And then, she was gone

My mother passed away last week, after a long fought battle with illness. I have been struggling to write about it, unable to put what I’m feeling into words. Mostly because…I don’t know what I’m feeling. My mother was bedridden and unable to communicate for the last three years, completely dependent on others for the most basic needs. For someone who fiercly guarded her independence, that existence was the last thing she would have wanted. So on some level, I feel an intense sense of relief, even gratitude, that she is no longer suffering.

If I have learned anything in this period of my life, it is that grief is perhaps one of the most confusing feelings to cope with. As a society, we have expectations on how people should behave when grieving. They should appear stricken, slightly teary eyed, with profound words to mark the occasion. Reality is not like that. It’s more of a roller-coaster, marked by low dips of all out sobs, followed by a need for humor that is strong it results in inappropriate jokes that would be all to easy to misconstrue. I spent a lot of last week avoiding phone calls not because I was unable to speak through tears, but because I worried about judgment if someone overheard the peals of laughter echoing off the porch as we told story after story of mother’s life.  People asked if I wanted to speak at her service, and I vehemently declined, because I cannot possibly think of any words that will live up to what I feel should be said. When it comes to “proper” grieving, I am falling short.

Of course I miss her. Of course I wish she was here, and that I could talk to her. But those feelings have been brewing inside of me for the last three years, they are nothing new. In the last week so many people have offered condolences, have looked at me with pity for  the loss that I’ve suffered, and I want to laugh at them and say, “You’re acting like I just lost her. You don’t understand that she’s been gone for years.” I remember vividly that in those first few months where my mother had lost the ability to speak and would sleep all day, only to stare vacantly when awake, and I couldn’t understand why no one around me seemed to be feeling the loss in the same way I was. I wanted to grab everyone I saw by the shoulders and scream, “Don’t you understand that she’s GONE?? I know you think she’s in the next room, but she’s GONE.” This is the struggle with losing someone who has been ill for such a long time – the grieving period of those close to her doesn’t coincide with the rest of the world.

I was sitting on my parents’ front porch last week with a friend and after a few moments of silence said, “I can’t believe it’s over.” And I can’t. I can’t believe that all the struggle and pain of watching her suffer is done. I can’t believe this monumental era of my life has come to a close. There’s also a part of me that doesn’t, as in literally cannot, believe that it’s over.  I will never hear about my friends and cousins having lunch with their mothers and not wish that I too, could have lunch with mine. I know that whenever I have children there will always be a small part of me that will ache because she isn’t here to share in them. The pain of loss is the kind that never actually goes away.

I miss my mother dearly, at almost every moment of the day. But I do not miss her being sick. When I think of her I refuse to remember the weak person she was at the end, but the vibrant, independent and loving person she was for every year before that. And for now, that’s the best that I can do.

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14 Thoughts on “And then, she was gone

  1. I am so sorry. I would think that seeing a loved one completely helpless and being able to do nothing would be worse than their death. I have lost 3 sisters in 7 years, most recently in June. All 3 were young. 41, 53 & 52. I watched my youngest sister struggle to breathe, and the last 3 months she was bedridden. She so wanted to be able to do for herself. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Your Mother was stunning. May she rest in peace.

  2. Tere Payne on August 9, 2013 at said:

    Caroline, your post gathered up all my feelings and tied them with a bow. As a friend, I experienced the loss stretched over these three years. The thing about spending time with a friend who is this ill? All the time one has to reflect. Being in the room or the next, wanting so badly for it to be different. Thinking of all the times she showed you around the beloved mountains. Sometimes, feeling guilty that you’re in her beautiful garden and she isn’t. Now she will be in her garden.
    Looking forward to celebrating her life with you.

  3. Alejandra on August 9, 2013 at said:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Your mother was beautiful.

  4. Mary on August 9, 2013 at said:

    The only proper way to grieve is the way that works for you. I’m so sorry.

  5. KL on August 10, 2013 at said:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved Mom.

  6. Rich Payne on August 10, 2013 at said:

    Caroline, you have stated it perfectly and with great love. Fair is in our thoughts daily. I think we will be spending more time in the upper garden sharing a glass with her.

  7. Oh, dear. So very sorry to hear about this most recent, most final period of your loss. As someone who has gone through this, I can personally attest to the topsy-turvy nature of the experience, and to the moments of intense happiness that memories of her will bring down the road, to go along with those deep pangs of knowing she’s gone. Comments from strangers on the web might not mean much, but for what it’s worth, my deepest sympathies are with you and your family.

  8. Henry on August 12, 2013 at said:

    Caroline – so wonderfully said. We dearly loved the mother and wife we lost in recent years as much or more at the end than we had ever loved her. But through that love, we’ve each ached and still ache so deeply for the mother and wife we cherished, shared, and enjoyed together from our first memories of her. As you said, let’s surround ourselves in those precious memories of her real spirit and body; we owe her and ourselves no less.

  9. Maaike on August 12, 2013 at said:

    Dearest Caroline, you don’t know me and probably never will, but I’m crying for you, and for your loss of your mother right now. I follow your blog, and have enjoyed your recipes and your irreverent outlook on life. I hope you laugh all you need to, and grieve however works best for you. Please know that your words do make a difference, and I know, I just know, that your mother is so proud of the daughter she raised,

  10. Stacey on August 12, 2013 at said:

    Thinking about you in a big way. xo

  11. Amanda on August 12, 2013 at said:

    Caroline,

    I am so sorry for your loss. I have read your blog since “A Cozy Kitchen” days, and your humor and stories have always been a joy for me. I wish you and your family well.

    Amanda

  12. I am so sorry to hear about your Mom. I can’t even imagine the pain of your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time.

  13. Kim G. on August 13, 2013 at said:

    I am so sorry for your loss and for your pain. I completely understand your situation. I lost my mom two weeks ago after a shorter but seemingly long illness. It was pure joy for me to take care of my mom while she was in my care. The difference is, my mother could communicate. I was able to get to know her more closely than I had in my life. But I learned this lesson at her wake. My very dear lifelong friend was telling me about her 86 year old mother. I was screaming inside because I wanted my mom to live to be 86 years old! My heart hurt an it took me everything I had to not be angry. A couple of hours later, I was talking to my cousin who lost her mom the week before high school graduation. She was telling me how jipped she felt because she never got to “bond” with her mom … especially as an adult. How fortunate I am to have had decades with my mom! I know I will miss my mom until the day I die. I have missed her for months. My heart yearns to hear her voice and to feel her touch. One day. Grieve whatever way you need to. This is no one else’s journey but your own. Take good care of yourself and allow the pain to flow through you so that you can laugh out loud inappropriately … really. Can laughter ever really be inappropriate?

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