Friday, March 11, 2016

From the heart of a girl who lost her mom

I feel like I've been putting off writing for so long. Because life didn't allow me the chance it seems. It's crazy to think how my life has changed in the last 10 months. I re-read a blog post of mine from when mom first got her diagnoses, actually I quickly skimmed over it and stopped, because it made me tear up a bit. It instantly took me back to when we first heard of mom's news. We were scared. We were clinging to the time we had together as a family. We were hopeful. We lost friends. Gained new ones. We lost mom.

It was a blessing to have mom with us, especially over those last two years. She did her best to put on a strong, beautiful, happy face...and she did. So well. She mothered us, her four grown adult children, our spouses and her grandchildren. When she was there, she was present. She moved quietly through the last two years of her life on earth...knowing what her future held, and also given the chance to see what our own futures held...and it was ok. She knew what she needed to do. She chose to move from her home of 35 years, in to the home she and dad had started to build a year before she was given the news...I always think it was to get the family in something new, and unfamiliar, and unattached from years of family memories. She carefully led us through those two years, always staying positive, and always taking the time to support us through our lives, growths, set backs, victories. She was selfless and loving. We spent weeks at her side while she was in and out of the hospital. I was fortunate enough to make two trips down to Phoenix while she was going through her treatment. I met the people she and dad adopted in as family. The hotel where they stayed became their home away from home, mom and dad both felt comfortable there. The staff became fast friends with them, because you know, it's mom and dad, and they make friends everywhere they go. It was like a semi retirement for them to spend time as a couple, although nothing quite like retirement for most. There was no golfing, no travelling around...there was rest for mom. Every afternoon, she would rest. Dad would spend time with the hotel staff, or other people staying there, or he would get groceries, do the laundry, maybe call us kids on the phone...
Mom really did enjoy herself down there, which is so great, and they were lucky enough to have friends from back home staying near by. They had visitors come from all over to check in on them. Life was very different from what they had previously known, but like I said, I feel mom had a bigger plan than we knew.

As I was preparing her slide show for her memorial service, I found it hard to find recent photos of her over the last two years. I realized it was because she wasn't always here, she wasn't able to come and watch t-ball, or dance recitals, or Christmas Concerts, so those moments and occasions were never captured in photos. There was a definitive distance put between us already, almost like a slight ease in to the life we were about to have, where we couldn't just speak on the phone everyday, or drop over for a visit, or a sleepover. It was gradual, this change, and she made it that way. To lessen the blow of life after mom? Maybe. Or maybe to show us in subtle little ways that we actually could do things with out her being there. Maybe she was enabling us, as mothers do, to be able to adjust and carry on and move forward. She wore the face of strength so that when we thought of her after she left, that strength is what we remembered.

The following months after we moved them in to the new house showed us, gently, what life was going to be like for us, and for mom. It forced us to connect more, to share our thoughts, to talk frankly about life. This is still a work in progress, but the closeness we acquired as a family throughout this life change has been really, really good. We spent at least a week every month in the hospital at mom's side during her frequent stays there. We brought the kids often and for Halloween, birthdays, whatever the occasion. If mom was in, we were there. She loved seeing them smile, hearing them giggle, and even getting climbed on the odd time so they could lay in the bed and move it up and down. She was incredibly patient with them, and she adored their art work that was always displayed on the walls of the her hospital room. A lot of healing went on in mom's hospital rooms. She was a healer. Her room always felt warm, and comforting, even in the last hard as they were. She was our home. So it didn't matter where she was, we just felt good being near her.
I can't explain the loss when you lose a parent. My loss if different from yours, from my dad's, and even from my own siblings. I can tell you that losing the first soul that your own soul was connected to, leaves you feeling lost. Like you're in a small vessel at sea. You ride the waves, up and down, your spin, your go under, you come up. You're constantly in search of the ship that once carried your vessel. You're misplaced. In the storm of your life. Some days are rough, scary, foggy, cold and hard. Some days are sunny, beautiful and calm. You have no choice but to ride the waves.
 I can explain the gratitude I feel to have had my mom in my life. And to have gone through her journey by her side. She made us who we are today, gave us wings, and as we all teetered on the edge of the nest, wondering what to do, wondering where to go from here she quietly took flight. We are now left with nothing but our own wings to get us through. We have to trust ourselves. Our wings were gifts from our parents. They enabled us to grow. And as much as it hurts, now is a time for growth.

