I’m feeling good. Content. Like things are headed in the right direction. My kids are happy for the moment and not fighting. I feel on top of my to-do list. Work is going well. I’m meeting with a friend tonight for coffee and to catch up. My kitchen floor is swept and I put away three loads of clean laundry today. But then it hits me. Like a brick wall. I stop in my tracks, and the flutters start in my heart. Within 30 seconds I feel like my airways are closing in. I can’t breathe. I’m not SUPPOSED to be happy. I’m not SUPPOSED to move on. If I move on and become happy, I’m losing that piece of myself that I left with my mom. That piece that I left with her three years ago when she took her last breath. I remember I’m never going to see her again. I’m never going to hear her voice again. I will never get to experience that again. My mom is gone.
I was her only child. I had step-siblings, but didn’t live with any of them. I grew up with the most caring, affectionate, loving mom I could ever ask for. She was beyond amazing. I would love to be even half the mother she was. She was much less selfish than I was. More patient. I don’t think I could ever reach to be half of what she was.
I had a great childhood, and of course I went through the stages of fighting with my mom and “hating” her. I said so many hurtful things to her, and I wish I could take them back. But I’m ok with all of that, because she knew me. She got me. She understood me more than I could understand myself; she knew I never meant any of it, and that I loved her so much. And I know she knew this. So we’re ok. She knows my love for her, and I know her love for me. In college, I missed her. I missed her so much that I moved home after my freshman year and transferred to a university that was closer to my house. I spent the next few years back at home with her, and it was nice. I still did my thing and had fun, but she took care of me. She still did my laundry, cooked my dinners, packed me healthy snacks and lunches when I was going to be gone all day for school and work. I was her baby.
My therapist always said we had a very unusual, and even unhealthy, relationship. My mom enabled me, which did make it harder once I had to do things on my own. What? I have to do my own laundry? I have to cook my own dinners and pick up after myself?
But through all of this, even knowing we didn’t have the relationship we should have had and that I probably should have been more independent as a 20 year old, we had an awesome relationship. She was my best friend. She was my mom. She was my safe person. Gosh, I still remember this dark fuchsia sweater she would wear, and I remember what it was like when she wrapped her arms around me for a hug. She was affectionate. She always let me know how much she loved me. She had my back on everything, even if she didn’t agree. I was one lucky girl to have her as my mom.
A few months before I turned 21, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the worst, most aggressive form of breast cancer. She went through chemotherapy, radiation, and had a mastectomy. She eventually was in remission, and it was during her remission that I got married and had my first child. Having my own child brought me even closer to my mother. I went to her with all of my questions. She was my “go to” person for my pregnancy and becoming a mother. I wanted to know how she did it, because she did such a great job. We spent our days together, going for long walks during my pregnancy, and then with my baby boy in the stroller. We went shopping, out to lunch, to movies, and just spent time together at each other’s houses, playing with my son, D (’05). She adored D and her world began to revolve around him. She would pick him up from daycare at least once a week, and keep him for hours. She taught him how to do puzzles, and began working on reading way before he was probably ready (although he is extremely smart and well above grade level, and I do thank her for that). D admired and loved my mom, his MeeMaw, so much. They had such a special bond.
When I was pregnant with my second son, M (’09), the cancer returned. She was still able to spend time with D, but our walks and activities were slowing as my pregnancy progressed since she was in so much pain. By the time M was 7 months old, my mom was paralyzed from the rib cage down due to a tumor. I struggled seeing the different relationship between my mom and my second son. I wanted that closeness between both of my children and their MeeMaw. I wanted M to have every benefit of this amazing woman as his grandmother, but she just couldn’t function the same way she once could for D.
My mom spent the next 17 months in a severe amount of pain and in a wheelchair. She always was so hopeful that she would get better and be able to run around with and enjoy her grandchildren again. Christmas 2010 was her last Christmas with us. By that point, she was in Hospice care. I remember bringing over her a thank you note for Christmas, along with M’s invitation to his second birthday. She loved the thank you note and the invitation. I will never forget the picture I used for that invitation. I gave her it, knowing she wouldn’t be able to actually travel to my house for the party, but I wanted her to know how badly I wanted her there. Little did I know that she wouldn’t even be alive for his birthday. She was gone only a few days after I gave her that invitation. My own mother was gone before my son turned 2. I worried about him growing up not remembering her and knowing her only through my stories.
December and January, every year, is a huge challenge for me. The first two years after my mom’s death, I wanted nothing to do with Christmas or M’s birthday. It was too painful. I didn’t want to move on. I feared, and still do fear, putting distance between my time with her and the present. Another Christmas, another birthday – that is more time since the last time she touched me, talked to me, hugged me, and kissed me. Knowing that my son wasn’t even 2 when his MeeMaw passed away, and that I am now getting ready to send out the invitations for his fifth birthday party, just kills me inside. Each year that I plan his party, do the invitations, and think about the cake, I am reminded of that last invitation that I delivered to my mom. I’m reminded that it’s another celebration of one of her grandkids that she is missing. Another year has gone by that my children have been without their MeeMaw.
However, this year there has been a change. I still have that heart stopping pain, where I feel like I can’t breathe. I still have my moments where I hate everything in the world because all I want is my mom. But then I think about everything she did for me, and how I want to pass that along to my own children. Her traditions. Her comfort. Her love. Her warm hugs. My friends even noticed that this Christmas was different. One of my best friends asked me why I seemed happy this Christmas. Why did I actually decorate my house for Christmas and put up the tree this year? I usually feel so guilty if I move on and feel happy. I don’t want to be happy without my mom. I don’t want to enjoy life without someone who is so special to me. Am I betraying her by moving forward with my life? My friend said she could tell that I was choosing happiness, and to live. We have two choices – to live in pain and grief, and to try to live in happiness, remembering the good. This year I’m choosing happiness, and that’s ok. What my mom would want most is for me to be a happy mom, and to be able to raise happy children. It doesn’t mean I’m leaving her behind. I’m just carrying her with me on my journey.