Twenty-one years ago we returned from our honeymoon and as we pulled into the driveway my mother-in-law very gently broke the news to me that my mum had passed away just hours earlier.
I remember that moment like it is frozen in time. I couldn’t tell you the words she said, or what the weather was like, or even what time of the day it was. But I remember with clarity feeling like all of the air had left my body and that my life had just changed…forever. My mum was dead (I still struggle to write those words).
The initial days after losing mum are all a bit of a blur. Those days turned into weeks and as time went on the raw emotional pain of my grief turned into a kind of physical pain. It actually hurts when somebody we love dies. I didn’t know that before losing my mum. In fact, there are a lot of things I didn’t know before my mum died:
I didn’t know that the death of a parent would leave me feeling abandoned and very vulnerable. I had somehow thought that my parents were immortal. Now I know that they are not – and neither am I.
I didn’t know that losing my mum would challenge my ideas about who I am at the very core of my being.
I didn’t know that when we lose a parent we not only lose a link with the past but also our dreams of what the future might look like.
I didn’t know that living with grief is not just contained to the first few months after a loss, but that there are daily triggers – reminders that happen – even now, 21 years later.
And I didn’t know that the very next Mother’s Day – and every Mother’s Day after that – would evoke such a wide range of emotions within me.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day and I am looking forward to it. I have instructed my kids to keep the day clear, I’ve left pictures of smart watches and bikes in strategic places (why not dream BIG!), and I’m planning to wake everyone up early so that they can cook me breakfast. It’s going to be great!
But I also know that Mother’s Day won’t be without pain. It hurts. In fact, it is already hurting now. And herein lies what is perhaps the most profound thing I have learned as a result of my mum dying. I have learned that fullness of life and the pain of grief can co-exist.
The thing with grief is that it is not linear. We move through different stages, but we do it in a cyclical manner. This process takes time and it is never entirely over. When we understand this we can begin to accept the feelings associated with our grief rather than burying them or pushing them away. Mother’s Day is one of those happy/sad days for me. I enjoy spending it with my kids and I miss spending it with my mum.
The process of healing is ongoing. As I have journeyed through my grief, though, I have learned that I don’t have to bury my memories in order to be happy. It is ok to feel what I feel. If I want to cry – I do. If I feel happy – it doesn’t mean that I have forgotten my mum.
I have discovered that even though it hurts, it is important to take time to remember my mum, to remind myself of who she was and how she impacted my life.
I have begun to create new memories in the form of traditions to honour my mum’s life and the things she loved to do. This year, I am planning to cook one of her favourite meals for lunch on Mother’s Day.
And I have learned the value of mothering myself. The days either side of Mother’s Day can be painful too. I do things to look after ‘me’.
I don’t remember much about the first Mother’s Day after mum died. I do know that it was very painful. If this is your first Mother’s Day without your mum, my heart goes out to you. My prayer is that you will know the peace and presence of God in the midst of your pain.