Thoughts for My Motherless Sisters on Thanksgiving

contributed by Christine Friberg

Yesterday as I traveled with my husband and four children back to my home state of IL to celebrate Thanksgiving with my two brothers and their families, I imagined the millions of people around the country embarking on their journeys to be with loved ones — many going ‘home’ to be with family, others traveling towards partners or friends. Of course, some of us in our community are taking this literal journey, but I also imagine that many more of us are at least taking a figurative journey in our minds and hearts to the years of ‘before’. To me, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ my mom’s death feel heavier at the holidays, and Thanksgiving feels especially challenging since the expectation is to be grateful and give thanks. And being grateful and giving thanks are not always easy emotions to conjure up when we might feel overwhelmed by loneliness, sadness, anger, fear, grief, and/or all of the above.

For some of us, it will be many years since we last celebrated Thanksgiving with our moms and we will move through the day and be ok, maybe even great. For others, it will be many years since we last celebrated with our moms and we will have an undeniable urge to fall on our knees sobbing and begging for her to come back to us, and maybe we will even give in to this urge. Still others of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving without our moms after a more recent loss or maybe for the first time and we will smile through it and be surprised when the day ends and we realize that we were ok or even better than ok. And then there will be others of us that are celebrating after a more recent loss or for the first time and we just can’t make it through the day without losing it over and over again. Certainly, all of this can be complicated by other family dynamics or losses or (insert life challenge here). Wherever you might fall within this spectrum and whatever other experiences you might be carrying with you, here is what I want you to know: you are not alone. On this day when you might not feel up to meeting the expectations of Thanksgiving, you are being held up by many many other women who ‘get it’ and understand. You are a part of a community that is connected in a deep and meaningful way and this — this is powerful. What strikes me is that this is truly something we can all be grateful for — each other.

Today, I want you to know that I am thankful for all of you and for the sisterhood that we share because of our dear mothers.

Sharing Our Stories: Time

contributed by Chelsea Marcott

I thought I would have more time... 

Even when Art called to tell me that you had chest pain and had collapsed and they were taking you to the hospital in an ambulance, I didn’t even pause to think about how serious that was. I quickly began to pack a bag so we could get into the car and come be with you. In those minutes racing around the house, I cursed you under my breath for not going into to the doctor earlier that week when you weren’t feeling well. I began planning the stern words I would say when I would scold you, the nurse, for not taking better care of yourself. But as the minutes ticked on and I didn’t get a call back from Art panic began to rise in my chest, worry and uncertainty crept in.

I called Art and impatiently waited for him to answer. The phone rang for an eternity and went to voicemail. I told myself that he was probably busy comforting you or you both were talking to the doctor about what test they would run next. I waited a few minutes and called again. No answer. Worry and fear crept in, but I held out hope, praying silent prayers as we began to load the car with our duffel bags and get the dogs ready for the 5 hour trip to your house.

Just then my phone rang. My heart skipped and I hesitantly answered. Whatever shred of hope I was holding onto slipped away quickly when I heard the catch in Art’s voice as he began to tell me he was so sorry and sobbed into the phone that you were gone. I don’t remember what I said as I hung up the phone. The next thing I remember was Ross, my husband, picking me up from our driveway sobbing as he helped me back into our house.

As quickly as I broke, I pulled this quiet strength from a place that I didn’t know existed. More likely, my brain just numbed itself to protect me from reality, from the overwhelming grief sadness that you can never fully prepare yourself for. I began calling the people that loved you to break their hearts. I made my shocked husband get into the car and drive us to your house because for some unfathomable reason I believed I would know just what to do if I was at your house, closer to you and your things.

The next week was a blur. I began sorting through the earthly remains of your life searching for the answers to impossible questions, trying to plan your funeral, hoping that it would honor you the way that you deserved and live up to everyone else’s expectations. I distracted myself with the busyness of cleaning out your house, avoiding my grief over your unexpected loss by doing things, being busy. But grief crept through in the quiet. I cried myself to sleep for weeks overwhelmed by regret with one central theme, I thought I would have more time.

In my mind, I over-analyzed the decisions I had made over the last several years wishing desperately that God would give me a second chance, a re-do, the opportunity to do things differently. I longed to hear your voice again or have one more hug. I wished that I had prioritized spending more time with you while you were here instead of focusing on building a career and getting my MBA. I wished I had picked up the phone more and told you more often that I loved you. I wished for the chance to roll my eyes at you as you bragged about me, in front of me to anyone who would listen.

