Adapting to Life After Losing Mom

Photo by Marcelo Silva on Unsplash

Within the Grief Refuge community, many people share their story. Sharing your grief story can be helpful in the healing process. This article shares a personal grief story from “Tina”, who has graciously said ‘yes’ to others knowing about her healing journey.

My favorite memories with my mom are of the times we would be snuggled in my bed. She would run her hands through my hair and whisper, “it’s all going to be okay.”

She had a gift for making my heart melt and helping me feel safe. I’ve never felt more safe than in the comfort of her arms wrapped around me. She was home to me. We were connected in our hearts and in our Souls. It’s hard to explain.

My mom’s absence becomes more felt and the void she left gets harder and harder to fill. I don’t just miss my mom. I imagine her with me, then reach for her, and then collapse in the agony of my grief.

I wish I could call her, just to know she is doing all right. I wish I could tell her how scared I really am. I need to hear her whisper, “it’s all going to be okay” one more time. The sound of her voice and the love felt from her; there’s nothing to replace that feeling. Absolutely nothing.

I see my friends with their parents; in fact, some of them spend almost all of their time with them. They cling to them for support and have a safe place to fall back on. Although I do have my dad and he is wonderful, I can’t help that it stings a little harder to know I will never have my mom here again.

I will never again have my mom here to help me get through the hard stuff.

I will never again have her support in the times I need her the most.

I will never again get to hear her tell me that things will get better and that she will always be here for me.

Even when I think about her presence, memory, and our soulful connection, it doesn’t make it easier that I can’t see her, touch her or even remember her smell anymore. It doesn’t make it any easier that although I can close my eyes and imagine her, I can’t hold her hand anymore.

I know I’m in a dark place right now. I’ve accepted that. I am a functioning human being who is grieving. I take a shower, do my hair, eat Cheetos, and binge watch Netflix from time to time.

Strangers might look at me and then look away without seeing any grieving part of me, although I feel like I’m wearing my grief on the outside of my blouse. All the time.

I like not being recognized right now. It’s easier for me. I don’t have to pretend anything. Nor do I have to explain. I might be protecting myself from more hurt but I already feel enough hurt as it is.

Still, I crave the woman who stopped breathing 12 years ago on an otherwise unremarkable day in November. I held her when she collapsed, watched her have a seizure, felt her pain, and soon after, witnessed her leave this world. As I promised her we would be, we were in the home I grew up in, surrounded by family when she passed.

In the years leading up to that day, I thought I was preparing myself for her death. My mother had MS since I was 10, and eleven years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cancer got the best of her. It deteriorated her and decided to camp out in her brain. There was no denying the ultimate outcome, but as I learned after she died, preparing for your Soulmate to leave doesn’t mean you’ll ever be prepared for the moment.

When it happened, it didn’t matter how many books I read or the number of times I’d reminded myself that this is how it would end. I fell into the depths of an abyss. I felt more than lost. My mother had not only been my mom, she meant everything to me.

As a young person, I organized my life and trained to be a caregiver. Now that mom was gone, I lost not only her, but a formative part of who I was. It was utterly disorienting. I realized that her death — the immediate fact of it — would not even be the hardest part. Death is just the beginning of a zigzagging, confusing, and life-altering grieving process. Helping my mom die on her own terms was far easier than what came after her death.

Many months after my mom died are a blur. I don’t remember much. But what I do remember is the judgment I felt as I marked the anniversaries of her death — 1 month, 6 months, 12 months. I could see that some of my family and friends were frustrated with me that I hadn’t “gotten over it.” That I wasn’t over her death.

I started to believe I wasn’t “good” at moving on. I started to feel like something was wrong with me because I was still grieving. I struggled with depression and anxiety for much longer than what others considered to be understandable, or at least reasonable. To be honest, I think some part of me agreed with them. I should feel better, I thought. But 12 years later, I have come to understand that you never “get over it.”

I’m growing through the loss. I continue to change. And yet, grief stays with me. But it changes also. It hurts less and I’m grateful for that.

I’m learning to adapt. And I see that my grief adapts too. I’ve put myself in new situations: I’ve moved to a new city, tried new hobbies. I thought maybe I would feel grief less if I did new things or lived somewhere new but grief is still here.

I’ve learned to accept the amount of grief I feel. I now just accept it because it reminds me of my mom. My precious, Soul sister mom.

So when I grieve, I honor her. I talk to her. I imagine her holding me. I cry. I wear her jewelry. I look at photos of us together.

I may do these things for the rest of my life. It may depress me from time to time. But this is how I continue to love my mom. This is how I keep her with me.

You grow through the loss. You change. You adapt. But you don’t get over it.

I still grieve and celebrate my mother. I had to grieve her when I got my dream job in Barack Obama’s White House and she wasn’t there to experience meeting the first black president. I wept constantly when I got engaged, not because I was worried about getting married, but because the one person who would care about every single detail as much as I did wasn’t there. There was no way my then fiancé, who is wonderful, was going to get half as excited as I was, or as my mother would have been, about custom letterpress invitations.

And now, when I cry for the baby I planned to give birth to this year, the baby we worked so hard to create and that I sacrificed my body for, the baby that just isn’t meant to be, all I want in the world is for my mother to be here to comfort me. “Not getting over it” has allowed my mother to remain an active part of my life even 12 years later. It is impossible to know me without knowing my mother.

I know that when the anniversary of her death rolls around each year, right around when she died, I will have an epic meltdown. It is as if my body remembers the trauma and just shuts down. I spend her birthday and that anniversary surrounded by people who love me and are prepared to provide me with a glass of bourbon (neat) and a box of tissues. Usually at the same time.

As someone who doesn’t think of herself as “emotional,” it has taken some time for me to accept that complicated feelings around grief are normal. When I struggle, I remind myself that I lost my mother, my best friend, and my compass. I’d oriented my life around a sick parent since before I started high school; her illness and her death are part of me. There’s no getting over that.

I think about my mom every day and talk about her regularly with family and friends, many of whom never had a chance to meet her. I may have buried her, but she still has a place and a presence in my life and in the lives of the people who love me. I’ve chosen to let my grief evolve in the way that feels most natural to me.

But 12 years of grieving has shown me that there’s no right way to do it. So if you’re grieving — especially suddenly, in the middle of what is an unquestionably hard time for everyone — consider this permission to stop trying to “perfect” the process or move on. Don’t take it from me, although I do have over a decade of experience in this realm. Take it from my mom. If she were still here, she would tell you to relax and that it’s okay. She’d sooth you. And then she’d feed you.

Reid Peterson is the Creator of the Grief Refuge app. Grief Refuge is a daily companion to help support people on the grief journey. Download Grief Refuge for free on iOS or Android to get started.

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Reid Peterson

Reid Peterson

Grief Support @ griefrefuge.com

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