One Year as an Angel

Today, we remember and celebrate the life she had. Because today, one year ago, she became our angel. 


One year ago we spent all day begging her to leave and begin her new life watching over us. One year ago we stood around her, watching her take her last breath. With tears in our eyes, we said goodbye to a mom, wife, and friend. We prayed and hoped she was at peace, and that she would never stop watching. 

So one year ago, she got her angel wings… and we got the hardest year of our lives. 

Everything is different without her. Her laugh doesn’t fill the room, my recent calls isn’t filled with “Mommy”, there is less Pino Grigio being purchased, less hugs and kisses being given, but most of all it’s quiet. Life is quieter without her. 

It’s been a year since I last held her hand, since I last kissed her, since I laid there with my head on her chest. She’s not coming back and as much as I want her to, I know she’s in a better place. 

It all happened so fast. One day she was planning my wedding and the next we were taking her home in an ambulance for her to spend her last days in the home that carried so many memories of her life, of our life. 

Breast cancer turned my life upside down. It took away the woman who was my best friend, 
my mom, the person I ran to for every little thing. It took not only her away from me, but it also took away this piece inside of me.

This past year has brought so many moments that I would give anything to share with her. I would give up anything to have a conversation with her, to wake her up in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, to bring her to an ultrasound appointment so she could see her grandson. But wishing for these things won’t bring her back. 

If there is anything I’ve learned this year, it is that life is unfair. Good people are taken from us too soon, but not before leaving an impact on our lives forever. Loosing someone teaches you to be stronger, it changes who you are and what you believe it. It makes you question how you’ve lived your life and what it is that you want to change. But most of all, loosing someone, loosing your mom is the hardest thing to overcome. 

It may not be the same without her, but we’re going to be okay because she’s our angel and that’s all the comfort we need to get through. We may not laugh with her, but when we close our eyes, we hear that laughter. When we think she’s far away, she sends signs that make us feel at ease. She does her job of comforting us and watching over us; while we do our job and our promise of living to the fullest, never forgetting and always keeping her close to our heart. 

Today, just like every other day, we miss you mom. We miss you more than you will ever know. We still have moments where we can’t believe you’re gone. We still cry for you to come back and we still wish there was something that could have been done to save you. 

We love you and today, we will celebrate your life, not your death – because your life is what defines you, not the cancer and not your passing. So as we celebrate you, know that we love you more than anything in this world and are forever proud of the strength, love and perserverance you showed us. 

You will always be our favorite. 

I Talk and She Listens

Yesterday, I read a blog post titled “A Letter to My Momma In Heaven”, everything about this was exactly how I’ve been feeling. I took a bit of a break from posting to my own blog, mostly because I’ve been trying to live my life as my mom would have wanted me to. But, I’ve also stopped writing because, it brings up emotions that I try to hide. And, as I sat there after I read the above blog post, I realized that maybe it is time I write.

It has been eight, LONG months since my mother lost her battle to Stage IV Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It the last eight months I’ve cried, begged, laughed, lived, but mostly I’ve missed. I’ve missed her voice, her warmth, her presence, but most of all I’ve missed having my mom.

It’s been a long time since someone asked me how I was doing and I don’t mind that. People have moved on. They may not think of her every day, they may not think of her every week. People have been living their lives. But me, I have NOT moved on. I have not erased her from my thoughts every day. For me, I have held tears back every day. I have imagined what it would be like to talk to her and have a conversation, rather than talking to the air I breathe with no response. She always had a response, whether I wanted to hear it or not. Now, I talk and she listens without saying a word.

The reason I push on, the reason I hold my head high is because of her. It’s because it’s what she would have wanted for me. She would want me to move on. But, that’s one thing I will never be able to do.

Before my mom passed, I had imagined that when I was pregnant she would attend my doctors appointments with me. She would listen to the heartbeat with me and we would guess what he would be like. She would spoil him before he was born and spoil me with “mom advice” that worked for her. But, I attend these doctor appointments without her. I look at ultrasounds and wish she was here. I imagine what it is going to be like raising a little boy without her around. I think of ways that I am going to teach him all about her. I dream of him knowing her already.

Life is hard. We lose people we love. It’s the circle of life. But for me, I never thought at 25 years old I would be motherless, expecting my first child. That I would continue this life of mine without her by my side.

There was a time I went to her grave every week to cry and to talk to her, because that’s truly the only place I show my emotions. (Mostly because it’s the only place I feel like you can be raw.) Now, I can’t remember if I’ve gone to her grave in the last month. I drive by the road all the time, but when I turn my blinker on, I don’t turn. Instead I drive.

So, today, I am going to see her, I will hug her gravestone and give it a kiss because that is the closest thing I have to touching her. Standing above her, my tears will melt the snow – and I hope she’s warm.

