February 21, 2019. I sat at my mother’s bedside. Pleading.
In the days leading up to her passing, I pleaded with her to fight. Fight for her life, for my sake. Now I was pleading with her to let go.
My mother didn’t suffer for a long time, but it was long enough for me to understand that I was being selfish by asking her to stay here. I knew it was time for her to go home to be with my Grandma and my Pop-Pop. My 40th birthday was coming up in a few days, and while I’m typically into dramatic poetic life events, I didn’t want February 24th to mark the day I took my first breath and the day she took her last. Our family has a storied timeline of births and deaths in the month of February. It’s the darkest joke humanly possible.
She wasn’t completely conscious, but was conscious enough to receive the message because by about 4:52 PM that day, she took her final breath.
I was humbled by the people who showed up to celebrate her life. I always knew that she was well respected, but to see people in droves honoring her life was something that made me so proud of her, yet driven to make her equally proud of me in her afterlife.
My mom is my best friend. Not was. Is. I still talk to her everyday. She even responds. This has been a 14-day transition in my life that I will definitely not rock back and forth on my heels and say that I’ve mastered. I’m trying, though.
Everyone who knows my mom and I can attest to the fact that we were the dynamic duo, pulled from an episode of the Gilmore Girls and into real life. I don’t have to go into detail about the loss I’m feeling. It’s a pain that many have felt, punctuated with specifics about our relationship as a mother and daughter who at times functioned as sisters. To say that I am lost without her is an understatement, but to say I can’t get out of bed and live is an exaggeration. I saw what no one else saw: I was there for every infusion, every piece of good news and every piece of bad news. I saw her pain, I felt her pain. I watched her fight in both amazement and disbelief, since I always knew my mommy was a superhero, but never fathomed the depths of that title. But it became painfully obvious when it was her time to go, and as the closest person to her, I had to make that decision. She gave me the gift of life, but I gave her the gift of eternal life. It’s an exchange that I didn’t expect to happen so soon, but God had other plans for His earthly angel. I’m at peace with it. Everyone should be.
There are countless articles floating around the Internet from writers going through (or having gone through) a similar life event as mine. The sentiment is all very similar. When you lose your mother, there’s this unsurmountable void you feel the moment you realize it’s real. To be frank, it’s like a punch in the fucking gut that repeats itself over and over again—sometimes out of nowhere throughout your day. I am not the first person to experience this, and I’m certainly not the last, but over the course of two weeks I can offer my limited expertise on the matter for those who love a person who is going through a process similar to mine. You, the onlooker, the attempted empathizer. The friend, the family member, the outsider who simply cares. Here are a few things to do and not to do as I go through this process. Now remember, this is my own personal take. That’s why it’s on my Medium page and not published in some Psychology journal.
Don’t ask for the play by play.
“So what exactly happened?” “She looked so healthy when I last saw her.” I don’t consider myself to be particularly emotionally evolved, but my Lord, I would never ask for a scientific breakdown of how someone died and why. I’m a hypochondriac, so all that would do is make me hang out on WebMD and scream into the void. Chances are, you’re asking all of those questions because of your own concerns with your own mortality. Drink some celery juice and go to the gym or whatever. Asking me for the details of my mom’s health history are none of your business.
Don’t say “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
Yes, you can. In fact, you briefly envisioned losing your mother as you offered your condolences and then you freaked yourself out. The truth of the matter is that everyone will lose their mothers at some point. I lost mine before yours. It’s fine. I don’t wish harm upon your mom, and you can still mention your mom around me. I still had the best mother in the entire world. Yours will always be second fiddle in my eyes, so by all means bring her up.
Let me smile without pointing it out.
Like I said, my mom passed away right before my 40th birthday. On my 40th birthday, my best friend Maryum took me to dinner like my mom would have. She brought me to the same place (Morton’s) and we took the same picture I would have taken with my mom. She even strategically placed various gift cards in one big card with notes on each card just like my would have done. A week after my birthday, my friends all gathered for a giant brunch for me. I smiled. A lot. And people texted me in amazement. “Wow, so glad to see you so happy” was sent in numerous variations to my phone. You know what I did after that? I went home and I cried. I felt like I was being scolded for being happy, like I wasn’t mourning enough and should’ve worn all black with a veil over my face, like some dramatic old Italian widow. I know my mom wants me to be happy; she doesn’t want me in the fetal position. But those “pleasantly shocked” texts suggest that you want me in the fetal position. Please don’t.
“Awww” is a four-letter word. So is “pity.”
My mother was the strongest person I’ve ever encountered in my life, and this is coming from someone who’s met Floyd Mayweather. She placed a strength in me that I wake up and thank her for each day. It’s that strength that has brought me back to work, and even allowed me to write an entire book during this grueling past year of watching my mother fight. I don’t want your pity. You don’t have to feel bad for me. Yes, my mom died right before my birthday, yes that’s my best friend, partner in crime. All of that. Yes, I’m sad, but I’m doing okay. I promise. If I wasn’t, you’d never know it, but my small circle would. It’s all good.
Stop reminding me that my mom died.
The other day I was driving home from an awesome lunch with my literary agent and my book editor. It was a GOOD day, which I can say is not a rarity over these past two weeks, but deserves recognition. As I drove home, I received floods of texts—pictures of my mother, “you and your mother are in my thoughts every single day” texts, memes about death, you name it. I called my cousin Jenn and sobbed for an hour on the phone with her. If you want to check in, check in. That “P.S. your mom died” sentiment can stay at the door. Here’s why: you get to send me that text or make that phone call and go about your day like that’s your good deed. I’m still left with the reminder. This pain has no expiration date, so trust me if you don’t bring up my mother, I will still remember she’s not here. Some people who reach out to those who lost a parent are also going through their own grieving process of losing that person, and I totally get it. I shared my mother with A LOT of people. But when you speak with me, my feelings come first. That was my mother, not yours. Sorry. Take your feelings up with your therapist. I do with mine.
Don’t forget about me.
Eventually you will slowly forget that my mother is gone. The (often unpleasant) pleasantries will no longer reach my phone and you will go about your lives. I won’t. This will live with me until I see her again. The grief will get easier, but it will never vanish. While I don’t expect to be texted 40 years from now to check in on how I feel that my mother is gone, please understand that the hardest part of this process happens within the first year, not the first month. I won’t be all better quickly, so your care and concern shouldn’t end if it’s genuine. So as we say in hip-hop, “keep that same energy” going forward.
If you’re wondering how to do that, scroll back up and reread.