Life Without a Mom

It’s a tough thing, to go on without a mom. I know I’m lucky though, that I had her in my daily life within these past few years. That’s more than what a lot of families have when time and space take the flock and spray them across the world, like balloons catching air.

I still look for her when I go to her house. Expect to hear her call out to me from her bedroom, in her sing-songy voice. Damn, her bathroom still smells like her, as if she’d just stepped out of the shower. I’ve cleaned the fridge, finding food I made for her, and the stupidest question rises in me: didn’t she like it?

 

Losing a mom

Mom and her parents, circa 1945

I’m emotionally drained. Even though she’d been unwell for a long time, you can never ever prepare for losing a loved one. Each day you have with someone who is sick is a gift, and it brings hope that with one good day there will be more. Those days don’t come anymore.

There is an undeniable void in my life. I try different things to fill that gaping hole, but the effort is exhausting. Why haven’t I collapsed from the weight of loss? I crash at night, but sleep is not within reach, instead hijacked by vivid, active, dark dreams. I wake each morning grateful for daybreak but wary of the emptiness before me.

Being without her is off-putting. I keep thinking I’m forgetting something, as though I’ve left my purse at the grocery store check-out counter. Mornings were all about her. Making appointments. Cleaning. Cooking. Paying bills. Feeding her dog. Medicating her. Medicating her dog. Errands. Arguments. Chats. Hugs and kisses.

Now my mornings are open and free. I could be using the time to write, market, work. Instead, I still go to her house and putter around. A part of me thinks she’s still in the hospital, and I’m waiting for her to come home. It doesn’t feel like she’s truly gone. It doesn’t feel like I’m on my own.

I’m over 40 years old, so technically I’ve been on my own for a while. But I had a mom then, and I don’t have a mom now. It’s different.

Losing a mom

Mom and two sons, circa 1955

I will always wish for one more conversation. One more time to tell her she looks pretty or that I love her or that she really doesn’t need another pair of cowboy boots. Instead, I talk to the space around me, believe that she’s there, listening. I still ask her questions, voice my wonder and curiosity and frustration over choices she’d made.

Everyone tells me it gets easier, which I guess is likely because our own lives must go on. But, I wonder, do I want easy? Does easy mean forgetting? Does easy mean settling?

I look at middle age and old age in a new way now. I see what can happen when we give up, when we stray from our hopes and dreams. I don’t like the way that looks. Death has a way of knocking you upside the head and telling you to straighten your shit out, today.

And I’m listening.

 

Losing a mom

Family, circa 1995

Life is a beautiful gift, but it can rough us up too. There are obvious paths to follow, or we can bushwack our way to our goals. It’s a choice. Always a choice.

Just because things aren’t panning out the way you wanted doesn’t mean you ought to go easily.

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65 thoughts on “Life Without a Mom

  1. Beautiful thoughts, Kate. Many hugs to you. And never fear, ‘easy’ doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t become easier, you just become more accustomed. As with any change. We adapt, we adjust, we go on. ❤

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  2. I second Kathils, Kate. You will never forget. You will adapt to the change as the raw edges of your emotions learn to fit your new circumstance. That’s how we go on—not by forgetting but by adapting. And there’s no single “right way” to adapt. Don’t try to force yourself to fit anyone else’s view of how “you should move on.” Grief is an individual process, but you also don’t have to go it alone. It’s okay to lean on someone’s shoulder for a good cry or ask for help—especially for someone who might have been the strong, able caretaker. You’re in our thoughts, and if you ever need a sounding board, you know how to find me.

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    • Adapt is a good word to describe how we have to move on. The pain has already changed from raw to a dull ache, but is no less than before. Witnessing someone growing old, and becoming sicker over time, is added to the loss. There are so many things that could and should have been done, but in the name of ‘independence’ and ‘pride’ they weren’t. That’s the toughest part, I think. To know that life wasn’t fully lived toward the end. Thanks, JM.

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    • After my mom died, I was talking to a fellow ‘soccer mom’ and she said my news made her want to call up her mother, even though she’d been irritating her of late. That’s familiar territory to me, and I told her to take advantage while she can, because you never know. Just to say ‘I love you’. It’s more important than we realize sometimes.

