I know for a fact some people are positively sick of me talking about my grief journey, but I have to admit – I’m really sure I don’t care.
Losing a parent in your 30s is just a special kind of screwed up. You’re old enough to be an adult, so it feels like you shouldn’t really need your parents anymore, but oh, you do. Do you ever. Not to mention ever since she died, I’ve continued to feel as if I lack a foundation. Untethered is the word that kept coming to my mind as I laid in bed at my aunt’s house and began mourning my mom before she was even dead.
One night towards the very end, after she’d had a stroke and I knew we were at the Point of No Return, Patrick and my aunts forced me to spend one night away from the hospital. I was still doing my own cancer treatment, and I had been sleeping on a recliner in her ICU room for days. It made sense as I was utterly exhausted, but also it was really bad because I was finally alone with my thoughts. The first time I tried leaving the hospital for a bit and taking a nap before going back to spend the night with her, Mom was hallucinating and made one of her sisters call her other sister I was staying with because she was screaming, hyperventilating and convinced something had happened to me and my girls. Even when I literally jumped out of bed and in a half-awake panic started screaming, “It’s okay, Mom! I’m okay! We’re okay!” she wouldn’t calm down, and so I raced back to the hospital blurry eyed and crying to show her I was alright. But that had been a few days before. By this time, Mom was on life support and unconscious, so there was no one left to worry about if I was okay or not. I didn’t realize I would ever miss someone worrying if I was okay or not, so I have shuffled through this last year and a half feeling that word – untethered – haunt me.
I spent the first couple of months after Mom died in a blur. I went to my priest to ask for absolution for killing her, because I couldn’t forgive myself for being the one who had to tell the doctors to take her off life support. I would wake up in the middle of the night in a sheer panic over the finality of having her cremated and berating myself for doing it, even though she had told me before she died it’s what she wanted. “How could I DO THAT to my mother?!” my thoughts would scream at 2 am. “How can she be just GONE?!” I would go to my car on my lunch break at work and just cry my eyes out. When I went to my primary care physician for a checkup and I couldn’t even tell him my mom died without bursting into tears, he decided to put me on an antidepressant. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety off and on for a long time – anxiety since I was a perfection-obsessed child, depression a new friend I made in college – but getting on medication felt like defeat in a way.
When my PCOS flared up earlier this year, my OBGYN switched my antidepressant to help manage the side effects from the injection I had to take since I couldn’t go on the medication she’d normally prescribe because, cancer. But the side effects I was already experiencing from the original antidepressant – mood swings, weight fluctuations and fun of that nature – just got worse.
So, my OBGYN and I decided to wean me off the antidepressant. Which, I think for my physical health has been good. But in some ways, it’s like losing Mom all over again. Feeling feelings I had numbed with the antidepressant, feeling everything more deeply and vividly again. It’s been even harder than I could have imagined. Being in the middle of a pandemic and being laid off from my job probably haven’t helped.
After my mom’s house was packed up and emptied last summer, my best friend/sister made me walk through it with her to give myself some closure. We got to my mom’s bedroom and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror when I saw her face in mine. I lost it. My best friend held me in her arms, both of us sweaty and sticky from moving all day in the South Louisiana summer heat, and she did not give a damn as she spoke truths to me and reminded me of who I was. I swore after that, I would focus on healing. But in doing that, I ignored what every friend of mine who has lost a parent warned me of. Don’t hold it in, they said. Don’t try to be strong. The grief will seep through you and catch you, bringing you to your knees.
I thought I had grieved enough, that I had cheated the grieving process. But the truth is, I had cheated myself. It did indeed bring me to my knees.
So now, I’m trying just to ride the wave and accept it when it comes for me. It means crying at least once when I clean through the things she left behind. It means crying at an antiques store when I open an empty bottle of Tresor by Lancôme because it’s the perfume she wore when I was a kid, and briefly considering buying it just to be able to bring that scent home. (No, I didn’t buy it.) It’s basically a lot of crying. But it’s also a lot of laughter too, and some smiling. And now, there’s less crying and more smiling now when I think of her. But I won’t apologize for either.
I preach to my kids about living authentically, not hiding from their feelings and being unafraid to be their true selves, and yet there I was, trying to mask my emotions and taking my heart off my sleeve.
Which is kind of hilarious. I’ve always been a “heart on my sleeve” kind of girl.
There’s so much to laugh about. There’s so many memories to smile over. Mom was unapologetically loud, a complete force of nature. She drove me nuts, but she also could make me laugh so hard. Sometimes, it was the silliest of things. I saw Rod Stewart at Caesars Palace few months before she died. When I texted her some video from the show, she said, “He’s still so HOT!” I went, “OMG, Mom!” She said, “What?! I’m sick, but I’m not dead!”
Apparently I wasn’t the only one with cancer humor.
I miss her so much that it physically hurts sometimes. But I also know that while Mom felt free-spirited, she never really was able to embrace that freedom she so deeply felt in her soul. She had her own issues with anxiety and depression. As cliché as it sounds, I know she wouldn’t want me to feel so weighed down by this grief.
So, I’m embracing untethered, turning a negative into a positive. I’ve slayed cancer. I didn’t do all that to be sad. I’ve lost so much. I could have been broken by it. I’m choosing not to be. It’s past time for me to be back in touch with the fearless woman I am. Free spirit? Yes, please, reintroduce me to that Laura.
It’s only up from here, baby.