You were always the person that I took for granted because you were always right there when I needed you. It’s been three years since I lost you and not a day goes by that I don’t miss you. Your unexpected loss brought so much sorrow, but as my dear friend Christine has helped me to realize, there are also lessons in your loss. I’ve learned how to better prioritize my work and family. I’ve always known that I have a pretty amazing husband, but your loss was truly the most difficult thing we’ve experienced as a couple and we walked through that hand in hand and came out stronger. By leaning into Him to survive my grief, I’ve reconnected to my faith and have finally found a church that fills my spirit and feels like home. I don’t know that I’ll ever fully move past the regrets I feel around your loss, but I can learn from it. I can move forward and live my life knowing that there’s never enough time with those you love and just make time for them now while I’m able. Love you forever, Momma.

In loving memory of Beth Ann Dellabella. August 13, 1957 to October 18, 2014

Sharing Our Stories: Happy Birthday, Mom (Part 4 of 4)

contributed by Stacy Sollin

first published 6/2/17 on her blog Present In This Moment

Today is my Mom's 61st birthday.

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I told myself that it was okay to have a good day today. It was okay to enjoy the day, to celebrate, to be happy. As I thought about this intention I set for myself, my emotions wavered. How can I find good in today when I've been robbed of my Mother?

Since leaving for college, there were many birthdays that we didn't celebrate together, but I always sent a card and filled it with compliments and love and told her that I wish we were celebrating together or that we will celebrate the next time we're together. In all those years I never imagined that our time was limited, that she would leave this life so damn early.

I posted the below on FB for her last birthday Earth side in 2014, just about a month before I visited home and instinctively knew that something was really wrong with her health. She was gone 6 months later. This was my last birthday wish to her...

Happy birthday to my beautiful, wonderful, loving and caring Momma! I am so absolutely blessed to have you in my life and thank my lucky stars for you each day! I am beyond grateful that you were a stay at home momma while I was young. I have so many great memories of those days! :) Thank you for being a great role model to me, thank you for loving me unconditionally, thank you for always supporting me and thank you for always being there for me! I will always be your little girl! I love you so much, Mom!

I hate that she's not here, that our relationship was a little messed up and rocky before she passed, that I didn't get any big, last words from her. She was just gone without any closure. I hate missing her, I hate the pain of the grief. I hate not feeling her in a spiritual way. And I really hate the days like today where everyone is going about their life, but I am drowning, just trying to keep my head above water.

BUT, I am trying so hard to open my heart to finding joy and gratitude today. Today I can celebrate my Mom and her life. Today doesn't have to be sad, but I am allowed to be sad. I can spend the day with a lump in my throat and red eyes (or a runny nose and tear streamed face), but I am also allowed to feel joy and happiness. I can be grateful for the time I had with my Mom, even though it was not enough. My last birthday words to her still ring true. Truer than true. Maybe even more so now than they did that day.

I don't want the day to go by without doing something in her honor, so tonight we will toast to my Mom with her favorite drink, a fuzzy navel, and listen to oldies. We will celebrate her birthday like she's with us, because maybe she's closer now that she ever was those years that we were apart.

Sharing Our Stories: My Mother's Eulogy (Part 3 of 4)

contributed by Stacy Sollin

first published 12/14/15 on her blog Present In This Moment

Everything happened so fast. From the time you got sick until the time you passed. Our time together. Your time here on Earth. Your life. It feels like you were gone in an instant. And then that was it. And we went through the motions of planning your memorial service. Having you cremated. Picking out an urn. Writing your obituary. Picking out songs that you liked, that brought a smile to your face, and made us think of you. I thought about writing your eulogy then, but had no idea how I could. It was all so surreal. Writing your eulogy and speaking at your memorial service would make it real. How could this nightmare possible be real?  And I wasn't ready for that. I'm still not. And I don't know if you can read this or see or feel this in some way, shape, or form, but I want to do this for you. And I'm sorry that I couldn't do it at your service.

----------------------------------------------

I don't know how to write this, but there are a lot of things I don't know now that she's gone.  I don't know how to explain it - it's just like there's this empty space now. I want this to be the perfect tribute to her, but I fear it won't be. I want to share every single detail about how special she was to me and to the world, but I know I'll miss something and what I remember to share, won't be enough. 

