Why no goodbye, Mom?

Today was my mother’s birthday. I’ve missed so many of them. She’s been gone for so long, and yet that loss lingers like nothing else. My life has a before and an after, and her death marks the point between.

I don’t know how to put her death into any perspective. It cuts my life in two parts. There were difficult and trying times before her death, but with her death. I became lost. I lost my way; I lost myself.

The day she died, I knew she would either live through the day or die. It was my sister’s birthday, after all. It was the anniversary of the day she lost that little baby, and lost a part of herself that she never got back. It was the anniversary of the ghost in my life, my sister, Marianne. She came and went before me, and my mom was never the same. She loved me and worried about losing me, too, but maybe she was a bit distant because the pain was too great. At any rate, she left me for Marianne.

She made me promise I’d pray for healing and that I’d believe in it. She tied my faith in God to her healing. You can’t say no when your mom asks that. And, you can’t pray for healing and be half-assed. I maybe didn’t believe all the time, but I tried. I read all the passages in the Bible about healing and what was required. I tried to do it all. I was like Abraham, putting my faith on the altar like he was asked to put his son, Issac. But, no ram was sent to save me from what I had to sacrifice. I sacrificed my faith, and lost my mother, all in one brief moment.

Mom should have released me from that promise. I think she had told a nurse that she was ready to go, but she didn’t tell me. I was left to make sense of it all by myself. The rest of my family knew she was dying and were trying to deal with that. I couldn’t even talk about funerals or anything as long as I was supposed to be praying for healing. That would have been a lack of faith. So, I became more alone because of that promise I made. She was responsive to me that last day, and to what I said. She didn’t cry just at my voice or at random things I said.

Finally, though I didn’t know what else to say. I was trying to make sense of it all. I said something about how maybe it would be hard to be healed and stay because her entire life would have to change after such a miracle. Maybe it would be easier to go, to be healed in heaven, rather than do it here. She cried. I didn’t mean to give her permission to go, but I guess I did. The very last words I said to her were that I might leave God, but that I knew He would never leave me. She eased, tears running down her cheeks. I wanted to know if she cried for anyone else. I was trying to find some hope. I walked out, a nurse came in. I was scared to be there when she died, and she must have known that. But, she was not alone. I went to call one of her friends, to ask if my mom had cried when she’d seen her. It was like I was passed off because my mom died when I was on the phone to her friend. She’d slipped away when I was out of the room for a moment. She slipped away. She left me.

The day she died, she mourned for the child she lost. I know she somehow knew what day it was. She never forgot that date. The day she died, I lost what was my whole immediate family. My father was not there most of my life. My brothers were much older and were in and out. We were cut off from the rest of the family on both sides to a large extent due to my parents weird relationship and his relationship with someone else that she did not even know about until about 18 months before she died. The shame of learning that really hurt her deeply in a way I’m not sure she ever got over. It was the shame more than the loss in that case that hurt her. Maybe. I don’t know.

I know I’d be a different person if she had lived longer. She would have pushed me, and I might have accomplished more of what I wanted. I would not have wandered so much, not physically, but psychologically and emotionally. Are there things I might never have done or learned had I not lost her? Maybe. My relationship with the Divine changed forever, and, like I told her I might, I have wandered far and wide. I still know there is “Divine” there, waiting for me. Again, like I told her.

My “adopted” mom tells me that I’d be able to move forward in life if I’d stop being angry and just talk to my mom. Yep. Talk to her now. She “saw” her own mom after she died, and it was a moment when she felt released and able to move on. I’ve heard that story from others, too. I’ve never had an experience where I was released, and with that promise hanging over my head, I never quite can deal with it all. Did she love my sister more than me? Did she feel that she had been with me long enough, and it was time to be with my sister? Why did she make me promise to believe she’d be healed and pray for healing? Didn’t she know I couldn’t get past that, that my faith would never be the same? That I’d spend years questioning and questing? Maybe those years make sense, make some difference. Maybe all that searching makes sense. I don’t know.

I feel like I lost so much of me that day. I feel that this person I am now is not necessarily connected to the person I was then. I remain confused and hurting. People act like it’s a crazy thing to be so lost so long after a mother’s death, but it changed everything in my life. My choices changed. The trajectory of my life veered off course at this time. It was one of those moments they talk about in science fiction or quantum physics, a point where possibilities go in different directions, some major turning point from which you cannot return.

