January is a rough month for me. I lost my mother January 25, 2002 four days after her 56th birthday, when she lost her battle with colon cancer, the grief is twice the weight. For the past 15 years, January reminds me of not being able to celebrate my mother’s birthday among other milestones and it is also the reminder that she is dead.
This year for some reason, grief has showed up and it’s been rough and I can’t explain why. I spent this weekend, lying on my couch, dozing on and off, barely eating, and yes although i’m fighting a nasty cold, i think the cold itself is not even that bad…the grief overweight the cold. Truth is, I am mourning not having my mother another year to celebrate her birthday, cut a cake, taking her out to dinner, buying her a gift, writing her birthday card, instead all I can do is light a candle, buy her favorite flowers and place the last photo we took with her next to them. It sucks and it hurts.
Grief has no expiration date. Never leaves. It is never concluded. It simply evolves. When you lose a loved one, people always tell you that the first year is rough. Not quite so, loss of a loved one is rough all around, always. Some years are harder than others but no matter what, it is always hard and painful.
In many ways, I feel as it time has flown by very fast. This Wednesday will be 15 years and a lot has changed but the one thing that remains constant is that I miss her and that feeling doesn’t go away and for as long as I live, it won’t. Dealing with her loss has been a process, one that has not ended but one that has taught me a lot.
Grief taught me that the world doesn’t stop when you lose a loved one. Life goes on. The first few days or months, perhaps the first year everyone remembers like you do, they check up on you and do their best to keep your spirits up but truth is they have to go back to their lives and as much as they try their lives and your life must go on . You have to keep living and do the regular daily things. Right after her funeral, I remember looking out the window of my sister’s car, it felt like being in the Twilight Zone, where no one could hear or feel this devastating pain, they just kept on: walking to work, dropping off kids to school, blasting music, sipping on some coffee and there you are not knowing what to do, how to feel, where to begin a new life without your mother. Trying to hold onto every memory that flashbacks your mind, praying not to forget, repeating the flashbacks over and over on your head as if the VHS cassette of your favorite movie you played over and over until you memorized every move, every word, every song…
Grief comes unannounced and is a wild thing you can’t tame. I have found myself at a store looking at a blouse and thinking Mami will love this and then, I remember, I can’t buy it. And again I am slammed with the realization that Mami is no longer in this earth so I can’t locate her, I can’t see her, I can’t touch her. And, I cry my brains out.
Other times, I can be having a great day, smiling ready to start the day and a song comes on the radio that reminds me of her and grief smacks me again like the cold air that hits my face while I’m running, making my eyes fill up with water and tear up. The difference is, the tear up turns into crying, an ugly crying and I can’t stop and don’t care to be seeing like this.
Then there are those times when you really want to cry and let everything out but nothing happens, you’re numb and quiet, you’ve bottled everything in but still you can’t cry but you’re angry and that anger hurts too.
Grief is also a constant reminder of your loss, like when the calendar reminder of your mom’s birthday pops up on your phone, as if you will ever forget. Even if you want to you, you can’t. The reminder, stings and you bleed out your pain again.
There is no magic formula to deal with grief nor a pill you can take to cure from it.
The earliest memories I have of my mother are of her taking care of my sister and I, combing our hair, ironing our uniforms, dropping us off at school every morning in her Malibu, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, reviewing our homework and also the times she was not able to attend the talent shows because she was working.
My mom was also my best friend. My advocate, my voice of reason, my guidance.
The last memories I have of her, are her 56th birthday, she looked happy and sad. She knew it was her last; her last night at the hospital, when she didn’t sleep and kept looking at my sisters and I, pensive, tapping her lower lip with her index finger the same way my son does when he is falling asleep. I remember waking up and asking her what was wrong, she said “nothing” but her eyes said different. She was not ready to leave but she had no choice; when she took her last breath surrounded by all of us, one last tear running through her face while she closed her eyes. I was shocked. That moment was surreal, still is.
And the very last memory I have, is of me dressing her at the funeral home, our last conversation.
There are also those moments in my life that lack a memory with my mom: my sister’s Law School graduation, her wedding, my wedding, letting her know I was expecting, my baby-shower, becoming a mom, getting divorce, my writing….and the list goes on and on…
Nothing prepared me for the loss of my mother. Even knowing that she will die, when she called me that night at 3:00 a.m. saying it was time, for me to fly back and be with her, did not prepare me. Mothers are your entry into this world, they give you life, nurture you, protect you, love you unconditionally. Waking up in this world without her it is unimaginable but painfully my reality.
My mother died young and I feel robbed of fifteen plus years of her presence I’d imagined having with her and although in many instances I am considered lucky to have spent all the years I spent with her still doesn’t make this grief any easier. It hurts and at times it makes me angry.
I think about her every day. She crosses my mind often and there are those dates that always lead me to remember her: her birthdays, her anniversary, Mother’s Day, Christmas to think about what she is missing, what I am missing.
The bond between a mother and a child is so unlike any other, it is irreplaceable. I don’t like to think of myself as unmothered or as an orphan but the irreplaceability of that bond and the reminder that I wake up every morning without my mother tells me that I am and that I must mother myself. It hurts.
On the other side the spectrum, grief has taught me compassion. Everyone carries their own pain and there are others in this world who also share this pain and grief because they’ve also lost their mothers. For some reason, you’re drawn to many of them and you become part of a club you never wished you belong but you feel understood, you held each other and the grief you share provides a lens into a different way of seeing things, a shared understanding of how to live life in perspective within the loss.
But grief also strengthens you. As ironic as it sounds, my mother’s death gave me strength, thinking of her relentless determination to fight to be alive has inspired me and pushed me to do things I never thought I would do. It pushed me to write, which has helped me capture her memory and legacy by recalling and encoding it through my stories.
I have learned and am still learning from this grieving journey. It is a learning I didn’t ask for or hope for but there is a knowledge, a wisdom, and a perspective that is gained. You do have an appreciation for life itself, you re-visit the meaning and the importance of living in the present moment and to enjoy every second you are given in this earth. For that I am grateful but like every other year, I am letting myself feel all of this and cope with this pain, because is the only option and after Wednesday I will carry on just like I have.