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

Christmas Anxiety

 

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now the Christmas season is officially in full swing. I have mixed feelings about this time of year. I am looking forward to seeing my daughter experience the holidays, and I can’t wait until Christmas morning to see her open her presents. She sort of understood Christmas last year, but this year she is excited. She loves our Christmas tree and even picked out her very own ornament to hang on a branch. It’s a Barbie in a hideous pink dress, and she will kneel down in front of it and gaze at it lovingly, whispering sweet nothings into its plastic ears.

I am excited for Christmas, and I am also dreading the sad milestones that Christmas brings. Today marked what I guess is the first milestone; today would have been my mother’s 61st birthday. It also marks 1 year since I saw my mom for the last time before she went into the hospital. The visit was strange. In hindsight I understand a little better. At the time I thought she was just on heavy pain pills (which she may have been) but I realize now just how sick she was. On her birthday last year, she had little less than a month to live.

I think that I’ve been dealing with the anxiety I’m feeling over the anniversary of her death in subtle, almost subconscious ways. I’ve been feeling very self-conscious and sensitive and also easily annoyed. I have been feeling easily left out and just kind of glum on and off. It’s been a while since I’ve felt much of anything regarding my mom’s death, so it was hard to recognize the source of these feelings at first.

I guess I just need to take the good with the bad and accept my emotions and feelings as they come.

Lessons in Motherhood

 

Mama’s Losin’ It

For this week’s Writer’s Workshop prompt I chose “Share a lesson you learned from your Mother that still sticks with you to this day”.

I struggled with this topic, because I didn’t glean many positive things from my mother. We didn’t share many Hallmark moments learning life lessons over a cup of tea or coffee. There was a lot of yelling, resentment, and dysfunction, but not so much with the touchy-feely learning.

I have felt compelled to write more about my feelings about my mother and Mother’s Day, since it is the first since she died.

I mostly learned the type of mother I don’t want to be. The kind of behavior I never want my daughter to see. The lessons my mother “taught” me weren’t so much taught with intention and thought as learned by me being witness to the person that she was.

From watching her, I learned to always stay on top of my mental health; there is a family history of mental illness and just like being proactive about a family history of breast cancer, I have learned I will have to be proactive about my mental health as well.

She taught me that yelling and rage don’t ever solve anything. All it teaches a child is how to fear confrontation, conflict, and how to feel ashamed and like everything is their fault.

It wasn’t all bad, I suppose. My mom also taught me to love and embrace being different. She exposed me to her generation’s music; the Beatles, The Who, The Mamas and the Papas and growing up, I was almost always the only kid in my class who even knew who those bands were.

She taught me how to love driving through back roads with no real destination, listening to music and enjoying the silent company of the person you are with.

I think one of the lessons I have taken most from my relationship with her is that just because I didn’t have a great mother doesn’t mean that I can’t be one myself. That just because I didn’t have a good example doesn’t mean I am destined to fail my daughter the way I was failed. I am learning to accept my life with her for what it was, not what I wished it would be. I’m working on finding the good lessons and good moments amidst the bad. In a way, I suppose that even now I am learning from her. Learning how to forgive, learning how to let go, learning how to accept. Hard lessons to learn – especially with no mother to guide me – but I’m working it out. And in the end, I know that it will help me be the mother to her that I never had for myself.

In Her Time of Dying: Aftermath

December 30th, 2011

I’m finding a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that all of this began just a little over a week ago. I cannot comprehend that it’s only been nine days since my mom was first admitted to the hospital and coded for the first time. I feel as if I’ve been living this experience for a year.

I’m taking today off of work and spending it by myself. My brother left for Milwaukee this morning after he and I had breakfast together. I’m so happy that he’s going to get to be home with his fiancée for New Year’s Eve, and that they can ring in a new year together. I miss him. I don’t know if I could have done this without him. He and I were together through all of the hard years growing up. He and I were together when all of this truly started in the summer of 2008 and we were together to see it finished. It feels in a way that several things in our lives have come full circle in all of this. When we visited the hospital and had to go through the emergency room entrance because the patient entrance was closed, Drew asked me if I remembered sitting in that exact emergency room with mom the summer of 2008 and I told him of course I did. It seemed poetic somehow that her journey ended where it began. The morning that I got Nellie’s Christmas gift from mom was the day she died. You can call it a coincidence; just another Christmas present that was slightly delayed but I feel like it’s more than that. I feel like it was her goodbye to Nellie when she was no longer to vocally convey it herself.

I find myself feeling okay most of the day, but melancholy and detached by the time evening comes around. I’m having a hard time forgetting the night she died. Forgetting how she looked in her last hour. I will write about the night she died, and will probably be pretty detailed about the things I saw. But not yet.