I don't know that she knew or realized how special she was. How great of a mom and a friend she was. How she could light up a room, how her laugh was loved, how much her smile was appreciated, how much her presence could warm hearts, and how much she was loved by so many, especially her family. Her heart was so beautiful. It is indescribable how kind and caring she was. Every creature on Earth had a place in her heart and she wished no harm onto anyone or anything. 

Mom was a strong and beautiful woman and her family was the center of her universe. Her love for us was fierce and unending, unconditional, and so patient. The way she loved me and my brother was  incredible. Always patient with us and cared for us so well. The only time we seem to remember her patience wearing thin was a particular time she was making apple pie and we always reminded her of that. I think it was the crust that was the problem. I just remember steering clear of the kitchen for awhile and I definitely don't remember having apple pie at any point later in that day. 

She was the perfect Mom. She was the perfect balance of everything - fun, discipline, joking, serious, everything. What a beautiful childhood and life I had thanks to her. My early memories are so precious to me because I was able to spend so much time with her. She was my first best friend. She was a stay at home Mom while I was a little one and I have countless memories of our days together. She was SO fun. We would watch our morning Nick Jr. shows together in the mornings and she would sing all the songs with me. We would play the organ together and sing along. I remember countless adventures out and about - we would walk to the library, the bakery for long john donuts, the V&S Variety store, and sometimes, we would go and "waste our money at Alco". And of course, I can't forget to mention the approximate one million times we probably watched Dirty Dancing together and I made her do the lift with me. She wasn't afraid to try new things with us either. One summer we got a 'Crocodile Mile Water Slide' and she didn't hesitate to give it a try.  She did, however, hesitate to try it a second time. 

As I grew older, very little in our relationship changed. She was still my best friend. She was still the person I knew I could turn to and always trust, who I could speak to without judgement, who loved me unconditionally and whom I loved unconditionally as well. She knew me better than anyone else. We still spent time together; trips to Aberdeen or Watertown, errands around town, adventures to Minneapolis as I got ready to leave for college, and just mundane time together together at home. 

She was always willing to go up to bat for us. If our feelings had been hurt, she was always more than willing to 'bitch slap' someone for us. It made us roll our eyes with love (like grown kids do) and laugh, but it was always appreciated when she asked if it was needed. It was her Momma Bear coming out, saying, "don't mess with my kids!". 

Mom loved music and I can attribute my oldies knowledge all to her. So many memories with her have a soundtrack of music on the radio. And her love for music was beyond the sound and the beat; she fell in love with songs because of the words. She always found the story in the song and perhaps that was why she was so passionate about having a copy of any song that she liked. Often times when I was home for a weekend, she would have a list of songs that she needed help finding on the internet so she could download them and listen to them whenever she desired. Another one of those things that would make me roll my eyes with love, but damn, I would give anything to have another afternoon with her, helping her search the internet for songs she could only remember a few words to. 

The mind is an awful grief support - it still hits like a ton of bricks that she's gone. There are days where it literally feels like I had amnesia and suddenly remember this awful, devastating fact.  I have missed her for 365 days now - not a day has passed that I haven't thought of her. Some days the memory comes and it just lingers in my mind and I make it through the day okay, but more often than not it comes with the most ginormous lump in my throat and pain in my heart that makes it feel like my world is standing still again. 

Everyone once in awhile, I'll hear myself and realize that I sound just like her.  It surprises me and makes me smile and breaks my heart at the same time. As time goes on, I realize that I am my Mother, something that we often joke about not wanting to happen. I've made that joke myself, but couldn't be more proud that I am her. She carried me into this world and gave me life; I have heard her heart beat from the inside. Her physical presence was my comfort for the first years of my life. Parts of me are parts of her - my soft heart, my sensitivity, my spirit, my intuition, the way I talk, and the way I laugh. And as I am 9 months pregnant with my first child, a little girl, I know that in the days, months, and years to come, I will see more and more of her in me and us, our relationship, in this next chapter of my life. I can only hope that I give my children the life and love that she gave me. That I am as patient as her and as fun and carefree as her. That my heart and smile are as warm as hers were for me. That they never question my unconditional love for them, as I never questioned her unconditional love for me. That they can find a best friend in me, just like I found my first and lifelong best friend in her. 

