From Daughter to Mother in a Year

 

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

 
Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

This is the face of a new mother.

Not new, as in minutes new; but new, as in ten months into it new.

This is the face of a mother without a mother. A woman who was a bit lost in the world, after losing her mom and birthing her first child, almost simultaneously.

It’s not a particularly uplifting image or story; but it’s real, and it’s the truth.

A dear friend often says “it’s ok not to be ok.” I wholeheartedly agree. To be, wherever and however we are, allows us to feel and process our feelings, not run away from them. It’s a generously forgiving and nurturing attitude, toward ourselves and others; yet unfortunately, it’s not one many people adopt.

I have been doing this for years… not pretending I’m okay when I’m clearly not. The problem with this for other people is, when you’re not okay for a good long while, you start making them uncomfortable.

I was not okay when my daughter was born, and I knew and accepted that was just how it was going to be for a while. Almost every fiber of my being was grieving the sudden loss of my mom three months prior, while every other fiber was reveling in the birth of my daughter.

People around me wanted me to be okay, sooo bad. I too wanted to be... for my daughter, my husband, and me. Those who loved me wanted me to feel nothing but love and gratitude for this child, while taking comfort in the belief that my mom was “looking down on us smiling.”

But I wasn’t okay. It wasn’t comforting and I didn’t care to believe that my mom was up there, wherever they thought “up there” was, looking down on us, experiencing the joy of this child along with us. I didn’t care. I didn’t agree. I wanted her here with me, and with this baby. I knew that wherever her energy was now, there was no way she could be experiencing it quite as good as if she had been alive, holding her first grandchild in her arms.

I am not sure why my husband decided to capture the somber moment above. I don’t even remember him taking it. I look like I was in a trance while breastfeeding my daughter. That whole year after my mom’s death, the stark reality of enduring the challenges of motherhood without her support made me sad; and it permeated my days.

As if the grief was not enough, I was also dealing with hormonal imbalances, sleep deprivation, post partum depression, nursing discomfort, and an almost complete surrender of the person I formerly was. The challenges I faced as a new mom changed my face for a while. I often didn’t have the energy, nor the inclination, to cultivate a positive attitude or conceal the sadness.

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

Every Mother’s Day, I think of my mom, obviously, but not reminiscing on past years on which I celebrated her as my mother. Instead, I think of all the Mother’s Days that she’s missing. The ones we never were or will be able to celebrate as mothers together.

I have now celebrated twelve Mother’s Days as a mother, not a daughter. Today will be the 13th. Those people who say “It’s just a day” are probably the same people who tell the families who lost everything in the Woolsey Fire here in Malibu six months ago that “It’s just stuff.”

Until it happens to you, you have NO idea what you are talking about.

In 2006, I celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom, as I did every year, and didn’t know I was pregnant yet. The following year, I spent the day without my mom and with a child of my own, both for the first time. In the course of that one year, everything changed.

I don’t remember that first one. Maybe I have a photo from it somewhere, but I have no memory of it. I think I was sort of detached from the concept of it… how was I, all of a sudden, the mother on this day, in this scenario?

From the very beginning, I was this kid’s world. As a baby, she would sit, listen, and take in everything I said. When I would talk, she would just stare at me, absorbing every word, even though she didn’t understand them. When I wasn’t talking, she still had her eyes on me, observing.

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She was my beach baby, my walking buddy, my everything. Even though the void in my heart left by my mom would never be filled, she filled in places I never knew existed.

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

She brought light into a dark time, and her smile, dimple, and big blue eyes brought me hope and kept me moving and living and working hard to be my best for her.

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

I know it looks very different for some, and involves a lot of effort and heartache for many women who want to have children. But for me, becoming a mother was the easy part. I was fortunate that it happened without me doing much of anything, except having a bit of pleasurable fun, and then growing a human inside my body without too much complication.

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

The hardest part of my pregnancy was the last three months while dealing with my mom’s absence.

But learning to LIVE life as a mother, without a mother, was the absolute hardest thing I have ever done. And being a mother, in general, is the hardest thing for me to do… harder than losing my mom in a car accident, harder than accepting marriage isn’t what I expected it to be, and harder than bearing my soul and exposing my vulnerabilities in writing.

As Teddy Roosevelt said in the above quote… if nothing worth having comes easy, and if the hardest fought challenges and rewards in life are the most sweet... then motherhood must be the sweetest and most worthwhile venture in all of human existence. At least that’s what I am banking on.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (& Grandma)

from both of us…

 
My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

 

(and her little brother too.)

POSTSCRIPT: I went through years and years of photos while searching for pictures of my aunt to include in the memorial slideshow that was going to be shown at the luncheon after her funeral on May 3rd. The photos that I found from my first year as a mother, a few of them included above, sparked vivid memories and feelings from that time; so I was inspired to sit down and write about it.

