Saturday, February 11, 2017


            Grief is a word that I would define as: distress over a loss.  It is a word we think we understand to mean sadness, mourning, and heartache. 

            When you suffer a loss, you are immediately thrown into grief.  There are stages, you are told.  Some say there are 4, some say 5, and others say there are 7.  To cover all the bases, the 7 stages are: shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance/hope. 

            My mom, Kelly, who turned 57 on October 9th, 2016, passed away on November 5th, 2016, after a 7-year battle with a cancer called leiomyosarcoma.  It is a rare cancer, that doesn’t have a treatment plan that is known to work.  It must be treated aggressively, and even then, most people only make it 18 months past diagnosis.  The chemo can be cruel, stripping its’ recipients of their hair and good health.  You are left damaged, and less than you were.  I was lucky that my mom made it for 7 years.

            But no matter how you define grief, it is different for every person.  I was confused directly after my mom passed because I was just fine.  I felt guilty – MY MOM DIED – and I was FINE.  That doesn’t add up.  Shouldn’t I have been laying in a puddle of sadness, bawling my eyes out?  Instead I had this one single moment just after I found out she had passed where I imagined her walking into heaven, into the arms of my beloved Papa, and that made me tear up, but then after that – nothing.  I didn’t really cry that much for the next week until I spoke at her funeral, and then the weight of the moment got me, and I broke down as I spoke, or rather read, what I had to say about her.

            And then, I was fine again.  Emotionally I was okay.  I equated my “fine-ness” to the years I had to prepare myself.  I would find myself talking to my husband and friends, saying, “Shouldn’t I feel sadder?”. 
            “You’re in shock,” some of them would say.  And then I felt like I needed to brace myself for the impact of a 2x4 to the gut, because at some point, that’s how hard it would hit me.  Instead, my grief has come in “pinches”, as I like to refer to them, paining me suddenly and sharply, and wearing off somewhat quickly. 
            People would ask me how I was feeling, and the answer was always the same – “Fine,” I would say.  Although, in my head, in every conversation I would have, I would be thinking, Why are we talking about your new outfit?  Don’t you know my mom is dead?  Shouldn’t we be talking about that?  My mom is dead.  My mom died.  She’s gone.  I will never see her again.  AND YOU WANT TO TALK TO ME ABOUT YOUR NEW OUTFIT?  {theoretical conversation, btw – if you’re reading this and think you offended me by showing me your new clothes, you didn’t.}  Yet at the same time, I didn’t want to talk about it, because I am privately emotional and I don’t want to cry in front of you.  Confused?  Me, too.

            Grief is like its own entity, floating around, making me feel differently day-by-day.  I went to her house a couple days ago for the first time since we picked out her casket outfit – [She looked so lovely by the way.  The best-looking person who wasn’t living I’ve ever seen in my life.  That’s true.  She looked amazing.]  When I went to her house, I saw the place where she lived her last few months.  It was the house they moved to less than half a year before she passed.  That house reminds me of her being sick; barely able to get around, and struggling to breathe.  I saw one of their dogs who is very sick, and will be put down soon – it was as if somebody took a Hoover vacuum, stuck it down my throat, and turned it on.  The air was sucked from my lungs.  I didn’t expect it.  Grief.
            I walked into her bedroom, and I looked through her things.  I found pictures of us as little kids beside her bed.  I stood in her closet and looked at her clothes, bringing them to my face and inhaling deeply; desperately hoping to smell her scent – her eau de Kelly.  They didn’t smell like her; I was sad to find out.  It’s in those moments when you understand that material possessions are just stuff. 
            I chose a few shirts that I wanted to have, and wear.  I found a few of her dark brown, curly hairs on the backs of some of her shirts.  Normally I would have flitted them away, as you do when you find a hair, but I couldn’t.  Those hairs were from before she lost it all to the chemo the final time.  They were long and beautiful, the way she liked to wear it, and I knew there would never be any more of them - those were it.  The last physical pieces of my mom that still exist, apart from her ashes.  I found a hoodie of hers and I tucked the hairs in the hood. 
            I went into her bathroom and I found a bottle of her perfume with only a few squirts left, and I thought this must be “her smell” if she used so much of it.  I put some on my wrist and smelled myself, and I didn’t smell like her still.  {Later in the day I caught a whiff of the dissipated smell, and then I DID smell like her.  I realized that I must have never smelled it fresh, but only ever after a few hours.}
            I took some of her scarves, and some trinkets she had gotten while on one of her European vacations she had taken; trying to live-it-up after her cancer diagnosis.  When my girls arrived home from school that day, I gave them each a scarf and a little red phone booth from London to have.  They wrapped themselves in the scarves, cherishing them like a hug from their “Ma”, and even wore them to school the next day. 

            Other days I feel nothing.  I don’t feel sad.  I think of her fondly, and I wish I could text her.  I see something funny, and I want to show her.  Last night at dinner, the funniest thing happened.  We were out to eat at our favorite Mexican spot, and there were two ladies seated next to us having dinner.  They were just about to leave when the waiters/mariachi band came around the corner singing and plopped a sombrero on the head of the younger of the two women.  You would expect happiness out of the supposed birthday girl, but instead her face was perplexed.  She began saying, through their singing, “But it’s not my birthday,” repeating herself several times until the song ended.
             Afterwards I said to her, “It’s really not your birthday?” 
            “No.  My birthday is in April,” she responded. 
            We all laughed together.  Even my kids were laughing. 
            I wanted to text my mom.  She would have thought it was hilarious.  I can imagine her cracking up, and telling me a story about her days working at Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant where something similar might have happened.  I can imagine her face lighting up as she told me the details, and the excited tone she would use as she told the story.  I will miss going to eat Mexican with my mom, who could always tell me a detailed description of each and every dish, after years spent in the restaurant biz.  I order her favorite dish, fajitas rancheras, every time we go for Mexican, and imagine her building her perfect taco. 

            It’s been 3 months and 6 days since her death, and today is different for me than that day was, or even how yesterday was.  I want my mom.  I don’t want to be 29, and mom-less.  Or spend my 30th birthday without her.  I don’t want to experience more of my life without my mom than I did with her.  I don’t want to have to find a new normal, and I keep grasping at ways to keep her near me.  Today, it’s writing this blog.  It’s talking about her.  Tomorrow I might have to go lay in her bed, surrounding myself in her stuff again.  I’m not sure, but thank you to those of you who have prayed for me, and reached out.  To those of you that haven’t, I understand this is hard, and I hope you will someday, because to be surrounded by the people that loved my mom is the closest I can get to actually being in her presence.  I want to hear your stories about her, and for you to tell me the reasons why I remind you of her, or don’t.  Those memories are precious, and keep her alive for a few moments.

            Thanks, Mom for the wonderful years, and for loving us so deeply, with all your heart.

            I love you.

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