Momma, I hope you're at peace and happy, free of pain and suffering. That where ever you are is greater and more beautiful than anything you ever imagined. You're so loved and so missed here on Earth. I hope you know that you were a perfect Mom to us and I can't thank you enough for everything you did for me. I hope that we're reunited some day, but that in the mean time that I'll feel your presence eventually.

Sharing Our Stories: A Year (Part 2 of 4)

contributed by Stacy Sollin

first published 8/2/15 on her blog Present In This Moment

I've missed her everyday since she passed away. Some days it's only the knowledge that she's not here and other days its the giant lump in the throat, elephant on my chest feeling. It's still suffocating, still so uncomfortable and painful and re-realize that she isn't here.

I'd had more of the later recently and it dawned on me that it was literally to the day that she had called and left me a voicemail and at one point said, "...everything is okay...", which in the moment that I listened to it, knew nothing was okay. That day was the downward spiral to losing my Mom.

It feels like yesterday and eternity at the same time. How could all that have happened? How is it even possible? I miss her every. single. day. I feel the emptiness every. single. day. I am motherless on this Earth and there is no replacement, nothing to fill that void. Everything is so different without her. I am different without her. A part of me still doesn't feel like me. There's a sadness and loneliness that I fear will just never go away. Sometimes I look at myself and that's all I can see and wonder if it will ever go away. My heart is so softened to others that have lost a parent and it pains me to know that they may feel this same grief. I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

I am 5 months pregnant with her Granddaughter and I hate that I can't share any of this experience with her. I hate that she's not here. I have so many questions and things that I want to talk to her about. I want to hear all her stories from pregnancy. So many exciting things I want to tell her, ultrasound pictures that I want to show her. Things I need her advice on. And she's not here for any of it.

This will forever be the case. There will always be something that I want to share with her and want her to here for. Part of the reason why this grief will always be with me; I will always be reminded of her absence.

Sharing Our Stories: When The World Stands Still (Part 1 of 4)

contributed by Stacy Sollin

first published 12/1/14 on her blog Present In This Moment

My world came to a screeching halt on September 6th. The brakes had been on for several weeks...Mom not feeling well, not feeling right, really rundown, blood work abnormal, CT Scan, masses, biopsy...

The phone call from Mom made everything come to a complete standstill.

"It's Stage 4 cancer."

Seriously? How is this even possible? This is not how my life is supposed to go. This is not how things should be. She's supposed to be here. This isn't fair. This is wrong. Why is this happening?

My heart is broken. Absolutely fucking broken. I'm out of breath, yet still breathing. There's a constant lump in my throat. I feel only brief and infrequent moments of weightlessness until I remember. Until I realize that one of my greatest fears in life is currently my reality. That nothing will ever be the same. That my Mother will soon leave this Earth. The woman that I have loved, adored and admired all 29 years of my life. The woman that gave me love, comfort, laughs, smiles, and so much more since before the day I was born.

Why didn't the fucking chemo do anything? Why couldn't she have experienced any relief AT ALL? Why has she had to go through so much pain and discomfort? Why did this all happen so fast? Diagnosed in September and hospice in November...really?

I try to see the silver lining, to have faith that this is part of God's plan, to believe that the best is yet to come for her, that her eternity is better and greater for her than her life here, than my selfishness to want her here so damn badly. But my heart hurts, my frustration and anger rage, and I cannot come to peace with this. I'm not sure that I ever will.

And I absolutely cannot handle the fact that the world still spins. I'm so angry that everyone can just go about their lives, that this doesn't affect them, too. How unfair is that? Talking about how great things are, how awesome everything is. About how they had such great time doing this or doing that. Maybe I'm most upset with those that I thought would be more sympathetic, the people that I thought would be checking in, offering support, just plain old asking. They aren't. Are they pulling away? Unaffected? Unable to handle their own feelings with this?

Even so, I can't shake the feeling, the realization that I am stuck. Stuck in this damn nightmare. There is false (or perhaps very little real) joy in celebration of anything. I will always have a scar on my heart, my soul even. Life events are now marked with "before Mom got sick or after Mom got sick" and will be marked with "before Mom passed or after Mom passed".

What will it be like when she's gone? What will the pain be like then? Surely it cannot be less than it is now. Will it be then that my world actually stops? And I will feel shattered instead of just 'broken'? I can barely stand this pain now, how can I possibly manage anything greater?