Reflecting on the difficulties that I experienced reminds me of how far I have come and how much I have surmounted. More than anything else, my children’s presence in my life has challenged me to heal, grow, evolve, and live as authentically as possible. Acknowledging our pain and allowing ourselves to feel it is the ONLY way to process, work through, and heal from it. There aren’t any shortcuts or detours to avoid them; that is, if you intend to heal from them. So each time I write and reflect on my wounds from the past, I heal from them just a little bit more.

I Am Here with You

IMG_E4492.JPG

Every year, I bring the kids to visit you. After school ends, we rush over from Malibu and arrive with only a few minutes to spend before the gates close at five.

They give you their flowers and run around the grass. I try to steal a moment to talk to you, but I often don't let myself get very far into the one-sided conversation. I don’t want the kids to feel the heaviness in my heart while they flit around in their lightness. Sometimes, I just don’t want to acknowledge the heaviness.

So I watch them run around... burning off energy they built up on the car ride over. I tell my son repeatedly not to step on the other headstones and to leave the balloons and pinwheels where they are.

They are comfortable here, playing in their grandma’s yard, the only one of yours they will ever know.

I sit on the blanket and breathe in the peace this place is supposed to bring its visitors. I look around at all the trees and beauty and reflect on the number of years it's been since we laid you to rest. It may be only a year between our visits, but so much happens in the span of each year that sometimes it surprises me how much remains the same here.

Yet it’s a little different today… the light is different. I haven’t been here in the morning since the day of your memorial service twelve years ago, when I had a baby in my belly and an army of mourners walking with me from the chapel to this spot in the grass.

At this time of day, the tree that shades you filters the sunlight from directly above, casting strong shadows of branches down on your headstone and a warm, golden spotlight that bathes me in a natural glow when I lie down next to you.

The ground is a bit moist and uneven, and the smell of soil and cut grass is potent. My blanket is supposed to keep the wetness of the lawn from coming through, but it doesn’t. I hear the whizzing sound of weed trimmers all around, as the groundskeepers’ maintenance is in full swing. Ironically, I came here today to get some peace alone with you while the kids are in school, but it turns out it is a little less peaceful at this time of day then when we usually visit in the evening.

Still, without the kids in tow, there is a different kind of peace. I can sit here alone and say anything I want to you. I can talk and cry, and there is no one to hear me. I also can sit here in silence and feel the intimacy of the moment without words, knowing words don’t actually need to be spoken aloud to be heard.

Intimate words are hard for me to form through my voice. I get overcome with emotion in most instances of speaking intimately, and those strong emotions often muddle what I am trying to verbally communicate to others. For me, words flow more freely when I write; hence, this.

I write here next to you, sitting on this now wet blanket. Wanting to talk to you, but not knowing where to start. Wondering so much, about so much. Thinking of questions I never asked you. Wanting answers I am missing that I had not sought to get when you were alive, because my life had not yet begged their questions.

You feel closer to me here somehow. That doesn’t make logical sense, I know, because the ashes of your body buried beneath me here are not really you, nor is this inanimate slab of concrete next to me embossed with your name. I just refer to it as “you” because it is tangible. It is a symbol, a sign... It’s what I have left of you.

People like to say you are in me, and that you are with me always. They say it to comfort, and they say it with spiritual conviction; but it is not enough for me just to hear that. You are a feeling I have to deliberately elicit… one I have to connect with to believe, or to find comfort in. Just being told by others you are here with me, and that it is so because of how they choose to believe, doesn’t do it for me.

I am here with you. You are here with me. It’s intangible, but it is all we have. I write to you and about you to feel closer to you. I think about you and all that you have given me, and I feel you with me. When I am connected to my true self, I remember that you are part of me.

I have to go now. The kids and I will return in a few hours, with flower bouquets in their hands. They will give their flowers to you, and they will run around the grass, as always. They will hear church bells ring in the distance and take off to meet the source of the chimes. I will watch them go, silent in the calm of the evening stillness, enjoying the last few minutes we have before the gates close at five.

POSTSCRIPT (about the photo above): On that day, the branches of the tree that looms over my mom’s grave had filtered the midday sunlight in such a way that the glow affect on my face was created in the camera of my phone. I did not add any artificial filter to it after the fact, nor did I manipulate the photo in any way. I’m grateful for the beauty of nature’s filter, and for capturing this image.

So Much of Her is in Me

somuchofherisinme.jpg

So much of her is in me. So many ways I am, and things I do, stem from her. She was thoughtful and creative, with an open, vulnerable heart and a vast artistic sensibility.

She was editor of her high school and university yearbooks, and earned her degree in journalism. She was a proficient photographer and writer, and had a talent for piecing words and images together to create a visual narrative of people and moments in time.

I grew up watching her create. Whether it was drawing, painting, writing, taking photos, decorating a room, designing an invitation, or planning an event, I experienced how she used her gifts to enrich the lives of those around her.

She brought me into this world and gave of herself more than anyone else in my life; and she left this world with so much more to give.

