The blood is racing through my body to the point I think it is going to burst my veins. My hands grip the shopping cart handle as I whisk us away from the older man. I feel light, euphoric even. Surreal does not even begin to describe it. For once, I said the right thing at the right time.
Minutes ago my four-year-old raced ahead of me in the grocery aisle. She accidently bumped an older gentleman’s basket. He was not hurt at all. I caught up to her as she raised her arms to indicate for me to pick her up. I scoop her into the cart. The man that she bumped came up beside me and grumbled that those kids should not be contained but punished for what she did.
Without taking a breath I looked at him and said, “ Did someone teach you to be an asshole or does it come naturally?”
Walking away, I am stunned at what I said. For years since my youngest was diagnosed, I bit my tongue when ignorant comments or unsolicited advice would be dropped in front of me. I am not trying to be on a soapbox and make everyone be aware of autism and it’s many gifts and challenges. All I ask is that she be given the same respect as others expect her to give them.
I do not swear or call people bad names very often. I want to show my kids that mom does use her words. In this case, I do not regret standing up for my kid, who doesn’t know how do that for herself. Ironically, I did not see that man as we finish our shopping. I pack up the car and buckle her in. She gives me a big kiss and hug. Her direct eye contact is a new gift. Maybe she knew what happened just now and she is thanking me in her way. Never mess with a Mama Bear. In your face Autism.
After searching for years I have found these four books a great help to fill the void since my mom died.
Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman
This book explores the many ways that losing a mother can affect almost every aspect and passage of a woman’s life. Hope built the book on interviews with hundreds of mother-loss survivors. This life-affirming book is now newly expanded to reflect the author’s personal experience. Now married and a mother of young children herself, Edelman better understands how the effects of mother loss can change over time, and in light of new relationships.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
At 26, Cheryl thought she had lost everything. Her mother’s devastating death, her family scattered, and her own marriage was soon destroyed. With nothing more to lose, she made the impulsive decision of her life: Hike the Pacific Crest trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State, alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker. This is the vivid story of a young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Motherless Mothers by Hope Edelman
Now the mother of two young girls, Edelman set out to learn how the loss of a mother to death or abandonment can affect the ways women raise their own children. From a survey of more than one thousand women comes, “Motherless Mothers”, the enlightening and inspiring next step in the motherless journey.
Hope opens up and reveals the unique anxieties and desires these mothers experience as they raise their children without the help of a living maternal guide. She brings to light how the experience of loss directly impacts the ways in which these women parent their own children.
Paris in Love by Eloisa James
After her mother’s death and her own battle with cancer, bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about by selling her house, taking a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moving her family to Paris. This is a play-by-play of her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Without the Western domestic tasks to do, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourists overlook to walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time, her two hilarious teenage children and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen.
Here is a list I found on Goodreads that may help you find a book this season:
Did I miss on? What would you recommend?
I hate her. There, I said it, or at least in my head. She was supposed to come home today. All those medical talking heads said August 15 would be the date. Adults are liars, even grandma and grandpa. They say we get extra time at their house. Are you serious? I’m supposed to be at home in my own bed tonight!
Grandma has to stop for groceries on the way back to Vancouver, where we spent most of our summer. This is not fair! Stupidest summer ever. We are told we can wash up and get ready for dinner when we arrive. Grandma opens the door, my nose wants to throw up and never smell again. It’s Grandma’s rubbery ham. I walk into their kitchen and see the pale pink blob in the oven. The frame of pumpkin colored carrots and translucent potatoes highlight the big. After I put my napkin over the pink flesh and a mix of white potatoes and the radioactive carrots, Grandpa tells me that we are going to his sister’s house tomorrow. I tell him we need back-to-school clothes still. I am rebuffed.
We have to play cards at my great aunt’s tomorrow. Cards are as fun as it sounds for any 10-year-old. The tea in the fancy cups is cool, along with the tiny sandwiches with the crust cut off. I just suck at old lady games. The day passed into a blur of old people stuff. Finally it is time for me to plan the perfect pre-night braces meal.
I wonder if I should call dad to see if he can pick me up to take me to Big Scoop. Both mom and dad promised me I could have whatever I wanted the last meal before I got braces. I can picture the three-scoop ice cream sundae covered with hot fudge sauce and lots and lots of nuts. Maybe I can ask if they could put extra whip cream on because of the occasion.
