“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
― Leo Tolstoy
January 6, 2013, was just another day, seemingly like any other day. After battling (what we all believed to be) the flu, I remember it was the first day my mom felt better. She left for our restaurant to do a little work, just as she always did on Sundays. Her health seemed to have returned, and so did her workaholic routine. Mom came home from the restaurant and I remember asking her to keep my son Liam while I went to church in Atlanta with friends. She was happy to finally feel well enough to play with her favorite, and only, grandson. I remember standing in our dining room, sun peeking through the french doors, having a casually playful conversation when my brother asked my mom for a cigarette. “Mom, you know you’re not supposed to be smoking. Why is Paul asking you for a cigarette?” She sarcastically mimicked me and followed my accusations with a sarcastic “Oh, you know me, Trish. I smoke cigarettes all the time.” Her piercing glare, towards my brother, spoke more than words.
I left for church. I can remember every detail as if it happened just yesterday. Grief, over time, has a funny way of reigniting even the faintest of memories. We were worshipping to Chris Tomlin’s ‘Whom Shall I Fear,” when my phone started ringing off the hook. First my brother, then my dad, then my grandmother…I assumed their calls could wait. Then, a friend of mine sent a text ‘Hey, I saw the ambulance at your house, is everything ok?’ Even in that very moment, I assumed Liam must have fallen and gotten hurt. After all, he was quite the rambunctious 3 years old, pushing boundaries especially when he was alone with his Nana. I walked outside and called my brother and the unrelenting fear in his voice still haunts me to this day. “Trish, something is wrong with mom! You have to get here! She was just staring at me…she couldn’t talk, she was just staring. Dad just left in the ambulance with her, you have to get here!” I remember the drive from Atlanta felt like an eternity. I called Liam’s father to come to take him so I could get to the hospital with the rest of my family.
Before even walking through the hospital doors, I called a local drug dealer to bring me my anesthetic of choice. After all, there was no way I could possibly be of service to anyone without first numbing the pain of what I was experiencing. Instantly, I was bombarded by family and friends hugging me and apologizing through tear filled eyes. Chaos. I still was unsure of what exactly was happening. Unbeknownst to me, mom was rushed into emergency surgery. Suffering from a massive heart attack, the doctors made the decision to put her in a hypothermic coma to induce healing. Blockage in all of her major arteries, from a genetic cardiovascular disease, mom was in bad shape but the doctors were hopeful. After all, she was only 48 and in pretty good health. Then came the waiting game…protocol called for 48 hours of a medically induced coma. I remember seeing my mom on life support, motionless. The second I kissed her face, I knew she was gone. To this very day, chills consume me as I revisit this painful memory.
48 hours later, we were met by all of mom’s doctors as they told us that she must have been without oxygen to her brain for some time because the MRI revealed she suffered irreparable brain damage. In other words, when taken off of life support she wouldn’t survive longer than 3 hours. I felt like I was walking through a nightmare, but I found solace in my opiates and decided I needed to be ‘strong’ for my father, brother, and son. My father’s grief was covered in complete guilt and shame. My brother was the last person to see my mother alive and he was overcome with regret for not reaching her sooner. I was drowning in the guilt of leaving my mother home alone with my son. If only I wouldn’t have left for church, then she would still be here. Oh, the insanity! Looking back, I thought I was so brave, but the truth is I was fearfully avoiding any onset of grief. Thus my downfall commenced.
I spent the next 2 ½ years diving head first into taking over the responsibilities my mother left behind — work, raising my son and running away from grief like a convict escaping prison. Oblivion became my reprieve. Eventually, as always, the gig was up. No substance, codependent relationship, work indulgence, nor frivolous shopping spree could relieve me. With complete apathy, I was drowning in the tidal wave of grief with no rescue in sight. I was selfishly and emotionally unavailable for the people that needed me most. I left for treatment, rebelling against the idea of letting go of my old ideas.
The professionals at FHE Health saw straight through my “I’m fine” act and refused to allow me to avoid the grief that became me. I will never forget sitting in a caseload group when I was asked to write a ‘goodbye letter’ to my mother. As I put pen to paper, age-old resentments cropped up, along with desperate feelings of guilt and shame. It was the first time I cried genuine tears. I remember crying uncontrollably, for hours, on the balcony of the residential floor. The women, techs, and even therapists surrounded me and carried me through the process of finally allowing my grief to the surface. I remember gratitude showering over me like sweet summer rain.
Here I am, almost 3 years sober, and I am still working through the grief of losing my mother. Jan. 10th will be 6 years since mom passed away and I still have yet to sort through all of the feelings I spent years avoiding. Today, I get the opportunity to walk through this anniversary sober and be of service to my family who also mourns on this day. I have spent a lot of time with my sponsor learning how to make living amends to mom, despite her absence. Of all the amends I’ve had to make, the amends I get to make to my mother are the hardest but most rewarding. I get to pass along all of the proverbial lessons, I learned from her, onto my children…her grandchildren. I spend a lot of time praying and meditating when I’m missing mom the most. God has continued to be the ultimate comforter. In the stillness, in the here and now, I find the most peace. Through sharing my experience, with other women struggling with grief, I have found healing and so much gratitude.
Grief has a funny way of creeping in and demolishing everything in its path. I refused to let that be my experience. “It’s only after we have lost everything, that we are free to do anything.” From total destruction came a new foundation upon which I have the blessing of completely rebuilding my life. Humility and comfort find me in the most uncomfortable spaces within grief. Some days are harder than others. It’s never really the anniversaries or the holidays that feel overwhelming. It’s usually the random days when I want her motherly advice or I hear an old song we used to karaoke together in her car, that seems to hit me the hardest. I have found pieces of my mother all around me. From the mundane, tiring motherly duties I indulge in to the quirky antics I have inherited from her, I get the opportunity to experience my mother even in her absence. When anger, sorrow, and fear arise I have the tools to feel and deal with these emotions as they come. This year, I am making new memories on the anniversary of mom’s death. Thanks to the women I’ve met in AA, I have unconditional love and support that follows me every step of the way.