Although I think of her often and miss what could have been - how she could have enhanced my life as a mother, and how her energy could have contributed to the lives of my children - I honor her on Mother’s Day, and every day, by sharing my own gifts... those I feel have been passed on to me through her love, her example, and her presence in my life, both while she was alive, and now that she is gone.

When I create - when I tell a story through words and images - I do so because she was my mother.

#mothersday #missyoumom

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

The Legacy of Grief

And Why It Is So Important to Own Our Pain

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

I am still thinking about the people who lost their loved ones in the Las Vegas shooting massacre last Sunday night, October 1st.

Yes, still. It has only been a week.

Those left behind to grieve lost loved ones are on my mind because I was them. I know what they are feeling right now. The rest of the world may have moved on, but they are still in the thick of it, possibly paralyzed by sadness, scared about the future, and looking for answers on how they are going to live without their mom, dad, son, daughter, sister, brother, or best friend.

I know their pain. I have felt their pain; as I too lost someone in an unexpected, tragic accident. One day my mom was here, turning 60 years old, and the very next day she wasn’t. That next day changed my life forever... October 10, 2006, eleven years ago today.

The deadly weapon used to kill her was a truck, not a gun; but the person operating the weapon was unwell just the same. The driver was under the influence of prescription drugs at the time of the accident, and so her impaired state caused her to drift off the two lane highway she was speeding on. When she swerved back into her lane, she over corrected and plunged her Bronco into oncoming traffic... slamming it head on into the car in which my mom was a passenger and killing her instantly.

My mom died lying on the asphalt of a rural road in Northern California at the hands of a woman not intending to kill her that day but who wasn't in the right state of mind to safely operate a vehicle that became a lethal weapon. There was no news coverage of the accident; and no villains were vilified nor heroes celebrated (although the driver did get sentenced to a year in prison). There were no hashtags prayers. Still, my mom's death changed the lives of her family and friends instantly, just as the deaths of those 59 people in Las Vegas changed the lives of their families and friends instantly, and forever.

In both cases, the irresponsible act of one single, troubled and unwell individual took innocent lives. The Vegas tragedy was just on a much larger scale and in a very public forum; and that act was committed with malicious intent. The added sting of knowing the killer intended to harm and kill people that day is one I was spared when my mom died; yet, the result of both events was the same - people were killed violently and unexpectedly.

Social media was ablaze this past week, with some people praying for Vegas, others demanding gun policy change, and still others protesting those demands by trying to convince the opposition that they should blame the individual, not the weapon. I know this is not true, but it seems like the people in the latter group are stuck in time somehow, like we are all still living in the 19th Century, when guns were shot one bullet at a time and were used primarily for protection from looters, robbers, and carpetbaggers. Their argument frustrates and confuses me, seeming archaic and inaccurate on so many levels. Yet above all the various protests, there were genuine sentiments of grief and many heartfelt pleas for stricter laws and demands to hold our politicians accountable for their failure to implement policies that they believe could have prevented this tragedy.

Now, over a week has passed, and most voices have quieted on all sides, save the various articles still being written and shared to further the debate on the subject of guns, media, and politics. It seems most people have moved on, resuming their normal output and usual consumption of media and going about their regular lives.

As I touched upon in Forever Changed, the only post I shared last week, our society functions on our collective ability to keep the tragedies of each day at arms length, and to prevent them from penetrating the armor we built up to protect us from daily doses of bad news, depressing statistics, and inconsiderate behavior by those around us. The Vegas tragedy was so tragic though that people could not help but let it into their hearts; and so they allowed themselves to feel devastated for a day or two, or three... just as they did when deadly shootings happened in Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, or Columbine.

But eventually, after a few days, maybe a week, most people expect themselves, and each other, to revert back to their normal routine of disconnect. Be it for self-preservation or simply for keeping their lives operating, they pull themselves up, look ahead and move forward, leaving the devastation behind, along with most of the emotion connected with it. After all, they would argue that they have to get out of bed, go to work, take care of kids, and contribute to society in the way they normally do and are expected to do. They can't afford, neither financially, emotionally or mentally, to curl up under the covers and allow themselves to feel sadness, fear, and powerlessness to the detriment of their careers, families, and self-images.

For about a week, praying for the families of the victims in Vegas or "keeping them in their thoughts" was the extent of what most people would allow themselves to do or feel. This is understandable, as it really is all most of us can do. The sad reality is that a week of prayers won’t give the lost loved ones back to those families, and heartfelt thoughts won't stop future acts of violence, irresponsibility, and loss that are bound to occur in a society full of people in pain that are taught to treat the symptoms instead of the roots of problems.

The people that were demanding stricter gun laws and policy changes may have felt more in control by "taking action" rather than just sending prayers. As admirable and empowering as this feels, it may not have any effect, since deeming something illegal does not mean people will immediately abide by the law and cease seeking out and possessing it. This has proven to be true over and over again by the whiskey and rye drinkers during prohibition, the pot and hash smokers of the sixties and seventies, the cocaine snorters of the eighties and nineties, and the crack, heroin and meth IV drug users of any decade. It is a well known fact that making something “illegal” doesn't make it unattainable; it just makes it trickier and more expensive to attain.