The day she died I left work around noon to eat lunch with Drew. I sat at a red light waiting for it to turn, feeling sad and heavy. It felt like my heart weighed a thousand pounds and was trying to make its way out of my chest through my feet. I sat there behind the wheel, shoulders sunk, feeling as though I was drowning under the weight of sorrow when my favorite Ani DiFranco song came on: “Little Plastic Castles”. The cheery, upbeat combination of horns and drums surrounded me and the contrast of their joyful sounds versus my inner pain felt surreal; like a dream. The song’s tone and chords seemed so out-of-place with my emotions that at the time I couldn’t even fathom that one could be in such a place so full of happiness and creativity to create such music.

We went to the crematorium yesterday to get everything in order. I gave answers as the director asked questions for her death certificate. He asked if any of us wanted to witness the cremation (a resounding NO). We gave a credit card number and, as easily and efficiently as if we were ordering a new couch for our apartment, the transaction was complete. We even got a receipt.

Everything comes down to business. Even death.

I have to go shopping for a “vessel” (as the funeral director put it) to put mom’s ashes in. True to my penchant for laughing at inappropriate times and finding funny things where funny things maybe should not be, all I can think of is the Big Lebowski.

I want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone. Part of me is afraid to be alone. I feel so weird. I’m not necessarily sad she is gone. I don’t really miss her being here, because we had such a hard relationship and I haven’t enjoyed being around my mother in over a decade. I feel sad because her life was so difficult and full of sadness. She was young, and she had so many bad things happen to her. She alienated everyone around her. Hers is a tragic story; one that breaks my heart. I also think that for the first time, I’m mourning for her tragic life and for the mother that I truly will never have. I always knew that she could never be what I needed or wanted her to be but now that she’s gone, it really never will happen. I found myself feeling very childlike yesterday when I took a nap; I found myself thinking, “I want my mommy”. I realized I’ve been thinking that for years. It’s something that I never got, and never will. Last night Nellie was having a hard time getting to sleep. I kneeled beside her bed and stroked her hair. I told her I knew that mama had been gone a lot lately, but that she was back now and things would get back to normal. I just kept repeating, “mama’s here. Mama’s here.” And I just felt so fucking sad.

I try to focus on the positive things she experienced. She had two awesome (I might be biased) kids. She took wonderful vacations with her family and saw beautiful things. She played in a band with her sister. She got to see her youngest child get married. She was at the hospital for the birth of her first grandchild, and was one of the first people to hold her. I asked Joshua if I was ever going to get the image of her dying out of my head. I cannot stop thinking about it. He told me to try to replace it with an image of her in happier years and that eventually it would fade. I want it gone now. I don’t want it in my head anymore.

This is really hard. I am very aware that my grieving process is going to take a long time, and the thought of it makes me feel exhausted. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be feeling these things. I want them to go away. The thought of getting back to doing normal things after I’ve seen the things I’ve seen seems far away. Thinking about sitting at my desk and writing e-mails, answering questions and phone calls, and doing my normal tasks seems impossible.

I took a picture of myself after I’d gotten showered and put some makeup on. I looked somewhat normal again after days of throwing clothes on and not caring what I looked like.

I looked normal, except for my eyes.

My eyes look different. Not the color, or the shape, but what’s behind them makes them look different. I’m never going to be the same again after this.

They just look different.

Hmm.

I think it’s possible that I might be very slightly depressed.

I, of course, have noticed myself getting increasingly agitated and sad as my EDD comes closer. It took me by surprise when I stepped back and allowed myself to realize that it was happening, but acknowledging it has helped me accept it, I think. What I didn’t notice, however, was my lack of initiative when it comes to doing things… I noticed it this evening.

I had plans on going to the gym, and the grocery store after work. I’ve been putting off going to the grocery store since Sunday. Every time I think about it, it just seems like such an enormous task. So I just keep putting it off.

I also keep putting off calling my mother. Now, this IS an enormous task, as my mother is a very negative person by nature and the fact that she’s going through this crap with her health isn’t helpful with her demeanor. Before you think me a heartless monster, my mom and I don’t have a good relationship at all. She’s a negative, manipulative, toxic person and I try not to talk to her very frequently. The thought of talking to her in all of her negativity, when I myself am feeling very down, is very overwhelming.

The thing that made me think that I might be past the point of just sadness, and may be a little depressed, is the fact that I was sitting here at my computer just browsing, realized that I needed to pay my phone and car insurance bills, and was overwhelmed with this feeling of just not wanting to. Like it was too much. I just wanted to go and lay down on the couch.

Now, I’m not saying I need to be medicated, or hospitalized or anything, but I am acknowledging the fact that I think that maybe my sadness has crossed that threshold, just a little bit. Perhaps vocalizing this will help me keep it in check. I have much to be grateful for in my life… Very, very much.

That is all for now.