Three years

Mom and BobbyToday, it’s been three years since Mom died.

I miss her.

In the last three years, I had an idea, wrote a book proposal, found an agent, signed with a publisher, and wrote the book. Mom didn’t even know I wanted to do this.

I miss her.

My kids have been through two migraine hospitalizations, an ankle surgery, two shoulder surgeries, stomach scopes, various tests, and numerous ER visits. My sister Kerry, a nurse like my mother, has become my medical go-to person. My children’s health seems to be an ongoing saga, but everyone is OK.

I miss her.

My two girls have graduated from high school and selected colleges. Traveled overseas. Crafted plans for their lives, their futures, their careers. Started to spread their wings. Bobby has grown into an interesting young man, as quirky as ever but so different than he was as a young boy. Mom believed in them so much and wanted such good things for them. She would be so proud.

I miss her.

In the last three years, my dad sold the house he and Mom had lived in for 45 years, marking the end of over a hundred years of my relatives living in that home, on that land. He made his studio into an apartment, fell in love again and moved to Florida. He’s been treated for Barrett’s esophagus, high-grade dysplasia, then cancer — and now is nearly done with chemo and radiation.

I miss her.

I’ve been to Italy and learned from one of Mom’s and my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg. My family has vacationed in Florida and Pennsylvania. I’ve been to Arizona twice to do work for a new client. Connecticut and New York for a handful of business trips. Mom didn’t get to ask me what I’m wearing to my meeting or to picture me in those boardrooms or worry about my travel or help with my kids while I was gone. We’ve all managed OK.

Yet I miss her.

At the same time, the missing her has changed. Tears don’t overtake me every night in the quiet dark as I fall asleep. My flashes of relieved inspiration — hey! I know what will fix it! I’ll call Mom — still come, but not daily anymore. I’m no longer angry with God, but have returned, slowly, to a place of slightly wary comfort. And now, finally, the sweetness of the remembering outweighs the pain of it.

But I still miss her.

It’s been three years of being apart from her. Of not hearing her voice. Of not seeing her name on my Caller ID or slamming down the phone just a little too hard when she frustrated me. Of not telling her who I ran into that day, or going antiquing, or sharing funny stories, or giving each other books we liked. Of not celebrating birthdays at Little Mexico or buying her funny gifts.

She’s still not here. Still gone. And yet. I see a little more of her every day — in myself, in my sister, in my kids. So many of the words that come out of my mouth are hers. The thoughts, the goofy things I do with my kids. They seem to come out of nowhere, and yet I recognize them.

As I get farther from her in time, I feel closer to her inside.

And I miss her, I miss her, oh how I miss her.

4 Responses to “Three years”

  1. Kelly, thank you for writing about the process of grief and healing in such a meaningful way.

    Grief and death have been some of the harder issues for me to learn how to deal with in life, and I know I am young enough that this is just the beginning. Personally, for me the hardest death I have encountered most recently in my family has been my uncle’s. I know it may seem somewhat distant, but he was the husband of my mom’s sister, who is still to this day one of her best friends. So as far as time spent with extended family, we spent a lot of time together as families growing up. My cousins, I, and my siblings are all close to each other in age, and so we also grew up as best friends. In fact, the one closest to me in age and I were such good friends we chose to room together for our first year of college. So from the day she called me over to her house to tell me about my uncle’s diagnosis, where we sat on the floor and cried together; to the many phone calls, updates, and tears shared between us over the next four months of his battle with cancer; to the call I got from her the day he passed — I still remember it all so vividly and know it has marked me. Even writing this brings hot tears back to my eyes. I know that grief hits us all so differently, and I never want to elevate my experience with it over someone else who has had it hit so much closer to home. My experiences with it so far often scares me to think about dealing with it again. Death and loss just hurt so much. It rocked my faith. It gave a voice to fears I once easily ignored, or was blissfully unaware of.

    I loved how you described how the grief changes though over time. It’s been almost five years since my Uncle passed away. Life has moved on, and the grief process has changed. Over time I learned to remember family vacations and funny things he said or did without crying. But yet, even still it has ways of creeping up at times when you least expect it. Like the time I decided to clean out my phone contacts a few months back and realized his number was still in my phone — deleting it was just another reminder of how permanent it was. Like the time my mother called to tell me last fall about my aunt’s new boyfriend proposing and to tell me of the wedding plans. I know all the family back home, especially her kids were all dealing with it in different ways, as was to be expected. I loved that after almost four years she was happy and felt loved and was moving on. However just hearing the news for myself brought up all kinds of emotions I never expected to have, even though in my heart of hearts I was truly happy for her.

