After 12 Years my Mother is Still Everywhere

My mother died twelve years ago on October 23rd and though my actual memories of the days and weeks that led up to her death have faded, my feelings of sorrow are bone deep. I don’t need to remember with any amount of clarity in order to feel overwhelmingly sad. There was a point, years ago, when I believed I would someday be beyond the bewilderment of grief, but twelve years later, as the arrival of autumn has once again knocked me off kilter, I am reminded how foolish it is to have any assumptions about grief.

As I approach this October 23rd, I find it hard to parse my feelings. I feel good, bad, grateful, deprived, strong, vulnerable, and a hundred other things. My memories, thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions about life and loss have gotten all mixed up. I am a paradox of opposite emotions, which is confusing but fine. Life after a loss is simply perplexing and if I didn’t know that it was normal to experience grief years after a loss, I think I’d be feeling pretty crazy right about now.

As the years roll by, my feelings of loss change shape and I’ve noticed that lately they’re fixated on the passage of time. I’ve actually found that the more time I place between me and my mother, the more acutely I ache for the past. My mother was “home” – it existed within her – and now that she’s gone I’ll never be able to truly return. I’m untethered, yet I’m supposed to moor my own children to the world. It’s baffling to think that I’m their stability when so many days I feel like a crumbling pile of sand. I wonder if my mother ever felt this way – washed away by the tide and rebuilt again by the children the next day. There are so many things I wish I could ask her.

“Time heals all wounds” is a particularly laughable phrase among people who are grieving. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds, it just rolls in like a slow-motion tsunami and carries you off down the shore. Yes, you may find yourself removed from the extreme intensity of grief, but you’re also further from the physical reality of your loved one and a past where they could be heard, seen, and embraced. Time doesn’t heal, it simply creates a distance. And realistically, who wants to put distance between themselves and someone they love?

The distance is a loss that needs to be grieved, but on the other side of the paradox is the reality that so many roads still lead back to her. Over time she has become a part of me, my children, and my family on a cellular level. Physically she is very gone, but psychologically she is everywhere. While both truths have the ability to make me sad, the latter brings me immense comfort.

It’s been a while since I’ve written an emotional essay about my mother, but this time of year just gets to me. If you relate to nothing else that I’ve said here, I’m sure you can empathize with the annual grief-funk that so many of us experience. Some years just hit me worse than others, and I have no doubt that my grief is exacerbated by whatever head space or stage of life I’m currently in. Twelve years after my mother’s death I understand that the vulnerability to experience grief is always with me. Some days it lies dormant and some days it becomes inflamed like emotional rheumatism.  Certain experiences, like a particular time of year, flip a switch and I am flooded with feelings of grief, nostalgia, yearning, and whatever else bubbles up to the surface.

What’s Your Grief is coming up on its own anniversary in November and it’s got me thinking about the role this site has played in helping me to process and understand my own grief.  Overall, it has been an amazing experience that has allowed me to understand grief, not only through my own introspection but through the amazing insight provided by our readers on a day-to-day basis.

However, I’m worried that over these past five years I’ve used this space, on more than one occasion, as means of avoidance. Rather than allowing myself to feel and experience certain things, I have instead sought to analyze them and then explain them. Avoidance comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes even behavior that looks healthy can be counterproductive. I don’t want to stop writing about grief, but I think that maybe, especially now, I need to take my personal emotions offline for a little while. I know realistically this won’t have an impact on any of you, but I feel as though I need to say it out loud for my own benefit. 

Also, related yet somewhat unrelated, Litsa and I want to let you know that throughout the month of October (starting next week) we will be publishing guest posts rather than our regular WYG content. We hope this will allow you the chance to connect with new voices, give us the chance to focus on some of our other projects, and provide some time for reflection and self-care as we head into the winter months. This is not a permanent change, we will return in November with our usual WYG content. We promise we’d never send you into the holiday season alone.

