I just stumbled across the blog of a Mom who lost her 19-year old son in a car accident. He had three younger siblings and she asked readers to help her children by telling their stories about losing a parent or sibling at a young age and any wisdom they'd learned for how to cope.
I was in tears by the time I finished reading her post and the comments. Rather than filling her comments, it made me want to write it out here. None of my stories are likely to help a teenager cope, but it was interesting which ones popped into my head.
Three stories jump to mind about telling people my Mom was dead. The first filled me with unholy glee, the second was difficult and the third was maliciously fun.
Right after Mom died, my sister and I remained home for a month. Together we cleaned out the house, returned the hospital bed, and answered the phone. This was before the 'do not call' option, so there were a lot of telemarketers that called to ask for my Mom. It's really hard to derail a telemarketer script without just hanging up on them. I'm sure it's my wicked sense of humor, but it was actually fun to just say, "She's dead" and wait to see how they'd react. "...oh. um. OK. well, thank you..."
When I got back to my job after the leave of absence, one of my annoying coworkers heard me tell that story and said with a look of deep sympathy in her eyes, "That must have been healing for you." I just nodded at her, but inside my head I snorted and thought, "No, really, it was just very amusing. Crying and telling stories about her is healing. Stopping a telemarketer in their tracks is just fun." I knew she saw herself as empathetic but she'd never said or done anything that showed me she 'got me', so I didn't bother to clarify.
The next time when I had to tell the uninitiated about Mom's death was at my 10th high school reunion. Mom died in '97, the reunion was two years later. Jrex was in residency so he couldn't join me. I wandered the room alone chatting with many amazing people. Unfortunately, during high school, I'd had many of them over, or they'd met my parents in various capacities. Because my Mom was an amazing listener and a truly empathetic woman, she made an impact wherever she went. I must have had 10-12 conversations where friends asked how my parents were doing. "Well, my Dad has retired from his non-profit housing firm. He's now doing lots of writing. And my Mom died two years ago from cancer." Cue sympathy moment. Somehow by burying the lead, it made it easier to say, but it was still hard each time. What WAS healing was that they would tell stories of what they remembered about her.
The third time was three years later. I was working as a designer within a printing company. I was the ONLY woman in the pre-press department. I had a great sister/brother vibe with most of the guys and we'd tease each other about lots of things. One of them was a big, burly guy with a loud laugh. He ribbed everyone really hard all the time, but he had such a warm heart that it never stung. He came in on a Thursday and chatted about what he was going to do for his mom since Mother's Day was Sunday. He went on and on for a while. I guessed what was coming and braced for it a little.
"So, OTRgirl, what are you going to do for your mother this weekend?"
"Nothing!! Nothing?! What kind of daughter are you, you have to do something for your mother." He blustered on for a while and I just let him dig a nice deep pit (cause I have an evil sense of humor...) When he finally slowed down, he asked, "Why aren't you doing anything?"
I grinned, "I'm going to answer your question and you're going to feel bad, but you really don't have to..."
He looked confused.
"She died five years ago."
"Ah, shit, OTRgirl, you should have stopped me. I'm so sorry!"
I laughed at him, "I told you you'd feel bad. I couldn't resist letting you walk into that one."
It's interesting to write these down. Obviously a big part of my coping is humor. The truth was that the healing for me was in having a husband who listened to my stories about her. It was in talking with my brother, sister and Dad. It was remembering, writing, painting, and drawing. It was working at the time with kids in residential treatment--looking at each of their awful mother experiences and knowing that even losing my Mom at the age of 26 wasn't a reason for self-pity. I knew I'd been loved and I had amazing riches of wisdom and compassion deposited in me for 26 years. Yes, I was overwhelmingly sad/angry/depressed for a year. Then year by year the emotional intensity lessened. It took 7 years for life to feel 'normal' again. To always have a Mom-shaped hole, but to know how to live around it.