Too many people own guns already, or possess a large enough arsenal to sell them illegally and make a lot of money. So even if stricter policy changes are made, possibly banning bump stock devices that allow semi automatic weapons to perform like automatic ones, someone somewhere will still figure out a way to make, sell, and buy them illegally.

Aside from guns though, add to those illegal drugs listed above the issue of legal drugs - alcohol, prescriptions, and medical marijuana - that are over used and abused daily, and you have a whole other group of citizens that are taking lives via DUI accidents and drug overdoses in record numbers that dwarf the 59 souls lost in Vegas at the hands of one soul with an automatic weapon.

This man’s horrific deed has incited ideological arguments, intense anger, and (more than usual) political dissonance; yet adding to the debate on gun laws, the responsibility of the media, and the political failings of our leaders is not the purpose of my writing this. It is charged subject, with multiple facets and layers that don't add up to one definitive solution. It troubles me, but I am not entirely convinced that what happened in Vegas could have been prevented by stricter gun policies in a culture that, on the whole, glorifies violence, condones separatism, and encourages and enables the denial and numbing away of our emotions.

Instead, I write to share and process my experience of loss these past eleven years, and to grieve the loss of the people killed nine days ago. Their families are just beginning their journey into grief and loss, so I honor them and the difficult road toward acceptance and healing that they have just begun to travel.

Yet I also write to ask questions. To bring up that which most don't and won't talk about. To point out the way in which our society (dis)functions as a whole to the detriment of our collective mental health and emotional intelligence. Among all this discourse about policy and politics, where is the dialogue on the state of our overall wellness as a people, as a society, as a nation?

Wellness is a buzz word these days, as is mindfulness and meditation. But these concepts, and the efforts to implement them, only seem to surface in progressive communities and are often isolated to an individual's personal journey of growth and awareness. Self help - therapeutic, holistic, spiritual or motivational - is seen by the general public as an esoteric ritual reserved for yoga instructors, therapists, fitness and lifestyle coaches and their tribe of followers.

The fact is, there is nothing alternative or obscure about addressing our natural human emotions and our fundamental need for connection and love, or honoring our pain by approaching it with awareness, compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Where is the national agenda promoting true wellness in our society, outside of Western medicine's money making racket of drugging its people up on prescription medications? Where is a national dialogue confronting how to tend to people's mental and emotional well being without the use of drugs or other numbing methods?

There isn't one. There is no national dialogue such as this.

Sure, we have renowned alternative medicine doctors, writers, and self-help gurus, such as the late Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, and Eckhart Tolle who guide and teach those who seek them out through their books, articles and talks. We also have influential people such as Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, and Brené Brown who do the same with their powerful platforms, working in their own unique ways to show us how vulnerability and emotional intelligence is not something to shame or be ashamed of, but something to strive for, encourage and support within ourselves and our fellow humans.

There are also thousands of therapists and social workers doing their part every day, without the fame and glory of the former teachers and leaders mentioned above, to instill knowledge and awareness, promote courage and healing, and help people face and overcome their adversities without the use of prescription drugs, violence, or the usual numbing tactics coveted and accepted by our society as the norm.

But on a national scale, the need for and goal of true wellness, for the most part, is unaddressed in our society. In its absence, the crises of our culture is the perpetual numbing of pain and discomfort with a host of band-aids... anticipating and celebrating wine-o'-clock, ritualizing Sunday Funday drinking, zoning out on YouTube videos for hours, and binge streaming seven seasons of Game of Thrones in seven days, to name a few.

Numbing and denying our pain, instead of embracing it, leads to isolation and disillusion. Sharing our pain and our struggles in a supportive environment, instead of sweeping it under the rug, is the road to healing and thriving. The "rug" in its many forms - alcohol, TV, drugs, movies, video games, work, social media, sex, gambling, pornography, and retail therapy - has the magical ability to camouflage and cover up a lot of hurt and pain. Yet after the magic wears off, in a matter of days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years, we are still left with the same hurt and pain, now increased exponentially. If left under there, unchecked and unresolved for too long, this pain can rot, decay, fester, and transform into something twisted and toxic, with the potential to erupt in violence; and in last Sunday's case, a shower of bullets.

So where does this leave us? Where does this leave me in writing about my cyclical grief for my mom's death and the empathetic grief I feel for the families that are suffering tremendous loss right now? I don't know. All I know is I will continue to hold the victims of this tragedy close to my heart, next to the memory of mom, for as long as my grief needs me to do so. I am open to feel and accept it all. The grief, the pain, the disappointment, and the loss. I am a living testament to working through grief and pain by embracing and owning it, instead of concealing it away in a dark corner of my soul.

