This will probably be the most personal post I ever write because writing it means I have to open up and be completely vulnerable. It means I have to face memories that aren’t so easy to face. I am going to share with you the most tragic day of my life from my perspective for the first time. Sure, some may have heard bits and pieces and watched it unfold from their own perspective, but I’ve never fully put my experience into one story so here it goes.
Monday, December 26, 2011 (the morning after Christmas) I wake up to a knock at my front door. I was asleep and the knock startled me. As I am half asleep I made my way to the front door. I saw my brother standing on the other side. Even though he lived about 10 minutes away, he didn’t visit my house very often. I was excited to see him, walked quickly and greeted him with a smile. As I opened the door I noticed he had a confused look on his face. His exact words were, “Do you not have your phone?” I think told him it had been on the charger on silent and asked what’s up. He replied with, “I don’t know how to tell you this. Something happened to mom.” I was so confused. “Like a car wreck? She stump her toe in the kitchen? Is she okay?” He replied with, “No. She died.” It was like hearing a foreign language for the first time. “She died? What do you mean she died?” I can’t explain the shock in this moment. I don’t think my brain actually comprehended the words or the meaning of them. He told me again. I don’t even remember what was said; I just remember I fell to the floor there in the doorway. I’m surprised my body didn’t break from how fast it hit. I remember letting out a loud screaming cry. I can’t imagine how heartbroken my brother must have felt in that moment. I had no idea how she died. Where she was or when it happened. Don’t get me wrong, they were all going through my mind. I just couldn’t get the words out.
After a few minutes he told me he was going back to the house. I told my husband I was going with him so I jumped in the truck and headed that way. I asked questions and wanted to know everything on the way to the house to try to understand how in the world my mom was “gone”. It didn’t seem real. My brother was living at home with my parents at the time and told me how she had complained of anxiety in her chest the night before (which was Christmas night) and had decided to go to bed since she wasn’t feeling well. My dad found her the next morning. She had died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack in her sleep. He and my brother had been trying to get in touch with me that morning but couldn’t get me so my brother drove to my house to tell me in person.
We arrive at my parents house. Family is already there. The coroner and officers are already there. I walk in the living room (still in my pjs, hair a mess, hadn’t brushed my teeth) to a room full of people some I’m close to and others not so much. It was traumatic to say the least. My dad was in the middle of answering questions with the coroner when I walked in. I just remember feeling the room being so empty. There wasn’t really anyone there to grab me and hug me and tell me it’s going to be okay. Not that they didn’t hug me, they did. But it was so empty. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I no longer had a mother. What I needed in that specific moment, the moment I walked into my childhood home and realized that I have lost one of the most important people in my life – in THAT moment I needed my mom to hug me and tell me everything is going to be okay.
Some time not long after arriving at the house, my dad told me that the coroner was asking if we wanted to get her jewelry that was still on her. I told him yes and asked where she was. I don’t know if I thought she had already been carried to the ambulance or where she was. I honestly don’t know that I was even convinced she was actually gone at this point. It is weird how your brain works during tragedy; maybe this was my denial phase. They told me she was still in bed and asked if I would like to see her before they move her. I did. I don’t know if I regret it or not. There were details I witnessed that I don’t know I’ll ever forget seeing my mother laying there. She died from natural causes so it wasn’t messy or anything; she just hadn’t been prepped in a funeral home. This was raw and real life, and the details are still so vivid to me today.
The rest of the day is a blur to me. There were a lot of tears. I remember making phone calls to let people know what had happened. And there were more tears. As more people heard the news, we started receiving more visitors by the hour. I remember getting so many calls and messages that it took me weeks to get back to them all. There were people visiting that I had not seen in a while. A lot shared stories of memories they had with mom. Others that weren’t close to her sat and listened. No one really knows what to say I learned. I heard everything from “you need to eat something” to “what are we going to do?” to “how is so and so going to survive this?” to “don’t you wish we had done this with her” to “let us know what we can do to help” to “you’re strong and it’s going to be okay”…the list goes on. I don’t know what I wanted to hear or if there was any right thing to say, I think I just wanted it to all go away in the moment so I could wake up from this nightmare. I remember leaving my parents house late that night with my husband. I told him to just drive. Don’t go home, just drive. We didn’t talk much. I cried a lot of tears and he just drove around until it was time to go home.
