If I can’t have her advice, I don’t want anyone’s

I have a memory that’s been popping up in my head often for the last little while. I am 12 or 13 years old, in that awkward pre-teen phase, when you don’t feel right in your own body and everything either annoys or embarrases you. I am at the mall with my Mom and I am convincing her to buy me a piece of clothing that she doesn’t really like.

“It doesn’t suit you,” she says. “Trust me, I’m your Mom. There is no purer or more honest advice than the one from your Mom. I will always want the very best for you.”

I am annoyed and roll my eyes at her, unable to comprehend at that time the significance of her words.

Well, fast forward about twenty years. She’s gone now, taken too soon at 51 years old. It’s funny how mothers always turn out to be right in the end, in one way or another. Her advice was the best. It was the most honest and pure. Now that I am a mother myself, I get it. 100%. There is nothing I could ever suggest to my daughter that didn’t reflect what I feel to be the very best for her. There is nothing I could tell her that didn’t put her first in its context.

Since my mom’s death almost four years ago, I have a lot of trouble asking for help or advice from others, even those closest to me. I feel like if I can’t have her advice, I don’t want anyone’s. My husband has been my rock throughout so much and he is my best friend. He knows more about the (sometimes scary) inner workings of my brain than anyone else. Except my mother. Men are different, though. They think differently and are wired differently. They are problem-solvers and solution-seekers. They want to fix. Sometimes I don’t want to hear about possible solutions to my problem. I just want the truthful opinion of the listener, even if I don’t like it.

I have a decision to make and I can’t make up my mind. We are going to Europe later this year to visit my family and introduce my baby girl to my grandmas, aunts, and cousins. My husband only has a couple of weeks of vacation time and I don’t know if I should stay a bit longer with the baby. Should I risk a potential nightmare 16 hr. + journey home alone with the baby? Or, should I come home with him and risk not spending enough quality time with everyone? I want to ask my Mom’s opinion so badly right now. Yes, I could ask a friend. Yes, I could ask my mother in law. But it’s not the same. Their advice would be helpful, I am sure. It would be good advice, fair advice, but not advice custom made for me.

I hope in time I get past this feeling of being alone in the world. The truth is, I am not alone. Far from it. But my mother’s absense has changed me. I’ve built such a strong and impermeable wall around myself. I guard my inner strength now more than before. I know where I’ve been.

I didn’t just lose a family member the day my mother died. I lost my foundation.

Advice is a funny thing. You almost always know the answer you want to get when asking advice. Ironically my mother’s advice, the one I didn’t always agree with, is the one I miss so badly now. The other kind, the nice, pleasant advice is available to me now, but I have no desire to hear it.

I miss the honestly that only a mother’s words can provide.

Grief is not a problem that needs a solution

You can’t fix grief. You can’t take it away from someone or erase it from their life story. A griever will always miss their loved one. They will always be devastated. They will always wonder what could have been.

A griever will grieve forever. And that’s okay.

Our society doesn’t understand grief. To most people, it’s a scary and uncomfortable topic. They would rather talk about the weather, about anything else, than talk about grief and loss and sadness. Our society is obsessed with “fixing problems“. The thing is, though, grief is not a problem. It’s a reality and a permanent state.

It’s been almost four years now since my mom passed away. In the first year after her death, I would get constant messages and calls from friends and family checking up on me, asking if I need anything, or offering a distraction or an ear. That’s gone now. I can’t remember the last time I was asked if I am okay in regards to the loss of my mother. I guess people assume I am. And I am, for the most part. I live my life, I am a mother myself now, and I do the best I can without mine.

At first when I stopped getting the “how are you doing’s”, I was hurt and confused. I wondered how those closest to me could assume that as time passes, so does grief. How could they think that while the first Christmas without my mother, I would miss her with such intense pain and rawness, but that the second Christmas, I wouldn’t? It doesn’t work that way. I still needed those “how are you doing’s” on the second Christmas, second Mother’s Day, second birthday. And the third and the fourth.

For those that have never lost anyone, they just don’t understand. They don’t know what to say or what to ask a griever months or years after their loss. Or worse yet, when they do ask or offer some words, they are inappropriate and misguided. They do more harm than good to the griever. Phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’s made you stronger” can be dangerous in their insensitivity and emptiness.

Grief is not like in the movies. It doesn’t end after a month or a year or even a decade. What does end is our fragility in our moments of vulnerability and our everyday lives. The uncontrollable crying while sitting in traffic ends. But grief as a whole doesn’t. It’s like an invisible tattoo; it’s a marker of where you’ve been and what you’ve lost.

