My brother just posted that August is a rough month for him. I know the feeling, but for me it started last month on my son’s birthday. He was born on July 3rd. She died on August 29th. The day after her birthday. This year will mark five years since she has been gone.
It’s always awkward when it comes up in conversation, but at least talking about it has gotten a little easier. The conversation veers to “my parents this, or my mom that” and I have to explain why I’m talking in the past tense. “My mom passed away five years ago.” Oh, I’m so sorry. “It’s ok”, I say. It really isn’t ok, but I always find myself comforting the other person. Shielding them from their uncomfortableness. I’m a fixer. It’s what I do. How did she die? “Colon cancer”, I say. I will probably say it even if they don’t ask, because I know that they want to know. I try to make the conversation less awkward. Like we are talking about the day’s events. No big deal. The conversation usually dies quickly, or changes course. No one wants to hear the details. It was Stage IV by the time they found it. She lived about 18 months after she was first diagnosed. That time was a whirlwind for me. The memories are like a comic strip of key events in my mind. The phone call. I was standing behind my house The first surgery. Chemo. The recovery. The back pain. The hospital. The second surgery. The respirator. The nursing home. The decision. Hospice. The final night. The funeral. I have a film reel of memories to fill in the gaps in between, but I think I’ll hang on to those. Nobody wants to hear about them, and I don’t really want to share them.
It has been hard being a mom without a mom. There are so many things that I want to ask her. Everyday things about parenting or life. I need advice on making the right decisions for my kids when it gets really hard. And there is no one to ask. I wonder what she put in her meatloaf, or how she made the clam chowder we had every Christmas. I want to ask her what she did when life got really tough because I know it did. Of course, I have still have my dad, and I love him very much, but talking to my mom was different. I used to call her whenever I had a few minutes (or an hour) to talk. While I was walking across campus or driving to the store. We would talk about nothing for hours, and never get bored. We could sit in silence. Anywhere. And be perfectly comfortable.
I miss her. I wish she was here to play with her beautiful grandchildren. They would love her. She would be the one that they asked for when they were mad or sad. They would say, “We want to go to Grandma’s!” I wouldn’t be upset because I would do the same thing. They would spend weeks in the summer at her house making cookies and playing house. I wouldn’t have to worry about leaving them with someone I don’t know.
I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I don’t know how you did it.” I thought it was funny because I didn’t feel like I was doing enough. Five years ago, I had a newborn and a 2-year old, I was starting grad school, and making frequent hour-long trips to the hospital. You just do it because what else would you do? Give up? (I wanted to do that.) Lay in bed and cry? (I did that some, too.) Mom’s can’t give up. They have things to do. I remember her apologizing for getting sick, like it was her fault or she was letting us down. Which was ridiculous because she was the strongest women I’ve ever met. I think the hardest thing for her to do was to say “no more”. No more treatments. No more chemo. No more. “I’m done.” Her body gave up, but she never did.
She taught me that even when life is hard, you keep going. You don’t give up. You push through. You fake a smile until you can put a real one on your face. You do everything you can to help other people, and you don’t ask for anything in return. You look for the best in people.
She taught me what it means to be a mom.