Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When Mom Died, . . .

I've been thinking so much about my Mom lately. On April 6th it will be two years since she passed. I can't believe it's been that long already and at the same time it feels like just yesterday. As the year mark comes around once again, I'm feeling the need to talk about my experience. In previous blog posts I have written about my mom's passing in brief, but I never really wrote about what happened and how I experienced it.

 The shock of losing somebody so special to me all of the sudden really changed my perspective on life. In so many ways my mom's passing was a catalyst for me to grow in a way that I needed. I have finally learned to not take advantage of this precious life. I treasure each and every second, even the ones that are painful. Life is beautiful in all its aches and pains.

Losing my Mom was the hardest thing I have ever experienced.  Feeling my grief and coming through it has also showed me how strong and resilient I am. I still miss my Mom every day, several times a day. I talk to her in my head, she answers. She is always with me and will always be. She was right there when Silas was born, she will be holding my hand when I die. I can feel her rolling her eyes when I do something she thinks is silly.  She tells me what to do when I need help. Her voice is inside me and if I am quiet enough I can hear her.

I've written birth stories on this blog, but now it's time to write another story. In my perspective birth and death are very similar. The moment we are born, we begin to die and the moment we die, we are reborn. The story of Mom's passing has had extreme significance in my life, how could it not?  I lost a mother, friend, role model, teacher, and soulmate.  

Since I was not with her at the actual moment of her death, I do not know what really happened with her. I often wonder if she knew it was happening. Did she struggle or did she let go and let nature take her? All I can say is that she looked very peaceful and died the way she wanted to, quickly. Only now, two years later have I been able to write it down, it hurt too much to even think about it before. My grief is still here and I remember the day like it was yesterday, but at the same time, I have also healed a lot and continued to live my beautiful life. I am grateful to have had such a wonderful Mom for 31 years.

When Mom Died, . . .

I came back home from a busy morning. First I had gone to my osteopath and then I was off to a meeting with some friends. I was in a great mood and excited to get home to my husband and daughter. It was a Tuesday afternoon. I entered the house around 1:15. Gary came to greet me in the hallway, he was holding Serafin in his arms. Immediately I could tell something was wrong. He was pacing back and forth and seemed nervous to talk to me. "Something has happened to your mom" he said, "I'm not sure exactly what, but it's serious." He instructed me to listen to the message on the answering machine. I turned it on. It was my Dad. I could barely understand what he was saying through his tears. All I got was, "Jess, where are you?" "Jess, I can't find you." My cell phone had been turned off. I picked up the phone and called him immediately.

I felt my body starting to tingle. I sat down in the living room. My Dad picked up the phone and started bawling. "She's gone!" he was saying. "Mom's gone!" What? I thought. Where did she go? What happened? I was so confused.

"What do you mean?" I asked him.

"She died." He said. He was crying so hard I could barely understand him.

"What? She died? How did she die? What happened?" I felt the hair on my arms stand straight up, my whole body buzzing.

"She just left." He said.

"Where is she?" I asked.

"She's here." My Dad sobbed. Somehow through all the tears, I managed to put some pieces together. He was at the house, the police had arrived and were there with him. Apparently he had spoken to my brother who had gotten him to call 911. It was too late anyway. My mom had passed long before they got there and even before my Dad had found her.

Later he told me that he had come down the stairs and there she was. He thought she was asleep. She looked so peaceful. She had an appointment to get a massage that afternoon and we found out later that she had apparently called and cancelled last minute because she wasn't feeling well and had a fever. We found the thermometer out on the table in the kitchen. My guess is that she went to sit down in her favorite spot to read her book, to rest, and that's when it happened.

I remember that terrible phone call crystal clearly. "I'll be right over" I told him. When I hung up my body felt heavy but my head felt light. I was dizzy and confused. My body was going into shock. I remember thinking I needed to breast-feed Serafin because it was going to be a while before I would be back home again. I sat down with her and nothing came. My milk dried up for a day and a half. I would try to feed her and my milk would just not let down.  I would cry and cry.  

I got in the car and drove to my Dad's house, "that's what it was called now, just Dad's house," I remember thinking. I didn't know what to expect. I arrived and walked up the steps wondering what I was going to see. I didn't know where she was in the house or in what position. Had they moved her or done anything to her? I opened the door and I noticed her immediatley. She was sitting on the couch in her favorite reading spot. Her legs were limp and her head hung to the side. Her eyes were closed. She really did look like she was sleeping. The book that she was reading was still on the floor, I'm guessing she dropped it.

I sat next to her body and sobbed. "My mommy!" I remember saying over and over again while crying into my hands. I went from kneeling over and sobbing to sitting quietly and just looking at her. It was unbelievable for me to be sitting with my mother's dead body. At times I would hold her hand or caress her face. Never before had I been so unafraid of death. My Dad came in. He had been sitting in the kitchen with the police officers. He told me that they had said not to touch her until her Dr. called and determined the cause of death. We didn't care what they said. I remember my Dad fixing her shirt and taking off her wedding ring. I remember taking the comb from her hair and kissing her cheek. What a  surreal experience.