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  3. Man! Such a tough piece for me to read through my watery eyes. Sending lots of love to you and your family right now. You wrote a lovely tribute to your mom…thank you for sharing your sweet memories with us.

    You are so right about life. It’s short—we’ve all heard it before, but it’s true. All the more reason to follow our dreams. You’re doing that, Kate doll. I’m doing my best to follow them too. xo

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    • Life is precariously short. My mom lived a good life, but I don’t think she did everything she wanted to do. I know she had unrealized dreams. I know there was a lot of sadness toward the end, when it got tougher and tougher to make things happen. And I watched it all, wishing I could help. The best I can say is that there are lessons here, lessons that can be turned into opportunity.

      And yes, you must keep following your dreams, Britt!

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  4. Such a visceral post, Kate. Again, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sure each day is like walking around in cement shoes with a lead weight on your chest. Your words are powerful for us all and remind us not to take life for granted. Your last few paragraphs deliver that message so well.

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    • I’m sorry to hear that, Jack. Being without one parent is like walking around crooked. I imagine being without both parents would be akin to stumbling all over the place. Even though my mom had been sick for a long time, just knowing she was there was comforting. It’s a strange feeling to be without her, but I know I’ll find peace eventually.

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  5. You never forget. Your mom will always be part of what makes you You. Sorry about your loss. Moms are the best. They sacrifice everything for us…and then eventually, the tables turn and we sacrifice a lot for them to try to give back a teensie bit of what they’ve given to us. And though we can’t ever quite even the score, we can love our own children more each day and pass it forward.

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  6. hard to comment on how well you write about the loss of your Mom but you do – the images add to the poignancy. So sorry Kate – getting easier does mean thinking about her less but that is not the same as forgetting. For now there is a void that cannot be filled and should not – best wishes x

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    • Thank you, Laura. The pictures are hard to look at, like scrubbing at an open wound. Being in her house without her gives me the same feeling. I still have so many questions for her, tough ones I was too scared to ask because I was afraid I’d be reminding her of things she’d rather forget. Now I’m left with mysteries. Perhaps, time will give me the answers I seek. Regardless, there is a lot of joy and love, beautiful memories, and rowdy stories to fill me up, and I’m blessed for that.

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    • My mom loved tartan, plaid, Madras, stripes, polka dots, florals — if it had a pattern, she was into it! Good observation, Gallivanta. I love that picture of her with her two boys, also. That’s before my brothers got wild and annoying. 🙂

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  7. I’m so sorry for your loss, Kate.

    People say that loss becomes easier to bear as time goes on, and for some people, perhaps it does. I’ve found that it doesn’t exactly become “easier,” but it becomes more familiar. That hardens our hearts a bit, to keep us safe, but your words here show how much love there is between you and your mother. That love won’t diminish.

    My best thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

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    • I thought as much. “Easier” just doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me. The world changes too much when you lose a loved one, and you have to do a hell of a lot of re-arranging. I think the other piece that keeps everything so fresh is that I have to go to her house several times a week to keep an eye on things. That’s been tough.

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  8. Beautifully written and so hard. A couple of events of late have reminded me how life can change instantly, with no notice, and leave you feeling wrecked. I’m so sorry. Thinking of you…❤️❤️

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  9. Oh, Kate. My mom died six years ago this Friday, the day before my son’s birthday. I think about her every day, and I miss her. I think the “easier” part means that there are layers of time that seal the wound so that it isn’t so raw. But you never know when something will put a scratch in the seal and the missing will come pouring out. Hugs to you. Your thoughts and words show just how much you love her, no matter where she now resides.

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    • I’m sorry about your mom, too. Moms are our anchors, aren’t they? Even when I was fit to be tied with her, I still always took comfort in the fact that she was okay, here, and strong enough to give me a hard time. 🙂 I’m definitely floundering these days.

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  10. This brought tears to my eyes over and over again. Hugs to you and your family. She’ll always be with you in one way or another. I hope all your memories of your mom will keep bringing you happiness in the years to come.