Sharing Our Stories: Loss. Then and Now.

contributed by Clara Brunner Doerr Johnson

Momandme.jpg

My name is Clara Brunner Doerr Johnson and I am a Motherless Daughter. My Mother was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 1990 when I was only three years old. Over the next 14 years her cancer returned in many forms. In the end, it had spread to her liver. I was 17 years old when my Mother died. That was 13 years ago.

There are two entries below. One journal entry was written by me at age 17, the day after my Mother died. I've added a few details to clarify that entry for those who don’t know me well, but have kept the wording, grammar and structure the same for authenticity. The other is a reflection I wrote 13 years later, this year. My hope with this piece is to provide a reflection on life after losing your mother, specifically to those who have lost their mothers more recently. To share my journey so far, and what I’ve learned since it all happened. To remind you, you aren't alone, and that above all, you can get through this.

 

March 13th, 2004

Dear Journal,

The worst possible thing happened last night, my dear sweet mother, the person I love more than life itself, died last night, Friday, March 12th, 2004, age 47, at about 8 PM. I haven't written for a while and that is because everything started going downhill on Tuesday. I came home from school and knew she wouldn't be there because Tuesday is the day she goes in for a check up and usually for treatment. When Mike (my step dad) called me and told me mom was going to have to stay the night at the hospital, I knew right then that it was going to happen soon. I hate that I was thinking that, but I was trying to prepare myself. So anyway, she spent Tuesday and Wednesday night there and then Thursday morning we knew that she would be happiest if she were at home. So we brought her home (we had Hospice there to help) and she made it through the night, but that morning we knew it was getting close because her hands had grown cold. So a little before 8 o'clock, Dylan (my brother), Mike, Laura (mom's best friend) and I were sitting around her, holding her hands, watching the home video of Stella's (our family dog) puppies birth and I remember us all laughing for some reason and then Mike, Dylan and Laura were all about to get up and do something when I looked at her and realized she had stopped breathing. We all hovered around her and cried for about an hour. I saw her face change in about two seconds. I saw the moment her spirit left her body, because when it did her face grew tighter, her hands turned whiter, and she was gone. After she stopped breathing I was holding her hand and she moved it onto her lap, it was the most movement she had made in about a day and a half, it was her last grasp for life. Everything was perfect. She was at home. She got to talk to her mom one last time before she could no longer talk, everyone who loved her was either able to come and sit with her or at least send her vibes or love and strength. People were coming and going those last few days. Sitting with her, holding her hand, telling her how wonderful she was, what a great job she had done in this world, and how much they loved her. We even got a hold of her family in Switzerland. They told us to tell her they were sending their love through the wind. She got to spend her last night at home surrounded by love and that last day we could hardly leave her side. There were so many flowers brought and we had her orchids out with her too (my mother was an avid orchid collector). It looked like Spring. The last words she said to Dylan and I before she couldn't talk anymore were, "I love you guys." She also had told us the day before, when she was fully aware and able to talk freely, that she would always be with us, watching over us and that she would try and send any signs to us to let us know she was still with us. She said she would be our guardian angel.

I'm debating whether to give every detail and I actually think it's best to leave it like this. She fought what seemed almost every year of MY life and she had a great battle. It was just time for her to let go. Where she has gone is a much happier place where she's probably sitting on a beach in the form and way she liked most throughout her lifetime, and she is surrounded by all those she had to say goodbye to. She's with her dad, with my dad, with my dad's dad (Grandpa), with Dan Fox (Laura's husband), with Pepper, with Wally (Grandpa's brother), with Dennis (Rita's husband), she's with Dudley and Willie (family pets) and everyone she's ever loved who she lost, and although she is no longer with us with her body, she will always be with us in spirit. She left a part of her self in each and every one of us. She will live on forever and that is in our hearts. I'm so grateful to have had her as my mother. I don't think anyone could've taught me as much as she had. No one could ever have done a better job. It's going to be so hard to go on without her presence, but I can't be selfish because she's in a much better place now, free of pain. I love her more than anything in this world and always will. The hardest thing for me will be that she won't be at home every day when I come home. She won't be in the kitchen cooking breakfast, smiling because it's another beautiful day. I won't be able to cry in my mommy's arms when I'm scared, but I will always remember the times that I did get all of those things and all of those moments will forever be in my memory. I am so lucky to have had Carol Anita Brunner as my mom. She represents so much good in this world and I'll never forget anything she ever taught me. She'll be with me everywhere I go and that is what will keep me going on. I love you mom.

