One Year After Losing My Mother, Frances
It's been a whole year since you've passed. I still miss you like crazy. It feels like I was hit by a train last November, and I've still got shrapnel in my side. Some days the pain is much deeper than others.
It's just been in the last few months that I've had some happy memories surface without tears. I'm lucky; I had a close relationship with my mom. We had just gotten out of those awful teenage years and started watering a wonderful friendship.
“You were my home, Mother. I had no home but you.” ―Janet Fitch, author
We also knew she was dying, which was a blessing and a curse. Mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and we knew she probably had a few years. But that doesn't give me peace after the fact. Surprisingly, I still have unsaid words, things I wish I would have done with her before she passed.
November 3rd has been stalking me. I have been dreading this day for a while now. It just doesn't seem like a year could have passed by. The world doesn't seem to move the same. I'm not the same. And the optimistic, naive girl that used to be me doesn't exist in the same way.
Don't get me wrong; I can still put it on. Mama taught me well. After a screaming match, we went to many public functions and wore smiles like our lives depended on it. But behind me is an intense grief that I've yet to comprehend fully.
The grieving process is a defense mechanism in so many ways. My body reacted physically to her loss, something I wasn't prepared for. I've been to a few doctors with my heartaches, but it turns out I've got generalized depression and generalized anxiety on and off. That sucks.
“She's in the sun, the wind, the rain, she's in the air you breathe with every breath you take. She sings a song of hope and cheer, there's no more pain, no more fear. You'll see her in the clouds above, hear her whisper words of love. You'll be together before long, until then listen to her song.” —Christy Ann Martine, author
Grief is a huge burden to carry. It's heavy, and you have to deal with it head-on. I don't know if I believe in the stages of grief; one thing is for sure, it is not linear.
Sometimes it hurts being in another country, where people didn't know me before, and they don't know my mom or my story. Though sometimes in daily life, I like the anonymity of it.
The reality is you don't get to move on, and truthfully, I would never want to. She made me, and I am hers. I still think of her every day.
One of the intense emotions I get a lot is overwhelming gratitude. I feel so grateful I'm often overcome with tears while meditating or even standing somewhere random reminiscing. My mother was a force, and I'm thankful for everything she taught me and gave me. She wasn't just a mom, she was my mom, and that is not a hole you can fill with anything else on this earth.
She was smart. She was kind. She was thoughtful and selfless. She was a feminist, a fighter. She was a lover. And the world is better because she was here.
“In your life, you touched so many; in your death, many lives were changed.” —Melinda Jones, author
I carry her everywhere with me. Every new person I meet gets to meet me after I've endured this pain. For her loss, I am better. I know death closely, and therefore, I feel I know life.
Before she died, I was much more naive. I tell you remorsefully that I wasn't sensitive to the people around me and often otherized people. I can tell you that I care in a much more genuine way for people, animals, and life as a whole.
Things I Wish I Could Tell You
One of the things I miss the most is telling her things. There are so many things I want to tell my mom—
Our family unit is not the same without you. Hopefully, you get Buster soon, he might be on his last leg. Did you know Rachel got into med school? Or that Adela is going to be a pilot? What did you think of dad's big renovation project?
"A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.” —Maya Angelou, poet
Did you know that I can cry now without skipping a beat in a presentation? You would have found that helpful, and I'm sure you'd like that I'm being vulnerable. Did you know that we finally made it to New Zealand? Remember when you saw the sign?
Ways to Help Someone You Love Through Grief
Who am I to give advice here? I feel inadequate, but at the same time, I want others to learn from mom's loss. She would like that.
Before my mom's death, I had never experienced a personal loss before. I want to share with you things that have helped and the things that haven't.
Grieving is an intensely personal experience, and your loved one needs your support and caring presence in this difficult time. Here are a few things you can do to help someone in their process:
1. Don't compare experiences.
I know you want to comfort them with your experiences; try not to. Your loss doesn't negate theirs or make it the same.
2. Don't say anything to diminish it.
I understand the want to help someone get through their grief or get over it. Before I lost my mom, I'm sure I would have looked for a way to help someone rationalize, but don't do it.
3. Don't try to fix it.
You want to. I know it. You love the person so dearly, and their pain hurts you. But you can't imagine their pain, and you can't fix it.
4. Don't avoid the loss.
If you don't bring up the loss, you might think you're protecting them, but you're not. It's not like they're not thinking about it all the time.
5. Be genuine.
There is only one thing you can do, and that's to be genuine. If you mess up or say the wrong thing, your person knows that you're trying to offer support in the only way you know-how. And that's okay.
6. Listen and share memories.
The people who've given me the most support are those who've just flat-out listened. I want to remember my mom and her to be remembered; by listening, you're honoring her life and memory.
And if you've got a memory of the person who passed on, please share it, big or small, good or bad. These little memories paint the life of someone who once meant everything to someone else.
Celebrating Frances Barton Boggess
This one-year death anniversary is a significant milestone for my family and me. Thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way. We've spent some time with grief counselors, which I do highly recommend. A mental health professional with an outside perspective can help in these situations and help unravel the range of emotions.
In short, this milestone is a tough one to swallow. This year I will celebrate her passing by writing this blog (she was an excellent writer), taking the day off work, talking with my family, and spending time in nature. I will also spend more time reflecting on what happened during our first year after losing my mom and processing it.
When she was given six months to live, I interviewed her in this blog, "Life Advice from Someone Given 6 Months to Live." If you missed it, here is her celebration of life video. And her memorialized Facebook page, Frances Boggess, where you can connect with her family and friends. Memorials may be made to the ALK Cancer Research Alkpositive.org in honor of Frances Boggess.