Today marks three years without my mom. And once again, I’ve been reflecting in recent days on just what that means for me. I debated publishing something this year – part of me thinks that I’m the only person who could possibly still be interested in how I feel about losing my mom three years later. Most people lose their parents -it’s a fact of life, the order of things. But maybe that’s the point. It’s the most universal of experiences and yet I’ve found myself feeling lost and lonely so many times as I tried to navigate these waters. So here I am again, trying to put words to it all, hoping someone else will find them helpful.
Three years on, I’m in the midst of really understanding that some of the emotions and pain stirred up by losing my mom aren’t about this loss at all. Certainly many of them were, and are. But sometimes the obvious answer is just cover for the inconvenient one.
Over the past three years, I’ve read countless accounts of people losing loved ones by any number of terrible means and bitterly resented the time they suffered together, the chance to understand that death was imminent and the opportunity to have meaningful conversations before it was too late. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.
In the first week or so after my mom’s stroke, there were some good days, relatively speaking, at the hospital. She couldn’t speak due to the apraxia but she could communicate the basics. We thought there was a long road ahead, therapy and rehab and adjusting. I just kept thinking that if ever there was a person in the world who could navigate that road with grace, it was her. I held her hand a lot and let her know that I was there, that we were in this together. But mostly we were firmly anchored in the moments, and our exchanges were about eating and resting and the mountain of cards she had received. I never imagined that one of those days would be my last chance for lucid communication.
By the time we realized that she was declining, her ability to communicate had completely slipped away. She could never tell us that she understood what was happening, that she was at peace, that it was ok. If there’s anything I’ve wished for more than any bit of extra time, it is to hear two simple words: “it’s ok”. Oh, I have ached to have heard those two words from her before she died.
For most of the last three years, I felt like those details stung so sharply because they were the particularly cruel details of her death. What I understand now is that the whole story I’ve just told you isn’t about me being assured that she’s ok and I’m ok. I know that she’s at peace and I can see every day that I’m ok.
But a lot of days I find it hard to really know that I’m ok. The pain isn’t that she couldn’t tell me, or that I’m unsure. It’s about really trusting and knowing, in my heart, that it’s ok. That I’m ok. That everything is going to be ok. That distinction likely makes no sense to anyone but me. But it feels like all the difference.
What I can see now is that the vein of insecurity is much older and deeper than three years. Her death just tapped into it. It’s not just about healing the grief, it’s about healing me. And that requires growing my way out. I think that’s probably true of any loss, but especially so of your mother. No matter how old you are, it shifts something. To be motherless is to feel vulnerable and exposed and disoriented in ways I couldn’t have imagined when she was alive. I think that is most what her loss feels like right now – the challenge of finding a way to grow myself out of the hurt that remains.
Three years. I miss her. And I wish my mom could see the person I’m becoming. I don’t think we ever outgrow that inclination.