My mom was only 68 years old when she died from leukemia on April 27, 2000. Most days it feels like forever since we lost her, but I still wake up once in a blue while (her saying, not sure where it came from) and forget that she is gone. And it hurts so hard.
I realize that not everyone is close to their mother, and so when death comes it brings a lot of feelings that I can’t relate to. I wasn’t always close with my mother, but my recovery brought our hearts and lives together for at least the last ten years of her life. And for that I am so very grateful.
If you are one of the fortunate ones who had a good relationship with your mom and she has passed away in the more recent past, I want you to know that I am very, very sorry. I remember some of what you are feeling, and most of what you are trying not to feel. If you loved your mom so much that you are practically certain that you can’t go on, I want to tell you something.
You can recover from losing your mother.
Not fully. Not ever fully. But one day, maybe many, many years down the road, you will realize that you are kind of okay-ish. Perhaps one day in the very distant future you may even feel strong enough to share your own mother-loss experience with other women.
But not right now.
In these earliest of days (early means at least one year) you are probably swinging between paralysis and hyper-activity. You will find yourself having some difficulty getting through the motions of daily life. Don’t forget to eat, and drink lots of water. Brush your teeth. Put clothes on if you leave the house (bras are optional) and remember that deodorant is a good idea regardless of the season. Staying up all night listening to the music from your childhood that sears through your soul and makes you feel, feel, feel the feelings – is okay for a few days at a time. But please don’t do it every night for a week. Pace yourself.
You need to rest, to recover, to heal. You need to be as gentle with yourself as you would be with your mother if she was going through what you are going through right now. You may need to tell your person (whoever that is) that although she/he mourns too, she/he will need to take charge of your lives for a while. Be firm when you tell your people that there is not a hope in hell of you making any decisions about much of anything in these first few weeks, months, seasons, years. We are all different and on different grief schedules. Take all the time you need. And write this down and refer to it often:
“I need a lot of time to get over this because I really, really, really liked my mother a lot.”
You will think that the worst pain comes in the immediate aftermath of her death, and while that certainly does hurt horrifically, it’s usually a few weeks after the funeral, memorial or whatever your family and loved one chose to mark her passing that the full extent of the loss will hit you. Like a brick. You will recognize the brick minute when it hits. If you are driving, pull over. Go home. Go straight to your bed and let it out. It will be scary but it will be such a release. I promise you.
If you have kids, they will be watching you closely (as mine were), looking for a sign every once in a while that tells them there is at least some hope that you will eventually be okay. You might not believe that, but fake it once in a while, just to give them a break. If your children are really little, snuggle and sleep with them right beside you. If your kids are teenagers, yell at one of them for something ridiculously unimportant. Believe me, they will be encouraged by that. If you are up to it, give them each a hug and say “honey one day soon we will talk about your grief, your pain. But for now, It’s pretty much all about mine.” They will giggle (mine did). Eventually, but not at this moment, you will need to consider that they have been through double hell from losing their grandmother and also watching you crack.
For now, just let all of your children, regardless of size, give you a lot of hugs (hugs heal our broken hearts) and tell them to brush their teeth, wear deodorant (if they are of that age), and put their toys away or turn down their goddamned music down after midnight. The taking God’s name in vain part is optional, but growing up in our family, the option was almost always taken.
I will tell you the one thing that has sustained me through over two decades of “mother missing” has been that I always speak to my mom. In my head, that is. I talk to her about all of the good things that are going on, as well as the bad or scary stuff. And because I knew my mom so very well, as you did yours, I can always, always hear what she would say, if she were here.
You will hear your mom too. It might be too painful to chat with her in the beginning because you are just going to want to keep asking her why she had to fucking die. That will soften. Keep her close and just listen to your heart. Like her favourite music, photos of your mother will bring you both comfort and agony right now. When you are ready, speak to her photos and tell her what you are going through.
Please, do let somebody know if you really hear her talking back to you – out loud. That might be an indication that you require more support. Or maybe not, who am I to judge.
I wish that I could tell you that years from now all of what you are going through will be behind you. Much of it will, but the longing for one more day, one more talk over tea, one more argument even, will likely never fully go away. There have been so many moments over the years when I have whispered to myself or even said out loud, I want my mommy. Speaking about the loss of her own mother, my mom told me that daughters never get over losing their mother, but they do get through it.
I did. You will. Our daughters will.
And after all is said and done, we really are the fortunate ones. We had amazing mothers. Our mother-daughter bonds will never die.
Dawn Nickel is the Founder of She Recovers. She lost her mother the same week that she turned 40 and although she has not been the same since, she is doing great. She Recovers is in part a tribute to her mother-loss, in that it was created as much for women grieving as it is for anyone else.