When your mom dies after a brutal and unexpected battle with cancer, you receive a lot of reading material on the grieving process. It comes from the hospice home, the cancer center, the hospital, your church, family, friends, and strangers. It’s in the mail and your inbox and on your doorstep. It’s a lot at first, and then it fades, reappearing on anniversaries and holiday times. Usually it’s pretty generic and if I’m being completely honest, ends up in the garbage, although don’t get me wrong, there is something comforting in knowing that it’s okay to still be grieving, and in some ways I hope that it all keeps coming until I’m old and gray. However, after a really rough second holiday season without my mom, I do offer a suggestion to the hospice home: send a week’s worth of anti-anxiety meds as the death anniversary approaches and another week supply right around Christmas. Also, it would be pretty great if they could include something about how to inform people that your mom is dead without being a real downer, because so far greeting new people with, “Hi, my name is Laura and my mom is dead,” makes me seem even more socially awkward than I already am.
I’ve come to realize that whether you lose your mom as a small child, a teenager, a quarter-lifer, or when you are collecting social security, it hurts like no other pain. A mother’s job is to prepare you for life without her, and it is expected that you will outlive her, but there is never a time where you are ready to do life without her, whether you’re 1 or 100. I happened to lose mine just shy of my 25th birthday. She saw me learn how to walk and talk. She sat front and center for all of my plays. She watched me walk across both a high school and college graduation stage. She comforted me when my heart broke. I got more time with her than a lot of people get with their moms, but not as much time as others.
A month and a half after my mom died, I decided it would be a really great idea to move to a new city and start a new job where no one knew that my mom had died, or even that she had been sick. It ended up working out really well for me, but I can’t actually say I would recommend it. The most natural question to ask a teacher at the end of the summer/beginning of the school year is, “SO HOW DID YOU SPEND YOUR SUMMER?!” The first few times I was caught off guard, and explained to complete strangers that I quit my job, moved home to take care of my sick mom who was supposed to live for years, but then died two weeks later, then I buried her and stayed in bed and cried a lot. It didn’t take long to learn that was a real mood killer, so I started telling people that I spent it with family and friends (I mean, they were at the funeral after all) and traveling (where I spent a lot of time crying in my best friend’s bed and on top of mountains). I’M TOTALLY NORMAL, BE MY FRIEND PLEASE!
I start the school year off with a “Getting to Know Ms. Grimes” slideshow. I have a whole slide devoted to “Dogs I Know.” I include a slide about how I like to spend my time, filled with pictures of family and friends, which includes a picture with my mom. I’ve decided that day one probably isn’t the best time to inform my students that my mom is dead, but she is such a piece of who I am that in some ways it feels like I’m being dishonest. I have decided it is not something I should feel the need to hide from students though, so if it comes up, I’m honest about it. Last year, a student asked what my plans were for spring break, and I responded that I was taking a trip with my dad and brother. A particularly difficult student who didn’t always think before he spoke asked me why my mom wasn’t going. I stared at him point blank and responded that she wouldn’t be joining because she was dead. A great way to get students to focus on math and get a student who is just kind of a jerk to stop for a bit is to MAKE THINGS REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE! I also shut down “your mom” jokes real fast.
Losing your mom (or any loved one, I’m sure) changes who you are to your core. It changes how you approach work, friendships, love, and life. It changes your priorities. It means sometimes you find yourself sobbing in the grocery store for no particular reason. It means that people complaining about spending the time with their family will make your blood boil. It means that you don’t want to waste one moment being unhappy because you know it goes so fast. It means that sometimes being around people is just a bit too much to handle.
Maybe the grieving materials don’t include information on how to tell people your mom died because there is no right or wrong way to do it, there is only your way. Some people don’t want anyone to know, other people write multiple blog posts about it. Some people keep it close to their heart, other people wear it for all to see. It is in no way all that I am, but it is a part of who I am, and I have to honor that. And fortunately for me, I’m surrounded by people who choose to honor it with me.