I can tell you that I am an incredibly lucky person to have my dad, and my three siblings to go through this life with. I can tell you that my heart bursts at the thought of my incredibly supportive family, countless aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. Mom was blessed. And therefore I am blessed. She had incredibly supportive friends show up often at the hospital. We filled that place with noise, laughter, much in fact, one time mom asked us to be quiet. We did...but it didn't last long. It's hard to keep us quiet, especially during crib games, or talking about growing up together, or making fun of each other, or laughing and crying about our memories, celebrating the many baby announcements our cousins told mom. She was so happy to hear of all the new babies, and she would smirk knowing that she was one of the first ones to hear about one in particular, she loved that it was a secret at that time.

We talked a lot while she was in the hospital. It's all pretty cloudy, because you're entire being is consumed with whats going on that you really don't spend much time thinking about anyone or anything else.

My sister and I had many conversations with her about life after death. And how she would be able to help us reach goals, dream big, and be happy. She enjoyed those conversations, she would smile and nod, and had this knowing look on her face. We were looking at our Angel, we were talking directly to her, and she was talking back.

The time we spent with mom was spent as best we could. As best she could. And I feel like I have no regrets...other than, of course, I wish mom didn't have to leave us so soon. As a young mom, who lost her own mom I want to tell you how incredibly hard this has been. It's heart breaking, gut wrenching, short of breath every day, pain. Us daughters who have lost their moms are going through something so surreal and difficult and its so hard to put it in to words.
The days leading up to mom's passing were scary. I wished with ever fibre of my being that I could stop time, reverse it, take it back to when mom was so healthy and full of life, love and laughter...She had all those things even while in the hospital, but her energy was focused more inward as she was moving towards her next stage of life, a life that we won't know of until we get there.
The day mom passed, was a blur. I was numb. As was every member of our family. The dozens of people who were scattered in the hall outside her room, I remember having so many people around us during those weeks mom was in the hospital. They were there to love us. And mom. My dad. My siblings. Our children. Each other.

After I watched mom take her last breath, I whispered "She's gone." I remember wanting to scream it. But as the words came out I almost felt this sense of relief knowing that she was now not suffering. She had a beautiful smile on her face. The feeling of relief quickly turned to panic, fear, shock, disbelief and heartache. I reached for family member after family member hugging, crying, consoling, saying we did so good and mom was so proud and lucky to have us there. We connected more than we thought we would, I know we are a strong, good family, but I didn't realize exactly how lucky we were to have each other in that time. And still to this day.
That afternoon, we met at my sisters to have tea and be with each other. We talked small talk. We cried. We leaned on each other. I don't really remember what else, but I know we were all in shock. That feeling of tension, anxiety in my chest and the lump in my throat definitely stand out. I believe we laughed and shared a few stories. But I can't place much else. I remember the fear I had when I dialled my husband on the phone, my hands were shaking, how was I going to tell him that this woman he loved so much was gone? We knew it was coming. Yet it was still so shocking. The fear and heartache amplified as I came to my little boys, and had to tell them that their grandma, their best friend, the woman they loved so much, was now in heaven. I couldn't comprehend that. How could I expect my little boys, these babies, to understand that? It still rips me apart knowing that they lost one of the greatest people in their lives.