The next day was big. I don’t remember crying as much the next day; not because I didn’t want to – trust me, I would have laid in bed and cried all day if I could have, I just didn’t have time. I didn’t have time to grieve because I had things I had to do. I had to plan a funeral. I had to pick out a perfect outfit for her to be buried in, the right shade of lipstick for her to wear, figure out how to write an obituary (and actually write it), pick out songs, pictures and flowers for the funeral, schedule a time to go casket ahopping and pick out a head stone for the cemetery. I was 25 years old, barely an adult, planning my mother’s funeral. It was overwhelming and everyone was looking at me to do it. My dad, brother and husband were there so I don’t want to take away from that, but everyone looked at me to make a decision on most of these things. We were all traumatized, and I knew I had to be the strong one. There wasn’t another option.
The visitation was pretty brutal. I remember we went in for the viewing before family and friends arrived. My brother didn’t want to see mom like that, so my dad, Blake and I went in together to see her and say our final goodbyes. She looked good. Her hair was curled nicely, and I was proud of the outfit I had picked out. It looked good on her. It’s hard to see someone you love in a casket and say they look good. If I am being honest, at the time it felt awful seeing her laying there. She was pale and her smile and warmness was missing. She didn’t look like mom. We said our final goodbyes and closed the casket. Family and friends starting to appear shortly after. We stood up front for hours (seriously, hours) while our visitors stood in line waiting for their turn to hug our necks and offer their sympathies. I remember just trying to stay strong enough to get through it. It was physically exhausting and emotionally draining.
The funeral was the next day. It is a big blur now. I just remember crying a lot, receiving more hugs than I can count and realizing how judgmental people can be at a funeral. People say and ask some really dumb stuff during tragedy. I think I just ignored most of it or atleast tried to. I didn’t feel like talking much anyways.
The next week was tough. My mom handled a lot of the household duties and paying bills so I had to help my dad sort all that out. He dealt with grief by wanting to donate a lot of her clothes so I helped him sort through that too. I feel like I was just so busy being strong for everyone else I didn’t give my chance time to grieve. You have to understand I was now (at 25 years old) the ONLY female in my immediate family. I had my dad and my brother. No sister, no grandmothers, no aunts. Things were so different now and have been since.
What many people that haven’t been through a tragedy of losing a love one may not understand is that visitation, the funeral and the few days in between are not when the immediate family grieves. This is when they have to entertain in a way. The house is always full of food and people – some people you haven’t seen in a while. You hear stories about the one you lost that you’ve never heard before. In a way it’s like they are still there because everyone is celebrating their life and grieving their loss together. The real grief begins a few days after the funeral when everyone goes back to their normal lives and you begin your new normal. I remember having nightmares. I would cry myself to sleep and wake up drenched in sweat crying and screaming. These lasted for weeks. Months. My poor husband. I couldn’t have made it through these weeks without him. I was in a very, very dark place.
They say there are 5 stages of grief. Denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know everyone grieves differently and goes through the stages in their own order, but I honestly don’t believe you ever stop grieving. You bounce around these 5 stages depending on a certain situation you are in that brings back a memory of that person. You can be angry in one moment then bounce to depression then back to acceptance in another. It’s a cycle I don’t think I will ever really get out of.
So, to every daughter that has lost their mom, I’ve been there. Eight years later I know this much… You are going to isolate yourself in attempt to make sense of things and may never find an answer. You are going to pick up your phone a million times before realizing she isn’t there to answer. You are going to get angry (So angry!) when you remember for the millionth time your mom isn’t here to meet, spoil and love on her grandchildren. You are going to feel depressed when you see another mother and daughter whose relationship reminds you of what you no longer have; not because you don’t want them to have it, you just want (and need) it too. You are going to beat yourself up on how you could have handled a situation with your mom differently. And in time you will learn to accept the fact that you, too, woke up as a motherless daughter. Just remember you are not alone!