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Category: Loss

Ballerina Ladybug

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This weekend we watched our recent preschool grad dance in her inaugural ballet recital. She, with an array of other 3 and 4 year olds, danced on stage in lady bug costumes and stole the audience’s hearts with the level of adorableness. As I said yesterday, this kid loves to perform. And she, along with her fairy godsister, won the award for “Dance Excellence” in her class. I have a feeling that that just means that she is enthusiastic about dance and follows directions well (she’s only four after all), but it made both the recipient and her mama proud. Here they are pictured together almost exactly three years apart. Age 1 versus age 4.

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My dad and sister and my mom’s dearest friend from childhood drove up for the performance, and while my heart ached from my mother’s absence, I was grateful to have this grouping of family together. While it will never be the same without her, we are all trying to celebrate and enjoy one another whenever the opportunity presents, as she would have wanted.

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42 Years

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My parents would have celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary today. I find myself so angry and heartbroken that they don’t get that chance, and yet so deeply grateful and humbled by the strong, amazing marriage they shared over the course of my mom’s lifetime. It’s a rare and precious thing to have a relationship like theirs, and I am so fortunate to have been raised and loved by two people who loved one another as fiercely and deeply and truly as they did.

For their 40th wedding anniversary, I compiled a book my mother wrote about her and my dad titled The Mermaid and The Oceanographer. I added photographs from where the story left off, through their life up until that anniversary. I ended it saying, “Here’s to many, many more happy years!” My heart aches every time I re-read those words with the sting of hindsight.

I hope you know by now, no matter where you are, that the way Life sings through us into the whole, wide world is something like magic & you will always be the reason I’m not afraid to love.  – StoryPeople

Happy 42nd Wedding Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Our Aquamarine

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This weekend was Sunny’s end-of-year dance recital. Each dance represented a different jewel, and she was an Aquamarine. It felt like a particularly fitting role given that aquamarine is Sander’s birthstone and that it’s said to be the treasure of mermaids, a creature that I associate so closely with my mother. I wore all of her vintage aquamarine jewelry (it was her grandmother’s, my great-grandmother, and Sunny’s great, great-grandmother), complete with necklace, earrings and ring, to bring a piece of her with me to the performance. It was so strange and sad to watch Sunny dance without my mom’s presence in the audience with us, saddled up next to my father, beaming with grandmotherly joy. I’m so proud of Sunny and how she’s managed all the upheaval and heartbreak of this year. Momar would be so proud of her, too. And I just love these post-performance photos.

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84 Months

Dearest Sunny,

Today you are seven. And it is my first time celebrating the day that turned me into a mother without my own. You shared such a special bond with your Momar. You are her namesake and the person who made her a grandmother, the greatest role she ever played.

You asked if Doda could make you a robot Momar for your birthday, and it makes my heartache with both sorrow and gratitude that you loved her equally as much as she adored you. While nothing will ever replace her, you are a living embodiment of so many of her best qualities. That button nose. That gorgeous hair. But more importantly than the physical embodiment, the way you say I LOVE YOU to your family with abandon, just as she did. The way you surprise us with special notes and drawings and gifts, the way she always showered those she loved with affection and over-the-top giving. Your bookwormy nature (you now stay up reading chapter books by the light of a book lamp, and we have to ask you to put the book away to actually get you to go to sleep, you adore late-night reading so much). Momar had a similar predilection. Your disdain for the morning is also a shared personality trait, though that extends to your mother as well. Most notably, your tenderness with and caretaking of your siblings and pets resembles a gentleness with animals and babies that was such a core part of your Momar. How fortunate I am to have a living glimpse of her before me each day in the hearts and bodies of my children.

I am awestruck that I have been your mother for seven years. But yesterday morning, as you held your baby brother in your bed and cooed and kissed and snuggled, I gazed down upon you and beheld a child who has had to grow up so much in just one year. Who has faced the loss of her great-grandfather, and then cherished grandmother, while navigating huge changes and advancements in school, both academically and socially. Not to mention that you’ve had to watch your mother experience immense grief while our whole household shifted into a family of five. With all these upheavals and heartaches, you have become more vulnerable but also far tougher than the little girl who turned six last year. You are very much a seven year old. And I am endlessly proud of your kindness, your intellect, your creativity, and your gentleness with the world around you. As I looked into your eyes yesterday morning, there was such grace, such elegance. You are growing up beautifully my darling, and I mean that well beyond the physical.

I love you, my precious first born. Thank you for all that you’ve done for your mama, particularly these past three months.

And Happiest Seventh Birthday.
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Pictured here with your Momar the last time we saw her, Christmas 2015. Showered with gifts, just as she would have done for you today were she still with us.