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October 11, 2017

26 responses on "After 12 Years my Mother is Still Everywhere"

  1. My mother died 39 years ago, shortly before Christmas. I was 19. The loss was devastating. It was hard to watch her suffer before her death, but it was harder learning to live without her. I still miss her everyday and every December brings a sharpened ache of loss. The loss of a loving mother leaves a hole in the tapestry of life. We don’t stop loving. We have to adjust to a new normal without their loving, physical presence. My sister and I often speak of the fact that we feel cheated. We never got to know our mother as a woman, only as “Mama”. She will never know my husband or my children. I will always wonder if she would be proud of the woman I have become. I like to think so. This site has such wonderful, insightful articles. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for your words, they perfectly describe the paradox emotions one feels when faced with grief. I lost my mother not even a year ago, and even though waves of sorrow still wash over me quite frequently I am somehow also comforted by the fact that I still remember so much so clearly; her smell, her voice, things she said towards the end of her life. Although some of those memories are deeply painful, they give me something to hold onto while feeling so untethered. I am terrified of that distance you speak of, and the thought that time passing by means losing her just a little more every single day.

  3. Eleanor,
    My mom died too on October 23rd, my sister’s birthday- 10 years ago. Thank you for your words -they could be mine.
    (we met at NAGC this past Summer)

  4. I cried while reading your entire blog. November 5th marks the fifth anniversary of my mom’s passing and I have begun to feel the waves of emotions already start to build up. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this with all of us.

  5. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this piece.
    It resonates to my core. Monday will be 5 years for
    my mom. I still can’t make sense of the time and believe it’s been 5 years. “It’s baffling to think that I’m their stability when so many days I feel like a crumbling pile of sand. I wonder if my mother ever felt this way – washed away by the tide and rebuilt again by the children the next day. There are so many things I wish I could ask her.” These sentences you wrote, describes how I feel, trying my best for my kids……With so much gratitude , thank you again for writing this piece.

  6. Amen to everything you said. Sept 17 2004 is my mom s day, and still miss her like crazy.

  7. If you experience your mother everywhere and in everything…is it possible that she is there with you, in every breath you take?

  8. This post was so timely for me as I pass the second anniversary of losing my dear mom. It was especially validating by noting that “time does not heal” – the grief just moves into new places in our hearts and minds. I ache for her and miss sharing the raising of my own children and her beloved grandchildren with her. The passage of time hurts in a different way than the acuteness of the initial loss – as her laugh and beautiful smile is not as imprinted in my mind as sharply as it once was and that hurts. I am adapting but only because one has too.

  9. This is such a beautifully written essay; it’s so vivid and relatable and I love the imagery. However, I feel really nervous reading people’s experiences from years down the road, to hear the intensity of grief that remains. I hear that grief doesn’t really diminish, it just evolves, ebbs and flows. I can’t imagine feeling like this for 11 more years to get to year 12, being knocked off my feet by overwhelming sadness, just grappling to function in my everyday life. It just doesn’t feel survivable.

  10. A few weeks ago, I “celebrated” the 10-year anniversary of the death of someone very close to me. The grief still hits me so hard some days that I can’t breathe. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with him, and far too many roads lead me down the “What if…” path. There’s relief and comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in sometimes feeling the pain and sense of searching and loss as though it had happened yesterday.

  11. true true thats why am staying in mothers home at least feel a bit tethered

  12. I feel as though I am the one who wrote this post. It is ME. My mother passed away just 3 days after your mother, 3 years ago and I still feel as though I am a crumbling mess come September and October. I want to hide under the covers until November, except that I love the beauty of autumn and so did my mother. My mother believed in the beauty of this world even when she was sick and knew she would not be okay, she just rejoiced in the healing nature of the sun and sky. I feel so untethered I also wonder how to raise my kids feeling safe the way I did growing up with so much family around. They don’t have that and I feel so sad for them.

  13. I have felt sadder as fall approached. During the summer I had the interest to do activities outdoors that lifted my spirits. I wondered if my better mood would continue into the fall. I really hoped it would. I started to feel sad in mid-August as it was back to school time and the hint of fall, then when we turned the calendar to September I felt sad and apprehensive. I experienced a grief trigger mid-month and the grief felt heavy. It just lasted three days but felt much longer. Now, with the calendar at October, the month of my brother-in-law’s birthday, I find I don’t even want to look at the calendar page. November will be the two year deathversary of his passing and the beginning of the 6 month period of multiple losses. I am grateful for the Whats Your Grief Site. I find comfort here and am glad its available whenever I need it.

