“My mom died today.”
Those were the words I typed into Google on my phone as I lay in bed on the day my mother died. I don’t know what I was searching for.
Maybe I was searching for someone to explain the reality of life once your mother is no longer in it. How do you explain it? How does your brain grasp it? How do you mourn? How are you supposed to feel? How long are you supposed to feel it? What do you do with all these feelings?
Ultimately, I think what I was searching for was to know I wasn’t alone. Certainly I wasn’t the first person to ever lose their mother. But this was different. Other people lost their parents. I saw it on Facebook all the time. But this was my mother. Somehow my mother seemed immortal. Her presence loomed large and even though I could see her getting older, her life-force was strong. I couldn’t imagine a world in which my mother didn’t exist.
And yet, here I was. And here you are, probably, if you’re reading this.
I won’t tell you how to mourn or for how long. I won’t tell you how to survive and move on. But I will share my experience in hopes that it might give you the feeling that I was looking for – that you aren’t alone. And more importantly, life goes on. It’s not the same life but it’s life nonetheless.
When my mother died
When my mother died last September, I was in a Lyft on my way to the Orlando airport. I had been traveling for a work conference and was taking a “play day” before heading home on an evening flight.
My sister sent me a text saying that my mom woke up not feeling well and she was going to take her to the doctor. This was a big but good step since my mom was reluctant to seek medical help, even when she needed it. Just the night before, she had asked my husband about natural alternatives to blood pressure medications.
“Take the medicine and get it under control and then you can focus on twigs and berries to cure your ailments” was what he told her. Less than 24 hours later, she would be gone. She was there and then she was gone.
We now know that she had probably experienced a mild heart attack that morning. These are the types of details you end up agonizing over after the fact. She didn’t know, we didn’t know. But we did pay attention and I told her to make sure she went to the doctor that day.
At 76 years old, my mom was often mistaken for much younger. Mainly because she refuted the aging process as much as possible. She kept herself looking young and never lost her spunk. But that spunk meant she was stubborn. She didn’t want anyone to tell her to go to the doctor and she certainly didn’t want anyone going with her. That would mean she was incapable of making her own decisions.
That morning, though, even she thought it was a good idea to go. Maybe she knew. Looking back at the weeks before she died, so many things occurred indicating that change was imminent. I don’t think any of us knew change was coming, not even my mother. But we definitely had signs of a spiritual change in motion.
My sister went to her house that morning to help her get ready for the doctor. While she asked for advice on the right jacket to wear with her outfit, I was walking through Epcot enjoying the warm day. I had just sat down in the DVC Lounge to take a break from the heat when I checked my phone
“Mommie collapsed. Paramedics here now.”
The text from my sister arrived and my heart nearly stopped. I had called 911 for my mother a few years prior when she spiked a very high fever and a triage nurse had demanded I get help immediately. My mother didn’t see it that way and insisted she was fine (even though she was delirious) and practically yelled at the paramedics for trying to help her. For months after, she was angry at me for calling an ambulance. Yes, she was stubborn.
When I saw the text that paramedics had arrived, I knew it was extremely serious. I called my sister immediately and understood the gravity of the situation. I had a flight scheduled for later that evening but I decided the best course of action was to head to the airport immediately and try to get an earlier flight.
It was on the Lyft ride to the airport that I got the call from my sister.
“She’s gone, Fadra. She died.”
You know the stages of grief? I went through all of them immediately. Shock, denial, pain, anger, guilt, bargaining, and even acceptance.
Was she sure? Had they done everything? Why couldn’t they keep working on her? Why didn’t she see the doctor sooner? Why didn’t she take the blood pressure medicine?
It just didn’t seem possible and getting the worst news of your life while you’re sitting in the back of a stranger’s car was almost unbearable.
I flew home in a blur, trying to figure out the best way to silently sob while on an airplane full of strangers. My husband picked me up and we went to my sister’s house to process everything, along with my younger brother. We waffled between wondering if this was real and how this could happen and what the hell were we supposed do now?
Handling the unbearable grief
While laying in bed that night, thankful to be home, I picked up my phone wondering how to fill the silent void I suddenly felt in my life. So I did what maybe you did. I googled “My mom died today.”
I don’t remember what I found when I googled. Maybe there were inspirational quotes. Maybe some sad accounts of other people’s grief. But I was just looking for someone to tell me how to process this seemingly unbelievable event and what to feel next.
As you already know, I can’t tell you how to process it. I can’t tell you what to feel or how to feel or even when to feel. All I can tell you is to believe what everyone says and it will help get you through this:
There is no wrong way to grieve.
For two weeks, I was numb. I just wanted to be with my siblings where we would alternately laugh, cry, and drink. And then a few weeks later, I was dressed up and attending the Renaissance Festival. It felt so wrong but I need a distraction from my grief. And it helped. Do the things you want to do (without feeling guilt) and don’t do the things you don’t want to do (without feeling guilt). Cry when you want and if you don’t cry, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you loved your mother any less. It just means that the grief is buried a little deeper that day.
Grief will come and go, often at the most unexpected times.
As I mentioned, I cried non-stop for two weeks. And then I stopped. Was I done crying? Was my grief over? How could I only mourn two weeks for my mother? This was simply a form of acceptance. Understanding that she was gone and I was not. And sure enough, it would continue to hit me at the oddest times. I would miss her voice and listen to a saved voicemail (be thankful if you have these to listen to!).
But the worst was the first time I walked into TJMaxx by myself. That was “our place.” We were both bargain hunters and we could spend hours browsing the entire store looking for the best deal. Walking in there without her felt like a gut punch. I found myself browsing at shoes with tears rolling down my cheeks.
My best piece of advice is the let it come when it wants to come. You will need the emotional release. And let it go when it wants to go and give yourself an emotional break.
Cherish the memories you had.
The memories are what keeps someone alive. Looks at pictures. Watch videos. Go to eat at her favorite restaurant on her birthday. Wear her favorite earrings at Mother’s Day. Keep her traditions alive at Christmas. That is how you stay connected to the memories of your mother.
And don’t be afraid to remember that the memories weren’t always great. You lost a mother, not a saint!
Open your mind and your dreams.
If your biggest struggle is feeling like you’ll never see your mother again, either because of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) or just a general uncertainty, remember that all of time and space is made of energy (this is a fact, not just a belief). And energy can’t be created or destroyed. Your mother’s energy exists in some form. Look for signs that she’s near you. Don’t shrug it off as coincidence. Let it allow you some comfort. And when you’re ready, open your mind at night and invite your mother to visit you in your dreams. You’ll know when it’s not just a memory but a visit.
Grief gets better with time.
My sister told me that she heard grief changes in increments – two days, two weeks, two months, two years. It definitely changes over time. For me, it’s an underlying sadness that will always be there. Nobody loves you like your mother. Nobody can replace her. The grief doesn’t go away. It just becomes something you get used to and you learn to live with. And over time, you learn that it becomes a tool that allows you to help others as well.
If you made it here and you’ve read this far, I can only imagine what you’re going through. Whether it was a while ago or very recently or even today, please know that you are part of a club that no one wants to belong to. And only those that have gone through it can truly understand. Treat yourself kindly, ask for help, even if that just means a hug or a cup of tea, and give yourself time and grace.