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Twenty Years Later: Honoring My Mother's Legacy in My Journey of Healing

Updated: Feb 17

January 10, 2004, marked the beginning of a life without my mother. The memories of that night are etched deeply in my mind, shaping who I am. As I reflect on this 20-year journey of grief and healing, I share my story, hoping it resonates with those who have walked a similar path.

The Initial Impact of Loss:

I remember the night she died so very vividly, all the details, what I did, who came over. All of it sticks. It is so deeply ingrained in who I am as a person and a memory I wish I could get rid of.

Even though I knew I'd lose her, it didn't make it easier when it happened. The only relief I felt was for my dad, who had become her 24/7 caretaker, sleeping on the couch next to her hospital bed in our living room. Losing your wife of 25 years couldn't have been easy, but living while watching her die was horrific.

The Long Road of Denial and Avoidance:

My mom found peace before her death. Something I struggled for 18 years to find. I don't know if I was angry, sad or just stone cold, but it took me YEARS to feel anything at all. After her death I immediately jumped into anything and everything that would take my mind off losing her. The first 8 months after she died were filled with bad decisions, drinking, working out too much - whatever I could to allow me to feel anything other than her loss. I went back to college immediately and hardly returned home, despite knowing my dad and brother were struggling. I drank too much as soon as I turned 21 that summer. In the fall I picked up a job in a night club while student teaching and attending classes, so I had absolutely no down time. I hardly had time to sleep. It's everything I needed in order to avoid my reality.

I formed a trauma bond with the man who ended up being the father of my children because he didn't know her and wouldn't remind me of her whatsoever. Being with him meant I'd stay in my college town and have fewer reasons to return to my hometown, a place that vibrated memories of her.

I spent the next 16 years running and hiding and slowly dying inside. I wasn't in love with or attracted to my husband, but I kept trying to make it work. I kept believing time would help me love him and that he'd eventually put forth the effort to understand me enough to love me the way I needed. I never felt "at home" in any house, so we moved a lot. My body showed signs of various stages of overuse of exercise and neglect as my weight fluctuated 100 pounds. I had my first child at 24, already pregnant on our first anniversary, because... what else was there to do? HINT: There was a lot to do. Live. Heal. Be Young. None of those were options.

The only thing I did consistently was show up for my children - every single day. My mom taught me many things and how to be an involved mother was definitely at the top of that list. As I had more children, I became angrier that I didn't have my own mom to ask parenting advice or share in the day to day things adult mothers and daughters should. I became bitter seeing women I knew, even family, thrive in their relationships with their mothers. It was a huge slap in the face to what I didn't have and never would have. I felt as though I was being punished - that I didn't deserve to be happy and I settled into that life.

Until I couldn't anymore.

A Turning Point – Embracing Healing

While everyone in the world was reeling from the pandemic, I was healing. I found a therapist who listened and finally said a few things out loud that had only lived in my brain. My process of healing first started with me leaving my marriage. For the first time in my adult life, I felt whole. I vowed to take care of my kids' father and keep our separation and eventual divorce amicable and friendly because all I really wanted was happiness and love - for both of us.

I started putting one foot in front of the other. I began caring about my body. I became more intentional about my time with my children. I vowed to better balance work and home life. I continued therapy. I got on the right supplements to end the two years of exhaustion and dizziness I'd been feeling. I was living.

Learning from Loss – The Journey Towards Self-Acceptance

I began to unpack all the ways the trauma of losing my mom had affected me. I let go of all the anger and guilt I felt towards myself over decisions I had made and how unhappy and unhealthy I had been, once I was able to recognize it was all absolutely a trauma response. I allowed myself to find joy in the relationships other women had with their mothers, knowing I would hopefully have that one day with my own daughters. I gave myself permission to have bad days and to feel sad. I gave myself permission to feel at all.

Today – Living in Tribute to Her Memory

I live my life now in a way that supports my mental and physical health. I talk about my feelings. I acknowledge them and don't judge myself for them. And I don't feel judged. My current husband fully supports me and knows how much work I've done and how much I've been through. He can recognize my feelings and behaviors quickly, sometimes before I can. He talks about my mom even though he never met her. It still feels odd to hear my husband mention her by name because my ex never breathed a mention of her. I can live my life knowing she existed and had an impact on me, rather than just pretending she was never here at all.

Today, as I look back on two decades without my mom, I recognize the profound impact her loss had on my life. Yet, in this journey of healing, I've found strength and resilience. My story, a blend of grief and growth, is a testament to the enduring power of a mother's influence and the capacity of the human spirit to heal.

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