I will grieve, and when I am done this time around, I will remember and cherish my mom even more. I will recall how my kids brought flowers to her grave site on her birthday yesterday... how my son placed his colorful fall bouquet in the ground and uncomfortably yet sweetly wished her a happy birthday as he looked down at her grave marker... how my ten-year-old daughter chose red roses for her because through the years she has learned that they were her favorite... and how she hugged me tight and cried her first tears ever over for the loss of her grandmother whom she never had the chance to meet.

The legacy of grief.

It seems like an unwanted burden to bear, but it is really an invitation to expand our capacity to love.

All I Got

My mom loved the beach. When we were kids, she took us to Paradise Cove in Malibu to play in the ocean and sand all day while she relaxed and soaked up the sun.

This Mother's Day morning, I took a run at Zuma, as I so often do, and I snapped this photo with my mom weighing heavily on my mind. I felt she was with me, in my heart; but I really wished she was with me in person, walking the boardwalk alongside me.

I would gladly have given up my run and that precious hour of solitude to just go for a walk with her. I pictured a spry seventy-year-old grandma version of her walking next to me, and wanted so badly for this version to exist outside of my imagination.

I remember how excited she was when I moved to Malibu fifteen years ago. I can still see her face when she saw the 180 degree view of the ocean visible from the deck of John's and my new place for the first time. Her jaw dropped when she walked in the front door and looked out at it; and she joked with us about wanting to move in herself.

She was so happy John and I were in love. She was our biggest fan... kind of like how fans of celebrities love their favorite power couple; yet instead of Brangelina, my mom fan girled us. She had a collage of our photos up over her desk at work, and she had several framed photos of us in her house.

She LOVED John. She thought I won the lottery of men. She adored us together and said "aaawww..." whenever we did something even remotely romantic in front of her, like give each other a quick kiss or cuddle up together on her couch. I think she was just so happy for me, and maybe a little bit relieved, that her outspoken middle daughter, who had an argumentative nature, strong opinions, and passionate convictions, found a gorgeous, kind-hearted man that seemed to love me despite these traits... or perhaps, to her surprise, because of them.

When John and I were engaged, she was beside herself with elation and excitement. My wedding day was one of the happiest of her life. She was beaming the whole day with pride... over me, the wedding I had planned on my own, and the man I had chosen to spend my life with.

None of us knew on that day that she wouldn't live to see the life we ultimately created together. It was only a year and a half later when she died, and she left us knowing I was six months pregnant, and that my baby girl was going to finally make her a grandmother.

She wouldn't get the chance to meet my daughter, or know we also had a son four years later. She wouldn't know that we'd continue to live at the beach, raising our family here and still looking out at that same view she had jaw dropped over.

She wouldn't know I would become a writer. That I would write about her often, or that I would begin to write my first book. She wouldn't know that so many people she loved would be touched by what and how I write, or credit her for my creative talent.

If my mom was alive today, I would have invited her out to Malibu and taken that walk with her; and then I would have taken her to brunch somewhere in town with a beautiful ocean view... or better yet, made brunch for her here so she could sit on our deck with a glass of champagne, look out at the ocean, and watch her grandchildren play around her.

Today has been hard for me so far. I don't know why this year more than previous years, but there it is. My family took me to brunch this morning at a local restaurant, after my run, and all I wanted to do was come back home, be alone, and write. I didn't want to see and be surrounded by adult mom and daughter combos celebrating each other over champagne brunch, or listen to my kids argue about whose foot was on whose side of the car and hear my son scream out at the injustice of it all. I didn't want to be informed about what they each wanted for their next birthdays several months away... subjects these kids seemed to think were paramount to broach on this particular day of days.

As a daughter, when you don't have a mom present to show your love and appreciation, there's a risk of presuming this day should be all about you. As a mother, things are rarely all about you, so this could be quite an intoxicating notion. Our culture dangles this day in front of us and tells us we should expect a magical twenty four hours in which our kids won't behave selfishly and our deepest desires will be met without us being asked what they are. If we buy into this premise, we will surely be set up for disappointment and our loved ones set up for definite failure.

I prefer to give more than receive. I love to be of service to those I love, to support them, to give them the parts of myself that can help them. To lift them up and serve them in the best ways I can, using my talents and strengths. That is love to me.

So since I cannot express and give love to my mom in person today, I am sending out my love to her and to all the mothers in my life through these words.

Mamas... I love you. You work hard, you sacrifice, you suffer, you triumph. You go above and beyond - and most days, it goes unnoticed. You plan ahead, you think of how to make others feel special, and you put the wants and needs of your kids ahead of your own most of the time. You are rockstars. I am in awe of you.

I never got the chance to physically be a daughter to my mom and a mother to my kids simultaneously, or to celebrate Mother's Day with my mom and kids together. The time it has taken me this Mother's Day afternoon to write this, and to reflect on my mom, is my special time spent with her today. Thinking about her, remembering her smile, her laugh, her jokes, her love, and writing this... it's the closest thing to showering her with my love and appreciation today.

That's all I got. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.