That night, I remember feeling the previous weeks catch up to me. The countless, sleepless nights, spent in the hospital watching mom as she rested, the back and forth between home and mom. Spending hours on end there with my family and our friends. We were so lucky. Constantly surrounded by people who had our best intentions in their hearts. I laid on my bed. Crying uncontrollably, as I had been for weeks before, I checked my phone out of habit, seeing if anyone had text an update on mom. I woke every hour. Checked my phone again and again. My husband held me and barely let go. I was restless. Exhausted. And very lost.

The next morning, was the first morning I woke up as a motherless daughter. I didn't actually sleep that night, I pictured mom's face every time I closed my eyes. My heart was racing...and still, ten months later, it does. My mind was blurry. A fog. I was numb and in shock. My kids needed me and I felt like I was failing them, because I could barely get through a single moment with out crying. My phone was flooded with texts, calls, was overwhelming. I was lucky to such a large support group, but part of me wanted to throw my phone out and be left in silence. Without the constant ping alerting me of a mother message. The messages helped to a degree. But hearing that she lives on in our memories, or hearts, or whatever, didn't make me feel good in that moment...because at that point, the memory wasn't there yet. She had just left. And thinking about her was confusing, scary, and extremely hard. Months later is when I learned that her memory would be comforting, and that I would eventually learn to smile at the thought of mom.

The shock stayed for weeks. I would be out in public - something I used to enjoy, now became something I dread. Getting groceries was something that took the life out of me. Cooking was hard, because I used to cook with mom. Going to the Co-op was hard, I went there with mom before. Driving was hard, I couldn't focus on anything but mom. Seeing my hands on the steering wheel, and noticing that they looked like moms hands. Every little thing reminded me of mom. Everything drifted to mom. And it hurt. It still does. Constantly. I felt I needed escape. There was this desperation in me that I never knew existed. I would cry in public as someone made eye contact with me, and started to approach me, I knew they were coming to say "I'm so sorry about your mom." Suddenly, this person who I loved so incredibly much became a topic with fear and hurt around it. Not the joy, laughter, and happiness that I know existed. Somewhere.

I would say it took weeks for the shock to wear off. Maybe six weeks? Who knows, really. I felt like I could breathe in a little deeper, with out that constricted feeling and shortness. I cried daily. I talked about mom as much as I could even though it hurt like hell. I talked about her to my kids. I learned that I had to be compassionate with myself. Give myself those crappy hard days. Give myself really good days...without guilt. I learned to allow myself to smile a little more. Sleep slowly came back to normal, although there were still plenty of nights where I would wake up thinking I needed to leave the house and head to hospital to visit mom. I eventually left my cell phone out of my room, as I found I woke in the night to check it for updates on mom.

I learned that I could call my sister, or my brothers and say "I'm having a bad day" and they would drop what they were doing and we would talk it out. I learned that I can cry over using that last bit of mom's homemade crabapple jelly.  I learned to smile again, and laugh. These were some of mom's favourite things to do, and I know she wanted to see us smiling and laughing. I started to have people over more often, so our house could be loud, full of people, visits, laughs. I found great relationships in talking truthfully, honestly and raw about mom. I learned that real friends wanted to hear how I was doing, they constantly dropped me a text, or popped in to visit.
As the weeks went on, the constant stream of people wore off. It was gradual, and I remember one day thinking "Where is everyone?" So many people contacted me while mom was in the hospital, and after she passed. They were dropping off cards, little gifts, food, flowers, meals...then one day it was all sort of gone. Life went back go normal quickly for everyone else, naturally, and it should. But for me, it's all so strange, and different, and hard, and I long for the days when I could call my mom and talk about the funny things my kids have done, or something that has been bothering me, or to plan our next family dinner. What I've learned is now I can call my dad and tell him about his grandkids, and plan get togethers with him. I can share goofy kid stories with my brothers and my sister. There is still people in my life that want to hear about our days as much as my mom did, they may not be soft, gentle,  loving and peaceful as mom was, but they are still people in my life who matter and who care. And they deserve to be in our lives and we deserve to be in theirs.

