I’d like to dedicate this to everyone who’s lost their mother (or father, though the peg on this is Mother’s Day) fairly recently, or if you’re grieving all over again and just want to know you’re not alone. This is based on a conversation I had with Fran Rotella, a good friend of mine who used to work with me at ESPN who is also a member of our misfortunate “missing moms” club. We were talking one night about how every crying fit ultimately leads back to HER. That conversation has never left my mind. But to all the other club members, I hope this gives you a bit of comfort knowing you’re not alone.
I could be crying about something silly – a commercial, a moment in a ballgame that stoked by emotions, a random memory — that started out as a funny and turned serious.
I could be missing an ex-boyfriend and crying about how it ended. (OK that’s not likely, but still.)
I could be crying about something stupid that happened at work.
It doesn’t matter how the crying starts – it always leads the same place.
I am not a sad person by nature. In fact, the subject of this writing, my mom, used to ask me why “I was so damned happy all the time.” She always had a smile on her face when she said it, but I knew very young that we were so very different, my mama and I. But we were more alike than I knew, and as I live on without her, I hear and sound and look more like her than ever before. She’s more alive in me – and that’s OK. It’s a blessing, actually.
In the midst of a million crying jags, I’ve found the common thing I see that can both accentuate the tears and quell them, is my mom. All emotions lead back to the missing parent. They say you get used to it, but it’s not true. Every time I’ve had a major situation in my life since 2003, I have quashed the urge to pick up the phone and say, “MOM, GUESS WHAT!”
All roads lead to her.
I’ve written about her more than just about anything else, sans music, since July 11, 2003, the day she died. And all the tears I’ve spilled since then always lead down the primrose path to Mama. Not once in a tantrum – be it boy-related or whatever – has my mom’s face not gone through my mind. Sometimes, it’s just that I want to see her so bad in that moment, I can’t stand it. Sometimes it’s that I hear what she would advise me in that moment, in her voice, in my head.
Sometimes I just hear her laugh, go to my mama happy place (she’s wearing a white NSU sweatshirt and I’m laying my head on her shoulder, in the kitchen of her house in Weleetka and she smells like Tide and Bounce, cigarettes, wood smoke, food and MOM, a smell I would give anything in the world to smell again.)
Sometimes I wish more than anything I could find those emails she sent me years ago, or hear her voice on the answering machine messages I saved. But it’s not like my memory doesn’t play them all back when I need them to. It’s like every joke she ever made has come to my mind’s fore at least once since her death.
It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter if you were young or old when it happened. It doesn’t matter if you got along or not. Your mother’s death will never, ever feel good. It’s not supposed to – the scientific bond that we all feel toward our parents is so entrenched in DNA and science magic that we can’t escape it.
Those whose mothers weren’t good to them can’t get over it – see every narcissist and serial killer ever – and they don’t have the same chemical makeup, so they don’t understand. But they’re the rare exception.
Mothers who tried really hard, but weren’t able to turn their kids into functioning members of society, have children who regret not being able to live the lives their moms wanted — see Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.”
Those who try to distance themselves from family often have a deep part of themselves missing, have been through untold trauma, or are just broken. That may work for them – but it comes from a place of grief. And I feel for them.
Face it – your mom is YOU. And Mother’s Day is hell after she’s gone. I’d like to say it gets easier year after year – it does not. Every commercial, Facebook post, church event – it’s like every one of them is conspiring against you, and your eye makeup/bravado, in an attempt to make you to cry. And that grief can be as fresh as the day it happened in a millisecond. Nothing else comes close to it, at least not for me. My mom’s death was the first “big death” of my life that wasn’t a grandparent. It’s changed the way I handle grief about everything. Other things seems small compared to her death.
Mother’s day will never be fun, except for the fact that I have the best stepmother on the planet. But when grieving my mom, grief can happen ANY day, grabbing you by the shoulders and shaking you, reminding you that it’s there, and you just THOUGHT you escaped it.
Last week, I was talking to a dear colleague of mine. I was telling her how I’d had a bad few days and all I wanted was my mom. She looked at me, tears springing to life in her eyes, and I knew I’d touched a nerve. She’s a club member – more recent than me. We then talked for 30 minutes about how sometimes all we want is Mama, and nothing can fix that.
But in those moments, we don’t often stop to think about the fact that we’re FEELING. And that’s what our moms left us in their wake. That means they MATTERED.
To feel the grief, to miss her, to know what she left behind – that is the joy of grieving. And though I keep myself out of certain situations that I know will stoke that grief, I don’t run from it. And I never will.
To everyone who’s recently lost a motherly figure, or just needs to hear this — NEVER stop talking about her. My mom’s wisdom inserts itself into my day when I least expect it, and I’m forever grateful. I think that’s because I’ve opened my ears up enough to listen and understand that though she’s no longer walking this heavenly plane, her work here is still being done.
She was a force – and her impact still ripples the water around us. Because I have worked to remember all of our life together, I’ve pieced together some of her teachings that I would have otherwise forgotten.
My mom, at one point in her life, raised two wolf cubs. Yes. You read that right.
My mom could sew, cook, plumb, do electric work and build a house.
Once I came home and there were gunshots in the floor – like pellet-gun shots, but still. I said, “Mom, what happened?” “There was a snake in here,” she calmly replied.
That was my mom.
That IS me – and though I’ll miss her like I always do on the second Sunday in May, I am more thankful than ever to have had the mom I did, and to have the grief that she left behind. Because that, my friends, means she lived. And will live on forever.