It’s been a year since my mom’s disease finally took her: a year without her nearby, a year not thinking about her medical issues, a year not sitting to watch her sleep through her days and nights, and also a year of not having to worry about these things anymore.
The initial shock of her death, which was still shocking even though I watched its slow progression, wore off over time. Suddenly, it was a few weeks after she was gone, then a month, then six months. And the first few were hard. The acceptance and recognition of never seeing someone again, never hearing their voice, and knowing that all that’s left is memories shared among a small group of people is heartbreaking in the beginning. That’s all there is. Besides the fact that my mom left almost no real possessions; even if she did, that’s all they would be – possessions, material objects that a person once owned. They might bring a smile or a tear in remembrance, but they can’t stand in for anything more than that. (It was more comforting to have a favorite picture of her around than a beloved China set anyway.)
Once I accepted her finally being gone, the real grief set in, although most days I felt fine. Logically, I understood the process and sometimes found relief in knowing that she no longer had the shell of a life she had before she passed. Still, I knew it would hurt, even if she and I were not the closest or best friends like some mothers and daughters were, I knew it was a loss. And, as it turns out, a big one. In the pamphlets that the hospice sent, this fact was pointed out again and again – the loss of parent can be harder than most.
These hard times would hit me seemingly out of the blue – suddenly I would be crying all day for no apparent reason, floundering in a bottomless well of sadness, and feeling like it would never end. I tried not to stop any of this. I tried to let it out as it needed to come, and that wasn’t easy. I can see why people push it down, drink away the pain, or distract themselves to not feel it.
At about the six month point I decided to take up the offer from the hospice and speak to a grief counselor. As my best friend put it, “that’s free therapy, you should take that.” So, I did. After a few weeks of phone tag and figuring out Covid protocols (because they were still in effect), I finally met Kathy in person in a small, windowless office with a cluttered desk, an extra chair, and a bookcase that I stared at during the silent spaces.
She spoke to me about the change that a death creates, not just in the physical absence of the person, but also the routines that the living had while caring for that person. She asked me about what was different now, what I remembered most about my mom, and how my kids were affected. But she also left a lot of silence for me to fill and that was difficult. It just hurt – I had no real words to express that in detail.
After that meeting, I thought about Kathy said, and while writing about it, I realized that my mom’s death was more than her being gone permanently from our lives, it was also the end of times in my life in which she was an anchor. Not just childhood, which has faded into memories here and there, but my late teen years and into my early twenties, when I was constantly working and going to school, and we lived in San Jose.
Back then, it was mostly my mom, my brother, and me (and my other brother occasionally), along with whoever my mom let live there at the time – it could be one of our friends, or a cousin, or my boyfriend (now husband). Anyone who needed a place, she would let them have it at our house on Sager Way. Her presence was constant, but more comforting than overbearing. She worked a lot, but I remember her in her room, watching TV on her bed, giving me the latest weather report in the morning (way back when we relied on the news meteorologist).
I realized that my mom’s passing meant a goodbye to that place and that time as well. It was home, it was safe, and she was always there. Now, that was over. And even though I knew that had ended a very long time ago, my mom signified that time. It was not only the loss of her I was grieving, but also a period of our lives together that wasn’t always easy but it was familiar, less complicated, and pivotal in some ways – the time before permanently leaving the nest.
I knew I needed to do something to say goodbye to her and to that time. I wrote a letter of sorts, more of a list of things I remembered, both the good and the bad because I knew having only nostalgia was not true or helpful. I acknowledged that space in time, my mom’s presence in it, and the sadness I felt because it was gone and she with it.
I re-read it, said thank you to the past, and burned it. Some think that fire can purify and heal; I was willing to give it a try. And it did help. Maybe it was the act of writing, the acknowledgement of times gone by, or facing the pain; whatever it was, the entire process helped. My days of extreme sadness dulled into ones of less persistent pain. The loss of my mom still hurts. I see a picture of her or think of a random memory from childhood and the sting is still there, but less so.
These days, I try to think of and point out the funny little quirks my mom had (and she had quite a few). It makes me feel like she still lives on in some way. My kids know her silly sayings and sometimes goofy mannerisms. My brother, husband, and I will bring them up when we notice something that reminds us of her. It helps. We know she won’t be coming back, and I honestly would not want her to be back in the same situation, but each day I can remember the things about her that make me smile. And on the days when it feels too hard, I know that they will eventually pass. She is gone but not forgotten. Miss you, Ma.