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“Who Am I Now That My Mother’s Gone?” Mother’s Day and Releasing the Grief

Posted May 05 2009 5:56pm

For many, Mother’s Day is bitter-sweet.

We try to avoid the fact that our mothers are gone or might be gone soon. We don’t like to say the word, “dead.”

 For many, Mother’s Day can be so painful that we do all we can to avoid it. That avoidance is part of grief, and it’s necessary for a while. Grief is like a good soldier, but there comes a time when you say “Thank you, you’ve served me well,” and you let that soldier be released from duty. 

After my mother died from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, I felt incredibly lost. I didn’t know what to do with myself. My arms felt unhinged and just hanging on by tendrils. I had been her daughter and her caregiver for so long and had invested so much time, energy, and heart into that role that other aspects of my life had withered away.

I missed my mother, how ironic. After months, if not years of longing for my freedom, of griping and complaining, all of it felt so trivial in comparison to my mother no longer being in my life.

I knew I had to get my bearings because I could feel myself spiraling downward. Who am I? What was I doing before caregiving? Do I go back to that–or move onto something else? I’m now the matriarch of the family…does that mean I’m…old? I’m the one butted up against eternity. There’s no one to buffer me.  No one to turn to. I’m the one others turn to–and that makes me want to run.

Feeling lost lasted awhile. I stumbled around and did whatever had to be done. I zoned out a lot. Not exactly a great conversationalist at that time in my life. But tentatively, I began to move beyond my grief. I began to grow hungry for life, for a routine, for something to sink my mind into. I returned to college. Someone else telling me what to do seemed to work. I started writing again.

An Excerpt from Mothering Mother:

I put Mother’s wallet and glasses in the top drawer of my dresser today. They’ve been sitting on top of it since she died four months ago. Mother kept Daddy’s wallet, pocketknife, comb, and a small Bible in a heart-shaped cedar box he gave her the second time they went on a date in 1925.  Something about these wallets left intact creates a sort of bubble holding time and memory in perfect stillness. Their licenses, credit cards, photos and slips of paper remind me that they had everyday lives.

This makes me question this whole “here, not here” mindset we have. Giving a friend a bit of humorous advice prefaced with “as my Mama always said…” is a way of keeping her here. Will there always be a bitter side of sweet?  Will death and dying burn away, so that I don’t have to run straight into them before retrieving a remembrance?

I hear Mother all the time and quote her daily. My friend Debbie’s teenage daughter asked her mother, “Don’t you trust me?” The age-old question every parent is eventually asked, the question we all secretly know the answer to. My southern mother answered that question when I asked it two decades ago, “ Honey, I don’t trust myself in the dark.” Hearing her words echo in my head was somehow comforting.

That first Mother’s Day was like a tender bruise. I didn’t want a lot of fuss. I needed a hug and a card, and then I needed it to not be Mother’s Day anymore.

Some time that week, I had a talk with my mother. Yes, out loud in the back yard. I thanked her for being my mother. For all we had learned. For all we had gone through.

~Carol D. O’Dell

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