But my children thrived, thanks to my husband and my village. Thank you. ✨
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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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