This past weekend, a family member, who I also consider a friend, got engaged. I am thrilled for the couple, and am over the moon for them because it is easy to see what a perfect match they are for each other. It really is the perfect way to start the new year on a happy note. They got engaged on New Year’s eve, and yesterday they had a get together for family and friends. It was wonderful and sweet.
And then I cried. And I felt awkward. I seem to spend a lot of time feeling awkward.
I will preface the rest of this post by saying that it’s going to dip down into bummersville. My moment of eye leakage had nothing to do with the happy couple (aside from the fact I felt utterly mortified that I cried (even if just for a moment at their happy event) but everything to do with my lack of dealing with some feelings I didn’t know I even had about my mother. I’m also writing this here because today, I was bulldozed by a wash of feelings, and frankly, better out than in.
Everyone was sitting around, and the couple’s mothers looked so elated. We all felt elated. Then everyone was talking about their weddings, and engagements, and the word “mom” came up several times. I excused myself and went to the bathroom, feeling a bit sad as I remembered how my mom couldn’t be there for my wedding. I perked myself up, sat back down, and enjoyed the conversation. Then someone innocently asked me who went with me to choose my dress. And that’s when it happened. Tears. Mortification. Embarrassment. I began to laugh to try hide my shame.
9 years later, the question hit me in a way I never thought it would. I didn’t even realize why I was so upset. On the ride home, I cried silently in the dark. I cried in bed. I cried until it felt I had cried it out, and then I gave the whole thing a lot of thought.
My mom was already very sick when I got engaged. I was also heavily pregnant when I got engaged. My husband and I at the time had a very “whatever” attitude in so far as when we would get married. We thought about doing it before the baby was born, and then after. We had known from our first date we would end up married, so what was a few months here or there? But as I realized my mom was getting closer towards the end, I asked if we could move it up a little early. A fancy wedding was out of the question, so we decided to do a wedding by a Justice of the Peace. It was a bit last minute, and there was hardly anyone there. My mom was too sick to travel up for it, so my parents weren’t even at my wedding. Most of the family wasn’t there. It was certainly not the wedding I had envisioned for myself, but there was my husband and I, and I was just happy to be his wife. It was incredibly informal, me in maternity pants and a nice top, him in a button down and pants, and we had coats on. Someone had a travel mug of coffee to warm them. I was happy, however that my mom knew I was married now, because she adored my husband. I felt it would ease her mind knowing that I was married to the man I loved.
My mom and I both struggled even when she was alive with the loss of milestones that mothers and daughters go through. I know that she was heartbroken to know she would miss me going through all of these, and for the ones she was able to be there for, she couldn’t be there in the capacity he wanted. I went though a sort of parental loss bootcamp in a short time. Marriage, new home, new baby, back to work, all within a few months. My mom was too ill to be present much, especially living 300 miles away. I could tell initially in her voice how worried she was about me, especially when it became clear I was struggling with post partum depression as well. Add to that the depression of watching your parent begin the dying process, and I was a zombie mentally, while furiously engaging myself in strange projects to keep active. When people are going through the dying process, it is common for them to communicate less. My mother, who I used to speak to daily (sometimes multiple times a day) now handed the phone to my father rather quickly. I felt alone. Lost.
My husband and I decided to have a wedding blessing overseas in my family church. I struggled with how to prepare for it. I had always wanted the big white dress, the old stone church, the party and the perfect man. I had always expected I would find the man and my mom would help me plan the rest. In my case, that was no longer going to happen, as it was 2 years since she had passed away. It didn’t feel quite right to have the big party and wedding I had always imagined, as now someone inherently important had been taken away from the process. I headed dress shopping, and took my sister in law and a dear friend who had also lost her mom right after I did, also to cancer. She was my emotional backbone through the process. She took on a bit of that mother hen role. The two women helped me try on dress after dress. To this day I am inherently grateful. Still, I wish my mom could have participated.
When the question was innocently posed to me last night, it hit me how sad I am that I lost out on those experiences with my mom. It hit me how upset I had been but had tried to hide it through the whole process of planning a wedding. It hit me how angry I am that my mom was taken from me, and how terrifying it all was. I was a grown woman, yet I still felt terrified. All those things a mom is supposed to do with her daughter, I had to do alone. It…sucked. It royally sucked. It has been 9 years, and STILL, I grieve not only for her, but for the experiences and little things that a mom and daughter should have together. For the most part, I speak of my mother without sadness, and speak of her with love, pride, and of happy times. It’s taken me a long time to get to the “ok-ness” feeling when I talk about her. Sometimes, I think it makes people feel awkward when I mention her. They know she is gone, and I think they feel bad for me, because they know how awful it would be to lose their mom. I feel bad about that, and sometimes I try not to mention her for fear it makes people feel awkward, but I just can’t help it. Talking about her and telling a funny story makes not only me feel better, but I think if I can add humor, it lets people know about her and know I’m ok.
It’s rare that I do what I did yesterday. Talk about making people feel awkward! I shudder thinking about it. I didn’t want to get sad. I hate that I cried at that moment. Something in me just took over and the feeling of loss overwhelmed me. I heard all the happy stories of moms dress shopping, and being involved, and it felt like the stitches that had held me together for 9 years just popped. Today, after thinking about it, I realize I had to acknowledge some feelings I had hidden away. I know, I know, I am quite vocal about how my mom’s death has impacted me, but there is much that hasn’t been said. There are repercussions and new feelings that happen even now that pop up out of the blue. It’s like a rain drop that causes waves to go out in a circle, spreading over time. There are feelings I may never even speak about. Not only about my mom’s death, but about other people’s reactions after the fact. There is anger, and resentment, and things that I need to work through. I am realizing today just how many things I need to work on in this new year.
Someone once told me that grief goes on. It doesn’t really end. I hated the idea that the sadness would weigh on me long term and never ease. I have come to the conclusion that grief does stick around. It lessens, it gets easier in a sense. A new normal. There is a lot that you have to acknowledge, feelings wise, and address. I have found that on a daily basis, I handle my mother’s passing ok. I miss her every day, but my thoughts of her focus on happy memories, happy stories, and ones that make me laugh. Sometimes I think “Oh, I wish she had seen the kids do that” or “I miss her” but that’s to be expected. It’s rare that I crumple into tears, but occasionally, in the quiet of the night when everyone is asleep, I allow myself to. It’s rare I do it in public, and I am always mortified when I do.
I am happy when I see good mother/daughter relationships. I am happy for my friend and family member, who will navigate the path to a wedding far easier than I did. It warms my heart to see her mom so excited, and I am grateful to her mom because she often goes out of her way to make me feel a little mothered too. I doubt her mom knows how much that means to me. Little comments to let me know I am not alone go a long way.
Well, I am off to spend time with my babies. Growing up so fast, but will always be my beloved babies. Sorry for the total Debbie Downer post, but sometimes, ya gotta get it out of your head.