June 28, 2006, was a day like any other.
I was 26 years old and working for a luxury resort as a recruiting manager. I had amazing siblings, nieces and nephews whom I adored, growth in a job with an incredible company, and I was dating a good man that I envisioned would one day be my husband. (I was right.)
The afternoon of June 28 was normal – filled with application reviews and interview scheduling. I was getting ready to wrap things up for the day, when my colleague appeared in my office doorway.
Then another came into the room. And another. Soon, nearly my entire HR team was surrounding me – but it was eerily quiet for a group of women who always had something to laugh and chat about.
And for a brief moment, I felt the earth stand still.
My friend handed me the phone as my sister told me very calmly that our mother – our kind yet sassy, lead-by-example, managed-a-nursing-career-while-raising-five-children, beautiful mom – had passed away. The brightest light in my world… was gone.
Cathie, my mama, was one of my best friends. She was my first call in celebration – and again in heartache. We talked every day. Sometimes five times a day. She held my hand through life. She had given me wings – and was the wind helping me soar. Her volunteer spirit inspired in me a life of service, and her love for family was etched in my heart from a young age.
Mom had been battling some health issues for nearly a year, but her death came as quite a shock – one with ripple effects for years to come. In the time that followed, I was angry, I was sad, I was avoiding and sometimes… I simply was.
When a parent dies, they take with them a piece of us. Our memory. Parts we lived, but could never remember ourselves. (Like, what did my baby laugh sound like? When did I start walking? Can you tell me what I was like as a child?) They knew us before we knew ourselves.
And when you lose your mom at such as young age, you are robbed of a part of your future.
June 28 was a Wednesday. And it was the day that changed me forever. This was the life event with a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after.’
June 28 was the day I was initiated into the crappiest club with the highest possible membership dues.
Time is such a funny thing. That day in June was nearly 14 years ago, yet I can remember details of it so clearly. It’s as if a lifetime has passed, but in just a few moments. (But what did I have for breakfast today? I’ll get back to you on that.)
I see my fellow members admitted to the Crappy Club almost monthly now. Women my age – working, raising families, doing amazing things in the community – absolutely choosing joy, but missing our moms. Missing the constant cheerleader. The one person who no matter what, will listen to your ridiculous story and nod along or offer advice that you didn’t know you needed.
I recognize not everyone shares a closeness with their mother. But mine had a unique ability to let each of my siblings have a piece of her heart. There was enough to go around. And beyond us, she had a circle of devoted friends, extended family and cherished colleagues that drove through the night to say their goodbyes. She was loved.
Now, I’ve entered the ‘I am human’ stage of my life. Every single day, I say a prayer for my mama. And sometimes, I still find myself whispering to her in the wind, ‘You should be here.’ Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the life I get to live. But 26 is barely an adult. My mom wasn’t there for my wedding. She wasn’t there when I delivered my gorgeous baby girl. She wasn’t there to hold my hand, do my laundry or prepare us meals as I suffered from postpartum depression. So instead, I looked to the other women in my life for guidance. My sisters rose to the occasion in extraordinary ways – stepping in as the female family elders to answer my questions about childbirth, cry with me, and make sure every major life event without my mama was beautiful.
As I continue to reach major milestones, my call – my “person,” isn’t here to celebrate with me. And still, after all this time, I sometimes forget as I reach for the phone. And it stops me in my tracks.
Time is so fragile.
And it’s almost June 28. Again.
What wisdom have I gained these last 14 years?
These are some notes to self:
No matter how many years pass, suppressed emotions will well up. And they often come out of nowhere. Literally NOWHERE. You cannot avoid the pain. You must walk through it. Talk about it with a professional. (This is always my first bit of advice to new Crappy Club members.)
Check in on your friends. As women, we are all conditioned to bare such an incredible mental load, but adding loss to the mix oftentimes makes things simply robotic.
It’s exhausting – to be ‘okay,’ even on the days you aren’t.
There’s definitely a jealously, maybe a twinge of anger? Or is it pain? What I feel when I see so many wonderful women in my life out shopping with their moms. Or going to dinner. Or just having the grandma’s drop off point every weekend that my kiddo will sadly never experience. I have missed all of this – so much, I ache sometimes. And it’s okay to feel this, to just sit with it.
There are still absolutely days when I sob in the shower. In the words of Queen Elsa, let it go! (Cry away!)
I can FEEL mom at church. I can HEAR her voice, singing the hymns. So, I go to church. And sing. Do the things where you connect with her energy.
I know how much mom would adore her granddaughter – especially since her middle name is her own. Be sure to keep talking about Grammy. A LOT. Share the silly stories, the hard stories, and the stories about being a working mom. Share them all!
We all handle grief in our own way. Give yourself time. But don’t put a limit on it.
You create your village, so be selective. No one will ever replace your mom. And expecting someone to step in and attempt to fill that void will only bring disappointment.
Be the best parts of your mom. For me, I celebrate the big and little things. I write the letters. I bake the cakes. I choose to continue sharing so many of the things I learned from her over the years.
Since this club we belong to is crappy, and the membership fee is so high, remember to be welcoming of new members.
Be kind to yourself. Every year on my mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day and the anniversary of the day she left this world, I allow myself grace. To ugly cry, spend time alone, pray, or connect. And that’s a-okay. Each year is different.
Show up for the women in life who have shown up for me. It’s not hard. Just. Show. Up.
Loss is such a weird thing. Especially profound loss. It grows and changes. I actually miss my mama more now than I did fourteen years ago – and I realize as I get older, it is because I am mourning what could have been. What should have been.
And finally, just love. When it’s easy – love. When it’s hard – love. Just love.
I love you, mama.
You are my wind. Still.