Even in the Quietest Moments

I don’t think about my mom very much anymore. When I do, it’s usually a fleeting thought because something or someone reminded me of her—and usually it’s not a pleasant experience. People talk a lot about triggers—words, phrases, sounds that bring them back to a time of trauma. For me, it’s people. People who exhibit behaviors, mannerisms, or characteristics that my mother had are like triggers for me. It makes me uncomfortable to be around those people and I usually avoid them as much as possible.

I digress.

One evening, a few days after we came home from the hospital with Jude, I was sitting with him on the couch when my daughter came downstairs.

“Mom, look,” she said. “We should give this to Jude.”

I looked at the item in her hand—a Beanie Baby-style tie-dyed bear. I recognized it instantly, though until that moment I had forgotten it existed. On the back of the bear, the logo for The Beatles is stitched and on the front:

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It was one of those moments in time where it feels like everything skips—like when you’re walking down the street and miss a step. Everything around you slows and your stomach drops until you can catch yourself and go about your life as usual.

Years ago, my daughter had found this bear amidst old belongings of mine, and had claimed it for her own. I hadn’t thought about it since. But looking at it then, I remembered the day I got it clearly. I was 16 years old, and my mother had bought it for me from Spencer’s in the mall. I was obsessed with The Beatles, just as she had been at that age, and it was one of the only things we’d ever come remotely close to bonding over through our entire life together. I am an atheist, and do not believe in the supernatural. I’m not entirely sure that I believe in concepts like kismet, or karma, either… But if there was such a thing as kismet, this was it, staring me in the face. It was like she had known, somehow, all those years ago, about my Jude.

I took the bear from my daughter and smiled.

“That’s so sweet, baby. I think it’s perfect for Jude.”


 

There have been other moments lately where she has crossed my mind. They usually come during quiet moments when I’m cuddling Jude. I’ve idly wondered what she would have thought of him—of her grandson. Even though it is a family name and not a direct homage to the Beatles song, I think she would have loved that his name is Jude.

I was holding him, rocking him back to sleep after he fussily woke up early from a nap. “Beautiful Boy” (John Lennon) was playing from my laptop and as I looked down at him, I began to cry. An overwhelming feeling of love for my boy rose up and washed over me. I stared down at his face, snuggled close to my chest and in that moment, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my own mother never felt for me what I feel for my children. It’s not the first time I’ve had that thought and over the years since her death I’ve come to accept it more, but this time it came at me completely uninvited and ugly and it made me cry. I know she tried to love me. She did the best she could. But it couldn’t have been the same as how I feel, otherwise, how could she have hurt me so?

I rocked Jude and held him close, kissing his face and assuring him that his mama loved him.

And his mama does. I love my children so much it scares me.


 

In the wee hours of the night when I’m up with my newborn son, when I feel frustrated because he’s taking a long time to eat and all I want is to go back to sleep, I feel sad that I do not have a mother that I can reach out to and commiserate with. There is no maternal voice on the other end of the line to whom I can ask, “What was this like for you? Did it make you cry? When I squeaked and grunted in my crib, did you peer over to make sure I could breathe? How much did I eat? What was life like when I was brand-new?”

There is no mother who can tell me these things. Even if she were still alive, my mother was institutionalized for the first few weeks (maybe months?) of my life. She wouldn’t know even if I did ask her.


 

These are the times I think of her. They come randomly, and are usually accompanied by feelings of profound loss and sadness. I’m a mother with no mother of her own, and that is a very hard thing to be.

 

Where Are You Now?

When it comes to thinking about my mom, the things that make me cry are random and usually unexpected.

Tonight, it was the movie Brave.

I was watching it with my daughter when it got to the part where Merida has a flashback of her mother when Merida was little. There’s a thunderstorm, and Merida gets scared so she hurries to her mother. Her mother looks down at her lovingly and tells her: “I’m right here. I’ll always be right here”. The two snuggle and begin to sing softly together.

I was sitting on the couch, cuddling my own curly-headed lass during this scene and out of nowhere tears began streaming down my face and I had to choke back a sob. If you’ve lost your own mother, you may be nodding in agreement, perhaps with a lump of your own in your throat as you remember the countless times your mother comforted you.

