Mom. Nancy. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Aunt. Friend.
She’s one of my favorite people, I was incredibly lucky to have my mom in my life. Please say her name, please continue to talk about her with me.
Highest of highs to lowest of lows
It was over nine years ago now that my mom passed away. I was in a hotel room in Miami, a few hours into my honeymoon, when I got the call. It is a surreal experience to receive a phone call like that. It was a small gift that we hadn’t yet boarded the cruise ship. Instead we were sitting in our hotel room that Friday evening where I could quietly process, grieve, and easily book flights back home when we heard the news.
I sat in an overly calm manner as my sister frantically tried to find words to explain the situation to me, “Mom’s down, mom’s down!” she said with panic in her voice. What did that mean? She said the paramedics were there and she’d call me back. I sat there holding my phone, staring at my husband as the world came to a stop.
“Don’t let the break you”
A few minutes later I called back to my parent’s house, my brother answered and confirmed our mom had died. From some place deep within me and stronger than I, I sat calmly on the phone for the next three minutes giving my younger sibling a pep talk. “Do not let this break you, you have to remember all that mom wanted for you and work harder than you ever have to make your own life great.”
The next hours are a blur. My husband booked us cab rides and flights home that night. The next morning his sister and her husband picked us up from the airport. No one knew what to say. I, who am never at a loss for words, sat quietly feeling as if my head was under water and the everything around was broken down into faded echoes.
As I walked into my parent’s house that next day, it was evident that my dad was not only was he emotionally broken in two, he physically looked more frail than I’d ever seen him look. We sat around the kitchen table catching our breath and creating a game plan for how to proceed, plan a funeral and to remind ourselves to keep breathing. We picked at some caramel rolls that my mom had baked just days earlier. In that sacred circle, as a family we could talk about that. We could say, “How crazy is this that she made these rolls… we are sitting in her kitchen, planning her funeral, eating her rolls and she’s not here”. I wish I would have taken pictures of her kitchen that day so I could remember it forever with her welcoming and loving energy still thick in the air.
I so admire the people that came forward in the following days, our family friend Marilyn who brought over food, and the neighbors who checked in. Even now, years later I wish I was more like those people. The loved ones who walked into that situation and were not put off by the heaviness or the ever ranging span of emotions we were all feeling. They kindly offered non-judging support and space for us to just be. They’d slip in and out, checking in on us. My new husband, who did dishes every night for weeks, took care of every detail of our lives while I spent so much time with my dad and siblings, I’m forever grateful to him for that gift.
I love to talk about my mom still. There have been countless big moments since she passed were I have talked to her, times I’ve imagined her riding in the car with me and one time where I even held out my hand and imagined she was holding it as I drove to a big appointment. I cherish each dream of her, I love to tell my kids about her and I love to honor the 31 years of my life that she was my rock and best friend. I am eternally grateful when I see glimpses of my mom in the mannerisms of both my daughter and my sisters’.
In the years since my mom, Nancy, has passed I’ve noticed three distinct types of people.
There are those who are just like me and love to talk about those who have passed. It feels good to share moments and joys by noticing how much she would have loved certain events. I laugh about what a kick my mom would have gotten out of something one of her grandkids just did. I wonder what she would have though about some tough life choices we’ve each had to make since she’s passed. These often are also the people often who have experienced loss themselves. They know it feels good to have their loved acknowledged, remembered and honored.
The second group of people is those who will have a conversation with you about it, but will not initiate. For this group it’s out of their comfort zone. I love these people for trying though. They want to be supportive, they aren’t sure how far to go in a conversation or if bringing up a deceased love one will cause pain.
“Please say her name.”, is my message for the third group. There was a sacredness in those days following my mom’s death while I spent countless hours shuffling through every memory I could. Even while I recounted the days and weeks leading up to her death, recounting if there was something I could have done, I was getting to spend time with her and her memory. I was re-living experiences with her in my mind. Trying to anchor in my brain every moment and memory I could while it was still there. Even with tears, those memories are such a gift. It means I get to experience her so strongly that it feels real. So please don’t be afraid to share memories with me. If you find an old photo that includes her please share. If you are angry with her for leaving us to soon, that’s okay too. It’s all okay.
If you have someone you know who has lost a parent, a baby, a grandparent, a friend. Give them the chance to heal, to talk about their loved one, to bounce between laughing at a fun memory and crying that they’re gone. In the years following the loss of someone really close, I’ve discovered the way we each handle it can vary. Some people pull a select few people in close and that becomes their safe group to share; it’s their way of holding on and getting through. If you are on the outside of that circle, don’t take it personal, just be there when they are ready. Check in when you can and hold a space for them to build their inner strength to the point they can talk about it.
Other people may be better at pretending everything is normal and as it always was. People force themselves through each day afraid to be swallowed whole by the memories and grief. The best piece of advice I once heard was from a wise women grieving her husband’s death. A few weeks after he had passed she decided she to let herself fully grieve and mourn but start doing one thing each day that made her happy. No pressure, just a tether to the other side of her dark grief.
With the pressure of certain days like Mother’s Day the hole does feel larger.
Talk to me about your mom, it brings me so much joy that you have her. If conversation shifts to my mom, the tears are less now but don’t be afraid if they show up. I am not upset she came up, it means I love her. To talk about and miss her is to continue to pull her into the now, to acknowledge she was here. Don’t let my tears make you nervous. You don’t need to help me stop crying. Don’t think I don’t miss her if I’m joyful in my life. It is all okay. Thank you for having the courage to say her name. Thank you for allowing me space to continue to let her be a part of my now.