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Dreams

My father nicknamed her the Petite Laundrette, as she so enjoyed what most perceive as the chore of laundering our family’s clothes. She excelled at it, in fact. Stains were no match for her. And our clothing and sheets always smelled far more delicious than any of our friends. She was territorial about this work. She did not want anybody else in the household attempting laundry, as no one had quite the patience or attention to detail to sort, and spot treat, and appropriately set the machine dials to her liking for the load at hand.

Her preferred hour for tackling laundry was always late at night, as she bustled about in her cotton nightgown. I come from a long line of night owls. Growing up, friends always knew that they could call our landline well until midnight, as my mother was rarely in bed before that hour. And often up much later. Doing laundry. Watching Masterpiece Theatre. Mending. Puttering about our grand and elegant Victorian home well after the rest of our family had turned in for the night.

I see her, standing in front of our washer and dryer in her long-sleeved blue nightie. It’s a Calida. Her favorite. There was no softer cotton, she swore. She’s clearly braless, as there was no other state in such attire, despite her ample bosom. I’m lounging on our sofa, chatting with her as she works. Her coarse blonde hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail, secured with a scrunchie, as her bangs fall haphazardly across her brow. During the day, she always wore her hair down, as it was her self-proclaimed best feature (it really was magnificent). But at night, without anyone to impress or entertain, it could be swept out of her face to keep her cool.

She throws a large pile of clothes in the washer before turning. “Give me that baby!” she says with a grin as she reaches out her arms.

I hand her my son, a bundle wrapped in a navy fleece blanket, a gift from her best friend since 5th grade. She cradles him to her chest and begins to sway and pace around our childhood living room, dancing between walls and memories that are forever etched in my mind. I watch the two of them together and feel a wave of contentment and gratitude.

We’re now lying side by side on her bed as she leafs through a magazine and I listen to her prattle on about some drawing in its pages. In my head I think, “My mother is alive, again. I can tell Sarah (my therapist) that she’s back. My mother is back.”

As I think these words to myself, a bit of reality seeps into my subconscious.

How is it possible that she’s alive? She was cremated, Ashley. How did she come back from that? It’s not possible to come back from that. 

As the answers to these questions come searing into focus, I reach for her. I want to touch her, hold her hand, prove that she is indeed real. Concrete. Close. As my fingers outstretch, she turns to me, and leaves me all over again. I am paralyzed with what to do. How do I save her? How do I keep her with me?

I finally find my breath and begin to scream. I’m screaming as loudly and as violently as I can when hands fall down upon my shoulders. I hear James pleading with me. What is wrong? Ashley? Ashley, you’re okay. Breath. What’s wrong? Try to breath.

As I’m thrust back into reality, I face her absence all over again. James holds me as I cry and wail to be back in that world where she felt so real. So close.

I dream of the day when I visit with her in my sleep and it’s filled with just happiness, and no fear. For now, however, I feel grateful to have experienced her so vividly. And to have seen her with my baby.

The other day I told a friend that I wished she could see how much I was delighting in her grandson.

I think this was her way of telling me that she knows.

3 Months / AFTER

My mom’s been gone three months and while I’m far more functional than I was when she first passed, there’s this ever-present knot and gnawing in my stomach. A heaviness I can’t shake. I’ve realized that my thoughts are constantly on my mother, whether trying to make sense of her absence or desperately trying to hold her in the present. I find myself trying to recall the way her coarse hair rubbed against my cheek when she hugged me, or the way the tops of her hands felt like paper due to a severe sunburn in Bermuda when she was young. How she looked puttering around the house in her nightgown, or the way she’d snap her fingers and bob her head so assuredly when she was feeling a song on the radio. While I daily find myself smiling and laughing and connecting with people in my life, she’s always just below the surface. Bringing comfort with happy memories but also the weight of grief.

My therapist reminded James that no matter how much I’m smiling or not crying or engaging with the world around me, he should be aware of the grief. Three months is barely scratching the surface in my process to live in a world without her. There is no timetable for making sense of a life without one’s mother.

But these baby smiles and three beautiful faces are part of the support and relief and self-care that make facing each day in The After worthwhile.

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Handmade Quilt & Hand-Me-Downs

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Sander is modeling his beautiful new quilt courtesy of a very thoughtful and loving new friend. The creator of this generous handmade gift and I have connected recently over our experiences with loss, and it has been such a silver-lining to make new and wonderful friendships in the face of such an ugly tragedy. And this quilt is such a stunning example of that beauty in the face of sorrow. As she said so aptly, there’s something different about sharing with someone who has empathy rather than sympathy.