My sadness doesn’t really come from a place of missing my mother. I think about my mom all the time and the feelings that come with it are almost never ones of longing for her. I don’t miss her. Were there times when she comforted me as a child? Times she took care of me, told me she loved me, and was a mother to me?

Yes. That’s the bitch of it. I had that once. She was that to me, once. And then the woman who gave birth to me, the woman who mended my scraped knees and calmed my fears was gone. She didn’t leave, she didn’t get in her car and drive away and never look back. But she was gone just the same. There, but forever changed. Her inner demons won the battle for her and she was no longer my mother.

I was about eleven when all of that happened and ever since, I’ve been a motherless child. I had her once upon a time; so long ago, in fact, that it feels like a dream. The memories of my childhood feel as if they happened to someone else. There have been so many times that I’ve wanted a mother’s guidance and advice but even before she died, she wasn’t available to me – not really.It wasn’t for lack of want on her part but by the time she had even remotely gotten her shit together, it was me who was no longer there.

I wonder where she is now. I am not a Christan and I do not believe in the concept of heaven and hell. I either believe in nothing, or in reincarnation… If that makes any sense at all. I don’t feel my mother – ever. I have no sense that she lingers here, that she watches over me and my family. I felt her at first. For about a month after she died, she was here, in my apartment.  I have no doubt. I’ve never really told anyone aside from my husband and best friend about this, but after mom died, I felt her here. I can’t explain how I knew she was here… She just was.   I was never comforted by the thought or the weight of her presence. I wasn’t threatened by it, exactly. It just made me feel sad and burdened.

In life, everyone  felt sad and burdened by her. It may sound harsh, but that was my mother. Anyone who knew her felt that way more often than not. I guess that’s why she didn’t hang around.
Her life was wrought with heartache and misery… I wouldn’t want to stick around a moment longer than I had to in a life like that. I still wonder where she is now. Is she whole? Did she get to leave the sick parts of her behind and begin a new life without all of that darkness on her soul?

For her sake, I hope so.

“Where are you now, where are you now? Do you ever think of me, in the quiet, in the crowd?
-Mumford & Sons

In Her Time of Dying: What Is and What Will Never Be

Six Feet Under is one of my favorite T.V. Shows in the history of everything forever. It is, to date, one of the most brilliantly written and acted shows I’ve ever seen – and the series finale? I honestly do not think any series will ever come up with anything as perfect as the Six Feet Under finale.

Josh and I watch the entire series from start to finish about once a year. We do the same with OZ, and we watch Firefly even more often than that. After my mom died, I found myself wondering when I’d be ready to tackle another viewing of Six Feet Under. The subject was something that was somewhat sensitive to me where it hadn’t been before. We tried to watch an episode shortly after mom died and I had to turn it off. I just couldn’t deal with death in any form – even if it was the death of a fictional character on a television show.

Josh suggested it a few weeks ago when we found ourselves with nothing to watch. I agreed, and was happy to find that I was able to watch without any huge problems. We’ve been making our way through the series and as I was finishing up an episode after Josh had gone to bed, I was stricken with a very sudden and very fresh sense of grief. The scene that got me was one between two main characters on the show – Claire and her mother, Ruth. They were sharing an emotionally vulnerable moment – one that was unexpected, tender, loving, and sweet. I watched Claire, who has always been very hostile verbally and closed-off emotionally, reach out to her mother in a gesture of acceptance and understanding. The two characters connected in a way that I imagine only a mother and daughter can, and the tears started to roll down my cheeks. Words began to roll through my brain, over and over, until they became a sort of sorrowful, aching chant.
I want a mother.
I want a mother.
I want a mother.
I want my mother.

The painful realization that I never truly had what those characters on-screen had and never, ever would hit me in the face like it has a hundred times since my mother’s death and all I could do was pause the show and cry. The sense of grief and mourning was so fresh it took me by surprise. It has been 6 months (to the day) since my mother died, and still the grief takes me by surprise.

I cried more that evening as my sad little mantra repeated itself in my head again and again. In a way, I suppose that I’m going through two grieving processes: I am grieving the loss of the mother that I did have, and I am also grieving the loss of the mother that I didn’t – and never will – have.