By noon I wonder if I should call dad or mention it to Grandpa that I need to go for my ice cream dinner. After I help Grandma with the lunch dishes, the phone in the hallway rings. She ends up closing the door to the hallway after she answers the call. I don’t think anything of it and just go to the TV Room to read my book. I hear Grandma and Grandpa talking at the front of the house. I take a book break and ask what is going on. They say mom is coming home today. So we will be going home tomorrow morning. I stutter but.. but… but in my head. I find my voice.
“But I’m supposed to go for my big sundae. I’m getting braces tomorrow. They promised me a good size treat!”
Grandma and Grandpa look at each other and said maybe there will be time to go out for ice cream after dinner. I feel like my head is going to explode with all the blood rushing up to it. I race upstairs to the room I use. I can’t believe it. I scream into the pillow. I hate this house. I want my own house!
I should runaway. I should’ve demanded to talk to dad. I wait upstairs for as long as I can until I’m told I have to help with dinner. We’re having roast beef. Gross. I think when I grow up I want to be a vegetarian. I push around the food as much as I can and ask to be excused. I hide my food under the napkin and dump it in the garbage right away. Grandpa says hurry up so we can go out and get a scoop of vanilla ice cream at McDonald’s. So, not the same. I know he’s trying. They always forget about me. Like, did she have to come home today? I despise her. I know I’m not supposed to hate, but this has been the stupidest, dumbest summer ever.
We go out for ice cream anyways. When we get back to the house I ask if I can go to bed early. I pack up what I can so that way we can be ready in the morning. My head hits the pillow. Before I know it, the sun is already creeping out from the blinds. I don’t even know what to think, will I be here again or get to home. I give up hoping. I hear grandma’s voice calling up that it’s time for breakfast, and then we have to go. I am actually going home.
It turns out that we won’t be going home before my braces appointment. Dad is meeting us there. I don’t know if I even want to talk to mom anymore. I probably won’t be able to talk later because of a mouthful metal. But, at least I get to go home today. My own bed. My own clothes. My own records. Maybe back to skating?
The appointment took a long time. But at least I got to look out at my hometown through the office window. Dad picks me up. He tells me we have to go home really quietly as mom is already sleeping. Our dog is napping when we walk through the door. I can barely talk, so I don’t even bother. I keep mopping up the drool from having my mouth open for so long.
She sleeps so long that I go to bed before she wakes up. For the first time in almost 2 months, all four of us are actually under the same roof. But it’s like she hasn’t come home yet.
It is a week later and school has already started. Nothing has changed at home. I still take care of my sister. I continue to have no life. I didn’t want to get braces, but at least the kids were kind about it. I can’t eat a lot of the gross meaty things now so that’s good. No more celery or broccoli, or it has to be complete mush.
In two weeks time I have the first skating performance of the season. I wonder if mom will be well enough to come see it or help me with my costume. Dad doesn’t know how to sew and neither do I. But mom at least could patch things up. She continues to be in her room a lot. Sometimes I hear the TV. Sometimes I was allowed to go in and say hi. She’s a quarter of the mom she used to be. I hate cancer. I really hate it.
On the day of the performance, I get everything ready and I sneak into mom’s room to grab her pretty sparkling little purse that she lets me use sometimes for special occasions. I want to look good. Plus it matches my costume. Mom is sleeping. I quietly go in and get it. I’ll tell her later that I took it.
I say goodbye to my sister and dad. Of course mom didn’t make it. But apparently we’re going to pick her up afterwards. Dad says he’s going to take everybody out for McDonald’s after the performance. He brought his cameras to take a lot of pictures. I go off to the dressing room to meet with my coach. There’s one thing I really love, and that is to skate. When I’m on the ice is just me and the music. No cancer, no mom problems, or sister problems. Just the ice and my body. There is nothing else like it. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be allowed to skate. I know it’s expensive. Plus, Grade 6 homework comes home every day.
I begin to stretch and warm up in the dressing room before it’s my turn to skate. I’m feeling pretty good now. Then I feel a rip in my arm. Somehow I managed to rip the armhole on my right side of my costume. It looks awful. Then I get angry all over again. Mom should’ve been here. Mom should’ve been here with the sewing kit. Only moms are allowed in the dressing rooms with us. No males.
”You need help?” An angelic voice interrupts my anger. I look over. It is my skating club friend and her mom shadowing over me under the fluorescent dressing room light. Jean’s mom had a sewing kit and stitched me up while I was stood in front of her. Done. She takes my hand and whirls me around in a slow dance. I hug her my thanks.