I’d love to write something coherent and wonderful about my mother. She was an amazing person. She was born 3 days after women got the right to vote. She was first generation American. She was the only girl, as I became because of Marianne’s death. She was one of the first women in the Army in WWII. She was amazingly strong and full of faith and yet vulnerable and sad often. She was a force of nature to generations of kids who went through our church. She was just my mom. She was afraid to go out on her own, but she encouraged me to be independent. I can say so much about her, and at some point I will.

Since I have no children, especially no daughters, that mitochondrial DNA that crossed the ocean from Germany dies out here.

Happy Birthday, Mom. All I really want to say is where are you? Why did you leave me? What do you think of me now? Do I disappoint you, cause I know how many things I’ve done and do that would not be up to your standards? I wish you would have been a part of my life. I wish my life was more of a story, more of a success. But, you left me too soon! I’m still angry at that, and I still want to understand.

I do know that death does not make sense. It never has. It never will. And, it sucks.

I loved her. Maybe it’s as simple as that. She was “home” to me. She was “family.” She was where I went for Christmas and the person with whom I grew up eating dinner. She was my mother.

She wanted to be a writer, and she would have a fit with this blog. It’s so unfocused and unpolished. It’s long and raw, because the feelings are still so incredibly raw.

When I was a young woman and was teaching parochial school for the second year, we had a series of deaths in that small community. We ended up having a teacher training where a nun talked about death and loss. She told me I had a gift for understanding and helping people, especially kids, with grief. She said I would be able to help a lot of people because I had such empathy for people in that situation. It was about 7 years before my mom died. I can empathize, but I have no answers, either. And, I don’t know where the end of grief is. I don’t know of how and why and when it becomes something acceptable rather than this raw force in our lives. Maybe acceptance really is just not one of the phases of grief.

Maybe if I could really, fully cry.


~ by Janice Holladay on August 22, 2011.

8 Responses to “Why no goodbye, Mom?”

  1. I wish I had some wisdom about death and the loss of one’s Mothers to impart to you. The fact is, it is like you say, “it sucks.”
    Going on 13 years here without mine. I don’t think an hour goes by, let alone a day that I don’t think of her and Daddy.
    Always unanswered questions, so much went with them, and yeah, a big part of me. No one loves you like that.
    Yes before and after, I judge and mark time by their deaths.
    I wish you could cry too. xx

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  4. I’m so sorry for your loss and can feel your pain through your writing. I’m wondering if you ever thought of looking at your mother’s request to “pray for healing” in a different way. Healing to me doesn’t necessarily mean the physical recovery of a person, but rather maybe an inner peace and acceptance of a situation…..perhaps there was more healing that day than you realize…….just a thought.

  5. I just left a comment but it didn’t seem to go through. I hope this isn’t a duplicate..
    I m sorry for your loss. I can feel your pain through your writing….
    I am wondering if you ever looked at your mother’s request to “pray for healing” in a different way. To me, healing does not always mean physical recovery, but rather a peace and acceptance of a situation. Maybe there was more healing going on the day your mom died than you realize?

    • I think there is truth in that. Now, when I talked with my mom about different types of healing when she was more able to communicate, she indicated she meant physical healing. On the day she died, I talked to her about healing in that more spiritual way and indicated that I understood that to be healed physically, given as ill as she was, would require a complete change in life when she returned to it. I suggested that maybe that was too hard and going on to heaven to that healing would be easier. She wept at those words. After I told her I knew God would not leave me but that I might leave him, she died. I do think that she went on to a different type of healing, but it still hurts to have not had her release me from that promise. It’s a child’s thinking, in very simple terms, that a promise is a promise and by “letting” her go (she was going anyway), I failed to keep the promise. I responded as a child emotionally and still do because it was my mother. Rationally, I can think of it one way, but emotionally, it is quite different.

      I so appreciate that you took the time to read my blog. I’m honored that you also commented, and commented twice when you feared the first did not go through. I know what that’s like. It’s frustrating when the computer seems to “disappear” things I’ve written, and I have to decide whether or not to try again. Thank you for trying again because this gives me yet another opportunity to think and feel on this issue in my life that is so central.

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