In a similar vein, we’ve received so many generous hand-me-downs from friends since Sander’s arrival, but I was particularly moved when we were given a bag full of beautiful baby clothes by a family in our community who’d heard about my mom’s passing. While we’d never met, she thought I might be in need of some boy clothes, and offered up pieces that included items her own mother had purchased for her sons. 

The generosity and thoughtfulness of our small town community has been breathtaking in its depth. And I am forever grateful to be on the receiving end of such love and support.

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Unmothered

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I’ve been finding that it’s not the days that I anticipate being hard or challenging or grief stricken that are my undoing, it’s the day or two after that milestone or holiday or date.

I can foresee the challenging moments on the calendar, so I plan for them. Activities and action fill those days so there’s little room for grief or dwelling on absence. Mother’s Day was full with plans. From breakfast out, to mother/daughter yoga class, to a trip to Beacon New York to visit the Dia Art Museum and explore its funky town on the Hudson. We ate meals at new restaurants. Rolled in the grass. And were thunder struck by modern art.

“Did you know that we’re allowed to go inside the art?!? INSIDE THE ART!!! This. Is. Awesome!”

Richard Serra made quite the impression on Courtland.

It’s the aftermath of these days, having survived them, having come out the other side, that strike with unfairness and pain. Time has continued forward during these moments. The world didn’t end or stop when my small universe did. The whole world keeps going, despite this momentous, life-changing personal loss, and the very inertia of that is a reminder of the length of time since I last heard her voice, saw her face, squeezed her hand, experienced her laughter. Each new day is one day further from the last time I hugged my mother.

A friend sent me this beautifully resonant piece from The New Yorker this morning, and it provided language and affirmation of so much of how I am feeling today, and in these aftermaths.

There’s a word in Hebrew—malkosh—that means “last rain.” It’s a word that only means something in places like Israel, where there’s a clear distinction between winter and the long, dry stretch of summer. It’s a word, too, that can only be applied in retrospect. When it’s raining, you have no way of knowing that the falling drops would be the last ones of the year. But then time goes by, the clouds clear, and you realize that that rain shower was the one. Having a mother—being mothered—is similar, in a way. It’s a term that I only fully grasp now, with the thirst of hindsight: who she was, who I was for her, what she has equipped me with.

I avoided social media yesterday, knowing all too well that I wouldn’t be able to stomach the celebratory, loving photos and messages about mothers as I longed for my own. It’s something much deeper and more painful than jealousy, something far more visceral and gut wrenching.

Meghan O’Rourke has a wonderful word for the club of those without mothers. She calls us not motherless but unmothered. It feels right—an ontological word rather than a descriptive one. I had a mother, and now I don’t. This is not a characteristic one can affix, like being paperless, or odorless. The emphasis should be on absence.

And that’s just it. I feel the presence of her absence. “She’s no where, and yet she’s everywhere.” While people and experience and time fill in around that absence, she is irreplaceable.

“For henceforth you will always keep something broken about you.” (Proust)

My family, my loved ones, keep me from collapsing under the weight of that break.

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Mother’s Day

Mama, I know what I want for my birthday next week, but I don’t think I can have it.

Oh yeah, what is it?

Momar. I just want Momar.

Me too, baby. Every second. Of every day.

I have been dreading today. Facing a Mother’s Day without my mother. A motherless Mother’s Day.

I ran into the pharmacy to pick up a prescription this week and fell apart in the card section. The onslaught of Mother’s Day cards brought me to my knees. I have no mother to whom to send a card this year. And that never ceases to be a devastating reality.

I would have purchased this tote for my mom this year. The sentiment, the French, and the organization it supports are a trifecta of awesome that just scream ALLISON. So I bought it for myself, and wear it as a reminder.

Maman, Je t’aime.

Every second. Of every day.

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She made this beautiful family of mine possible and I see her reflected daily in the smiles and noses and hearts of my children.

These two

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My Ursa. My Mother.

These two are playing and snuggling in my heart and in the stars.

This week has been hard. The grey, rainy, dreary weather has reflected my mood. As Mother’s Day barrels down upon me, I find myself weighted down with melancholy and sadness. I’ve been combatting it with friends and family, and baby smiles, and yoga, and therapy, but it’s there, hanging over me. And it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t get better, it just gets different. I’m learning how to exist in a world without my mother. And that never won’t be hard. I’ll just learn to manage it. To live with it. Like all of us who face the world each morning without the woman who made us who we are. We adapt, adjust, and self-care. That’s all we can do. It never won’t be devastating. I will simply learn how to cope with that devastation and live with the beauty and sadness of a world without her.

She had the gift of stopping time & listening well so that it was easy to hear who we could become & that was the future she held safe for each of us in her great heart & you may ask, what now? & I hope you understand when we speak softly among ourselves & do not answer just yet for our future is no longer the same without her.

– StoryPeople