My name is called. I feel excited again and at the same time calm. I slip off my pink skate guards and place them under my cubby. I will be awesome. I can do this. Somehow my legs take me to my mark on the ice. The arena is silent. And I’m off.
I blink and we are in the car on the way home. My cheek still feels the burn from the cold ice, rosy with happiness. I knew I wouldn’t win. Mom taught me that it’s about the journey not the ending.
It is months later from that beautiful skate. School is going great. Skating will end for the season soon. I’m allowed to go to the mall with friends. The dismissal bell rings. I grab my backpack from the locker and head home. It is a short walk. I put the key in the front door and let myself in. Not everyone has a key for their house at my age. Mom still naps a lot so I could be waiting a long time for her to open the door. I listen if the house is quiet. I slip off my shoes, skip up the steps, and I drop my backpack on the living room floor. I tiptoe into the kitchen. I open the fridge and grab the orange juice container, place it on the counter, and get a glass from the dish strainer. I guess dad was able to wash the breakfast dishes this morning. Cool. It was my turn.
“Where is my silver purse?” I almost drop the glass. My mom is in the doorway wrapped in her red robe. She’s looking at me funny.
“Mom, you scared me. How are you today?” She tells me to find it now tone of voice I’ve never heard before. She turns and goes back into her room. The door slam that followed shook the entire house. I leave my juice to tiptoe to my room. I trash my room looking for it. Crap.
I lost it. I can’t even leave this room again. I wipe my tears and put on my headphones. I turn on my record player and grab my journal. I need to remember how to breathe again. My inner Harriet the Spy finds the answer to my turmoil. I turn up the music, grab a pen with my journal, and go in my closet to sit on the floor to write. This is my safe place. Closing the door is the most magical thing. I am alone.
The door opens. Without looking up I scream, “Go away.” The light from my room reveals my skating friend standing high above me. In her right hand is my mom’s purse. The one I lost.
It is like being stuck in a traffic jam and all of a sudden the road is clear, and I am all alone. I can’t get up. The room is spinning. I’m not 10 years old anymore. I am 15. My skating friend is not my friend, she’s my stepsister. Her mom is my stepmom. My Mom didn’t come home on August 15. She never came home at all. She was supposed to be here.
The purse is one of the few things I have of hers. If mom didn’t die I would have gotten to have that argument with her.
I miss her.
This is something I wrote last year on another cypher place. It is still true today on my 43rd birthday. Be grateful.
Well, there it is. It is my birthday. My 9 year-old daughter circled the date with a big, red circle. The swirl of the crimson shape makes me feel heavy-hearted. This year brought nothing to celebrate. Why should I acknowledge turning another year older?
At the beginning of the year, I underwent a thyroidectomy. I have been battling thyroid disease for many years. The medication rollercoaster to get my levels balanced did nothing in my body’s fight with my lumpy organ. My spare and second spare tires around my belt loop are the reminders of just how awful my body was losing the fight.
It took months of treatments and many medication changes to get it right. On the day of every test I would kiss my loved ones to wish them a good day. I didn’t know if it was for the last time. I became convinced I wouldn’t make it out of surgery. Maybe it was my time. Mom died at 39 years old. Today, I am 42.
The weeks that followed after surgery was like being on an old wooden rollercoaster ride that never stopped. From follow up tests, the worries, more challenges, my youngest’s rough time communicating and so much more. I kept hoping things would die down. But it never did.
Winter blended into Spring, Summer arrived with a leg injury. It was my fault. I had received the 6-month clearance that day. I was playing with my youngest. I caught her in a jump and she came down hard on my kneecap. My leg swelled from knee to toe. I couldn’t do anything fun with the kids for the rest of summer break. The kids did okay with limited activities. I felt like such a failure as a mom.
To say I was depressed was putting it mildly. After a battery of medical appointments, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was sent on the way home with a prescription and orders for self care. HA! Putting myself as a priority is odd and unfamiliar. I had a lot of reprogramming in myself to do. I started by journaling and doodling in the coloring books for adults. It became easier to do in between interruptions.