 

Ten Years After My Life Before

The life I had before... I knew how to do that. I could do that forever. But now look at me. What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do with all this?
— Erica Barry (in Something's Gotta Give)

Life is not a movie. No one knows this more than me. Still, just humor me here, okay?

The quote above is one of the most poignant and heartbreaking lines from a great scene in one of my favorite movies. It speaks volumes to so many of our fears of losing control, of stepping out of our comfort zone, of challenging the false egos and fabricated identities that we offer up to the world and hide behind to protect ourselves from the heartbreak of being vulnerable, of admitting we aren't fine, and of feeling and loving deeply.

Her sentiment, "What am I going to do with all this?" really resonates with me because I have felt it, not only in regard to romantic love (as she does in the film), but in regard to losing my mom... now ten years ago today.

When my mom died, so much came up in me that I was not prepared to deal with. I had my first child three months later, and my delay in fully grieving the loss of my mother until my daughter was safely outside of my body meant I was faced with embracing overwhelming joy and tremendous grief simultaneously.

WTF? Are you kidding me? How was I going to be elated about my beautiful and healthy baby girl while finally allowing myself to feel the intense anger and crippling sorrow of my mom being killed in a car accident?

What am I going to do with all this? All this feeling. All this hurt. All this love. All this disappointment. All this hope. All this sadness. What am I gonna do?

I couldn't navigate my way through it, and I didn't have the clarity, energy, motivation or support to know that I needed some sort of outlet, or some sort of outside help, to sort out the mess that was me, that sad woman buried somewhere beneath a bunch of diapers, baby wipes, burp clothes and boppy pillows.

So instead of real help, I used band-aids. I patched up my life as best I could with quick fixes, forced positive attitudes, running, yoga, clean eating, a bit of makeup, a healthy dose of denial, and the sheer abandonment of some of my deepest passions and strongest convictions. I created some semblance of a happy home life and convinced myself that it was all somehow, in some way, going to be okay the way it was now.

The way I was now.

It wasn't. I hadn't fully understood what these new roles I now was expected to fill (wife, mom, motherless daughter) would do to my former identity, or how my attempting to fill them would demolish all that I had thought of myself. Although it looked as if I played the roles pretty well from the outside, deep down I was partly broken, unhappy with myself, my ability to parent, my marriage, my choices, and my unwanted, unchosen, effed-up circumstances.

The difficulties I faced had rippling effects that forever changed the landscape of my life and led me down roads I never imagined I would venture. Roads of thoughts, feelings, words, and actions that did not serve my life. States of mind and being (sadness, anger, bitterness, fear, self doubt, insecurity and shame, to name a few) that I expected to only visit temporarily - that is, while grieving my mom, caring for needy babies and toddlers at home, and fumbling through my domesticated, messy life - were instead the states of mind and being that I set up camp and lived in for years.

In the narrative of the film, Erica dealt with her "all this" by writing. She wrote and cried and cried and wrote, and out of all of the hurt and pain and love, she created something glorious, healed herself, and moved on with her life. In the narrative of my life, over seven years had passed before I discovered that writing would be my salvation for my personal "all this."

With every word I wrote, I began to dig out of my dark tunnel both toward the light within me and the light in my life that had been eluding me. The digging was painful, enlightening, intoxicating, scary, euphoric, and all together devastating; yet, it freed me from the purgatory between "my life before" and the life I knew wanted to have in the future.

So today, on this day that means so much yet hurts so much, I am grateful that these last ten years are over. Still, the dawn of this solemn anniversary of sorts didn't flip a switch and make all my problems magically disappear. There is no ten year statute of limitation on my pain, suffering or difficulty in life. Sure, you can look at all the photos of me as a mother these past ten years, posing with my kids through faces of love, smiles and happiness, and see part of my story. And those faces are all as authentic and real as anything. But, as we all know, snapshots taken and often shared with those outside our inner world are mere snippets of a much larger picture... and rarely do they tell the whole story.

Not having my mom here hurts still. The void she left has never been filled. I feel it most when I see the grandmothers of my kids' friends enjoying their grandchildren, and the moms of my girlfriends helping their daughters like they have been doing all their lives, being there for them and showing them the unconditional love and support that only a mother can give. I miss that. This is the part of my story that makes life challenging for me.

But it's just a story. Not a movie, but a story without a completed script or a guaranteed happy ending. We all have a choice to either indulge in our stories, let them control us and dictate how we live; or to acknowledge and honor the events that unfold in them with awareness, vulnerability and acceptance. Then all we can do is just write and cry and cry and write until we create a new chapter, heal ourselves from the plot twists that we didn't see coming, and move through the remainder of our story looking forward to the parts that have yet to be written.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Today would have been your 70th Birthday. But you're not here to celebrate it. The weirdest part of that fact is that I don't know how you would have looked or how you would have lived as a seventy-year-old woman. Since you died the day after your 60th birthday, ten years ago tomorrow, you never got the chance to grow older and wiser, to right the wrongs, to make your peace, to hold your grandchildren.