August 29th, 2017

A Reflection

While of course I have many beautiful and happy memories of my mother growing up, I also have the looming memories that my Mom was always sick. After reading this entry from thirteen years ago, I was a bit shocked and taken aback at first by the acceptance in my words as a 17-year-old regarding the death of a parent. However, thinking back on my lifetime with her, it is a clear indication through this journal entry, I really had accepted my mother was going to die. I was ready to stop hoping for a miracle, ready to stop holding onto her when I knew I needed to let go of her eventually. This was a constant fear I had while growing up for as long as I can remember. The weight of fourteen years of worry and fear had finally lifted. This acceptance saddens me, but it also makes sense to me. Until I read this again, I hadn't remembered how long this whole process took. In my memory it took fourteen years, and in a way it did, but factually, it was only a Tuesday through Friday--only four days I knew with certainty that I was going to lose my Mother. Only four days to really accept the reality of my life and the changes that would take place. Four days of watching my Mother change from one form to another. I still grapple with the feeling that I was lucky to have had time to prepare for this event, yet completely unlucky to have gone through this at all, for so long, and at such a young age.

Thirteen years ago I didn't know the stages and forms grief would take hold of me throughout my life and how it can affect each person so differently. After my mother passed, each new exciting or sad experience has caused conflicting feelings and thoughts about how and where my life could have gone had she still been alive. In particular, I didn't know that one day shy of the eleven-year anniversary of my mother's death, my daughter would be born and when I myself became a mother, I would experience grief in an unimaginable way. There was a sadness and mourning for my mother which felt almost worse than the day it happened. A sadness that, at the time, I didn't think I could get through, but I did. At the end of these darker and sometimes unbearable forms of grief, I have learned more about myself and about life. Grief has taught me that I am strong, that I am capable, and it has taught me that this precious life is worth fighting for.

In rereading this entry from thirteen years ago, my current self feels guilty and sad, but also grateful. Guilty for welcoming this event so willingly, at the time, yet sadness for the pain of loss which all humans will go through, and grateful. While I never could have imagined feeling grateful as a result of this unimaginable event, I have found it through this loss and the journey my life has taken because of this experience. Looking at this entry and reflecting on the path my life has lead me on, I can see the roller coaster of grief that I've ridden. I can't know when the next dip will come or when it will ride smooth again. What I do know is that my grief has lead me to be the person I am today. It brought me a closeness with family and friends that had never existed before. Ironically, it also brought me love. I met my first boyfriend through a mutual connection of losing a parent. It also brought me the love of my life, my husband. We met at a wedding that I was involved in because the bride and groom gifted a donation towards an organization I was working with, in honor of my mother. It has also influenced my approach as to how I live my life and how I care for my daughter and my family. It has taught me to love harder and to cherish more the family and friends that surround me.

I would bring my mother back in an instant if I could, but I can't. So, I will take the strength I have gained from this experience and move forward and continue to appreciate the wonderful life that my mother gave me and the lessons my mother is still teaching me, even today.

To my 17-year-old-self... “She will always be with you, she is still teaching you, you will get through this. One day at a time.”

Sharing Our Stories: My Mom Was My World

contributed by Kate Gant

My mom was my world. She is my best friend, my Lorelie Gilmore, my shopping companion, my voice of reason, my hug when I had a bad day even if only over the phone. She was my teacher when I didn’t understand my homework, the chauffer to sports games, my cheerleader, the doctor to all my cuts and bruises, the nurse to all those who ever needed some form of care, my zumba and yoga buddy, my roommate, the lady who chased all the monsters and bad dreams away, my shoulder to cry on, and the laugh to all my jokes. These were the words I spoke at my mom’s funeral.


I still vividly remember the memory, the one that replays over and over in my mind. It was a December evening when my mom told me, “I have cancer.” Cancer. I couldn’t believe it, we had already lost my uncle to melanoma at age 37 and now my mom, age 43, was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer (Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma). A tumor the size of a grapefruit sat where her ovaries once were. The next four years were filled with a rollercoaster of treatments and hope. She went through chemo treatment after chemo treatment ending with a surgery removing the tumor where we were told she was cancer free! But the joy was fleeting, a few months later we were told the cancer was back and had spread to her liver. Those tiny spots that had been there the entire time had morphed into four larger tumors. These were ruled inoperable but they tried to shrink them using radiation beads and more chemo. An option of a trial was brought to our attention. She was so full of hope and excitement. She would finally have her hair again. The trial was rough. She would get high fevers, shake uncontrollably, lost her appetite, lost weight, and eventually lost her ability to walk because of the neuropathy the treatment caused.