I recently stumbled upon this very beautiful and honest piece of writing by Tim Lawrence about grief and the insensitivity of others. It really affected me in a profound way because of its rawness and truth. Here’s my favourite passage:

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.

So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. 

These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on an increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.

Full article: http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason

Mom Friends

I’ve always been a girls’ girl. I love having close female friendships, some of which I’ve been lucky enough to have since childhood. I’ve always valued sharing, venting, crying, and laughing freely with a trusted circle of confidantes. My circle has always been somewhat small yet flexible, finding that the older I got, the less time and energy I could dedicate to non-true friendships.

The friendship dynamic in your life undergoes a huge transformation when you become a mother. You still love and miss your pre-baby friends, but a part of you yearns to be surrounded by others who are going through what you are going through. After the dust settles and the first couple of crazy, tearful, love-filled, exhausting months of motherhood are behind you, you kind of re-emerge. I felt like a hibernating bear, waking up from its long winter sleep, shaking off the dust, and opening its eyes again.I felt my strength slowly return; My baby was growing and thriving and I was ready to be me again. I started to miss the social interactions from my old life – simple things, like going for a quick coffee with a co-worker or a phone call with a friend on my lunch break. I knew I couldn’t have those things again in the same way, so I looked for new versions of them.

As a new mom, you are stuck in a strange limbo, an in-between space between your old self and your future self. Your old friends are all busy with non-baby things, and yet the thought of putting yourself out there and making the effort to meet new people is daunting and scary. You are still fragile; You are still healing, vulnerable, and trying to make sense of all this newness. The friends you have that are moms with older kids are already out of this space – they are usually back in the workplace or have somehow resumed their pre-baby activities.

I found that in the past, a friendship in my life was created from a unique combination of shared values, background, sense of humour, etc. Now, however, when I meet a new mom or exchange a quick smile with a fellow stroller-pushing woman on the street, I feel an instant connection. I don’t ask for much – if you are nice, I want to be friends.  This doesn’t mean I discount non-moms as potential new friends, it just means that there is a very special and very rare connection a woman feels towards another woman who has just gone through the same life-altering event as she has.

I understand now why so many of my mother’s good friends were ones she had met when my brother was a baby and little boy. My mom was an immigrant, new to Canada and uprooted from her family and friends. I understand now how my shy, soft-spoken mother formed such strong, connected friendships with a few special women she met at the playground, at the beach, and at preschool.

I get it now – why women need mom friends. I used to think of this as a sad rejection of a woman’s old life, friendships, and lifestyle, but it’s not like that at all. It stems not from a need to remove the old and replace it with the new, but from the need to be understood. A new mother is so fragile. She is so focused and dedicated on her little one that her life temporarily becomes not her own. There is something so freeing and so beautifully simple about having someone to talk to about things like breastfeeding, pacifiers, and baby poops. A sisterhood is created – an understanding that she knows what it’s like. 

 

 

When others love & spoil your baby, but all the attention just makes you sad.

This is something I am really struggling with. We are so very blessed to have family and friends who adore our baby girl. She has been showered with so many toys, clothes, and special gifts since before she was born. Visitors come to our house and can’t wait to hold, cuddle, and give her kisses on her little head. My heart swells with joy seeing how loved she is.

But, there is something else. Something that troubles me and casts a dark, confusing cloud over the happiness I feel at seeing my little one being loved and spoiled. All the attention makes me miss my mother even more. I can’t help thinking how much she would have loved this little girl. My mother was the perfect grandmother, although she didn’t live long enough to actually become one. She had more patience than I could ever hope to have. She had a nurturing and warm personality and a hug like no other.

We had a visit this morning from a wonderful friend of mine and her mother. They brought my baby girl some beautiful and thoughtful gifts. They loved seeing her smile and enjoy her new toy.

I am so touched by people’s generosity, both during my pregnancy and after the birth of my daughter, but negative emotions do creep in once in a while. I feel jealousy towards friends and their mothers who are grandmothers or one day will be. I feel bitterness that my own mother cannot hold my daughter and give her little kisses on her head. I feel guilty that I cannot fully, wholeheartedly embrace all the love my daughter receives from others, who aren’t me or her daddy.

And the hardest part? My mother’s own words of advice come to me. “Accept it” she used to say. “It’s out of your control. There’s nothing you can do.” No, there isn’t.