Grieving my old life, five years later

It’s been about six months since my last post. I have a lot of factors I can blame – work, family commitments, mom life… but at the end of the day, I know I just didn’t do enough to prioritize writing. I’ve really missed it.

I’ve been going through a bit of a hard time over the last few months. I’ve been feeling down, overwhelmed, and at times very lonely. The weird thing about my loneliness, though, is that I’ve never had so many friends as I do now, at this point in my life. I have met a lot of amazing women since I became a mom and I maintain a pretty social life with my toddler and with friends and family on weekends.

My loneliness isn’t one that’s obvious from the outside. My loneliness creeps up on me in the middle of the week, on a rainy Tuesday morning while my daughter is napping. I still miss my mom desperately.

My grief has changed lately and while I still long for her on the milestones and the special days, I miss her the most on a rainy day like this one, when it’s just me and my little girl at home.

Last week was especially difficult. I was feeling a lot of depression, anxiety, and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. I couldn’t turn my mind off – a constant stream of everything I had to get done, all the groceries that had to get bought, all the people I had to get back to, everything I needed to do for my business. I’ve heard some people refer to the “mental load of motherhood,” and I am thinking maybe this is what they mean. Ever since my mom passed away, I have been having increased anxiety in my life. Lately though, it’s gotten to the point where the smallest things will stress me out in such an intense way that my day-do-day life is being affected.

I decided to seek out a counselor. I don’t know where to begin, as I’ve never seen a professional to address any of my issues with. I am scared to let myself be open and vulnerable, but I know I need something or someone, a safe third party that is neutral. It’s been five years since my mom died, but some days I feel like I haven’t made any progress in my grief journey.

I don’t know if other people feel this way, like some days feel like the first day without their loved one?

I want to be a better mom and wife and I want to feel better for my baby girl and my husband. I want to find a way to start living for my new family and take some of the focus off of what I have lost. Even with all the blessings that have come my way over the last five years, I still find myself grieving my old life.

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Triggers

We all have triggers. Some people’s are deep, some are shallow. Some are devastating, some are just irritating. As a motherless mama, my particular trigger happens to be when I see or hear of a young mom with a supportive and involved mother, in the role of a grandmother. Still now, almost five years since my mom’s death and almost two years since my daughter’s birth, I can’t quite deal with it with the grace and acceptance I long for.

One of my recent goals was to spend more “me” time – guilt-free and just for me. Today I had a couple of hours to spare because a work meeting fell through. I thought I would treat myself to a manicure/ pedicure with a gift card I had sitting around in my wallet for months.

It was a beautiful little day spa in my neighborhood. I was soon in my zen place. Feet up, toes all pretty, relaxing spa music and dimmed lights. As the lady finished up my pedicure, we were chatting away about all sorts of things. She was a talkative woman in her late 60’s, with kind eyes and a warm smile. She told me about her now-grown three kids, her neighborhood, and her elderly mom. She asked about my family and I told her I was a mama to a beautiful toddler girl. She asked about my background and I told her my parents and I had immigrated to Canada when I was a little girl. She asked if my parents missed home. Here we go, another awkward exchange coming up. I told her my mom had passed four years ago and she did a quick “ohh,” averted her eyes and changed the subject. Same old awkward reaction, I am used to it.

She asked where my daughter was and I told her she’s with my mother-in-law, who looks after her every Tuesday while I usually work at the office. She smiled and said, “oh okay, she’s with her grandma.” Sting number one. It hurt, but not as bad as sting number two. “You know, when my first granddaughter was born,” she said with a smile, “I used to take her overnight just so my daughter can get some sleep. Otherwise, you burn out, you know.”

Oh, I know. My zen place was suddenly gone and I was back in my reality place. I know it’s an irrational response, but right there and then, I wondered how someone can say something so cruel. It wasn’t cruel to her, I know. It wasn’t cruel to someone who hasn’t lost their mom, I know that too.  She didn’t understand. Not many people do. I scrunched up my face to stop the wall of hot tears that had formed at the edge of my eyelids.

I guess that’s the thing about triggers. You can’t avoid them, you can’t prepare for them, and you definitely can’t stop them.

On my drive home, I started thinking about other people’s triggers – the mall full of moms pushing strollers to a woman who can’t conceive, the restaurant full of couples to a lady who just lost her husband. There’s so much pain in this world. I really miss the days when I was one of the lucky ignorant few who have never been affected by loss.

Do we ever stop needing to be mothered?