A Hurting Hiatus

It has been a while since I have written a blog. I can lie to myself and say it is because I am so busy and life has just been nonstop; but I don’t think that would be true – the last couple of weeks, they have been hard and I have been hurting. It is something I didn’t want people to know, because I have been so strong through the entire process of watching my mom deteriorate, through watching her become unconscious, to watching her pass.

But, it has caught up with me.

And, just like my reason for starting this blog was to help others, while ultimately helping myself. I’m ready to talk about it, again.

Four months ago, I lost something so special to me. I lost my best friend, my person and the one woman that I could truly share my moments of weakness with. Without her, I feel lonely. I feel as if I lost a piece of myself. Some days I struggle with understanding why it happened – why I lost her; and other days I understand it – I understand why she couldn’t fight any more.

I have these nightmares that wake me up multiple times during the week. They are of her dying – dying different ways, but I always watch. I always saw her die. Those images flood my mind and my heart races and I wake up with tears rolling down my cheeks. It is sick. It is emotionally draining and it takes a toll not only on my emotional state, but my physical state.

Today, I started to see a grief counselor. For the longest time, I didn’t think I needed one – until I started experiencing these nightmares. I’ve stayed busy, I’ve tried to keep my mind off of my mom – I’ve stayed strong. But recently, something clicked. Is my idea of strong intangible?  Is my strong something that isn’t in reach? Am I trying to achieve this strength that doesn’t exist? Is the meaning of strong in my mind distorted?

Quite possibly the answer to those questions is yes. All of my life I’ve had this image in my mind of what strong is. And that image is my mom. She cried in private, she dealt with her emotions separately, she held the household together through all of her battles with breast cancer, she kept up with all that went on my life. She was magical.

These days my idea of strong is my mom on steroids. My idea of strong is not grieving. My idea of strong is pretending I am fine. My idea of strong is never admitting your weaknesses. My idea of strong is bottling up my anger. My idea of strong is bullshit and I am tired of pretending it is something that my mom would have wanted from me.

Of course, she wants me to show strength, but she wants me to show compassion and more than anything, she wants me to be happy.

The night my mom passed away, I can remember it like I was in the moment now. The time came at 2:30 AM when she was about to take her last breath. We surrounded her side, she inhaled and exhaled and opened her eyes. She had passed. In that moment, I didn’t cry, I didn’t even want to be in the room. I immediately went into the “get things done mode”. Who did I need to call? Who did I need to tell? What did I need to do?

The day of her wake and her funeral, I barely shed tears. Instead, I calmly stood there reading her eulogy, I stood there as my mom was wheeled down the church in a casket. I stood there as she was put into the car to be driven to her grave. I stood there as we said our final goodbyes. Not a single tear. For the days that followed, I wasn’t grieving. I was being this idea of strong that doesn’t make sense.

Today, and every other day before this day, I’ve had the worst time. I’ve had the hardest time fathoming the loss of my mother. I’ve had the hardest time understanding why in 2016, breast cancer is STILL killing women. I’ve had a tough time going to visit my mother at her grave.

Her grave is the only place I can IMG_0933.JPGtalk to her, the only place I can cry my eyes out. It is the only place I feel safe with her. When I am there, I think of nothing else but of how much I miss her. I think of what I would do to get her back. I think of what I would do if I saw her. I think of what she has been saying about my decisions. I think of how much is going on in my life, that I would LOVE to pick up the phone and tell her about.

See, I can’t do that. I can’t pick up the phone and call her. I can’t hug her or cry on her shoulder. I can’t drive to her house and go shopping with her. I can’t go out to dinner with her.

I know I am not the only daughter to loose a mother. I know I am not the first person to write a blog about it. I know I am not the first person to tell their story. I know I am not the first person to beg for a cure.

But, I am a person with hope. I am a person with a story to share. I am a person, that with the support of others, will be okay. I am a person that will be able to remember my mom in the way she would have wanted me to. I am a person that will be able to talk about her with my kids someday.

 

A Hoot We Needed

I haven’t updated in a while and it’s because so much has changed in the last couple of weeks.

I resigned from my position at work to achieve my dream of becoming a nurse; to fulfill a promise I made to my mom in the last few days of her life. Although taking care of her was the hardest thing I ever had to do, 13124513_10156928387720077_1334661829735087786_nmentally and physically, it was the most rewarding thing in my life. It taught me patience, acceptance, empathy, sympathy and it made me a stronger person inside and out. I started nursing school and it’s difficult – but it’s supposed to be, especially when your mom passed away just shy of two months ago. But my focus on my dream is stronger than ever, reminding myself each day that I want to help patients and their families during the hard times in their lives; just as others did for us.

