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: 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: 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: 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.