Drowning Inside

I must preface this with a warning. This is about the loss of my mother. It’s honest and raw emotions. I lost my mother on January 28th to a heart attack. Her death was so unexpected and caught my family completely off guard. Writing about it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Below is me, laid bare, looking for solace in getting out what I have kept inside. Thank you for taking the time to read about this time in my life.

It’s interesting the waves of emotion attached to the death of a loved one. You’re suddenly no longer in control of yourself, as a tsunami of suffering wages on inside of you. It feels as if you are drowning in whatever emotion grips you in that moment. Once the water is finally less choppy, another wave crashes in and pulls you under.

That’s how I’ve felt these past few weeks. It’s hard to look in a mirror without the freckles I inherited from my mother jumping out at me. Dotted reminders of a woman I will never see again.

When I was eight I moved across the country to live with my brother. I saw my mother a couple of times for a few years after that. The visits became infrequent, as did the letters and phone calls. I was sixteen the last time I saw my mother. For most of my life, I was away from her.

I would often think about her possible death while growing up without her around. How tortured is that, a boy playing out his reactions to his mother’s death on a loop in his head; unable to shut it off.

How would I react? Would it be like hearing about the death of a stranger? Would it even move me to tears or any sort of emotion? How fucked up am I for playing out the scenario of her passing in my head almost weekly since I was eight?

These past few weeks I have learned the answers to such questions.

Growing up away from my mother I had developed this resentment for her. She had always made me feel like it was us against the world. Sending me to Connecticut felt like abandonment. My sadness over being away from my mother turned into a hatred for her.

When I was sixteen I flew out to Colorado to spend time with my mom. Before going, I spent time mentally prepping myself to be tough; to shield myself from potential hurt or disappointment.

I did the same thing a few weeks ago when I had to go to her funeral.

Visiting with her at sixteen, I told her how I felt. How she hurt me, abandoned me, didn’t love me and fucked up my life by not being a part of it.

The pain of a child who truly felt alone in this world.

“It was us against the world, and then, you were gone.”

I remember the understanding, weighted in sadness, those eyes I stared into held. Those eyes, that matched my own. In color and pain.

“I love you son. I’m sorry, but I want you to know I love you.”

Letters and infrequent phone calls did nothing to convey the feelings I longed for. I didn’t know that she loved me, I needed to see her and hear her say it. In that moment I realized it wasn’t hate I harbored. It was longing. I wanted my mother. I wanted to be her son. I wanted to feel like, even with miles between us, she still loved me.

I forgave my mother. Largely because it was exhausting carrying on a façade of toughness. I wanted to be loved by the person I spent my youth feeling inseparable from.

It was us against the world all over again.

How will you react to her death? What will you do when the ball drops?

Questions that constantly ran through my mind, since I was eight.

“Get the fuck off of me”

Twenty minutes staring at a wall, followed by those words.

My wife lay on me, sobbing, after waking me to tell the news.

“Your mother passed away, I’m so sorry”

I wanted to be alone. To scream and cry and die inside.

“Get the fuck off of me.” All I could muster in my state of complete and utter shock.

It now truly was me against the world. Paralyzed, unable to move, unable to register the news I had just heard.

My mother was gone. Forever.

The emotions overloaded and short circuited my insides. A numbness crept in as subconsciously I began trying to protect myself from the news. I stared at the wall, pondering whether to punch it until feeling returned to my body. I was too numb to even do that. My phone beeped and buzzed with missed calls and texts. My aunt, my brother. Trying to get a hold of me and let me know what had happened.

My mother was dead. Only two weeks removed of outlining a plan to visit and meet the kids. To visit me, her son, who she hadn’t seen in seven years.

I couldn’t sleep well for a few days. Over and over I tried to rationalize her death in my head. Friends told me to write about it. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I always try to write in a positive fashion. Nothing about this made me feel positive. I hardly could leave bed. When I left bed, seeing my kids would make me want to cry, so I retreated back to my bed.

People around me worried for me. It made me feel bad.

So I began to pretend to be okay. To hold up appearances, I smiled. I acted like I had grips on the situation.

All the while I was drowning inside.

The outpouring of support only made me feel more of a need to put on a smile. I couldn’t disappoint those who took the time to care. I couldn’t wallow in sorrow, although it had swallowed me inside.

So I began a new façade of toughness.

The return to Colorado, I steeled myself. Mentally readying against hurt and disappointment, all over again.

A nightmare trip out there only made me grit my teeth more. We landed in Colorado after a missed flight, lost debit card and two hours of sleep, the day of the viewing.

I didn’t want a viewing. Seeing her lay there, lifeless, I hated it. I wanted to reach out and touch her hand, but was afraid of how cold it would feel. My kids said goodbye to her, not nearly grasping how much it shattered my heart having to say the words, “Say bye bye to grandma, we love you mom”.

My mother got to meet her grandkids. And my heart broke under the circumstance.

Reconnecting with family because of death is commonplace. You bury the hatchet, if only for the fact that you don’t want to bury a loved one without saying I love you one last time. The trip to Colorado was more of a reunion than a funeral. Family and friends with longstanding feuds laid past grievances to rest alongside my mother.

“It’s what she would have wanted.”

The whole process only made me more numb. Picking out urns. A beautiful green one, my mother’s favorite color.

Four overwhelming days of reconnection and reconciliation. All I wanted was to cry and scream and die inside. My façade of toughness, mixed with deflection, held.

The return home went smooth. As I moved everything inside, first thing I did was delicately place her green urn on a shelf, careful to make sure it had space around it. I haven’t come to look at it since.

Life went back to normal. The world continues to move rather quickly after loss.

“What you been doing, bitch?”

“Your mom, shit, I’m sorry”

A coworker cracks a joke, only realizing too late how insensitive and too soon it is.

“It’s okay, it was an accident”

I drank and sobbed in the shower for a half hour the next day. I knew it wasn’t on purpose, but the memories it brought back broke my shield. I began to drown. Again.

I hate the eggshells those around me walk on. I hate having to pretend I’m okay when I’m nothing more than a sixteen year old, trapped, who needs to look in his mother’s eyes and hear her say “I love you” one more time.

That accidental comment was less than a week ago.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is no amount of faking that will make the loss of my mom any easier. I hope time saps the strength of this constant inner storm that rages.

All I know is the person I need to hear I love you from rests on a shelf in a shiny green urn. A shelf I can’t bring myself to look at. My mother is gone. And it’s me against the world again.