  14. My father joined the host of ancestors 7 years ago, 27 days after his mother. I am still learning to navigate this world where he is not a physical anchor, and I work on my relationship with my father in spirit on the daily. Last June my only brother was murdered. My mother and I grew closer than we had ever been, and we were always close. I could not imagine her torment and pain at losing her first born in such a brutal and gruesome way. When she would visit me she would cry out his name in her sleep. Seeing her traumatic grief I never fully made her aware of the depth of mine. And then less than six months after his murder my mother died in her sleep the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
    Grief has settled into a cavernous depression bordering on apathy that I must battle daily so that my son’s childhood is not permanently destroyed by death and the grief that is its longest shadow. This site, these articles have reminded me of my humanity when I am at my lowest.
    Untethered, indeed. And I am clinging to the faith others have in their God and in the me I used to be that I will get through this with some modicum of sanity that will allow me to reach for joy again, at some point.
    Breath by breath a moment becomes tomorrow.

    Thank you for helping me breathe again.

  15. My mother died also died on Oct. 23. My sisters and I are coming on 15 years. It seems like such a long time. Yet somedays it feels like yesterday.
    “Time doesn’t really heal all wounds, it just rolls in like a slow-motion tsunami and carries you off down the shore.” Great sentence. Spot on.

  16. Wow, this resonated so deeply with me, I feel like I could have written parts of it myself. First of all, my mother also died on October 23rd, however I am only just coming up on 3 years since losing her in 2014. Secondly, last year, and now this year, I’ve felt an ache and a tension building inside me as summer turns to fall – my grief and my longing for her dials up intensely. I was telling my boyfriend that it feels like this time of year a switch goes on inside of me before my mind even catches up. It’s like it has been imprinted on my soul that this is the time of year that I lost her, and my subconscious feels the impact before I realize what is happening .

    Also, from the moment she died I came close to having panic attacks at the thought of time marching on and distancing me from her. I can still feel a rising dread if I allow myself to focus on this. I remember a few months after she died, I was walking with a friend who had lost her mother many, many years ago and this friend made the comment that she couldn’t even begin to imagine her mother being here beside her any longer. Her mom had been gone so long that she couldn’t even conjure her presence through imagination. And that thought set my blood running cold. She is still so incredibly real to me and I honestly would not feel shocked if she somehow walked right into the room right now – that’s how present she still feels. But the idea that someday, she may seem so distant breaks my heart in a million pieces.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. I am so sorry to share this awful date with you, sending lots of love. xo

  17. I agree with your statement that “My mother was home – it existed within her”. Thank you for sharing that. It is somewhat comforting to know that someone else feels the same and is nice to know I am not alone in that. My Mom passed away Dec 3, 2016 so it hasn’t been a year yet. I miss her terribly. I miss being able to take her to her doctor’s appointments and just simply be with her. She did not have an easy death and it was very hard to see her suffer. That haunts me at times. There are so many simple, seemingly mundane things that remind me of her – when I cook and remember her tips, setting a table like she used to when entertaining, cleaning the house or grocery shopping. So much of this was shared with my Mom over the years. I am thankful for the time I was able to spend with her but it also makes the ache that much deeper.

  18. My daughter died on February 4, 2017. We (our family) had time during hospice to sit and talk with her until she couldn’t anymore. We still held her and expressed our love. She passed with her family holding hands with her. Even though hospice lasted nearly 4 weeks, there still wasn’t enough time to really talk. I stayed overnight on the guest bed placed in her room as many times as I could, and her boyfriend stayed on the nights I was too exhausted. Her sister opened up her home to her and we set up her hospital bed in a beautiful sun room with windows all around and a view of the ravine. I have been overcome with grief, guilt, anger, you name it. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that she lived her life as she wanted. She was at the helm. She knew we all loved her, and she expressed her love to us. Alcohol took her life. So senseless. So crewel. She worked for a Fortune 200 HQ for 10 years, simultaneously completing classes for two masters degrees. She received many awards for her community service work, including the President’s Award! We had become good friends in the past few years. She would call me (or dad) first when she had accomplished something, and also when she was disappointed or angry about an event. I guess I seemed to have the right answers. I tried to, anyway, as far as my experience would allow. She tried to escape from her disease. She actually regained her health a few times, but this time was different. I miss her every day, and always will. I am thankful that I have so many good memories, and those are the ones that seem to stick. In the end, we all have an expiration date. Make all the good memories that you can, right now, right here, so you will have those to carry you through until you have to leave this Earth. Be grateful for having that person in your life; many people live in misery and poverty and terror, with no hope for it to get better. Be grateful for every person in your life; do not expect more than what that person has to give.