You never got to see me as a mother. You never got to retire, reinvent yourself, become the cool grandma, sit and cheer at my daughter's soccer games, or come over to watch my son blow out his birthday candles.

You were cheated of all of it. You were cheated of the chance to realize you were the woman you actually were all along. A strong woman, beautiful, fierce, talented and amazing to her core, who just got lost for a while and mistakenly let others define how you saw yourself... let others make you feel less than... let others treat you in ways that didn't honor the kick-ass woman you really were.

I am mad at you for this. I am mad at you for not valuing your life enough to take better care of yourself. I am mad at you for not clicking your seat belt just minutes before that drugged up woman crossed the yellow line and plowed her truck into your best friend's car and killed you. I am mad at you for not thinking of me at home, pregnant with your first grandchild, and not doing everything in your power to get yourself back home safely so you could be here to see her be born. To know her. To let her know you. To love my son. To let him love you.

I am mad. Ten years later and I am still sad. Mad, sad. One in the same. As I read somewhere once, "anger is just sad's bodyguard."

I didn't get to say I love you. I didn't get to say goodbye. I didn't get to say how much you meant to me. I can only write this letter and send it out into the universe and believe that you knew how I felt. That you know how I feel. To make peace with the fact that I don't get to talk to you again or tell you any of this.

When all is said and done... despite the anger, the sadness, the regret, the disappointment, the dashed hopes, the alternate reality I have had to accept for my life, despite it all... you were loved. You ARE loved. By me. By my children who never met you. By all the people whose lives have felt the void of your presence these last ten years. There are many of us. We all feel it. We all have had to go on somehow without you.

So what do I say now? Happy Birthday? This isn't really your birthday anymore. It was your birthday here on Earth, but since you haven't walked this Earth for ten years now, the fact that you "would have been" seventy is pretty much irrelevant. What good does it do us? What would have been. What could have been, if only. What never will be.

You are now just a memory. A gravestone to visit. A photo in an album. A feeling. You are energy, you are spirit. You are the stars. You are the sunsets we see over the ocean. You are the laugh in my daughter's eyes and the mischief in my son's smile. You are the passion in my heart, the perception in my mind, the strength in my soul.

You are part of us all, even when we don't recognize it. You are remembered. You are missed. You are lost. You are found. You are us.

You are loved.

Your daughter,

Lisa

Just One Year More

Nine years ago today, the day after her 60th birthday, my mom was killed in a car accident. I was six months pregnant with my first child, her first grandchild, and I was the first one in my family to get the news. On this day last year, I decided to finally write about it, and about her.

I didn't widely share Eight Years With, Eight Years Without when I posted it last year, so I thought it would be fitting to do so today. And although I wrote it one year ago, I could just as well have written it a month ago, a week ago, an hour ago. Time is no matter. I still feel the same, and I still miss my mom... just one year more.

eight year with mom.png

Eight Years With, Eight Years Without

Originally published October 10, 2014

Eight years ago today my mom died. In an instant, a car crashed into another car and she was gone.

I had just spoken to her a couple days before. She was on a road trip with her best friend celebrating her 60th birthday weekend and had called me from a baby shop, excited to tell me about the crib bedding she had found for my soon-to-be-born baby girl. Using verbal imagery, she exuberantly tried to sell me on this expensive, over the top crib set from a store hundreds of miles away; something that I could not return or exchange if I didn't find it as perfect and dreamy as she did. As she was not known for her practicality when it came to shopping, I gently declined it before a bad cellular connection ended our call prematurely. No goodbyes were exchanged. I didn’t bother trying her back, figuring I would just talk to her the next day, not knowing that would be the last time I would speak to her.  Read more>>

Would Have Been 69

My mom would have been 69 years old today.

Random thoughts on her and her life have been flooding my brain since I awoke this morning. I decided I would tune into them and write down whatever comes to mind, and then post them on my social media accounts throughout the day along with old photos as a tribute to her on her birthday.

As an artist, photojournalist, and journalism major, she would have LOVED this. I do it for her.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

(Here is what I ended up posting via Instagram and Facebook on this day...)

October 9, 2015
10:27am

My mom would have been 69 years old today. I can just imagine the jokes she would have made about that fact. Happy Birthday, Mom. ‪#‎photojournlist‬ ‪#‎happybirthday‬ ‪#‎missyou‬ ‪#‎memoriesofmom‬ ‪#‎wouldhavebeen69‬

 

October 9, 2015
12:58pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She got married, graduated college and had her first child, all in '69. If she was here, she would have been sure to make that correlation and would have reveled in the memories of that year. Happy Birthday, Mom. #1969 #touring #ontheroad #thesixties #happybirthday #missyou #‎memoriesofmom‬ #wouldhavebeen69