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    • Thank you, Sheila. Some days are better than others. It’s tough with the holidays around the corner, but my sister and 4 brothers and all of our families are planning to at least spend Turkey Day at my mom’s house, which was our tradition for years. It’ll be weird not to hear her explaining how to make gravy correctly, though. 😉

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  11. I’m so sorry for your loss, Kate. You’ll never forget her, so it ‘becoming easier’ just means that weight will slowly lift over time, but the beautiful memories are still there. And death does have a habit of slapping us all sometimes and letting us know our time is finite. Take care of yourself, my friend xxxx

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    • My mother had been sick for a long time, but she’d beaten it so many times, I really didn’t think that this time would be it for her. If death teaches us anything, let it be that we must make the most of our time, and to live life to the fullest.

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  12. Mathair and I are so sorry for your loss, Kate. I write with my mother and I count it a blessing everyday that we work two jobs together and are still the best of friends. And though I can’t for a second be brazen enough to understand your pain, I’ve experienced loss and I know that it gets a little easier over time. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

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    • I once took a post-grad class with my mom. It was some sort of grammar class taught at UNH. It was really neat to go to school with my mom, and then we’d meet my sister for lunch. We also took a writing workshop together. It was nice to have those things in common, and I love knowing that you and your mom have such a close relationship, that you write together. It’s so important, and kind of rare too. Thanks for your kind words.

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  13. Kate, those black and white photographs have gone full color. You’ve gone from daughter to mom, and I don’t agree about it getting easier. It gets different, yes. But anything worth ANYTHING is never gonna be easy to move from. Nor should we. You’re a good woman and a fantastic mother, Kate Johnston. You had a great teacher.

    Love and peace to you.

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    • I guess people tells us it gets easy because who knows really what to say in these situations. There are no right words, no true comfort. And I agree with you – anything worth anything is difficult, no matter what. I’m glad I had a great mom. Thanks, Cayman.

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  14. Such a beautiful tribute to your mom and your feelings Kate. I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my mother last year, sadly, our relationship wasn’t splendid like yours with your mom. What I can offer you is to treasure the memories. You will never forget, but eventually you will find that special little place in your heart where you will store all the memories and good times and when you think of her you’ll smile. ❤

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    • DG, my mom and I had our fair share of rough times. I saw her almost every day for the past eight years or so — and it wasn’t always easy, to say the least. While we had a lot in common, we had more differences, which made for a colorful relationship!! The memories are treasured always, and each day it seems I remember something else. Thanks for stopping by — and I’m sorry to hear about your mom. My thoughts are with you too.

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  15. Oh boy, I have tears in my eyes. I believe that your mom DOES listen as you talk to her in your mind. In your heart and soul. I believe that we fill them with our love when we’re with them into old age, into death, and that they then fill us up for the rest of our lives on earth. I just returned from visiting my 91 year old mom (who’s in assisted living 7 hours away). We hugged a lot. Talked a lot about old times. But we talk every day on the phone, too. I know I’m losing her each day to dementia, so I try to fill in those love spots as much as possible.

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    • You’re good to visit your mom. I’m amazed at how many people don’t do that. So sad. This culture is really weird about the elderly, for some reason. I really wish my mom would have gone into assisted living. I think she was way too lonely in her house, but it was something she was adamant about. She was always such a people person — a wild extrovert (the complete opposite of me), so I think she missed out on a lot of social activities with her peers.

      I hope your mom is happy in her accommodations; many of them are super nice and offer so many things to do. Dementia is so scary, but at least you know she’s in as safe a place as possible right now. That’s a blessing.

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      • My mom sounds so much like yours! Much more extroverted than me; loves socializing. My brother and I really pushed her to go to this lovely facility, even though she so wanted her independence. But yes, the assisted living facility has helped her combat loneliness with activities – but she still complains about being ‘bored.’! She may have dementia, but she still has her personality!!! ;-0

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      • After reading that post about your mom and how she dresses in Converse sneakers and matches her jewelry to her sweaters — I think our moms would have enjoyed each other. Your mom sounds so delightful and hip!

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    • You hit the nail on the head — a mix of feelings when I think of my parents too. Your dad is really lucky to have you visit him that often. I was just commenting to Roughwighting above, whose mother is in assisted living, how rare it is to hear that elderly parents are regularly visited by their children and other family members.