Fast forward to January 2, 2016, after spending New Years Eve with her friends, she was too weak to get out of bed. Entering the house that day, something was really off. “There’s nothing more we can do, it has spread to her colon.” My 47-year-old mom was now in hospice and was given two weeks to live. Those next two weeks were a blur and filled with so much emotion, watching my best friend disappear and eventually pass away on January 16, 2016.


All those words I spoke about my mom were true. The past two years without her have been rough. Becoming a mother myself in December, I wish I could just talk to her, ask her questions, and have her be my voice of reason. Although, my grief continues and is something I struggle with daily, I will never lose my memories of her. My mom had grace, beauty, strength, and this ability to make everyone she interacted with feel like they were the most amazing person. I strive to exhibit those qualities every day and hope that I can continue her legacy.

Sharing Our Stories: For My Mom

contributed by a Twin Cities motherless daughter

2/11/2016

A Letter to Mom

Preface: Dear Friends, I know this sounds strange, to say, but I had the privilege of knowing my mom's days were numbered. As a part of coming to grips with this understanding, I decided to compose this letter and read it to her. It was one of the most vulnerable and bravest things I've ever done in my life. However, despite all the ups and downs we and complexities that made up our relationship, I loved her and wanted her to know that. When I finished reading it to her, she told me it was beautiful. And then I knew I would be ok and we had made our peace. 

Dear Mom,  

I have spent the past 15 years of my life hating your addiction.  It’s taken away the mother I had and left me longing for a mother I can never have. I’ve pushed you away to protect myself.

I’ve tried not caring about you; I’ve tried putting walls up, and blocking you out of my life because it hurts so much- it breaks my heart. Because you are my mom. You are the only mom I get. Loving you hasn’t always been easy; its hurt and its been hard. We have had our rough times and I’m sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you.

I don’t know much about your childhood and early life experiences. I know times were difficult and hard. I don’t know what all happened to you in Montana. But I know that those events brought you here. You had the courage to leave. You had the bravery to start a new life with a hope for something different for you and someday, your children.

As I have had time to reflect on my experience and life and have had time to heal; I have come to peace with the person I am today and the story of my life; the whole story: the highs, lows, pains, sorrow and bliss.

I’ve come to understand you have given me everything you could.  You did the best you could with what you were given. Through that, you had hoped for the best and provided me with something that was different than what you were given.  

I have seen you at your best and your worst. I have seen you on grand adventures- munching on sunflower seeds with “raccoon eyes” and a book in hand. The joy your eyes light up with delight for your children. I have seen your reality twisted from addiction and your body riddled with cancer.  I’ve heard harsh words that can’t be unspoken.

You will always be my mom. You raised me with the hope of offering me something you never had. And I believe you gave me every thing you could (maybe things you never had?) - You gave me love and pain, happiness and fear, freedom, life. This is what I believe is the human experience.

As I write this letter and now as you read this letter, the hardest day of our lives is approaching- saying goodbye. I want you to know I love you. I thank you for giving me everything you could.   

Yours truly,

Your Daughter

2/25/2016

Reflections

It’s been a long hard road. Grieving the loss of my mom continues be full of complex emotions. My heart aches for the mother I will never have. I’m sad for the loss of for what it means to loose the person who gave me life.  There has always been a piece of my heart that is hurting.

I saw her at her best and her worst; on grand adventures- munching on sunflower, a book in hand, and delighted by children. I experienced her reality twisted from addiction and watched as her body became riddled with cancer.  I’ve heard harsh words that can’t be unspoken.  She gave me everything she could and everything she knew how to- love and pain, a support and loneliness.

This experience has left me broken hearted and yet with a deep sense of peace. I will continue down this road of grief, but with a new sense of hope. I can trust that through this journey it will bring me healing. I am grateful for those who stand by me and hold me while I go through this. 

Easter 2016

Grace and Forgiveness

I’m conflicted about what I believe. How do I find meaning in what Easter is? What about communion…the grace and forgiveness of sins and salvation, yet the ramifications of sin still ripple through time and have impacts on others even when a person is gone.

