Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When Your Mother's Day is Bitter-Sweet

Sometimes Mother's Day is hard. As a mom, you may have lost a child to death, kidnapping, run-away or strained relationship. Or your mom may have passed away when you were at a tender age, young adult or an older adult.

I don't claim to know what it is like to lose a child. If you've lost a child, I am so, so sorry.

I only know the pain of losing a parent. And, when you're missing someone, holidays occasionally suck.

Over thirteen years ago my mom died at the young age of sixty-two. She never woke up after her mitral heart valve replacement surgery. My mom and our family knew her chances of survival were slim because of other health issues. Issues which plagued her most of her life. With her health history and due to complications during the surgery, mom was under anesthesia too long.

Those were difficult days. I was thirty-two and we had three young children at home. When I received the 3 a.m. call from my brother saying the family was being called back to the hospital, which was almost an hour away, I felt torn. I needed to be at the hospital yet it was 3 a.m. and my husband had to be at work in 3 hours. Who would watch the children. I certainly was not going to entertain a 7, 5 and 2 year old in a hospital waiting room. I waited until 6 a.m. to phone my mother-in-law. I woke the children and got them dressed and over to her house as quickly as I could. By the time I arrived at the hospital, they had already taken her in and out of surgery...again. The prognosis was not good.

Our family made the unpleasant decision to let her go after her body shut down and brain damage occurred. As soon as her IV of adrenaline was turned down, she left this world and entered her Heavenly home. I can't begin to tell you how awful it was to make the life/death decision yet we knew she was ready to be in arms of Jesus. Bitter-sweet.

To this day, it is difficult for me to watch movies and TV shows in which a character is on life support or is just barely hanging on to life. It is agonizing to watch a family say good-bye. And, when it happens in real life, I pray for the family in the most urgent way. It is so terribly hard.

"She's better off now." "She can 'breathe' better now" "It's better for her to go now than to suffer." And, even though I agree(d) with some of those statements made by well-meaning friends, it doesn't help. It really doesn't. I know she is in a much, much, much better place. But, the person is grieving and just an "I'm sorry" and meaningful hug work wonders to a mourner. It is a lesson I learned and hope to carry out to others mourning loved ones.

The year that followed was a blur. I felt terrible for our children. They wouldn't remember their grandma. They wouldn't remember how much she loved them. They wouldn't remember her funny pronunciation of certain words like 'purdy' or 'flutterby'. 'I'm going to hang you by your nose and tickle your toes' when the kids were outside running through the towels she had hanging on the clothesline. The oldest two wouldn't remember the time they had a sleepover at Grandpa and Grandma's house. We have pictures. We have stories. But, sometimes that just doesn't seem like enough.

I remember the first time after her death it really hit me she was gone. It wasn't her voice still left on the answering machine. It wasn't going over to my dad's house and her not there. Or not seeing her standing at the picture window waving as we left their house. It was when our then 2 year old son had an uncapped marker in his hand.

I could see him eyeing the ink end of the marker. He had been told before not to touch it with his fingers. Only paper is allowed to touch it. Curiosity got the best of him that day. Ever so slowly his free hand floated toward the marker. I was standing behind and off to the side waiting to see how this would play out. Lo and behold, his thumb and index finger mysteriously found their way to the marker tip.

I startled him by speaking the words, "The marker is for paper not fingers." He looked at me as innocently as any two year old could and said, "My fingers just wanted to see it." Melt my heart and God bless that child.

Guess who was the first person I wanted to call and relay this marker story. I even had the phone in my hand before I realized she wasn't there to call. I couldn't talk to her and tell her what funny thing that boy of ours just did and said. I remember sitting on the stairway with the phone in my hand fighting back tears. It wasn't fair to the kids. It certainly wasn't fair to me. I called my dad and relayed the event, but it wasn't quite the same.

Being busy as a stay-at-home mom raising our children and having said yes to too many volunteer positions at church, I realized roughly nine months into the grief process I was too busy to really grieve. That next church year I declined all but one volunteer position and gave myself time. Time. Time to allow myself to grieve.

