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.

 

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.

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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>>

Booby Trap

As a new mother, many of the decisions I had confidently and unequivocally thought I made while pregnant were turned on their heads by LIFE.

Life happened, as it so often does, in such a way that unexpectedly altered the course of my existence, and my mothering journey, forever.

"I Belong With You" by  Katie M. Berggren

"I Belong With You" by Katie M. Berggren

In my previous post, Milk & Cookies, I briefly touched on the fact that one of those self-assured decisions I made during pregnancy was to breastfeed. I wrote that as a self-proclaimed, "post-partum, hormonally-imbalanced, sleep-deprived, and geographically-isolated newborn mother," nursing my two kids was very challenging for me, especially the first time around. What I didn't go into in that post was why.

When my baby girl was born, nursing didn't come as naturally as the naive and enthusiastic pregnant version of me had hoped. After a couple weeks, I was in over my head, completely at the mercy of the most demanding, albeit precious, task master.

My daughter's unrelenting need for mother's milk, and my unrelenting sense of duty to provide it for her, left me feeling (and looking) like the walking dead. Although no one but she was expecting me to keep it up, it was my fervent, almost maniacal, penchant for following through with my intention, coupled with my need to maintain control of as much as possible at the time, that kept me from quitting early, despite my many notions to chuck it all and buy a big tub of baby formula.

Riding the waves of latch problems, breast engorgement, nipple soreness, plugged ducts, and monotonous pumping, I vowed to stick with it, despite the extreme discomfort. Fighting in the trenches, I was winning and losing battles left and right; but committed to the war effort as a whole. My breast pump became both my nemesis and my salvation. I was not going to shirk giving my baby this gift of my abundant milk supply, even though no one would blame me if I did. No one, that is, but me.

I can see how this may sound like a dramatization of the facts, or simply a case of a really negative attitude on my part; especially to those whose nursing journeys were enjoyable or even just moderately challenging. But I assure you it is not, at least not from where I was existing back then.

Living in a very rural coastal area, just feet from the ocean but miles from any conveniences, none of our close neighbors were home during the day nor did any of our family members live nearby to help or relieve us. My husband, who worked all day, five days a week, and an hour drive away, helped me as much as he could. Yet I ended up fending for myself and my baby most days, isolated and alone.

This rough situation was made a thousand times harder by the unexpected and unthinkable tragedy that had occurred just a few months earlier. I was six months pregnant when I got the phone call that my mom had been in a car accident. A couple frantic calls later, the officer on the scene informed me that she had not survived the crash, having been killed instantly on impact.

Being the first in the family to hear the news, I was saddled with the responsibility of breaking the news to her three other children, her mother, her sister, her entire world.

How was I possibly going to do this amidst my own shock and disbelief? After telling my younger sister and older brother, they agreed to disperse the news to the others. Still, those were the two worst phone calls I have ever had to make.

The remaining three months of my pregnancy were somewhat surreal. I grieved, but not much. I consoled others in the face of their overwhelming grief. I spoke at her funeral... composed, resolved, and shedding little to no tears. I was mostly numb. I was so afraid that if I really let myself feel the depth of my sadness, my baby's well being would be compromised; and I just couldn't take that risk. So, I didn't feel it. I wouldn't. I couldn't.

When my daughter was born, I was elated. A sense of happiness and purpose I had never experienced enveloped me. Then quickly, as the days went by and the nursing challenges, exhaustion, and hormonal shifts set it, all bets were off. Finally.

I started to cry. A LOT. And loudly. I got angry. I yelled. I screamed. I couldn't understand why my mom, who was so excited to finally become a grandma, wasn't going to get to be one after all. My grief, juxtaposed with my joy, together created the most imbalanced reality I have ever lived. Grieving the loss of the woman that nurtured me my first months of life, while I nurtured my own daughter through hers, left me jumbled.

I found it difficult to fully embrace and enjoy my new role amidst the sorrow. I was a motherless daughter living in a world I didn't recognize - one with my daughter but without my mother. Their lives never intersected on this Earth, and they never would. This truth was difficult to accept, and the pain of it made that first year both a blur and one I will never forget.

That's the why of it. It isn't pretty. It isn't sunny. But it's a big part of what makes me, me, today. It shaped me in ways I don't think I would have been otherwise. My mother's death continues to challenge me to this day. When it comes to not living in fear of suddenly losing those I love, or not being afraid of taking risks for fear of something bad happening… I am still a work in progress.

Although not always successful at it, I strive to let go and surrender to what comes - no matter what comes - and to live with joy, hope, positivity and fortitude. I think motherhood is the ultimate teacher of these things; so I guess I am in the right classroom.

 

*POSTSCRIPT: The circumstances surrounding my breastfeeding challenges were unique to me, and as you read above, I have many specific and varied reasons why it proved extremely difficult for me.  I got through it hope and perseverance; but mostly by just plain, day-to-day surviving. 
However, this description of my personal experience does not in any way reflect my opinion about breastfeeding as a choice.  It is important to make this clear because it was such a significant thing for me to accomplish; one of which I am still very proud. Also because, truthfully, I would do it again, hands down, no question, if I had to do it all over again.
Even as hard as it was the first time around with my daughter, I was committed to giving my son the same benefits of my breast milk, no matter the challenges I would possibly face. I am happy to share that it did go much smoother with my son, although I had to contend with a toddler while doing it!
So if asked, my advice to any prospective mom that is considering breastfeeding is to DO IT. Just try it, be patient with it, persist with it, find the joy in it if it is in the cards for you to be a nursing mother. And be sure to enlist the help of as many people as you can to assist you in any way necessary to help you accomplish your breastfeeding goals.  
I believe it is worth it, and that it will be something you will be happy you did. Even with all my issues, I am SO glad I did it! 

For more information and support on breastfeeding, please visit bestforbabes.org.