I don’t think Brian will mind me taking this chance to write a letter to you instead; after all, you’ve been the biggest supporter of these letters and it was because of you that I began them in the first place.
You died last month, Momma. You left me. You and I spent the last 5 years grieving for Brian together and now I have to find some way to grieve both of you… alone. It feels unbearable. I’m still in shock and most days I just feel numb. It’s only me now. I’m aware that I have friends who care and I appreciate that so, so much; however, I can’t shake this sense of feeling like an island and I’m experiencing an incredible urge to distance myself from people… from things… from life. In a sense it’s as though I am a helium balloon that was tethered to the earth by your love for me and your desire for me to desire life… and your death severed that tie and now I’m floating about aimlessly, watching life pass by below me. I’m watching it all happen, but it all just feels so far, far away. I know my honesty about this is painful for you, and for my friends. But I truly feel as though I’m just “existing.” It’s like being at your job on a Friday after a particularly long, exhausting week and seeing others able to leave early while you’re itching in your seat and counting the seconds until 5:30 when you are free to leave, too. Just like a job, some people up and quit life like Brian did… some people are “let go” like you were, and others, like me, watch the minutes pass by like years just getting through each day because it’s just what you’re supposed to do.
So many people came to pay their respects to you, Moomie. I hope you had even a hint of an idea of how much you were truly loved, respected and appreciated by so many people. They all spoke of your generous heart, the way you cared for others and the way you lit up a room with your smile and your incredible wit! I spoke briefly at your funeral. I stared down at the words I’d written, intentionally avoiding looking out at the faces of all who were there to mourn alongside me for fear of a complete meltdown. Here’s what I said about you that day:
I couldn’t have asked for a more giving, nurturing or loving Mom. She tirelessly put others first and as her children we never went a single day wondering how much we were loved and cherished. I feel undeserving of it and can only hope that I was half as good a daughter to her as she was a Mother to Brian and me.
When my only sibling, my brother Brian, took his own life 5 years ago, her heart was absolutely broken and a huge piece of her was missing. I wanted so badly to take away some of that pain for her but it was so hard because I was just as broken. So we just did the only thing we could do– lean on each other.
I came back home last month for a visit and at the time I didn’t yet know just how special those last few days would become to me. We laughed so, so much. I wonder if part of her knew that would be the last time we’d be together because when we parted ways at the airport she hugged me harder and longer than ever before.
She was all I have left so the support from her sister, my Auntie Barb, has been life-saving for me. Barb, I’m so sorry that this time she’s making your mascara run from tears of sadness and pain rather than tears of joy and uninhibited laughter.
One thing that brings me comfort is knowing that the past few months in her very own new home brought her so much peace and happiness. She was finally starting to get back to the old self she’d lost over the years and I was so happy for her and so proud that she had the courage to do that for herself. I am grateful that she found some happiness again in the last few months.
Thank you to all of you for the outpouring of love and hugs and words of comfort you’ve provided to me. It means the world to me and it would mean the world to her that you are all taking such good care of me on her behalf.
Today is Christmas Eve. I was supposed to be with you today… but I cancelled the trip after you died. Instead, I walked alone to my tree and I spread some of your ashes. Now a part of you is there alongside Brian. On October 26th I surprised you by booking myself a ticket to come spend the holiday with you and you were so excited. You told me that this was the first Christmas you had looked forward to since Brian died and my heart nearly burst with joy for hearing that. You were going to buy us a tree, Momma. You hadn’t wanted a tree in years. But you and I still had each other and you were just beginning a fresh start away from the toxicity of the marriage you stayed in far too long. Now instead of a joyful holiday, for me it will be the most painful one yet.
I can’t shake one feeling. I positively despise myself for having spent the last Christmas you were alive away from you. Furthermore, I spent it with the family of a boyfriend who admitted he wouldn’t have done the same for me. As we were planning our Christmas trip I said to him, “Maybe we can alternate and next year we can go to Minnesota to spend Christmas with my Mom?” He simply said, “I don’t think so. I just always spend that holiday with my family.” The fact that I let the very last Christmas I ever could have spent with you pass by to be with someone who wouldn’t have done the same for me absolutely breaks my heart. I’m so angry at myself. I’m so sorry for that, Momma. I should have been with you, and I wasn’t.
I didn’t deserve you. Your heart was so big and so wide-open to me and I could be so closed-off. I’m so much better at typing things out like this than I am at communicating feelings face to face. You loved reading these letters I’ve been writing to Brian and so often told me that you related to so much of it and that I somehow had verbalized all the same things you had been feeling. I could be wrong, but it always felt like some of those letters were helping you heal, too. I hope so.
You had your own way with words and always seemed to know what to say to someone when they were hurting. In a sympathy card you gave to someone else who had lost their mother just days before you died, you shared these very words:
You’ll never forget your mother’s face, the sound of her voice, the gentleness of her touch… they let you know you were loved.
You’ll never forget the stories she told, the traditions she handed down… they let you know who you are.
You’ll never forget the lessons she taught, the things she stood for… they are her gift and her legacy.
You’ll never forget and you’ll always know that you honor her everyday in how you live and who you are.
That was the last card you ever sent and they gave me a copy of it to keep. Your words meant so much to them and, as it turns out, those words you intended for them as comfort have now been passed on back to me to comfort me in my own grief over losing you.
When going through your things I found a copy of an email you had saved from Mother’s Day in May of 2000. It was from your father-in-law and said this:
I was thinking today that I had no one to whom I could say “Happy Mother’s Day.” Then I realized that was not true. I had you! You fit all the criteria and then some.
I felt how lucky I was to have my Mom. But, then I knew how fortunate I was to have you as Mom to the kids.
I know how hard you have worked to make things come out right. You’re a real fighter and the results of your efforts are in the kids as well as that older kid, Bill. You are the catalyst.
Happy Mother’s Day, Judy.
All of that is so true! Everything good that came from Brian and me began with you, Momma. You showed us true, unconditional love and what it means to be kind and loving and giving. You spent most of your life giving to others and from a very young age Brian and I went with you to the nursing home where you spent a few days a week and learned about compassion by watching you with others. It makes me so proud that I heard over and over how much I reminded people of you. They said, “You really are your mother’s daughter.” I can’t think of a better compliment than that… it’s comforting to know that I absorbed your best qualities and that others see that.
Brian and I knew that if we ever needed some comfort, someone to listen and really be present with us that you were the one. You supported us in everything we did, always made us feel special and that our feelings and opinions mattered. Thank you for loving us so much.
I spent tonight with a wonderful friend watching a silly movie, inhaling Chinese food and wine and laughing. It was just really nice to pretend it wasn’t Christmas. I had plenty of invites to spend the holiday with friends’ families and while it was so kind of them to offer… I just knew it would hurt too much to try and shake off the self-pity I’d have felt as an outsider watching someone else’s family celebrate together. I needed to pretend tonight was just like any other night… and not the first Christmas Eve without my Mom.
I love you so very much, my Moooooomie and I miss you terribly. I believe you are with Brian now. Please watch over me, Momma… I’ll never stop needing you.