My mom is dead. My mom is dead. I repeated these four words over and over again while I rocked back and forth on a hospital chair moments after I watched my best friend take her last breaths.
It is now almost a year since that day. The feelings I felt that day have not left me, but they linger, frequently reminding me just how quickly the unknown can crash in and shake us to our cores.
Two days ago, at Ulta, buying makeup with my sister. “Your parents must get a kick out of the two of you!”
A few weeks ago, on a first date. “So, what do you parents do? Are they still together?”
About once or twice a month, usually at the grocery store. “Wow, I can’t believe how much you look like your mother.”
Casual conversation. Polite remarks. Phrases that dig inside me, trying to scratch their way to the surface.
The thing is, I’ve gotten very good at pushing these gnawing emotions away. Almost too good. So good, in fact, that to most people they view me as one of “the strongest people” they’ve ever met.
Isn’t that ironic? The girl that now cries approximately six seconds into Wagon Wheel and avoids the Hallmark aisle whenever she can just happens to be one of the strongest people living among you all.
Although my mother’s death was unexpected, I am fairly certain that even if we were all timestamped with an expiration date, there would be no true coping mechanisms for what the pain would feel like once it hit.
I’ve learned that grief has no agenda, no schedule. A comment from a stranger, a song on the radio, the flash of a woman’s blonde highlighted hair, the 31st of any month; each of these can trigger a wave of emotions and turn a reasonably good day into a day where I let my mind wander too far.
I had so many moments with my mother that I cherish, but there are so many that I’ll never have. Planning a wedding, caring for future children, taking care of my father as he gets older, hosting holidays and the like.
These are events that I just assumed I would share with my mother. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t old. In my mind, she wasn’t meant to die that day, but she did. Someone, somewhere had a plan far greater than mine.
My mother loved me, my sister, my father, and each person that touched her life with all of her heart and then some more. She loved hard, and for most of my teenage years, I didn’t get that. She was my mother after all, and despite the (metaphorical) punches I threw, she would be there ready for whatever I tossed next.
There are some days when I look back and think that I never truly understood the power of her love until she was no longer with us. Like somehow that when this all of this suddenly clicked, it was too late.
It’s a silly thing that life does to us. We learn as we grow, but we sometimes do not grow until we hurt. The broken ones, those are the ones who have learned far too much. The lessons we hold weaken us, breaking us down, bit by bit.
As I said, I do not feel like the strongest person out there. I cry, I scream, I talk out loud to birds and butterflies, crossing my fingers that these creatures are a sign from the heaven above.
But eleven months ago, I became a member of a club, a club that I never thought I would be part of. My mother was many things, each quality better than the next. She lived her life loud.
When such a life is cut so short, I feel as though there is still work to be done here on earth. But this is work that she can no longer do. She did not raise my sister and I in the way that she did for us just to sit back and let this pain overtake us.
We talk about our experiences, we share our stories, and I write. A pen to paper or fingers on a keyboard. I can’t make sense of what happened eleven months ago, but I can try to put some pieces of this mangled puzzle together as I write down my complex thoughts, my deepest emotions.
If you’re a member of the same club, I’m sorry. We know better than anyone that two grieving souls don’t need to say much more than that. We get it, we get each other.
If you are lucky enough to still have your mother, I want to leave you with five little things to remember. I want you to make every single second count.
1. Accept every single hug with an even bigger hug back.
As we grow up, our mother’s hugs and affection become only necessary during times of need. Not a greeting, not a goodbye. These are not the hugs that I am talking about. The moments I am talking about are found on a random Tuesday, when you stop by just for a quick dinner or to grab your folded laundry. Surprise her. Hug her hard, and for just a few extra seconds, don’t let go.
2. Understand her advice comes from years of experience.
One of my mother’s favorite pastimes was talking about my love life. One of the things that I liked to do best was ignore her. She would try and tell me how to best handle a situation, and I would tell her that she had no idea what the world was like today.
Looking back, every single time my mother gave me a piece of advice about a person, she was right. Whether this was a childhood friend or a prospective relationship, she always got it right.
Chances are, your mother, like mine, knows you better than you may know yourself. She has spent years observing you, watching you grow. Trust her. Instead of pushing away at advice, listen first, and then decide what to do with it.
3. Ask her questions. About anything.
From the time that I was about 13, I knew that I could ask my mother anything and she would give me an honest answer. The problem was, I was so confident in our honest relationship that I barely asked her anything.
I figured that these days would come in the future when I was raising children of my own, and I could look over at my mother and ask her to tell the story of how her and my dad met.
What were you wearing? What movie did you see on your first date? How did you know that you were in love?
Ask the questions now because there may not be a later, and one side of a two-sided story always leaves out so many important details.
4. Don’t roll your eyes when she calls, texts, or even adds you on Snapchat.
Pick up every phone call that you can. Answer every text. Teach her how to use new forms of communication. One day these calls will stop. One day her name won’t pop up on your phone. One day the Facebook comments she leaves you will brighten up your day when they pop up a year or two later.
5. Understand that your mother is a person, too.
This may be the greatest one on this list. As I became older, and I felt as though my newfound knowledge of the world entitled me to more of an opinion on my mother’s life.
What I did not realize was that our parents were people before us. I know that concept seems strange, at least for me it did. I could only ever see my mother in one role. She was a caretaker, and she loved being a mother more than anything else in this world.
But, before she was a mother, she was a person, and she was capable of making all of her own decisions. As our parents get older, we tend to think that we have their best interests at heart.
I urge you to communicate, don’t dictate. Share your thoughts, make important decisions together, and recognize your mother for who she is: an amazing woman, a remarkable mother, and the best friend you will ever have.