    What I have learned in my process through grief is that it often affects us in ways we never expect it to, and it heals on a timetable that we can not force to happen. I have also learned a newer understanding of joy in the process. When my uncle first was diagnosed, and then after he passed away so suddenly, I struggled for a long time feeling heart broken for my aunt and my cousins that I knew were grieving much more deeply than I. It was so hard to ever know what to say or do to even try to help them deal with the loss. I also struggled with feeling guilty for grieving as much as I did on my own, questioning whether I even had the right to, as I would think about how I still had my father and my loving family present. I had heard it described before, but this was the first time I really experienced struggling with feeling guilty for being joyful and happy sometimes knowing how loved ones so near were hurting so much.

    A few years later I discovered the book Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown. She was the first person to identify and articulate something I had been struggling with and experiencing, but had never knew how to put it into words. It wasn’t just with my uncle either. It was this struggle of being happy or feeling joy and then questioning whether I deserved to feel that or scared of the “what if” in now that something good had happened, did it mean something bad was about to happen. In the book she makes this exact connection between having a moment of joy immediately followed by a feeling of guilt or unexpected, even irrational fear.

    As she says, “Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment, and at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful?” (p. 124)

    And if you will bear with me for quoting her so much, her next thoughts on how to combat those vulnerable feelings of guilt and fear, gave me some long sought after peace:

    She shares: “Be grateful for what you have. When I asked people who had survived tragedy how we can cultivate and show more compassion for people who are suffering, the answer was always the same: Don’t shrink away from the joy of your child because I’ve lost mine. Don’t take what you have for granted–celebrate it. Don’t apologize for what you have. Be grateful for it and share your gratitude with others. Are your parents healthy? Be thrilled. Let them know how much they mean to you. When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.”

    She had several other great thoughts on the subject, but that was one that spoke volumes because it showed me in such a beautiful way that it was possible to move past the crippling fear and guilt, to accept that it was ok for me to grieve, and to honor the loss by being grateful for the people I love still around me.

    I hope it was ok to share a bit of my experience with you. Thank you for being so vulnerable and brave to share such a meaningful part of your own experiences. Please know that your writing truly does touch those who read it. I know it did me.

    Kallie Culver

    • Kallie, THANK YOU for sharing a part of yourself! I recently told someone that the difficult part of writing about yourself is you’re putting yourself in a situation in which the other person knows so much more about you than you know about them, and it can be scary and lonely. I’m grateful that my writing prompted you to share your own experience. I love all that you said. And I’ve learned that you don’t need to apologize if what you lost seems on any level to “not compare” with someone else’s loss (or tragedy or diagnosis or whatever) — because it’s still huge to the person in the middle of it. Your grief is just as valid as anyone else’s and I love that you shared those words that were such a help to you. I had a similar moment when I decided to delete Mom’s contact info from my phone. The hardest one for me was when I went to school registration for my kids and they gave me a form to fill out. It had the previous year’s information on it, and I had to physically draw a line through Mom’s name and number as emergency contact and write someone else in. Three different times. I thought I was going to have a meltdown in the middle of the school cafeteria. These are the things you don’t hear people talk about much, but they can blindside you. I’m glad those kind of moments seem to get a little farther apart as time passes. And glad that you reached out and shared your own story with me. xo

  2. Kris says:

    Oh Kelly.
    What a sweet testament to your love for your mother.
    My grandmother must have passed away about the same time as your mom.
    July 10, 2011
    I spent the week with my mom, going through Nan’s things, just being there.
    Christmas this year, Mom and I were alone in her kitchen, and were able to share how very much we miss her.
    She is every where, and no where all at the same time.
    I am thankful that you are finding the sweetness of her memory overcoming the ache of your loss. I am sure she would be proud.
    I love your writing and can relate to your thoughts in so many ways.
    Thank you
    K

    • Kris, thanks for your sweet words. Mom passed away on July 5, 2011, so yes, very close. I love this: “She is everywhere, and no where all at the same time.” If you haven’t lost someone close, I don’t think you’d be able to understand that. Thank you… and hoping that you have plenty of opportunities to talk with others about your grandmother and that you, too, are finding more sweetness in memory than pain. Thanks for commenting.

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