During the first years after mom's death there would be times of unexpected sadness and crying in the tub. The tub is the best place to cry, by the way. There is something about the water. I remember the first time it happened I couldn't figure out why I was feeling that way. Then I realized a holiday was fast approaching. It happened over and over again and I realized I just had to go with these feelings yet not dwell so long in it or it would turn into 'poor-pitiful-me'.

One Sunday, years after mom's passing, we were sharing in Sunday School recalling the events of the week. It was Mother's Day. Hubs and I were the youngest in our mixed-age Sunday School class. Every single person older than me had a mother still living. As others shared around the circle, they talked about how they called or visited their mom. I sat there thinking how unfair it was to not have a mom at my age. Or our children's ages. I was actually angry. I don't know why or where the anger feeling came from but it was there. Oh boy, was it there. That was an extremely rough Sunday filled with tears.

Mother's Day does not send me into a tailspin like it did that year. I think I just needed to grieve her death that day. Grieve it in a way I never had before then. Accept life isn't always fair and remember God is ultimately in control.

We all grieve differently. Several years ago, my mother-in-law passed away. My husband handled his grief in a totally different way than I did with my mom. But, that is okay. Don't compare mourning stages with another person. God made us differently for a reason.


To those with fresh pain of loss, if I could sit down with you and look you in the eye I would say,

"This really stinks. I know you're missing her and it hurts not to see her in the familiar places. I know you're afraid you'll forget her voice. You're wondering how to get past today. At moments you wonder what you'll do without your mom to guide you; care for you.

At times, it feels like you're climbing a mountain. A mountain you did not choose to climb. A mountain draped in fog and only a few peeks of sunshine trying to break through. Some days the fog is thick and suffocating. Other days you see those beautiful streams of sunshine beaming within reach. This climb of grieve is an exhausting climb filled with deep ruts and root-filled paths. But, don't give up.

Just like anything in life, you need the good and the bad. The valleys and the mountain tops. Keep your eyes on the Son-shine and that mountain top. That is the thing about this thing we call life. We are always climbing. Always working our way toward the beauty.
You're not alone though. Let your family, friends and those closest to you see the real you. Be real with them. Don't hold back. Tell them about your hard days, your not so hard days and, yes, the good days. There will eventually be good days, trust me. If you friends and family don't want to hear it, find someone who will listen.
You knew her in a way no one else did. No one else had the same relationship. Your dad, your brother, your sister, your aunt, uncle and cousins all knew her in their own individual ways. Your grief shouldn't look any different. Give yourself that permission. Don't compare yourself to others grieving and think you should be "over it" or in a certain stage of grief. You're never 'over it'. It's just not as raw as time goes on. 

Don't live in ' what if ' and guilt mode. Please don't do that to yourself. And, one last thing. It's going to be okay. It really is. 
There is hope. She is in the loving arms of our Savior. You will see her again in Glory. Better brush up on your dance steps for your reunion on the streets of gold."

Over thirteen years have passed. Grief isn't as raw. Do I miss her? I do, but as I said, it isn't as raw. Just the other day I found myself thinking of her when I wasn't sure about a recipe. Sure I was sad but it wasn't the hold-back-tears every-time-I-thought-of-her feeling. I still have those times of hold-the-tears-back when it comes to our children; like how proud she would have been to see her grandchildren in various activities, graduations, baptisms, and other accomplishments.

Our life on earth isn't always how we envision it. Many times, the hard messy bits of life make life more servant focused as you walk with others in times like this. Try to be on the look out for opportunities to minister to those hurting from a major loss.

But, always remember we all grieve differently. Our stories and feelings are different. My story isn't going to be the same as your story. It's ok. Just listen, use words when necessary and pray for and/or with the person fresh in pain.

Until we meet in our Heavenly home, better start brushing up on those dance steps. I know I am.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your heartfelt reflections, Deanna. I'm sure your mom (and Grandma Bueta) would've loved having more time with your kids!

    I agree wholeheartedly that the tub/shower is the best place to cry. Sometimes it's just needed!