When school was back in session, I thought I would finally get me time. That honeymoon ended swiftly as I would get the rescue calls to get my youngest. Her communication abilities completely shut down. She has autism and is partially verbal. My girl was screaming at school for reasons unknown. It turned out she was hit with a big mess of infections. Screaming was her way of dealing with the foreign feelings in her body. It broke my heart (and ears) every time she would wail in my arms. Eventually, she healed. We learned what to do the next time she physically communicates pain. School is being a happy place again.
When a lump was found, in the ultrasound the technician stopped the scan. She got the doctor who saw it and sent me directly to the OR. It had grown too fast. I had a lumpectomy right then and there. I hadn’t prepared for surgery so I had to drive myself home after. And the worry train started up again.
Thankfully, those test results were clear. I had a lot of emotional healing to do. I slowly took back the reins of my life. The bad days are still always just around the corner. Sometimes the crushing pressure on my heart makes me not to want to get out of bed.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!!” I hear the chorus coming down the hall. It is my kids and hubby.
It is as if lightening struck my depression bubble. Everything becomes sharper and brighter.
It is my birthday. I am here. I know I didn’t feel grateful in the OR. I felt grateful when I woke up in ICU. I felt grateful to hear my family’s beautiful voices. I didn’t feel grateful that I couldn’t have coffee. I did feel grateful when I could have showers again. I didn’t feel grateful when loved ones disappeared when I needed support. I am grateful for the people who surprised me with their love and care packages. I didn’t feel grateful when friends passed away or their children.
I am grateful for the healthcare system. I am grateful to be able to celebrate my 42nd birthday because I can. I am feeling such appreciation for the small things that turned out to be so big and mean so much.
As I blow out the candles, a feeling of gratitude washes over me. It is okay to feel sad. It is okay to be grateful too. I am grateful for another year. The New Year is looking a lot brighter now.
Unbelievable. I discover myself standing in the kitchen not being able to move. I came back from serving my girls their breakfast. We are having a great chat when I went to put the milk away. The fridge handle feels hot under my right hand and my left is cold by the half-full milk jug. My heart is still. The calendar is at eye-level glaring today’s date. I have always known this day comes every year. I began today feeling perfectly okay for the first time before I knew what today really was. Stunned, I can’t believe it has been 30 years ago today that my mom died. For the first time in all those anniversaries, today is the first time I didn’t spend the morning crying.
I always hated the term ‘motherless’ ever since I saw Bambi’s mother got shot in the first minutes of the film. You knew it happened, but it still tore the heart. It reminds me of what I’ve been missing since I was 10 years old. My mom died of breast cancer at the age of 38 years old. My sister was only eight years old. My childhood ended that day.
Two weeks after she died, school started. As we walked to class it felt like there was an arrow sign above our heads announcing ‘Motherless Kids Coming Through.’ Kids would stop talking when I went to the gym or step up to wait my turn on the swings. I felt like a circus act when I would get to my desk, to the library and to play at recess. The only time I felt normal was when I was the first one home after school. My sister would come home a bit later, after she finished her fourth grade after school activities. I had a brief precious half hour to myself. I could pretend that life was okay for that short time. I walked through every room remembering mom in the living room or eating breakfast at the kitchen table. I never went to her bedroom. It is too hard to remember her there. Her stuff cleaned out days after she died. The only smell my nose recalls is her perfume, Chanel Number 5. The magic spell ended the minute I heard the front door open.
Friends would corner me in the playground by the hopscotch over the next month to tell me how they found out about the news my mom died. They would go on and on about how they felt and how they would hate to lose their moms.
Over the next few years were dark, going through the beginning of teenage hood without my mom was very hard. Sure, there were nannies and the stepmother, but it wasn’t the same. No matter what others told me, I always wondered what mom would have said.
When I got married, being motherless had grown into a thorn in my heart. After all the heartbreak, I don’t want to have kids. I can’t do that my potential children. Cancer took a lot of family from us too early. I also had endometriosis, which meant I couldn’t have conceived naturally. I was okay with that. There are many childless parents out there who deserve to find their children. My two girls changed that plan.
The minute the doctor confirm my pregnancy, my first, I was wrapped in fear. I took all the recommended precautions to make sure I would give birth to a very healthy baby. I took my grief it became motivated to be the best mom I could for my child, like mom did for me. I didn’t know what else to do to care for my baby, other than the books I devoured. When my first baby arrived the motherless grief return instantly. I had trouble breast-feeding. The baby would cry and cry. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t hear my mother’s voice anymore.