      Thank you for pinging back to my post. Much appreciated. Give your dad an extra hug for me. 🙂

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  18. HI Kate
    I came here via Scott (kindredspirit23).
    I read your post with tears in my eyes. Losing my parents has been a constant fear of mine lately. Mom’s health deteriorated in March this year, she is much better now, still it has shown us the fragility of life.
    I think we are never ready to be orphans no matter how old we are. I try to prepare myself, but is there such a thing?
    Thank you for sharing your feelings and allowing me to expose mine!
    Many blessings and many hugs! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Star,

      I’m so glad you stopped by. She’d been sick for a long time (I had blogged a little bit about it a couple of years ago). You cannot prepare yourself, even though the clock ticks louder with each passing day. There are still things I wish I’d shared with her, but never did, even though I knew we were running out of time.

      You can’t help but think you will have tomorrow. I think that is life’s way of protecting us. If we are constantly thinking each day is our last, then we wouldn’t set goals, we wouldn’t make plans, we wouldn’t save up for the big family vacation.

      I guess the takeaway here is to treasure the time with your parents (or any loved one) whenever possible. Yes, still get angry when they do something that ticks you off (!), because we have to be true to ourselves no matter what. You don’t want to be left with bottled-up anger or frustration; that’s not good either. But maybe to see each day as a blessing, and to be thankful for that.

      You’re so right about the fragility of life, you just never know. Even when you know, you really don’t. I knew how sick she was, and still, I was caught off guard with her death.

      I hope that you’re able to spend time with your mom, and that you talk about the good times when life seemed like it would go on and on forever, and that you laugh a lot together. She’ll get so much out of that. Secretly, I think it’s a form of medicine, myself. 😉

      My thoughts are with you.

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  19. There are some events in life, even if we know they’re inevitable, just rock our worlds.
    I’m glad you had the opportunity to be with her in her final days, and were able to say your goodbyes -even though it was hard.
    Thanks for being real about that journey, Kate.
    I always appreciate R E A L.

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  20. This is a very beautiful and touching tribute to your mom, Kate. I always feel somewhat awkward in such situations because “I’m sorry for your loss” seems so hollow to me and cannot express the depth of my condolences to one’s grief. Embracing you and your family in lots of love, comfort and strength in these difficult times.

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  21. I realize this is much belated, but I wanted to express my sympathies to you. As for things getting easier with the passing of time, I think they just get different. And sometimes different is easier to live with and sometimes not so much. Grief can be a tricky thing, popping up when you least expect it. I can still remember going through my mom’s house after she passed and absolutely losing it when I came upon some of her little vases, remembering putting small flowers like violets in them. My hope for you is that your grief process is allowed to flow as much as it can. And that in time, your memories will bring more joy than pain. I think one of the weirdest things I had to adjust to with the passing of my mother was that she was the last in our family of her generation. I didn’t have a ton of aunts and uncles, but she was the last, preceeded by Dad, 10 months earlier. Now I am of the elder generation of my family (although second to youngest, with my eldest cousin 18 years older than me).

    And whatever you want on your pizza, it’s on the house.

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    • Thanks Mariner! I’m still dealing with her estate, which is quite convoluted. The fact it has dragged on this long has not helped me move forward in the grieving process. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve officially grieved.

      I had to smile at your memory of your mom’s vases. It’s the little things that get me too. I found her medication tray in the cupboard today, up on a high shelf that she couldn’t reach because she’d taken to messing around with her meds toward the end. But the tray was full, each day with its appropriate assortment of pills, and it just hit me. It felt so real, that moment, like it was only yesterday that I’d argued with her about her meds. Things like that, they make it tough but poignant.

      It must be a weird feeling to be the oldest generation. Do you notice any kind of a difference in terms of family dynamics?

      I still have 2 cousins on my mom’s side who are only a few years younger than my mom was, but when they go, it’ll be my generation that is the oldest (on my mom’s side, that is). It’s a strange, off-putting thing to imagine. Are we up to the task? Sometimes I am sure not!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your experience. And thanks for the pizza too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t noticed too much yet in terms of any changes to family dynamics. My older brother and I had a strained relationship for years, but very recently with healing work I’ve done on myself (I have a second blog where I’ve written about it), we’re getting along pretty well. We’ve had to communicate between the three of us kids like never before, and it’s going fairly well. We are not near any cousins geographically.

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