The Dr. finally called and said that he suspected my Mom had had a heart attack given her health. Since she was over a certain age, 61, they didn't feel the need to do an autopsy. The police officers gave us instructions to call the morgue and have them come and get her after they left. We showed them to the door and closed it behind them. A cloud hung in the air. My Dad and I hugged and cried. We called my brother who had already spoken with my father and had plans to fly in that evening. He wanted to see mom before they took her away, so when we called the morgue, we asked them to come at 10:00 PM. By then it was probably around 4.

The next 6 hours were a blurr. I remember it in segments. I remember burning sage. I remember calling friends and family. I remember continually going and holding her hand. A few people came to the house during those hours, sweet Gary arrived (Serafin stayed home with my best friend) my parent's neighbors, my Aunt and Cousin and our dear friend Dave. We sat in the living room around my mom, talking about her, remembering her, telling stories, laughing and crying. I remember thinking Mom would have hated the thought of us sitting around and talking about her, she hated being the center of attention! My Dad opened some wine and we toasted to her.

It was such a strange but beautiful thing to have the experience of being with my mom's body one last time. It helped solidify the fact that she was really gone. She was. I had experienced death close up before, in pets, in the cadaver I dissected in college; but never for such a prolonged period and never with the death of somebody I held so close to my heart.  How was I going to go on without her?  Who would I ask mama advice to?  Who would be my role model throughout womanhood?  I looked at her body.  I knew she just wasn't in there. It was her body, she was somewhere else. There was an emptiness there.  It's amazing how the energy just simply goes.

My brother and his family arrived around 7. I remember seeing the sadness on his face.  He was also suffering.  At least we were all together now. It felt good to have him there. Somehow his presence and love brought me strength. We hugged and cried.

The morgue people came knocking on our door at 10 on the dot. There were two men dressed in suits. They sat us down at the dining room table asking my Dad questions and filling out paperwork. They explained what was going to happen so that we would be aware. My Mom was a big woman and it was not going to be easy to lift her up and out. When they finished talking we all went into the living room where my mom's body was.   I held my Aunt and sister inlaw's hand. The two men, attempted to try and lift her onto the gurney. My Dad asked if there was anything he could do and they instructed him to lift on one side. Both my Dad and brother helped lift.  Another surreal experience.  Her arms were stiff, riggermortis had begun to set in.  Another moment of, my mom is not there, her body is just a shell.  Once she was on the gurney, they pulled a plastic sheet over her, zipped it up and wheeled her out the front door. The house was quiet.

I don't know how, but somehow that night I got home and got into bed. I was exhausted, but I couldn't sleep hardly at all. I would wake up and sob throughout the night.  I would sob in my sleep. Finally, after my system crashed for a couple of hours, I remember waking up and my entire body was aching. My legs, my arms, my neck. Everything hurt, inside and out.

Afterwards, . . .

The first few days after mom passed I was in a dreamland. I remember being in the grocery store and thinking to myself, "how do I go on just buying my groceries when my life has changed so much?" I couldn't get the picture of mom's dead face out of my head.  Ugh.  I was afraid that was the only way I would remember her.  It wasn't of course, but the image in my mind was so vivid.  Those days I felt isolated and alone even though I was surrounded by friends and family who supported me and gave me their love.  The truth is, I was alone.  Nobody could feel what I was feeling, I had to face my grief myself and come through it.

My mom wanted to be cremated. We all went to her cremation. The crematorium was staged and it was all a bit too dramatic for my taste. I remember them opening the casket and showing us her face briefly. I was grateful that they hadn't put make up on her or done anything to her hair. She still looked like Mom. They pushed the casket onto a moving belt which took mom into the fire.  I could see the flames behind the wooden box that my Dad and brother had chose for her.  I felt so much grief.

It was only after mom's cremation that I began to feel a shift in the haze.  I suppose it was something to do with the fact that her body was now forever gone.  I knew instinctually that somehow I had to move forward.  The saying, "Life goes on" is so true.  We feel our pain, we suffer, but the night still comes and then the sun after that.  The flowers bloom.  The leaves fall from the trees.  Children are born and we all die one day.

My grief is still here. It comes in different ways at different moments. I believe it probably will come like that for the rest of my life.  Losing my mom forced me to see life through a different lens.  When I was a child, I was always afraid of pain and hurt.  I did my best to avoid any type of suffering.  Now I realize that pain is a part of life, it is one of the things that shapes us, just like love and happiness.  What would life be like without pain?  It is the pain that makes the enjoyable parts of life that much more enjoyable.  In fact, ignoring my pain only serves to numb me and live more superficially.  Even though it hurts, my pain is my pain, and it's there to teach me something.

I am grateful to have had that time with my mom's body after her death.  It helped me process her transition better.  It also has helped me with my own fear of death.  My mom continues to touch me in many aspects of my life.  She continues to deliver me gifts of insight and love either in my thoughts or dreams.  How lucky I am.  Love you mama.


  1. Jess, once again you have touched my heart. I'm sitting here crying. So grateful for your story and insights. My Mom is still alive and I always worry about the day that I lose her. I hope I remember to come back to this page when I need it. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Beautifully written. I felt similarly when my mom died. I remember reading "motherless daughters" years later and feeling some grief working through. It takes a long time.

  3. Dearest Jess,
    Her spirit lives on in you...she was a beautiful woman and so are you. Thank you for sharing. Hugs to you.