Good Mourning... Unpacking Grief & Trauma

Today is my mother's birthday. She would have been 54 today. Her birthdays are usually tough... tougher than holidays or oddly enough,  Mother's Day. The first birthday that I had to celebrate without her was the roughest yet. I can recall attempting to hold it together, all while teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Salty tears fell like missiles. The heaviness of it all felt like a game of tug of war. Would I allow the grief to present itself freely? Would I continue fighting to be "strong?" Tears were withheld... my breath was calculated and controlled. I was afraid that IF I completely exhaled, the floodgates would open and I would have to accept that my mother was no longer here... that I would no longer feel the touch of her hands... the warmth of her hugs. I remember being afraid of forgetting the sound of her voice. Birthdays were and still remain difficult.

The death of my mother was traumatic. I never got a chance to say goodbye. She fought a three year battle with breast cancer. She was in remission. Things were well...  then all of a sudden they were not. I'll never forget receiving that phone call from my stepfather. "You need to come home." Even though he said that all was well, my gut said differently. Days had passed since I had spoken with my mother, which was odd. My mother and I spoke every day... every morning... at the same time... right after I would drop off my then five year old, Jax, to kindergarten. Her and I would begin our morning talks on my drive back home from Jax's school. These talks would last well past the commute and would oftentimes, conclude while sitting in the parking lot of either my home or some nearby grocery store. Eventually we would hang up from each other and continue on with our day, only to resume the conversation hours later. THIS was OUR routine... OUR mother/daughter song and dance. Needless to say, when this dance was interrupted, I knew that something was wrong. My father had began answering her phone. Phone calls went unreturned. Everything within me said that something was wrong. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that prohibited my listening. I didn't want to listen. After all, my dad said that everything was ok... even after saying, "you need to come home."

Everything would not be ok when I returned home. I found my mother bed ridden... unable to speak. Hospice was there. Cancer had spread throughout her body and even worst... to her brain. The conversations that any child would want to have with their dying parent, I was unable to have. I remember telling her repeatedly that I loved her. She would muster every bit of strength just to mumble a reply back, "I know." Perhaps I was annoying her... Truthfully, I know that my mother knew that I loved her. I told her everyday. I honestly, thought that her knowing that I loved her would be enough to tackle the grief... sustain the mourning. It wasn't. No amount of days of my mother being alive on this earth could cover the grief that I would feel. No amount of "I love you's" could hold back the tears that would flow in the coming days, months, or even years to follow. Although I temporarily relied on the fact that she knew the depth of my love for her, that knowledge could not shield me from the PTSD to be triggered from the trauma caused from her passing... from the shock of abruptly losing her. The way that I lost her was traumatic. I didn't see her take her last breath. I flew back home to Los Angeles before she passed away. I remember telling my father that I would be back when... I Couldn't finish the sentence. Truthfully, I didn't know when I would be back. Although all signs pointed to my mother passing away, I wouldn't allow the thought of it to permeate. This wasn't real. I refused to allow it to be real. In retrospect, If I had allowed the thought of losing her to sink in at that moment, I would have collapsed from the heaviness. The reality of it all wouldn't set in until months later. At times, Jon would return home from work, only to find me on the bathroom floor... sobbing... the weight of it all, so heavy. It felt as if I were physically pinned down by the grief itself. 

I remember being angry... angry with my father for not telling me until it was too late... angry with myself for refusing to listen to my intuition... angry with my mother for not communicating that she was once again sick and that this time it would take her over.  It wasn't until I was pregnant with Jedi, that I was finally able to release that anger, and most importantly, the need to understand why she would hold something so devastating from my sister and I. The resolution being that no matter how strong my mother was, she couldn't bring herself to say goodbye to her daughters.  For her, having to say goodbye was much to great of an action. I have learned to find compassion in that... something of which I will never fully understand. I have learned to continue to have compassion for myself anytime a trigger resounds and reminds me of losing my mother. I must remember to breathe whenever the tears fall, knowing that they will appear and disappear... and thats ok. A wise woman once told me that although the weight of grief and mourning will never go away completely,  the baggage of it all eventually becomes lighter. Here's to the unpacking...