In thinking through this I have permission to wrestle with the sacred and my faith. I can ask God, How did you let this happen on your watch? How can you be okay with my mom being an alcoholic? A passive father watching TV in the bedroom letting mom raise children this way.”

Me. I’m walking away with flesh wounds when my sisters experiences so much more trauma.

I’m a survivor. That doesn’t mean I’m better than them. It just means I was in a different place when the explosions went off.

This is so hard to grasp- because so much of what I feel as the oldest daughter is survivors guilt.

So how am I feeling about grace and forgiveness? I guess we are wrestling too. As someone who repeatedly gave grace to Mom and still in the end, extended forgiveness to her.

Would God offer something like this to everyone, even people who do awful things? Isn’t he setting himself up to be hurt over and over again, too. A life a disappointments and heartbreak?

Maybe in the end for me in me reading her the letter and acknowledging our relationship, and in her receiving communion she did truly experience grace and forgiveness. Finally the grip of addiction had no more power. She was forgiven and given grace to pass of from this world.

Sharing Our Stories: My Girls

contributed by Courtney Carter

My mother and I had the same thumbs. Identical. We could put our hands next to each other, fingers bent, so our thumbs lined up and touched, and they looked like they belonged to the same person, instead of one belonging to the mother and the other to the daughter.

My mother and I had the same smile. Wide, generous, open.

My mother had two daughters, and I have two daughters. We birthed all four babies before 37 weeks. For both of us, on our first labors, our waters broke spontaneously, hours after having a baby shower.

My mother died when I was 21 weeks pregnant with my first daughter. She died from alcoholism. It was, perhaps, a long time coming, but we did not expect it. I was in the middle of moving to a new apartment. It was September first.

We had found out we were having a girl ten days before my mom died. We had a gender-reveal party, but when I called to check on her, I could tell she had been drinking, and so I disinvited her. Even still, later that evening, I called to tell her she would be having a granddaughter. “A girl!” she exclaimed. She had wanted girls herself. And she had wanted me to have a girl. Really, just a healthy baby, she said, but I knew we were both excited about a daughter.

The next morning, I called my mom on the phone on the way to brunch with friends. We talked about our mutual excitement. I told her I would come by later that weekend with some of the cake with the pink icing on the inside. But I didn’t make it over to her house that weekend. That phone call, cut short by being in the car, was the last time we talked. She left me a voicemail later that morning. Into the phone, she cooed, “My girls…”

Three and a half months later, on a Sunday night, my water broke. My due date wasn’t for another three and a half weeks. But because this was the same way my own birth had started, and the same way my sister’s birth had started, I wasn’t scared by those facts. My mom’s retelling of her birth stories over the years normalized these things for me. I had wanted a drug-free birth like my mom had done for both of her deliveries. But after 31 hours stuck at 1.5 centimeters, the midwives discovered my baby had turned breech sometime during labor. I had a cesarean. My mom loomed during those 31 hours. But I was so anxious and unsure about being in labor, about how to face her during that time. I just avoided it. The loss was still so new. My grief was so new, it didn’t even feel like grief yet. And then, my labor ended up being entirely out of my hands, and I felt disappointed. Like I had let her down. I had wanted to honor her with my labor, and I ended up totally helpless.

But when I finally got to see my daughter, I was immediately in love. She cried, and I cried. She had a head full of dark hair. She looked like me. I imagined my mom felt the same way when I was born. She had pushed for two hours with me. I had a cone-head. I was jaundiced. “I had never seen anything more beautiful,” she would tell me. “You were perfect.”

Never one to shy from a challenge, when I was pregnant with my second daughter almost three years later, I was planning a drug-free VBAC. My labor was again moving slowly, contractions coming and then disappearing before any rhythm developed. I was discouraged. Our doula, who had been at our first daughter’s birth, came over to give me some encouragement. We tried some things, and she jump-started my labor. Things started moving along. But I started to feel this anxiety again. There was something I needed to say. I feared that, if I didn’t say it, I would be emotionally blocked up and unable to birth my daughter. But I was scared to even let the words out. Again, my mom loomed, but it was so hard to acknowledge it out loud. I reached deep down inside myself to find some courage. “I miss my mom,” I said. And then I cried. My daughter was born less than two hours later. The midwife passed her to me, and I held her to my chest, and I felt pride, and relief, and love. She, too, was perfect to me.

My daughters’ middle names are my mom’s first and middle names. I see my mom in each of them, and in me. My girls, my girls, my girls.