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Grieving The Loss of My Mother and The Relationship We Never Had
I lost her. Over and over again, I lost my mother.
Whether it be to her 30-year-long addiction to methamphetamine, the plethora of mental health disorders she suffered from or her choice to step away from motherhood, I lost her again and again. Much like one may become accustomed to the daily commute to the subway, or the ritual of taking their dog for a morning walk in the neighborhood, I early on became accustomed to disappointment, pain and abandonment at the hands of my mother. But it wasn’t all terrible — there were many wonderful memories, too.
Eyes hazy and still filled with sleep, I awoke in the early hours of the morning to the sound of my new puppy whimpering to be taken outside. It was January 29th of 2019. Rolling out of bed, haphazardly, I put on a nearby jacket, slid on my shoes and stuffed my phone in my pocket. Almost out the door, I quickly glanced at my blindingly bright phone screen to check the time: 5:30 AM. As my eyes adjusted, I then noticed the several missed calls and texts from my dad.
“Hayley, please call me asap,” one text read. My dad doesn’t usually call me at such an early hour — he knows that I am not a morning person and I prefer to be contacted once I’ve had a coffee or two — so of course, I called him back immediately. Within two rings of the phone line, he answered. “Hayley, I have to talk to you,” he said. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the words that would come.
“Your mom passed away,” he said.
My mother, whom I had been estranged with for 11 years, died. For years, I had imagined about what it would be like to receive this call. Someday, somewhere. Far off into the distance. A piece of time that would come in several decades, when I am older, much older.
It would not come when I was only 23. It would not come only a week after seeing her for the first time in 11 years. It would not come after some semblance of hope had been resurrected within me. It wouldn’t come… no, not then.
But it did.
It is hard to describe how this moment felt. Trying to explain it will likely sound like every cliche you’ve ever heard about the ever-so taboo topic of death. But when you’re given news such as this, it no longer becomes something you’ve heard of in passing, but something you live out. And while we may think we know the feelings of grief, and what it entails, it becomes something entirely foreign when we experience it. It doesn’t feel real. It’s a lie. Human understanding is surpassed. Every emotion arises: disbelief, anxiety, heartache, a pure and deep agony that cannot seem to be produced by any other circumstance. A visceral response, your heart feels as though it is literally shattering, accompanied by a tremendous pain being planted in your chest like an oak tree. The roots continue to spread, far and wide, until your whole body is overtaken. All the while, your mind attempts to process, rapidly focusing on attaining answers and making sense of what cannot be understood.
I screamed, I cried. It felt as though I lost all motor function, as I fell to the floor, and wept. My husband carried me to our bed and held me. The next days, weeks and even months have felt like I’ve been trapped in some sort of fog, unable to escape this feeling of suffocation that only comes in with grief. And yet, I have not been able to stop thinking of the good moments in our relationship. I cannot say that was always true.
There is not a thing to be done or said that can release this pain. The grief of losing someone you’re so deeply tied to is the strangest, most bewildering emotion I’ve ever experienced. To grieve a parent is hard — but to grieve a parent you did not have a great relationship with sometimes feels harder. In many ways, I feel I am grieving two deaths: the death of my mother and the death of any chance of a relationship I could have had with her. I am not only saying goodbye to her, but I am saying goodbye to what could have been, what should have been. And I am doing that day by day, minute by minute.
I lost her, again and again, throughout my life. But this time, the loss was different. Due to the 11 year gap in our relationship, of not seeing or speaking to her, I always assumed my reaction to the news of my mother’s passing would be different. I’d feel less sympathy, I’d become detached. And no matter how much I had believed that to be true, it wasn’t my reality. Instead, the little girl I had buried inside myself emerged, revealing her sadness, her longing to be accepted, loved and hugged by her mother.
My mother was only 45 years old. She loved to garden, she loved arts and crafts, she shared her love for Stevie Nicks with me as she danced around our tiny apartment. She was a terrible cook but would wholeheartedly admit it. She was bright, funny and exuberant. There was no doubt of her charm, beauty and humorous nature. She used to let me make concoctions in the kitchen, making as big of a mess as I wanted. When I look into the mirror, I see her slightly crooked smile on my own face, a trait I used to dislike but am now thankful for.
Every day, I continue to make my way through this process: grieving the loss of my mother and the relationship we never fully got to have. I remind myself that it is not a place which is meant to be lived in forever, but only occupied for awhile. I think less of the bad and more of the good. I remind myself of the misfortune in her life and the peace she must now know. I remind myself of the moments I hold dear, the ones that make my heart well up with love and gratitude. Grief is a process which cannot be rushed; it must be taken at a pace that is unique to each person alone. I find myself soaking in the good, even in the sadness. Now, more than ever, I can recognize and appreciate the beautiful, fragmented moments we shared as mother and daughter.
Today, my mother would have been 46 years old. In my grief, I get to thank her, for the times we did have together, the love she gave me and the creation of my life. I think of her, and smile, knowing she is no longer bounded by the chains of her addiction. Happy birthday, mom. I love you.
I have lost her many times before — but now, by grace, I have found her again.
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