Honoring my Mother on the 22nd Anniversary of Her Death
Today is the 22nd anniversary of my mother’s death and I want to honor her memory and talk about how much she meant to me. She was wonderful, fashionable, interesting, kind and beautiful. She was my world and her death was very difficult to say the least. None of us were the same after she was gone. I was a hot mess for a very long time.
And as I try to find ways to honor her, I keep coming back to myself. Who am I now? What have I learned these last 22 years? I feel so compelled to talk about how I’ve coped because I finally feel like I’m the woman she wanted me to be before everything went so crazy. So maybe my tribute is to show her that I turned out okay and someone she would be proud of and that I’m loved and can love.
I am very clearly and have always been an introvert by nature. I live in my head. I need time alone to reenergize… and well pretty much the entire introvert checklist. I’m educated and complicated, confident, thoughtful yet necessarily selfish, but mostly a free spirit. I like to have fun and appreciate great wit and wisdom. Always thinking and talking about how I feel in close company – and of course, chatty and opinionated after a few glasses of wine. I’m so empathetic that it makes life difficult at times, especially in this complicated world. Yet I’m inherently optimistic.
So I’m trying to get out of my head and open up in baby steps. I’m 42 years old – not from the blogger generation who truly feels comfortable sharing. But my goal this year is to write more about my life experiences. I’m always contemplating the unintended consequences of what I do or say. I don’t want to give bad advice and I always think about how my perspective is very different than those that haven’t walked the same path. But I need to overcome that fear because I think I have some good things to share.
As I sit down to write about coping with my loss, I’m reaching deep into my psyche. It’s just flowing out of me uncontrollably and I realize that there is no way to put it all into a single blog post. Maybe I’ve found a new writing project. Today what I can offer is a short list of things that I’ve learned and that have helped me heal.
- People Aren’t Goldfish
People can’t be replaced. Some relationships can’t be replaced. Take time to grieve those losses (meaning not just death but the end of other relationships as well) and don’t let the world make you feel like you have to be okay on their timeline. It’s not okay. It takes time. And you are the only person in charge of that timeline. I highly recommend reading Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman. This book changed my life and helped me finally grieve the losses and start to heal. I was caught in a cycle of fearing loss and fearing commitment. Recognizing this changed everything. She has also written Motherless Mothers for those of you who have lost your mother and have children.
- No “What Ifs?”
What if? If only? You can’t do this to yourself. Life happens and you have to keep moving forward. I did have a professor tell me that I was lucky I lost my mom so young because I would have awareness throughout life that most of my peers wouldn’t understand. So I did live my life intentionally. Made choices – some good, some bad. But I can’t go back and change any of it. And spending precious time thinking about what can’t be changed isn’t helpful, healing or productive. It’s not.
Some people may see some of my choices or the unpredictable things that happened to me as some sort of failure. But I don’t think money is the only way to be successful. I’m very happy where this journey has taken me even though at times it was unpleasant or terrifying. Even when I was smiling and friendly I was broken on the inside. It was only when I started to listen to what my heart wanted and needed that I finally found my way. And my way – what makes me blissfully happy – is living a simple, non-materialistic, compassionate, socially aware, wasteful conscious and truthful existence.
Oprah was really into the gratitude journal in the late ‘90s. At the end of every day, you write down five things you are grateful for in a journal. The purpose of the exercise is to force you to look for things to be grateful for during your day, which eventually changes your perspective of life into one of gratitude. I did this for a long time. As a graduate student, the top three were usually a good parking spot, a kind of decent place to live and a bottle of wine. It was really weird at first because I didn’t see the kindness and appreciate little things. And I was just so sad.
Then eventually the shift happened and I started to see so much to be grateful for – and I still do today. My perspective changed. Even in very difficult circumstances, there are always things to be grateful for and it helps. Gratitude doesn’t take away the pain but it is essential to moving forward and alleviates the anger. It brightens up your heart and the world.
- Pets are the Best!
I don’t have to explain this to pet owners. We all know how much it adds to our lives to have our wonderful critters that love us unconditionally. Having something to love and take care of was the best thing that ever happened to me. Oh my little dogs!
I lost more than just my mother in a short period of time. My grandmother (my mom’s mom) died not long after her and then several friends and eventually the remaining grandparents. Death became frequent and the multiplying losses were paralyzing.
I had to overcome the fear of loss to take on the responsibility of dog ownership. I got Benji first and then Cassidy the next year – they are now 11 & 12 years old. Every tail wag and doggie kiss and snuggle is worth it. And the sweet paw on my nose after I tell them I love them is priceless. They are deeply tied to my healing process and ability to love again.
We experienced the loss of my husband’s lab, Sunny, a few years ago. And now that my dogs are older I dread thinking about the end (and we’ve had some scares), but I’ve learned to live in the present and cherish every moment with gratitude. I refuse to freak out about what hasn’t happened yet. I’ll cross that road when I get to it. We have a routine in their old age that brings them so much happiness, comfort and joy. I’m so grateful that I didn’t let a fear of loss keep me from this wonderful experience.
- Be Your Own Advocate
Imagine navigating your 20s and 30s without your mom, cheerleader, confidant, best friend and guide-to-life while trying to figure out who you are and how the world is going to treat you. No one to advocate for you, or champion you or give you a pep talk when you were feeling lousy. No one to really appreciate your triumphs the way only a mother can.
After she died, I often felt like no one was really on my side and it forced me to trust myself no matter what anyone else thought. I believe that I matter and my existence can make this world a better place. I have to love myself and listen to my heart. I embrace my introverted nature. I’m not shy or weak, in fact, just the opposite.
I grew up when competitiveness was a good thing but I hate it – so I try to stay away from competitive people. I seek out people who are happy and doing something that makes them fulfilled and joyful. I embrace the uniqueness and diversity and passion in others. But I won’t put up with bullshit anymore. And I’m really glad to know what that is and where to draw the line. Misery loves company.
I married a man who is thoughtful, kind, intelligent and makes me laugh because I waited to heal and learn to love myself again (we married in my late 30s). It took a long time for me to get to that place. I’m so glad that I didn’t let the rest of the world push me into doing something that wasn’t right for me. Especially when I wasn’t ready to be a wife. I can honestly say that I love, respect and appreciate my husband and marriage. #gratitude
- Eat Well, Drink Water, Exercise and Sleep
There is nothing that calms my mind more than walking outdoors. If I can’t go outdoors I make sure to get some exercise consistently. I like to row indoors during the winter and walk outdoors during the rest of the year (and row, too – it’s good for the back and arms). And I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen. We love to cook together and it brings us a lot of joy.
Sleep didn’t come easy for a very long time. As hard as it may be to get to sleep and rest well – make it a priority. You need sleep to heal. This is always a battle for me because I’m a “night owl”.
Our bodies need lots of clean water and all the good stuff you get by eating natural unprocessed foods. Chemicals overload us and it’s starting to become pretty evident that as a society we are struggling to survive the deluge. I embrace a preventative lifestyle that is continually evolving as I learn more. I don’t have to eat kale everyday, but I make sure the things we like to eat are the healthiest versions for us so that we enjoy cooking, eating and a little indulgence. I don’t care about being the skinniest version of me just the healthiest and happiest.
There is so much more I want to say. I want to talk about stress, expectations, self-worth, crutches, competition, letting go of the material, other family relationships… This is the year of writing for me. Writing this has helped me beyond words and I hope this helps someone out there find some peace and happiness. Next are a few more photos with my mom. These pictures should give you a sense of who my mom, Shahla, was – a devoted, loving, wonderful mother and I’m very grateful for my short 20 years with her, so very grateful!