Today I picked up my Motherless Mothers book that my husband had gotten me two Christmases ago. I love Hope Edelman’s honesty and the way she uses so many women’s experiences, women from all backgrounds and circumstances, to shed light on the experience of “motherless mothering.”

Having been a brand new mom at the time, I had asked for this book and really looked forward to the insight it would offer. Life got busy, mommy life took over, and my book lay half-read on my nightstand for months. In picking it up again today and starting where I left off, it was interesting to notice the change in my perspective, from a brand new mom to now, one year later.

Hope talks a lot about the idea of needing to be mothered. She emphasizes that the first few weeks after your child is born is the time in which this need is greatest for women and the loss feels new again in the experience of motherless mothers.

This got me thinking – do we ever lose the need to be mothered? I hear the way my 82-year old grandma talks about her own mother, who died only ten years ago. Having her mother into her seventies, my grandma still mourns her loss so tenderly. She misses her and her presence in her life so genuinely. It makes me think that a “mother” is not only a person, but a feeling.

Having lost my mom almost five years ago, I can say that unfortunately for me, my need to be mothered has not lessened since she passed, but increased. Having a child of my own has made me miss my own mom more than I was ever prepared to. The initial few weeks at home with the new baby were really tough as expected, for countless reasons. Hormones, lack of sleep, lack of experience, nervousness…the list goes on and on. In her book, Hope talks about mothers’ mothers usually being the ones that support the daughter most greatly in those first few weeks after bringing home the new baby. For motherless daughters, usually mothers-in-law, sisters, or aunts fill this role. While I did have physical support in those early weeks, from my sweet husband, his mother, my dad, etc., I still felt very much alone. It’s sad to admit, but the joy of my new daughter’s arrival was overshadowed by this feeling of a void.

I couldn’t shake the feeling. Yes, my fridge was full. Yes, my floors were vacuumed. Yes, I had someone to drive us to our first doctor’s appointment. No, I didn’t feel supported. I remember there were days where I barely ate one piece of food in my haze of changing diapers, nursing every two hours day and night, and everything else that comes with a newborn. And nobody noticed. Everyone’s attention was on my daughter and having her needs met, and rightly so. The thing is though, if my mother was here, her attention would also include making sure her child’s needs were being met.

Despite feeling more confident in my role as a mother and finding somewhat of a balance in this cycle of motherhood, career, friends, and family, I still yearn so much to be mothered. I don’t know why, but it feels embarrassing to admit. I try hard to be strong and don’t like to ask for help – just the way that Hope writes motherless daughters do. Lately I’ve been trying different things in order to find some relief from this feeling of being overwhelmed. I feel so guilty writing this because I know how lucky I am. I have my little blessing who I love more than life itself. I have an amazing, supportive, and loving husband who is an amazing dad to our daughter. I have an emotionally-disconnected, but helpful dad who means well. I have many people that love me. And yet, something is missing. Obviously, someone is missing.

Like I said, I’ve been trying different things in hopes that I find a little tiny piece of what I am missing. I hired a babysitter once a week to come to the house and hang out with my daughter while I attempt to get some work done, since I work from home. That felt weird and wrong and I spent the entire two hours she was here listening from the other room and feeling anxious. Then, I hired a cleaner to come help me out with housework every few weeks. Well, my house is cleaner, but I am still overwhelmed. Finally, last week, I put up a post on Facebook, which reading back now sounds sad and pathetic. I asked for recommendations for a mother’s helper to come once a week to come and read and play with my daughter in Bulgarian (my mother tongue) in the hopes that it will develop her language skills. I asked for a woman experienced with small children. I asked for someone warm, kind, and patient. It finally dawned on me – I was asking for my mother.

My brain knows she’s never coming back, but my heart somehow refuses to accept it. I keep searching for her in other people. Small parts of her, qualities she possessed. I watch from the sidelines as mothers nurture their own adult daughters and fantasize about what it would be like if those women were us. I feel like I can’t go through this whole lifetime without any parts of my mom’s presence in my life. It may not make sense, but it’s hard to put into words. Her total absence from my daughter’s life seems devastating to me, today and in the future. I just don’t know what to do about it. Do I hire a neutral third-party helper? To give me a breather once a week and know my baby is in safe, experienced hands? To have a friend or family member try to fill that role seems more painful. Hope writes: “It may be emotionally easier for motherless women to accept help from a compassionate stranger for hire…With a skilled professional, there will be no hurt feelings, no crushing disappointments, no family drama if the arrangement doesn’t work out. Most importantly, a baby nurse or doula is less likely to be perceived as a substitute for the mother…”.