I’m grieving a relationship that cannot be mine, no matter how badly I want it or how hard I cry. It doesn’t matter how many mother figures I surround myself with – none of them will ever be able to give me what my mom could have, if only things had been different. If she had been different. Cultivating a relationship with my daughter is wonderful and will help lessen my pain, I am sure, but the mother-daughter relationship is something I will never be able to experience on the daughter’s end. These harsh revelations come at me from time to time; unexpectedly, viciously, and knock me off my feet with the severity of the pain they make me feel. I am learning to just accept them as they come, allow myself to feel them and to cry and to be angry. I am teaching myself to own my pain and accept it as something I will live with forever; to validate it and not stuff it back down inside of me to fester and rot.

It’s a slow process, one that I’m still trying to figure out. Maybe one day I will be able to accept with peace the loss of what is and what will never be, but for now it hurts, and it sucks. There’s no other way to put it. It just sucks.

Grief and Eating Clean

Grief, tragedy, and stress do funny things to a person. To me, they make me eyeball a plate full of chocolate chip cookies knowing full well that I shouldn’t eat them – ESPECIALLY if I’m clean eating – and say “fuck it” and shove all the cookies into my mouth with the wild abandon of Cookie Monster. Stress – real stress, not “ZOMG I LOST MY DEBIT CARD” stress – makes me eat all the things forever.

My brother and I both have adopted similar eating styles without really knowing it. He’s been living according to the Paleo diet where I have been clean eating. There are a lot of similarities, some differences, but both are based on eating whole foods. When mom was admitted into the hospital and we were both there all day long neither of us had the time to devote to cooking. So we ate out a lot. My poor brother did pretty well at first, modifying the things he’d get.

Once mom got into hospice and the reality sunk in, we both just said fuck it. We ate whatever the fuck we wanted. I’d have two to three beers each time we’d go out. I honestly did not care; I didn’t have the emotional energy to invest in making good food choices.

I’m finding it hard to break the habits of the past three weeks. The holidays are a hard enough time for those of us eating a certain way, but pile putting your mother in hospice and watching her die on top of that and you get a big fat nomfest of emotional eating. Sugar cookies? In my mouth. Gingerbread lattes? Directly in my veins, please. I KNOW YOU DIDN’T JUST EAT THAT LAST PIECE OF RED VELVET CAKE.

I’m still not back to emotional normalcy. I’m better; each day I am less and less sad but I am still easily distracted and feel emotionally fragile most of the time. I’ve found myself more interested in cooking, which is good. I chose 2 clean recipes for this week’s menu plan. I cooked one on Saturday night and it was delicious (don’t worry, I will share the recipes/links to the recipes here) and will probably cook the next one tomorrow evening. It was nice to cook. It didn’t feel overwhelming. We’re in a better place financially for me to pick my clean eating habits back up, so now I just have to get back into the swing of menu planning and hunting down clean foods for me to eat.

Saturday’s recipe was The Gracious Pantry’s 4 Bean Chili.

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What I loved about this recipe was how simple it was. I look for recipes with inexpensive ingredients, easy-to-follow instructions; nothing too terribly complicated. I added a little bit more spice to this than the recipe calls for; I seasoned it with more chili powder and some onion salt and garlic powder to taste until I was happy with it. It was really, really good and made a LOT of leftovers.

The second clean recipe I have planned is also from The Gracious Pantry. It’s her Clean Eating Chicken Bok Choy. I can’t say for sure if this will be good, but I LOVE bok choy and the again, ingredients are very simple. I’m looking forward to making this.

I’m a huge fan of The Gracious Pantry in case you hadn’t noticed. I’ve tried maybe ten of her recipes so far, and have yet to meet one I didn’t like. Everything has been SO good, and I like knowing that what I’m eating is good for me. She is such a hardcore clean eater, I know that she is taking a lot of measures to ensure her recipes follow her eating philosophy, which I like. It takes guesswork out of it for me.

So anyway… Yesterday was my birthday and I literally ate junk all day. Thai food, cupcakes, chips and queso, more cupcakes. I decided that it was my birthday and I was gonna eat what I wanted, damnit. And that’s exactly what I did.

Baby steps back into clean eating. Each day gets a little easier to tackle the tasks and goals from my old life; the one I led before all of this shit happened. What once seemed an insurmountable amount of things to take on gets less and less intimidating each day. In the words of the Beatles: “It’s getting better all the time.”