My mom’s death brought me back to life
But not immediately.
Losing my mom rocked my world much more then I actually thought it would. Maybe it was the 8 months of seeing her decline, maybe it was seeing her starting to check out, maybe it was explaining to my kids that my mother was dying and they too would be losing someone they loved. Whatever it was, it was terrible. All of it. I knew it would be. At least I thought I did. But nothing could prepare me for losing my mom. My own mom. The woman who breathed life into me. The woman who loved me through my troubles, my disrespect, my sassy mouth. My mom was going to die. And there was nothing I could do about it. Again, I knew it was going to be painful. I knew I was going to need to lead throughout the process. I knew I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I just didn’t know, just how excruciating it was going to be.
I lost my mom to stage 4 ovarian cancer on January 23, 2017 early in the morning. And let me tell you, writing that sentence just got the tears going.
It was no secret to those that knew my mom and I that we weren’t the best of friends when I was growing up. I made her life pretty difficult during my teenage years. And even before that. I was adopted from Chile when I was an infant. And for no reason other then my own cloudy judgement, I didn’t really care for my mom. And yet she cared for me. Through it all. I made sure to let her know just how much I didn’t care for her. I wanted her to hurt as much as I did. Why was I hurting? I think because I struggled with being adopted. And choosing to believe that Ruth wasn’t as good as my biological mom. I had made up my mind that if I were still in Chile, I would have the mom that I wanted. The mom that played dress up and painted nails together. The mom that liked shopping and talking about boys. And Ruth was none of that. My mom could tell you and actually execute the re-wiring of a kitchen. She could tell you what was wrong with your sink and could actually fix it. She could talk to you all about politics and Jesus. And me? Well I wasn’t really interested in that.
We started having the mother-daughter relationship I had hoped for, and we thrived for about 8 years. And then she was diagnosed with cancer. And then we continued on. We had deeper more meaningful conversations more often. I talked to her everyday on the phone and usually laid eyes on her at least once a day. Oh I wanted every second I could have with her. And she was generous enough to appease me and let me sit with her and talk with her.
I remember when I heard things weren’t improving at all and we were running out of treatment options, I seriously wanted to shake younger, adolescent Joy and tell her to wake up! I wanted to yell at her, STOP! This is your mother! Oh to be able to go back in time and have a do over.
Well this is the real world, and that’s not how things work. So I made sure to make my mom aware of just how sorry I was for all the things I said to her in my teenage years. We had already made things right eight years before, but I needed her to know just how much I loved her and how much she means to me. She would just smile and say she knew and she too was sorry and she loved me. That was my mother.
I remember the Thursday before she died just like it was yesterday. She was non responsive. And I thought she was going to die. I laid in bed with her, curled up next to her. I sobbed. I mean, full on, uncontrollable shaking, headache, and lots and lots of tears. I begged her to stay with me. She couldn’t leave me. I needed her to stay with me. I had my head resting on her shoulder, sobbing, when suddenly she just rested her head on my head. That was my mother. I took that as her way of letting me know she heard me and that things were going to be ok. I was going to be ok.
But lying there next to my mom taught me something about myself. Something I didn’t know about myself.
I started realizing I had strength. My own strength. Not just strength from being Ruth Samuelson’s daughter. But my very own strength.
Ruth Samuelson was an incredibly strong woman. Both mentally and physically. And I never saw myself as strong. I never saw myself as someone who could handle such a thing as losing a mother.
I will admit it wasn’t pretty getting to where I am right this second. And even where I am right this second doesn’t mean at all that I will have my crap together tomorrow or 10 minutes from now. I was deeply depressed, something I have struggled with my whole life. Depressed to the point where I actually physically could not get myself out of bed to take my child to school. My body said no. So he was late and that was that. There have even been times this year where I have to tell my husband that I just can’t today. And he says ok and he’s got it. And he does. And he will sit with me on the couch and we won’t talk. And he will fix me food that I may or not eat. He is patient and incredibly understanding. I have also apologized to my kids more in the past year then I have their whole lives. I have been too quick to speak to them and immediately regretted what came out. Depression can make you angry. It can make you anxious. And depression can be physically crippling at times.
But I was learning that I was stronger then I thought because I was able to admit that I just couldn’t that day. And that I could see when I needed to apologize to my kids.
I don’t think I have ever felt just completely broken. Like fully, utterly broken. And I was broken after my mom’s death. Part of me still is. But I think what they say is true. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom. And I am blessed to say that I have some friends that came down to rock bottom with me and just “sat” with me. They were constant. I didn’t feel like I had to put up my guard with them because they met me right where I was. And to be able to see just how broken you are and yet how many people are perfectly fine coming down to the bottom of the pit to just be with you, was humbling. 2 years ago me would never have allowed that.
So my mom’s death broke me. And yet out of it, I feel alive. I feel like I need to live my life like Ruth lived hers. I feel like I need to be more involved in things she was involved in. I want to be the difference that she was. I want to live my life for her since she isn’t here.
And in doing that, I have started to find myself. I have had to wave the white flag sometimes and send out an SOS that I just can’t today. I have had to prioritize some time for myself so I can continue to be able to grieve the loss of my mom. 2 years ago Joy would have stuffed that right on down to hopefully never surface. Current Joy sets a little time aside sometimes to remember my mom. To grieve her absence. To grieve the loss. Not at all saying that it isn’t hard. It is actually incredibly hard. 2 years ago Joy cried maybe 5 times a year.... maybe less. Current Joy tears up weekly. And it’s usually something about my mom.
Would I rather have my mom instead of feeling this way? Absolutely. But Ruth wouldn’t have wanted that. My mom wanted me to live. Like fully live. And she would want you to as well.
Live out your best life like my mom did. And it will be hard. At times it will be excruciatingly painful. But we are stronger then we think we are. Sometimes we just need a really terrible circumstance to show us our strength. And also our weakness. Sometimes the hard times choke out the easier times. But keep on.