“Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows…” -William Shakespeare
I learned a new title for myself this past week: “veteran survivor”. Translated in my mind, “veteran survivor” means I’ve been at this a long time. Indeed, I have! This September 5, it will be 40 years since mom died. I am 10 years beyond the age she was when she died. I wrote about this at the time and how strange this made me feel. It still feels strange. Suddenly, Mom, my role model, became younger than I. Of course, in my mind, she’s still my mom, still older and wiser and still the one who gave me so much love. The next year, as I officially became “older”, the strange feeling returned. Throughout the year, each day, in fact as I think of her, she’s always older than I.
Here’s the thing: in a logical world, this is not to be; well, that’s MY logical world. People expect their parents to die before them, I get that. This past year, the mothers of 3 of my friends died. Two of the women were in their ‘80’s and one in her mid-90’s. This is what I always thought I’d have. When I hear daughters complain about their aging mothers, I want to scream. I don’t; often I comment on how fortunate they are to have their mothers still here on this earth.
Sometimes I even say, “I don’t envy you your current circumstance, but I DO envy the time you’ve had with her.” I always thought mom would die in her ‘80’s or 90’s; I thought she’d see my kids grow to adulthood, to see great-grandchildren, to continue to be HERE. I thought she’d come to terms with dad’s death which had been expected for several years. I thought she’d come to terms with my moving to another state. I thought she’d come to terms with the job change. But…it was simply too much for her to endure, and I think she endured it for 2 plus years after her prior attempt 4 months after dad died. I think she struggled every single day as best she could.
Those of us who have had loved ones die by suicide are called loss survivors. There are often subgroups that form: moms who have had kids die by suicide or widows who have had husbands take their lives. For all of these years that I’ve been a loss survivor, I have met very few women who fit into my category of a motherless child. All of the national conferences I’ve attended, all of the workshops I’ve done have not helped me to find many other women with the same loss. When I actually DO meet one like myself, I can feel the excitement of wanting to know what it’s like for her.
Look back at the above quote: “Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows…” The layer upon layer of “veteran loss survivors” stuns me at times. For the past 10 years, I roll my new “layer” around in my head. I think such thoughts as, “Mom said getting older takes its toll (wait, she never got to this age)” or “What would mom look like today? Would she have had arthritis that would have let me know what I was in for? Would her hair be totally gray?”
Another feature of this “older than my mom was when she died” are the questions at the Dr.’s office that begin like this: “What ages were your parents when they died?” (They were both 61 years old.) “What did they die of?” (My dad died of complications from emphysema and my mom took her own life.) What follows for a few seconds is total silence and averted eyes. In a way, this eliminates further issues of aging that would have been experienced by my parents.
What runs in my family? Hmmmm….not quite sure. Let’s flash to the eye Dr. “You have cataracts. Almost everyone gets them. “ How old were your parents when they got them?” My children were robbed of a loving, caring grandmother as they grew up. I only had 1 grandparent when I grew up as the other 3 were already dead. My dad’s mom died when I was 16. She lived with her daughter and son-in-law and my 3 cousins in Chicago. I loved her and she loved me but I never had that closeness I saw that so many of my childhood friends had.
I’d hoped my kids would have that. They were 8, almost 7, 3, and 11 months when she died. Their paternal grandparents lived in Arizona. When mom died, I also became an orphan. I was an orphan and a motherless daughter. NOW I realized I was an adult! Funny how the mind works, huh?
I think of my mom, Ellen, many times a day. Sometimes, I still yearn for her; I want one more touch, one more hug. I sometimes forget what her voice sounded like but if I concentrate hard enough, it comes back to me. She died alone, in her home. No family member was by her side. She died from despair, loneliness, and grief. If I could’ve had it my way, she’d die at 103 surrounded by generations of a loving family. Her body would simply wear out. She’d die with a smile on her face. She’d die content and at peace. It, apparently, was not meant to be…. In me, however, her love continues…as does my love for her…