I was thankful to be introduced to the book Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman a few years ago. It put words to so much of what I was feeling and introduced me to an incredibly supportive community of other women having similar experiences. Alisa and I connected through a Motherless Daughters facebook page and I am grateful that she offered to share her story for Life is Sweet month so close to such a poignant anniversary.
I really do not know where to begin, so I will go back as far as I can remember…back when life was care free and I had not yet learned of the world of cancer or depression and anxiety. My story involves all three of those things.
Cancer entered my life at the age of six years old. That is how old I was when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and my young world turned upside down. Everything changed. My predictable life became unpredictable. I now had questions such as, who would be home for me after school. Would my mother be at home or at the hospital? Would my dad stay home that day or go to work? Would I go to the hospital or go to school? Would I sleep at home or spend the night at the home of a family member? Would my mother ever get better? What did the future hold? These things and many more went through my head on a daily basis. Since I was so young there are only certain things that I remember and many things which I am sure I have blocked from my memory in order to move forward. I remember how determined my mom was to fight, to survive, to see us grow up, to live. I remember the chemo…oh the chemo. My mother was so violently ill on a regular basis that I became afraid of her, afraid of seeing or hearing her get sick. To this day this is a memory that has contributed to the anxiety and post traumatic stress that I deal with on a regular basis. I remain traumatized by sickness and germs. I remember my mother warning me before she would get sick and I would run out to the garage and plug my ears. Looking back on this now, I feel absolutely horrible as this must have made her feel so much worse; however at the time I did not see it that way.
I remember the hair loss. My mom had a wig but it was very uncomfortable and I recall her asking me if I would mind if she didn’t wear it around me. Seeing her bald was just more physical proof that she was so sick, but I remember telling her I loved her with or without that wig. To this day I am quite obsessive about the upkeep of my hair and I attribute that directly to the experience of seeing how sad it was when my mom lost her hair.
Through this all my parents did their best to continue with everyday life. Now looking back as an adult, I cannot really imagine how they held it together. Looking back, none of this seems real. It does not fell like this was my life, that this was my story, that this IS my story.
I remember being so traumatized and upset by my mom being so sick that she chose to admit herself to the hospital and go inpatient so that I would be more comfortable at home. I believe that this is why she decided to pass away at the hospital as opposed to hospice at home. I feel very responsible for this decision of hers and will carry that burden with me forever.
I think the moment that I truly knew that my mom would die was when my parents went away on one last vacation. This was so they could spend their last quality time together. After this trip my mother went inpatient and a few weeks later she passed away. I remember the specific day a little clearer than the rest. March 3rd. I knew something was wrong when I walked up the driveway and saw my dad’s car parked in the driveway. If he wasn’t at work he would be at the hospital and my aunt would have taken me to her house. I believe when I saw his car in the driveway that day was the moment I knew. I don’t remember many details such as if I was pulled out of school early or who brought me home that day. I just remember seeing my precious daddy, broken, crying, falling apart, sitting alone on the living room couch. I knew and immediately began sobbing. I don’t remember much after that point. I don’t remember the viewings or the funeral. I do remember riding in the limo and I have been told that upon seeing my mother’s casket, I told her that I she looked like a porcelain doll and that I wanted to take her home as my doll so we could always play together forever. Hearing this now absolutely breaks my heart. Again, it feels as though this is someone else’s story, not mine. March 3rd. It has now been 25 years since that horrible day that took my mother away from me…the day my life changed forever.
In the past 25 years a lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same. My dad got remarried to an amazing woman and they created a great life for my siblings and me. Losing my mother however has shaped my life more that anyone could ever know, unless they have also experienced a similar loss. Being a motherless daughter has caused me to be afraid of relationships. I have had a few serious relationships, but remain single to this day. I have suffered from depression and anxiety directly related to the loss of my mother, and am currently working hard on managing this anxiety and not letting it control my life. I am terrified of losing my father. I cannot even fathom what I would do without him in my life. Even just the thought of this paralyzes me. I am a terrible cook and not very domestic. I often wonder if these character traits would be any different had I had my mother in my life growing up. Like many other questions that I sometimes think of, this is not a question that has an answer.
I have dealt with much loss in my life. Shortly after my mother’s death, my grandfather found the loss of his daughter too much to bear and he also passed away. A year later my grandmother also passed away. I have lost 2 uncles, both my step grandparents and many other family and friends. Loss is hard, but nothing has compared to the loss of my mother at such a young age. This loss has truly shaped my life.
However, I also try my hardest to look for positives from this situation. I have an inner strength that I believe I have developed from the experience of losing my mother. I have chosen the career path that my mother left behind…social work. I decided to work with youth and felt that in a sense I would be picking up where my mother left off in her career. This gives me a sense of joy and I truly believe my mother would be proud with this decision. I have a fantastic family that I would not have otherwise have known if my father had not remarried. They are extremely important to me and I do not know what life would be like without them. I am extremely blessed to have four amazing nieces. They truly mean the world to me, and I am so thankful to have them in my life.
This year March 3rd marks 25 years since I last saw my mother, since I last heard her voice, felt her physical presence. I cannot believe this much time has passed. I will soon become the age she was when she died. It seems so odd that I could reach an age that she did not get to experience. I often feel very alone and feel that no one understands me; no one understands the way that I think. I always knew that my personal risk of developing breast cancer was high. About two years ago, I began the process of genetic testing to see if I also had any of the known genetic markers of breast cancer. While I remain high risk due to my family history, I will always remember sitting in that tiny room crying silent tears of joy when the geneticist informed me that I did not possess any of the known breast cancer genes. No one can understand the relief that I felt in that very moment.
When Ashley asked if anyone was interested in speaking of loss, or anxiety or depression, I decided to share my story as I could speak to all three. I thought the timing was great as the 25th anniversary of my mother’s death quickly approaches next month. I am looking for a way to honour this special day, and I thought that part of that could come from sharing my story. If I can help even one person who has experienced a similar loss understand that they are not alone in their feelings, then sharing my journey will be worth it. I welcome hearing from any of you.