Confessional / Good Grief

My Mom Died, Too

On the third ring a bored-sounding but polite woman answered the phone.  “Dr. Alaska’s office, this is Kay speaking, how may I help you?”

“Hello Kay, my name is Mary and I’m a patient of Dr. Alaska’s, I’d like to make an appointment.”

“It looks like Dr. Alaska doesn’t have an opening until the end of the month.  What’s the reason for your appointment?”
“I would like to talk with the doctor about my cancer risk and preventative screening because… because my…” and now I felt awkward because I didn’t need to tell the receptionist a reason and I was wading into T.M.I. territory, but I’d already started to say it so I finished my sentence.

“Because my mom died of cancer recently,” I blurted out.


by Emiliano Ponzi

Kay’s voice softened and she scheduled the appointment for me.  Before we hung up she said, “Listen, my mom died seventeen years ago and sometimes it feels like it was yesterday…” She could hear it in my voice, then, that I am still so broken.

“But it does get easier with time.  It does,” she insisted.  After we both hung up I thought about what Kay had told me, about what we had told each other.  It felt good to have her reassurance even though I didn’t know her.  I hope it felt good for her to remember her mother and to tell me that she still misses her.

One year ago my mom was feeling really sick and she was about to be given a death sentence.  The anniversary of her illness has grabbed my ankle and it’s tugging me down a little.  Today I googled “grief anniversary,” because I wanted to hear that I’m in good company and lots of people are struggling eight months after a death, nine months, one year or seventeen.

I clicked on a link and it took me to an excerpt that I’ve read maybe a dozen times since my mom died, but never before that.  It was part of Meghan O’Rourke’s “The Long Goodbye.”   Meghan’s experience sounds similar to mine—she lost her mom to cancer at the age of thirty-two.  I was thirty last December when my mom died.  And the things that Meghan says about missing her mom and the way she remembers her, they’re perfect.  It’s exactly how I feel.  I saw this quote shortly after my mom died and it has really stuck with me:

With my mother’s death the person who brought me into the world left it, a door closing behind her, a line of knowledge binding her body to mine in the old ways. Who else contained me, felt me kick, nursed me? She crosses my mind like an exotic bird flying past the edge of your eye: startling, luminous, lovely, gone.

Meghan describes the mother/daughter connection well–our bodies bound in the old ways, I love that.  It’s a bond that I took for granted sometimes when my mom was alive.  The four adjectives Meghan uses to describe an errant mom-memory:  startling, luminous, lovely, gone.  The memories are all of those things.  They sneak up and startle, but they are pleasant in nature.  I am left with an empty feeling.  She’s gone.  The memory is bittersweet, but I am always grateful for her presence in my mind.

The other thing I’ve been feeling since my mom died is this recurring disappointment that she isn’t here.  It’s as though, on some subconscious level, I expect my mom to reappear and the pain to cease.  How could I expect such a thing when I am so reasonable a person?  I understand death.  I know it is final.  How can I actually expect my mom to come back?  Meghan describes this feeling in “The Last Goodbye,” and reading it for the first time was surreal.  I felt I could have written it myself:

But I still believed she was coming back. Deep down, I felt she would, through some effort of mind, reconstitute herself and appear to me, even as a ghostly form. Grief is not linear, it turns out; it comes in waves, which ebb and subside at unexpected moments.

Grieving is such a strange experience.  Mourning my mom has opened my eyes to the brevity and power of the mother/daughter experience.  I am crushed because my life with my mom is over, but I have these three beautiful sprouting relationships to nurture.  In the recent months I’ve been able to turn my attention back to my own daughters.  Our life together is bringing me joy again.  I am trying to hold on to that feeling.

22 thoughts on “My Mom Died, Too

  1. I’m really sorry for your loss. I’m new to your site and haven’t had a chance to catch up on your back story yet. I’m always glad to hear people talk about their grief because it is such an important part of the healing process. You will heal. You will not recover, because that implies that you will return to being who you were before. You will always be changed by the early loss of your mom and, while that is devastating and sad, it’s also okay. Will you accept a virtual hug from a stranger?

    • Thank you, absolutely I will accept a virtual hug from a stranger! I’m actually a virtual whore so we could take it further if you want ; ) Thank you for reading my blog. I’ve stopped by yours and look forward to poking around on it. If you have time and are interested, in “Always on My Mind” I told my story of my mom’s death. Thanks again for reading!