The day of her funeral was a very strange day. I was scared. Nervous. Not ready to see hundreds of people. I remember showering, and picking out my outfit, doing my hair and make-up. As I looked at myself in the mirror I started to cry. I was getting ready for my mom's funeral. I was curling my hair, carefully putting on mascara that I knew would wear off from tears hours later. I was shaking. I felt light-headed. It was such a strange thing to do. I had no idea that getting ready for my mom's funeral would impact me so much. It took a long time to do, I was trying to put it off. I stopped over and over and just sat and stared in the mirror. Looking for signs of mom in my own face. Listening extra carefully, wishing I could hear her voice telling me "It's ok, you can do it." I didn't hear her. I couldn't see her.

We were fortunate enough to have so much help setting up and taking down for her funeral. We did it exactly as she had planned. We had native drummers and singers from her reserve come, their songs pounded through the chests of the members of the funeral. It brought so much pride to me to hear the songs of our ancestors, knowing that they were singing of her journey, encouraging her, supporting her, loving her. We felt strong in our roots as we walked with her to the front of the arena. We felt weak in our hearts knowing that this was the last time we would physically see her, in front of us. We allowed the children to move around, up and down, and later run and play with each other. Mom wanted that. We laughed as the officiant of the funeral, a close friend of my brother, talked about how mom wanted to honour her brown side and her white side, he talked about mom as a Noble woman, and she really was. My cousin, Ray stood and spoke a few words, said a Cree prayer, and made us laugh and laugh. Mom's grand babies blew out candles at the end of the service, we played music and watched the slide show. We showcased mom. We honoured her. We handed out funeral flowers to her friends and family who stayed until dark to visit and clean up. If there could ever be a perfect
funeral, it was hers.

To this day, I still feel lost, I still look for mom. The person who brought us all together in her home is now gone. And we don't have that home. This summer, we will have it back, and we have already started to plan our family reunion on my dad's side there. And we have started to plan mom's party as well. Thanksgiving will be at the farm this year, in mom's house. Life will almost feel a bit closer to what it was when she was here. We will have our home again. Her home. I feel like that house is our beacon, no matter what life throws at us, we have always had that home to go to, to gather in, to be with each other in. It's something that she loved so much and was so proud of, and I can't wait to be there again. I know mom is guiding me there, I know she wants us there and can't wait for that day to come. I know it won't fix anything, or change anything, but it is home. And that is enough for me.

Life has thrown some pretty wicked curve balls at us over the last few years, but we were raised by people with clear minds, big hearts, giving spirits, and strong wills. And I know we can still have a beautiful life, it just might look and feel a lot different than what we had imagined. One day, I'm certain I will be able to sit here with a happy heart, and an ease in breathing when I think of her, and share stories about her. She was one of the greats, and she didn't even know it. It's rare to find some as real as mom was. There was nothing two-faced or fake about her. When she saw you, she was genuine when she asked how you were doing. And if you told her something, she didn't go behind your back and tell someone else. She was whole-heartedly one of the kindest people around, not a jealous bone in her body. Even with what life tossed her, she was happy and content, and she loved herself in a way I admire, and hope to be able to love myself that way. She was accepting. Loving. And let go of things in the past that didn't serve her. She is a great role model, and I am sad that my kids don't have those footprints to follow. And some days I am very hard on myself for not being just like mom, although I try. I hope to find clarity in the following days, weeks, months, years. And as time passes I know that I am one day closer to her. I used to look at time as being farther away from her, from the last day she spoke to me, from the last day I saw her and soaked her in. Now I know that time actually isn't relevant and the amount we have here on this earth is nothing compared to what lies ahead. So we have to make the best of it even on the days where it feels like we are being swallowed up. We have to find the strength that mom had every day, and use it to move forward. And to not feel guilt in doing so. Every mom has only ever wanted her children to be happy, so why wouldn't we try to be?


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