I became what is known as a helicopter parent before it was a label. I began to focus every ounce of energy for my baby. Every cry, every request and every wail, I am there at all hours of the day and night, whatever she needed. I know every breath, every giggle and every precious moment. I am all too aware how painful it is to want your mom, I will never let my child know that heartache.
On the good days, I do not hate being motherless anymore, I am going to do what Bambi did and move forward. But if I had that other life, one with her in it, would have I have met my children, I wonder. I might not have my stories, but I am making my own daughters by being here to live them together.
“MOM!!!” My thoughts are interrupted by my seven-year-old beauty is yelling from the kitchen table.
I jumped out of my thoughts and answered, “What is up?” My heart starts beating again. The feeling of my legs and voice returns.
She is looking at me with a look of curiosity in her smile. “Close the fridge. You are wasting energy, remember?” I nod as I close the door with a smile on my face, heart and soul. I am able to be the mom that my girls need me to be. I know that my mom was that for me for as long as she could. There is one exemption; I haven’t let my kids see Bambi, yet.
For the three decades that have passed since that ill-fateful day, this is the first time I don’t miss her madly. It occurs to me that she has always been here for every step of the way. All this time I worried about being a mom when the whole time I already had the best mom to model by. She wasn’t the best cook, me either. She wasn’t the best homemaker, ditto. My mom is always there for me, even in death. She is there in my parenting her grandchildren, with unconditional love.
I hug my girls with the familiar arms that I once craved after school or skating practices. I will always miss my mom. I now know that she will always be here. The best way to honor her is by being the mom she was to me. And that sounds like medicine to my healing heart. I didn’t need a parenting book to rely on, I just have my children’s hugs to remind me of what I need.
Being motherless does suck and that is okay to say. Motherless may be what got me here now, but it doesn’t define who I am today.
Cancer sucks. It isn’t a gift or a blessing. It is an evil wolf in sheep’s clothing. It may even be the scariest word in the English language. The BIG C is like an annoying roommate who never leaves.
I should know. It knocked at my door. I tried to not let it in, but it got through the weathered cracks in the doorframe. The medical team has my back. My dear ones let me vent and provided the words I needed to hear. Yet, I hid from the big world. I know now that was wrong.
I did get asked a lot on this journey on what help my village could provide. I was stumped. I was the one who made care packages, I wasn’t the one who received them. I hid from the kind and caring people who just wanted to help. There was some awkward un-solicited advice and odd comments that left me feeling nauseous, like after a roller coaster ride gone bad.
Then, after a lot of soul-searching, clarity arrived. I realized people offered what they could. And that is okay.
If you have a loved one who is fighting the good warrior fight, I have a few tips to share on what to say to them.
- YOU ARE NOT ALONE. It might seem scary in the moment. There are loved ones who will be there. Sometimes it isn’t the people you expect will be there, but the ones who surprise you.
- THAT SUCKS. It is okay to keep it real.
- What are you CRAVING? The reality is that cravings from treatments can askew any warrior’s taste buds. It can be the obscure or out of the ordinary, and that is okay.
- How can I help? Those are the sweetest words to anyone doing the hospital dance. Let them tell you. Let them talk about their days, and listen. There are gems in the conversation.
- Sometimes it is okay to not speak, however just give a hug. The power of touch is beyond what any IV bag can provide. Cancer isn’t contagious.
Cancer is evil. It doesn’t get a hall pass. It is the bully at school that doesn’t go away. It steals your morning paper and drinks your coffee in front of your face. You can rise above the deceptive enemy. If you give it power it will take you. You got this.
I am that mom. When I turn the calendar to September, I am struck by fierce nostalgia. My oldest, my miracle baby, celebrates her birthday in this month. I vividly remember what happened in the days before her birth: three doctors told me that I would never have children by natural means. They were wrong. I am so glad they were.
I remember her first birthday party. I remember them all. This birthday she turns 10. DOUBLE DIGITS! When did that happen?!?
Where did my baby go?
- She is now in a Size 9 shoe. One down from me!
- She jumps into the deep end of the pool without a life vest.
- She has amazing fashion sense.
- She asks me big person questions like, “Can you marry another girl?”
- When I am not looking, she takes care of her sister so sweetly.
And yet, she still takes my hand as we cross the street or walk in the mall.
I will grasp her hand until the day she lets go.
She still wants hugs. She still wants to have dates with me.
I know that in a blink of my eye she will be planning to move out, and build a life that is her own.
I hope she knows I am always here.