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…”.

 

10 Things You’ll Experience as a Motherless Mother

This is my truth about my first year as a motherless mother:

  1. After the birth of your baby, your grief will return with a vengeance. The loss of your mother will sting the way it did when it first happened. You will miss her with the intensity you felt in those first few months and milestones after her death.
  2. You will fantasize about how things would be if she were alive. You’ll imagine her bringing over dinner, taking your crying baby from your arms, and telling you “go get some rest, I’ve got this”. In a strange way, this will bring you comfort.
  3. You’ll look for company and solidarity with other new moms, but will feel sad when they mention what a support their moms have been in those first few months.
  4. You won’t go out much for the first year. Your circle of trust is small and caring for your baby will take all of your time and energy.
  5. A simple trip to the mall will make you sad, as you see endless trios of grandmas, moms, and babies shopping and laughing.
  6. When others shower your baby with love and gifts, it will make you uncomfortable at first. You won’t know why at first.
  7. When your mother in law gushes about being a grandma, it will hurt. In fact, any reference to a grandma will hurt.
  8. You will be so desperate for your mom’s presence, you’ll notice yourself start putting up more old photos around the house. You will want to be reminded of your mother as often as possible.
  9. You will wonder why you didn’t ask her certain questions when she was alive. You will kick yourself for not asking her about the little, mundane, everyday details of her life with you. Did she have a hard time putting you down to nap? How long did she breastfeed you for?
  10. More than anything else, you will wish you could tell her you understand now. You understand the love, you understand the sacrifice of motherhood.

“Because I feel that, in the Heavens above / The angels, whispering to one another, / Can find, among their burning terms of love / None so devotional as that of ‘Mother’” – Edgar Allen Poe

 

 

 

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.

It’s the little things that remind us of our loss

I am out for a walk today with my baby girl at the park. The sun is out, the famous cherry blossoms are blooming in their full glory, and the air is warm. There are lots of people out. I’m seeing so many grandmas with their little ones. It’s Spring Break and the parents are probably at work.

All of a sudden, I feel really, truly, overwhelmingly sad. The realization of my mother’s absence hits me in the face like an icy gust of wind. I remember that she is gone from this world. I remember that my baby girl will never meet her. I remember that my mom will never get to be her grandma in that way. 

She will never hold her little hand and feed  the ducks. 

All of a sudden, it’s like time has stopped. My loss is everywhere. It surrounds me and darkens this Spring day. It’s in the cherry blossoms and in the ripples of the lake. That’s the thing about grief, I guess. It sneaks up on you. It darkens a beautiful day. It hides inside the smallest things and causes them to cause the most intense, most painful reminders of our loss.