  19. I heard today that I was unsuccessful in applying for a job I was interviewed for yesterday – certainly not the end of the world, there will be other opportunities. However one of my first thoughts on hearing the news was that I could do with a visit home to my dad for a cheering up weekend, even though he has been dead for fourteen years now. It is this sorrow that has followed me round all day, combined with a feeling of not having an anchor described in the text above. Dad would still only have been the same age as Tom Petty was if he had still been alive. Sad sad sad.

  20. Wow. No one has ever put into words what I feel until now. Thank you for writing this. My mother died 8 years ago and I have never been the same. Thank you for this.

  21. My mother died in 1982. There was grief when she passed, however, I knew someday I would be home with her and my father and other relatives as well. It seem like the grief did not last that long and I can surely talk about her without being emotional. Maybe that is just me, I don’t know.
    I recall writing a song for her and typing in my journal thoughts I was having about her at the time. I believe that help me to so call move on.
    I go with the TS Eliot quote “Not farewell, but fare forward voyagers.”

  22. Although my husband died 2 years ago, which is a lot shorter period of time than the article, it spoke to me. Within approximately a year, I moved from the town that I had shared with my husband for over 35 years. This may have been an attempt to escape some of the grief and pain, I’m not sure. But now, I long to return to the place where the most ordinary things will remind me of him and our life together, even if it brings tears. I feel that I have lost some of the continuing bond by living away. I am fortunate since the move was a chance for me to think about these things, and so I will be moving back after the upcoming holidays. Hopefully, the return will bring me comfort and happiness.

  23. [email protected]
    My Mom & Dad died 45 days apart. Dad Dec 2015, Mom Jan 2016. I will simply never be the same. I’m an only-child and I have no children of my own. I’ve always been a daughter, but now I feel like an orphan. I became very ill March 2016; retired early due to my health; and even now I’m still recovering from the illness but not the pain of grief. From the first few weeks on…I grieved when I’d think of the distance between the present and the last time I spoke to them, hugged them, held their hands, looked into their eyes, heard their voice. Initially, I could say “it’s still single-digit weeks separating us; then single-digit months; and I’m still in single-digit years…in my case single year and months. Their house is still full of their belongings, due to my health. But I know nothing stops the hands of time and I, too, will face Old Man Time, as I move along further from them. Before the concept of passing time hit me, I was drowning in the pain from the realization that they were – no where. They weren’t at home; they weren’t at their winter home; they weren’t at the cemetery. There was no place I could go, for the first time in my 62 years, where I could find them, touch them, hear their voice. That first concept was so powerful and painful that it made me physically ill. As the rawness of that concept subsided slightly, the new concept of passing time began to sink-in. I know I’m not very far out yet, but I cannot foresee the time void ever going away. So, reading your thoughts about the time separating you from your Mom is to me very, very real. It is a comfort to know there are others out there experiencing the exact same emotional pain and anguish!

  24. My husband went to heaven on 11/10/2009. Less than 2 months later my mom joined him and then two months after that my dad followed. It will be 8 years soon and this time of year never fails to affect me greatly. I miss them all so much. It’s good to know from someone further down the road that it’s okay to feel the way that I do. Thank you.

  25. “My mother was “home” – it existed within her – and now that she’s gone I’ll never be able to truly return. I’m untethered…”

    So much about your post is how I’m feeling too, but this line is IT. This is exactly how it feels. My Mom died in Spring a few years ago, but it’s in the Fall when I really feel the pain. Fall was always family time and we had traditions. Now that she’s gone, those traditions haven’t ever felt right. Other people celebrate the holidays and I just want to crawl into a ball and cry. It’s been three weeks now of the seasons transitioning, and I am struggling harder this year than that first one without her.

    I agree with you about time. It’s not near the solace people pretend it is in that useless platitude. I find myself getting sadder as time goes by when I realize how much I will miss. Experiences with my Mom that I will never have as well as slowly forgetting some of the details about some of our experiences. Memory fades more as time goes on.

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