Looking Back: One Year Later

February 7, 2011 at 8:00 am , by

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.

15 Responses to “Looking Back: One Year Later”

  1. I was in a waiting room today, February 7th, 2011, reading your story in the November issue of LHJ, thinking about my mom’s story, when I got to the end of the article and realized that today was actually the first anniversary of your mother’s death! My mom died on Christmas morning of 2003 after fighting Lymphoma for seven years. Every year as we approach Christmas I find myself getting more and more anxious, and all those busy, panicky feelings rise in me as if her death is again imminent. As soon as the day and time arrive, I feel the strange relief again, relief that the waiting and fear are finally over and just the love and loss remain. The grief certainly ebbs and flows, but does get easier over time. You might be interested in a book called “Tear Soup,” a favorite of my family since my mom died. May your warm memories of your beautiful mom stay vivid in your mind.

  2. A little late catching up on my reading, I just finished your story. The bonus for my being behind was getting to read the followup too. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I have breast cancer, recently finished treatment 2nd time around for recurrence. I am not terminal at this point, hopefully I’ll have several years left, but as the mom of 2 grown daughters, who are my best friends, I see it from the other side. You shouldn’t feel that something is not right because you have gotten on with your life and the year passed quickly. You were there for your mom when it counted, and yes, those 21 months were preparing you for your loss. I can’t stress how much it meant to your mom that you and your sister were there to help and support her during her last months. Apparently she was a remarkable woman, but I think you are too. God Bless You.

  3. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer — it will be 17 years on February 18. I was 5 months pregnant with my first child — a daughter. It was a terrible experience. My mom also fought for 21 long months. I cannot believe it has been l7 years since I’ve spoken with her, although I still talk to her in my head, and can hear her in my head as well. The grief still strikes occasionally and I will just let it happen. It feels good to let the sadness take over and then it’s gone. I miss her everyday, some more than others (those “I want my mom” days!) but I am so lucky God blessed me with a beautiful daughter who brings me so much joy and has taken some of the sting out of losing my mother. :)
    I appreciate your sharing your story. It helps so many people just to share. I have found that out through the years. I love being there for people who lose their mom. It’s a club no one wants to belong too, but it helps to have people really know how you feel!

    God Bless you!

  4. I also was late reading the Nov. issue & it is Feb. & a year later. I was glad to see how time has help. I lost my mother suddenly at the age of 18. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but I didn’t see her suffer either. Neither is easy. As I read somewhere, No one wants to be a motherless child. (no matter our age). Thanks for sharing your story. LHJ is a ‘journal ‘ of our lives.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I cried like a baby reading it, but I’m inspired by your strength at making it through such a horrible time with such grace. My dad is in hospice now and the thought of living without him is unbearable. Thank you as well for your follow up, and explaining your “pre-grief”. I’ve felt such guilt for grieving someone who is still here. It was nice to know I’m not alone in those feelings.

  6. I felt like I was reading my life story. Except that it was breast cancer who robbed my family! Thanks for sharing and reminding me that, even 11 years later, I’m not alone. And, the tears, although they are more controllable, never completely dry.

  7. It’s almost as if I was meant to find your article. I was at the doctors with my Father waiting for him when I just randomly picked up the LHJ. I felt like I was reading my families story. Mom is 77 and was just diagnosed with stage IIIC ovarian cancer. She also has had a colostomy and had her wound packed like your mother. Mom lives in Florida, I live Los Angeles. Even though I have had more years with my Mom, the thought of losing her is still as searing. Not to hear her voice, feel the soft touch of her hands, have her worry about me like no one else will be a hole that can never be filled. We haven’t seen the oncologist yet so the next shoe hasn’t dropped. My Dad hasn’t allowed himself to think that far – he still wonders if Mom will be able to drive again. Mom is in rehab now recovering from the surgery. She is making progress getting her strength back but still has a long way to go. I know that when the cancer reoccurs she won’t have another treatment. Mom has been a hospice volunteer for years and will choose that route. Twenty-one months from diagnosis – that will be Christmas.

  8. On April 29, 2011 it will be a year that i lost my mom. I still cannot believe that it will be a year. It seems like it was yesterday but years since I have seen my mom. I am 42 years old and I still need my mom everyday. I never thought anything could hurt this much. I have two beautiful sisters, my Dad and my son but I still feel so alone. Last month I finally got chance to read your story about your mom. At first I did not intend to read it but something drew me to it. As I was reading this(and crying my eyes out) I connected with someone else pain. I am so sorry that you are anybody has had to feel this pain. I have been so lost that I have shut everybody else out of my life. But reading your story has made me realize that I need help with dealing with my grief. I want so much to replace the last memory of my mom taking her last breath(I was holding her hand when she took her last breath)with one of her smiling and laughing. She was diagnosed with liver cancer and we lost her 2 weeks later.By the time they found it, it was so advanced nothing could be done. I miss her so much.

  9. Amanda: I read your story and I cry so much while I was reading….I never read something that break my heart ,so far in my family ,we had not cancer no that I know ,but seeing the love for your mother ,and how wonderful you were with her in her last days of her life ,made me think about my older daugher ,you reminds me of her ,she is exceptional like you…you were a rock in her sister life ,you are amazing …..I know your mother is watching over you ,and guiding and comforting you ,she create a wonderful human being and that is you! God bless you
    I felt he pain you endure ,I feel the unknowing while she was ill,and I amd scare if something hapen to me I know my daughter will do the same you did.I realize we can get ill ,or just getting old and not being able to take care of myself( I am divorcee and alone) and I am 67 years old ,it was a wake call for me and from now I will apprecaite my daughter more ,you teach me in some way how to cope with illness ( I am not healthy) and have the same courage you and your mother had.Thanks for your story it , broke my heart but I learn a lot about love and compassion.Thanks ,Amand and God bless you!
    My regards : Maria Mercer(Benny)

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  11. Heartbreaking events make us strong. It sounds corny but it is true. Ovarian cancer has been the fate of every single female relative of mine. Know your risk factors. Stay vigilant. It is a silent killer.

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  15. I just got done reading your story and it brought me to tears.my mother was diagnosed in feb 2013 with stage 4 ovarian cancer she too has had surgurey and chemo. She seemed to be doing ok after the surgury and life kinda went back to normal, but about 2 months ago she started violently throwing up and she was having extreme pains in her stomach. I brought her to the hospital and they did an x-ray, they found an obstruction they said and so they admitted her to be opened up so they can get a look at what this obstruction was that they saw on the x-ray, it turned out to be a massive tumor on her abdominal wall surrounded by other little nodules. There were so many that the dr sewd her back up without even trying to remove anything, he said there were to many and there was nothing he could do. I was devistated a week later her oncologist diagnosed her as terminal. I waited as long as i could then i spoke with a hospice nurse, she suggested it was time and her dr agreed. To make her as comfortable as possible i placed her in a nursing home by my house unfortunatly i live with my inlaws as of rite now so i couldnt keep her with me. I am with her everyday trying toake her laugh or sing, i bring my son there to cheer her up, but when i leave i cry. Shes dying and i cant save her. She has told me ive done all i can do shes were she is supposed to be, its hard for me to accept but i have to obey her wishes. She doesnt eant chemo ever again she told me, shes comfortable she says, who am i to deny her that. But im scared i dont want my mommy to die. Shes only 55 years old. I too am 28 im her legal power of attorny and im scared i just wish i knew how to prepare.I just want to say thank you thank you for your story it made me feel strong and i know ill be ok ♥