February 7, 2011 at 8:00 am , by Amanda Wolfe
It’s been a long time since my last update, so I thought I’d let you know how I’ve been doing. (Here’s my original story about caring for my mother, who died of ovarian cancer, and my follow-up blog post.) My mom is especially on my mind today because it’s been exactly a year since she passed away. I can’t believe it’s already been a whole year—the 21 months we spent battling her cancer seemed like an eternity, and now it’s already been a whole year without her?! How can that be?! But life goes on.
Since I last checked in, my sister and I sold my mom’s house in Ohio and moved our family heirlooms and must-have mementos into a storage facility. Saying goodbye to the house was incredibly hard—it almost felt like saying goodbye to my mom all over again. I had to keep reminding myself (through wracking, snuffly, red-faced sobs—lovely) that it’s just a house. Just a house. The memories are what matter. But our last days in my mom’s house were literally the three days over the Christmas holiday (our first without her). It was a double-whammy of emotional sucker punches and—all said and done—a holiday I’m not in a hurry to remember.
But selling the house also brought some closure. I can’t tell you how nice it is not to be a long-distance homeowner, with all of the crazy coordination and stress (and bills!) that entails. (For a house you’re not living in! Oy.) It’s funny though, looking back over the year: Aside from the traumatic Christmas, I’ve been doing pretty good. Do I think about my mom all the time and cry occasionally? Of course. Do I still have moments of piercing sadness where my visceral, childlike reaction is simply “I want my mom.” Heck yes. But I keep feeling this strange sense that I shouldn’t be doing as good as I am. Most days I feel pretty good, emotionally. And some twisted part of my brain thinks that’s weird. Like I’m waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me, waiting for some dramatic mega-breakdown that never came (and—fingers crossed—hopefully never will). I keep thinking, “I can’t possibly get off this easy, can I? Am I stuffing things down only to have them surface in some spectacularly destructive way 10 years from now?”
But I don’t think so. I had a chance to say goodbye, and weeks of mental preparation during which I knew what was happening. We were insanely busy in those last weeks just keeping my mom comfortable—there was very little sleep and even less time to think or react. But I can see now that I was going through “pre-grief.” By acknowledging to myself that she was dying, I was dealing with it even before it happened. So I think this is just it.
I’m not saying it’s actually easy! As the anniversary of the day she died has been approaching, I find myself reliving those last few hours of her life, especially right before I fall asleep and my mind is free to wander into territories it’s too busy to venture into during the day. I’ve also been having a lot of dreams about her. It only makes sense that this milestone would dredge all these emotions to the surface. But on the balance, I feel like I’ll be okay.
So to wrap this up (because Lord, I have been talking about myself a lot), I have to say again to everyone who read my story or my blog post and shared their experiences and heartfelt comments, thank you, thank you, thank you. It was heartbreaking to read about so many situations so similar to ours, but also comforting to know that we’re not alone in this journey (as much as I wish our story was far, far less common). We’re all doing the best we can to cope, and to live our lives the way I know our loved ones would want us to live.
Hang in there. And stay vigilant about the symptoms! One reader wrote me to say that after reading our story and realizing that her own mother was having similar symptoms, she made her mom go to the doctor. I’m sad to report that her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but they caught it much earlier than they would have, and maybe now this woman has a fighting chance! I pray that she does. And I was so touched to realize that even now, through her story my amazing, strong, beautiful mother is still doing what she dedicated her life to—helping people.
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