  2. I’m so sorry that you lost your mother, and I so appreciate you posting this here. I lost my mom very quickly to cancer over two years ago, and although the crying jags are mostly gone, the sadness about it is never really gone. I so often think of things to share with her, and it’s still this internal shock when she’s not there.

    To me, it feels like losing an emotional limb. It eventually heals to the point that it doesn’t hurt every day, but even after it heals, I’m still missing a leg and I will not be the same. And you are so young to lose her — I was 38, and you are even younger than that. It’s just not what you ever expect to happen.

    I don’t know if this is helpful or discouraging to hear, but I know that, for me, the beginning of the second year of grief was somehow harder than the first year was. I think it was related to what you post here, that finally I really got that she’s never going to be here again. Somehow it was harder to process that with my mom than with any other death I’ve gone through, maybe because of all of those previous years that she always showed up when she was supposed to.

    Thanks again for sharing this — and I am sending you love and light as you grieve your mother.

    • Thanks for your love, Andrea. I feel it. I’m sorry for your loss, too. All of your comments are helpful, it feels so good to bond with other daughters who’ve lost their mothers. One thing I still find myself thinking is “WHY?” Why my mom? Why? Why can’t she be here? I still get mad at my mother in law just for being alive. It’s so juvenile and I lose patience with myself sometimes.
      You’re right, it’s just not what I expected to happen. And my grief is not what I expected either. It’s all so bizarre.
      How can I be feeling like I’m getting better but at the same time feel so behind?
      I am getting used to the ebb and flow of these feelings, though. In some ways my grief comforts me. I am a loving daughter. If I could choose to have my mom here instead then of course I would choose that. But if I had to choose between grief or nothing, no memory of her at all (I’m thinking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind here, have you seen it? If not I recommend it) Then I would choose grief again and again.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. I couldn’t imagine life without my mum being there to talk to. The anniversary must be especially hard. Thank you for sharing your experience as difficult as it must be.

  4. beautiful and just had to FB share (or like)
    It DOES get easier (although for me when i do miss my dad the “missing” is HUGE now, whereas shortly after his death it was somehow smaller and lighter.)
    Huge hugs and chin up buttercup XXX

    • Thank you so much for sharing! I can see that the longer it goes, the more I do miss her in a way. But it’s strange that there is some level of healing happening. This is just not what I ever expected. Thank you for the encouragement, mama XO

  5. Mary, I came here after I read you overshare on Stephanie’s blog because I wanted to read more from someone so brave. I am not disappointed.

    My mum died too…3yrs, 8 days ago. It feels like yesterday. She had Ovarian Cancer. For me time does not make it easier. In fact time makes it harder…because the more time passes the further away I get from the last time we laughed together or she was able to tell me she loved me.

    Thank you for being un-apologetically you.

  6. logically, i shouldn’t be able to understand what you are saying, as my mother and i were not close.

    and yet within this post you somehow created the negative space of your relationship with your mum in such a way that i viscerally felt her missing from your life as if i were you.

    what a beautiful, sad, loving post.

    • That’s a really great compliment. Everything you say is poetry. I want you to come stand next to me and describe, out loud, everything that I do. I created the negative space in such a way that I feel like a fucking badass now. Thanks for your comments!

  7. Somehow I missed this in my reader. I’m so sorry you have to feel this way. I understand. I can’t say anything that other people haven’t already told you. It sucks. It gets better with time, and then it doesn’t. It will always hurt and you will always miss her. It will become less raw and less acute. They way you feel will be completely unique to you, but you are also in good company. Sending you good, peaceful thoughts.

  8. Your writing is just so beautiful in its eloquence – like poetry. Grief is so raw. I have an aunt who lost her 12 year-old son ten years ago and she still hasn’t been able to bring herself to change anything about his bedroom. His stuff is still strewn all over the place, things on the floor, the dresser…. I still cry sometimes when I think of him. I’m not sure you ever lose grief; it becomes a part of you. I’m sorry that your grief anniversary has you down. Thinking of you…

  9. I don’t know how I found your blog, but I’m glad I did. I, too, lost my mom to cancer, and although we had a contentious relationship, I miss her. I think of her every day and it’s been six years since she died. The grief is not as acute as it was in the beginning. It’s just a shadow now, maybe because I realize she is actually still with me.

    I love the way you wrote about your grief – beautiful words.

    Going to read more of your stuff!

    • I think no matter what your relationship with your mother was like, it’s so difficult to lose her. Her death really does close a door, a door that I didn’t even know was there until she died. Talking with other daughters who’ve lost their mothers helps me feel less alone and less like a victim. Thank you for reading and for your comments!

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