 

Grief and the jealous heart

I’ve really been struggling with something big lately. I don’t know why now or why with this intensity, but I’ve entered a unfamiliar and confusing chapter in my grief journey.

Two days ago marked four years since my mom’s death. Four years. Not exactly a big, dramatic number – without the intensity of one year or the quiet finality of five years. Regardless, it stings. I haven’t hugged her in four years. 

Her death anniversary wasn’t actually the agonizing day I was expecting it to be. It’s the last few weeks that have been really challenging. I’ve been having a difficult time with jealousy. In particular, jealousy of people with moms. Even more in particular, jealousy of moms with moms

Everywhere I go, there are women with their mothers. Every mall, every coffee shop, every brunch spot. Now that I have my daughter, I notice the other types of women with their mothers – the moms with moms. It’s like a recurring theme in my life right now. I’m obsessively spotting them everywhere – the happy shoppers, the grandma watching the baby while mom browses. The travellers – the mom juggling the luggage while grandma holds the little girl’s hand in the check-in line. They’re everywhere. Seeing them makes my heart hurt.
I realize now that the reason seeing this bothers me so much is because I had this in my life as a child. My mom, grandma and I were a fierce trio. We had so much fun together. It’s funny how you take things for granted when you accept them as your reality. It was just the way things were, I thought as a littl girl. Why would I ever not have it? I guess in a way I’m processing the idea that my own daughter will never experience this most magical relationship and connection. I’m devasted for her over what will never be. The what could have been is too sad for me to cope with right now…

I need some guidance, but I really don’t know where to turn. How can I stop being so jealous? I can accept the heartbroken me. The devasted me. The grieving me. The missing my best friend me. But, I just can’t accept jealous me. I don’t like her. She bothers me. 

When grief and jealousy intertwine, is there any lesson to be learned here? Are we meant to wait out this phase until it passes? Is it even a phase? I really want to see a mom-child-grandmother trio and be unaffected one day. How can I channel my sadness and jealousy and transform it into positive fuel to make me be the best mother for my baby girl I can be?

Reflections on the Long Island Medium live show

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Theresa Caputo, aka, the “Long Island Medium” from TLC’s hit show. She had a live show here and since my friend is a huge fan, we decided to make a girls’ night out of it. I’ve seen her show on TV and despite being a bit of a skeptic when it comes to psychics/ mediums, I’ve always gotten the sense that she does possess some kind of gift of connecting with departed souls. I liked her on TV; she seemed authentic, with her big personality, even bigger hair, and love for her family.

No, she didn’t do a reading for me. No, my mom didn’t miraculously send me a message through her. No, she didn’t single me out in the crowd to tell me that my mother loves me and is proud of the woman I’ve become. Nevertheless, here’s a few thoughts from my experience.

My favourite part of her appearance wasn’t actually the readings she did. It was the way she spoke about grief. It’s natural and it’s necessary, she said. It’s with us in our time of loss and long after. There is no expiration date on grief.

Long story short, there were some interesting moments for me. Yes, she was able to pinpoint some key information about people’s deceased loved ones. For example, she knew that one guy in the audience had lost his mom to breast cancer before he could even say one word. Unfortunately, I also found her to be dismissive at times and even cold.

I guess her live shows have become like a challenge to her, seeing how many live audience members she can accurately “read” by channeling their lost loved ones. Maybe one-on-one, her gift would seem more special and meaningful. In a crowded arena of 5000 people, however, she came off as cold and gimmicky.

What made me uncomfortedble was the way she dismissed people desperate for information on their loved ones. She would pick random people from the audience, get the story of their loved one’s death, give them a few words, and then shuffle along to the next person in her glittery Laboutins. It was just weird and uncomfortable. She had one woman recount in agonizing detail the suicide of her 13-year old son. She gave her some generic shpiel about death and grief and moved right along. The sobbing woman was left standing there when the camera man walked away, following Theresa down the aisle.

When my friend and I were leaving, a guy was passing out flyers at the exit. My friend grabbed one, not looking at it until we were outside, away from the crowd. “Oh my gosh, it’s your Mom. She’s sending you a sign, even though Theresa didn’t go a reading for you” my friend said. I looked at the flyer in her hand and there it was – Mama Mia, the musical, coming to the arena in November. Mama Mia was one of my Mom’s favourite movies. She and I had seen it probably over twenty times.

There it was – my Mom was with me. She may not have come through in a “reading” at the show, but all of a sudden, none of that mattered. I felt a sense of peace. She is with me – at that moment and always.

I’m curious to know if any of you have ever been to a medium? How was your experience? I still believe… at least, I really, really want to.

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.