 

mom tribute 3.jpg

October 9, 2015
2:48pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She was most happy when she was with all four of her children. Here in Napa, on what was to become my dad's vineyards, she was elated. Traveling, on vacation, adventurous road trip, time with her kids, and wine... for her, it couldn't get any better than that. Happy Birthday, Mom. ‪#‎napavalley‬ ‪#‎happybirthday‬ ‪#‎missyou‬ ‪#‎memoriesofmom‬ ‪#‎wouldhavebeen69‬

 

October 9, 2015
5:37pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She was the editor of the yearbook in both her high school and college, and she earned her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. Being groomed by her mentors to set the NYC magazine publishing scene aglow upon graduation, she shocked them all and instead chose love. It is because of this choice that I exist. I know she would have loved seeing me grow as a writer, and I guarantee she would have been my writing’s most devout follower. Happy Birthday, Mom. #editor #journalism #writer #happybirthday #missyou #‎memoriesofmom‬ #wouldhavebeen69

 

October 9, 2015
10:35pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She had me at 25 years old, an age when I was off working on film sets and still figuring out who and what I wanted to be. By then, she was a wife and a mom of three and she already knew who and what she HAD to be for her family. It was not easy. It's only now - as a wife and mother myself - that I fully understand that. Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you. #motherlessdaughter #happybirthday #missyou #‎memoriesofmom‬ #wouldhavebeen69

Eight Years With, Eight Years Without

Eight years ago today my mom died. In an instant, a car crashed into another car and she was gone.

I had just spoken to her a couple days before. She was on a road trip with her best friend celebrating her 60th birthday weekend and had called me from a baby shop, excited to tell me about the crib bedding she had found for my soon-to-be-born baby girl. Using verbal imagery, she exuberantly tried to sell me on this expensive, over the top crib set from a store hundreds of miles away; something that I could not return or exchange if I didn't find it as perfect and dreamy as she did. As she was not known for her practicality when it came to shopping, I gently declined it before a bad cellular connection ended our call prematurely. No goodbyes were exchanged. I didn’t bother trying her back, figuring I would just talk to her the next day, not knowing that would be the last time I would speak to her.

I couldn't reach her the next day on her birthday, and had to leave my wishes in a message. She didn’t call back, probably having too much fun to bother. The day after her birthday, I got a call from the road, but it wouldn’t be from her. Instead it was from the officer on the scene of the disaster she had just been in, saddled with the duty of telling me “your mother didn’t survive the accident.” Six months pregnant and shellshocked, it was the darkest day of my life.

I’ve now lived the past eight years without my mother, and those same eight years with the void she left… Eight years with my daughter and the overwhelming happiness, intense love, and joyous fulfillment of being her mom, and eight years without my most loyal supporter and eager babysitter-to-be… Eight years without hearing my kids call my mom “Grandma,” and eight years with a pervasive sense of loss… loss of the vision of how I expected my life to unfold, loss of the delusion of control over my life and what may happen in it, and loss of an emotional bond that was so embedded in the fiber of my being that I have had to fight and flounder to find my way to live without it.

Yet, my mom was not my hero. She was not someone I emulated or wanted to be like. She was fragile, she was damaged, and she was, at times, hopelessly hopeless. Her life disappointed her in a way that she found hard to manage, hard to accept, and hard to overcome. She had an extremely rough time of it, not because she had a wholly rough life, but because she perceived it as rough and received it as rough. Her perspective skewed heavily to the glass half empty and try as she might, she rarely was able to get that damn glass full. 

My siblings and I grew up under the weight of this, which shaped us and cursed us with ingrained habits and programmed behaviors developed throughout our childhood that we have had to work (and still work) to overcome as adults. It is the reason that, in my 20’s and 30’s, I focused my energy on how not to be like her. I have since realized that the more you concentrate on what you don't want, the more you draw it to you. So I don't do that anymore.

But it wasn't until my mom died that I fully realized most everyone else she came in contact with had a very different perception of her. I know they had to have seen her dark side, but I think most of them chose to focus on her more endearing qualities, maybe because she often was just so fun to be around. She was cleverly sarcastic, generous to a fault, wickedly daring and inappropriately funny. She was always up for a drink, a smoke, a laugh, a party, an adventure. Adored by her friends, treasured by her colleagues, and loved by her family, my mother succeeded more than she failed in lighting up the lives of those around her with her charm, beauty, and intoxicating likability. This was never more apparent than on the day of her memorial, when the chapel was bursting at the seams with people from all stages of her life, all there to mourn the loss of one of the kindest and most lovely spirits ever to walk this Earth.

I wish she could have been there to see it. To see all the people whose lives she had forever touched. She would have loved it; and for a day or so afterward, she would have felt like the luckiest woman in the world. 

Sometimes I feel she was laid to rest when she was to spare her of all the pain and disappointment she so often felt. I like to believe she was truly happy in the moment she left us... on an adventure, discovering new places, escaping her troubles and enjoying the present - free from the pain of the past and worry of the future. Just living it up. Living it up to the end. If you knew her, you would agree that that may have just been her perfect ending.