We celebrated the first Mother’s Day without my mom, and it was the most difficult day of my life, second to saying goodbye to her. The days that followed brought emotions that I didn’t know existed, the day itself gave me lasting exhaustion. I was tired, irritable, sad, angry and experienced feelings I can’t even begin to put into words. 13124733_10156928387605077_2966671819641217940_n

Mother’s Day is supposed to be about spending time with the woman who gave you everything, who taught you all you needed to know and more, who wiped your tears when you cried, hugged you when you were wrong and loved you no matter what. Except this Mother’s Day, it wasn’t that. She was not there to wipe my tear soaked eyes, she wasn’t there to have a glass or two of Pino Grigio with me, she wasn’t there to laugh with me or open up presents that I put so much thought into. She wasn’t there to go to a vineyard with. She wasn’t there physically and that was the hardest part.

People can tell me continuously until they are blue in the face that she is always with us, but that doesn’t change the fact that she isn’t tangible. She isn’t in front of my telling me, “Ashley, stop being a baby.” She may be with us, but physically she is not and that is something I just can’t fathom.

On Mother’s Day we tried to make the best of the day, remembering my mom in the best ways possible. We started off at church and prayed to God that she would give us some kind of sign that day. We followed it with a trip to the cemetery. It was raining and the rain fell down my face, just as my tears did. We placed an angel and flowers at her grave – two things we would never get her. First, because she hated flowers. Second, because she preferred her nails getting done more than a knickknack.

13124967_10156928387425077_2427183647542871906_nWe stood there in the pouring rain and I begged her that this was a dream that we still didn’t wake up from. I stood there until I could not stand there anymore. Visiting your mom at her grave is something you shouldn’t have to do. It’s not something I should have to do. I never expected this day to come this early and I always thought she’d be around forever, making it to her mid 90s, because that is the personality she had. I never thought that I would bury my mom so early in my life.

We continued with our day and had lunch with my husband’s family. At first, I wasn’t going to attend because 1) I was too emotional 2) because it felt as if I was replacing my mom with something else and finally 3) I was worried I would break down and cry because I couldn’t have lunch with my mom.

We came home from brunch and planted a tree in memory of my mom. My in-laws bought us this tree to help keep the memory of my mom alive. We dug out a garden and planted a Flowering Dogwood. Again, she doesn’t like flowers, but seriously, the tree is beautiful. We also decorated the garden with an owl stepping stone in honor of the first sign we ever received from her and another stepping stone in her memory – “If love alone could have spared you, you would have lived forever…”

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And as the days pass, it gets harder, not easier. My praying that it is a bad dream is frequent and all I can think of is how this happened. How did this happen to the women that was so strong, so resilient? We’re approaching two months without my mom and it feels like time is going so slow. Each day drags on and its one more day without her.

Between the stress, our busy schedules, and my mom not being here it seems some days it’s unmanageable. So as I struggle for answers, for support from her and for a sign – she pulls through just in time – just before I break.

Yesterday morning, I went outside and saw that our garbage was torn a part. The garbage can didn’t look messed up, and only the top bag was torn. I called my husband and told him I thought a raccoon got into it for a midnight snack. Well, to my surprise, last night my husband was outside with the dogs when he saw what in fact was eating our garbage. It was a big, beautiful white owl. (If this is the first time you have read my blog, the first sign the night my mom passed away was an owl hooting outside of our window – and days that followed we saw more owls and heard them hoot.)

When my husband texted me this, I was in class and tears instantly filled my eyes. She was listening to me. She knew I needed a sign – she knew we all needed her, three days before the two month mark without her.

This one moment, taught me overnight to keep the faith, to keep believing and to know when times are tough, she still will come through, she still will take care of us.

My Survivor is my Angel

This week, our family and close friends attended Seymour Pink‘s 9th Annual Pasta Dinner to celebrate survivors of breast cancer, but to also remember those who lost their lives in the battle. We had two baskets raffled off in memory of my mom. Two baskets full of things she absolutely loved, including: Pino Grigio, getting her nails done, her dinners at Rose’s Family Restaurant, and the UCONN Huskies.

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As we sat there and listened to the stories told and the memories shared, I realized we are not alone. There are people that are battling day in and day out to make the best of their diagnosis with their family and friends by their sides. There are families and children who lost a loved one too soon, with not enough memories to remember. There are communities who provide support and love to those affected. But most of all, there is a lot of heart and love in Seymour Pink.

They took a picture of all the survivors of breast cancer and they filled an entire side of a room. They had all these smiling faces, but their smiles were different. They smile differently then the rest of us when we receive good news. They smile because they have their life. They get to make more memories. And, that is a different smile.

As the picture of the survivors was taken, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop thinking about how my mom was once a survivor, she was in that group of men and women, smiling because they had their life back. It was not too long ago that we cheered and smiled, because we found out my mom was cancer free. That feeling of happiness quickly subsided and we were back into the vicious cycle of breast cancer.

But, as I thought about myself in that moment of sadness the other night, I realized something. Just because mom isn’t here, just because mom can’t smile in a picture that gets taken, or just because mom can’t make memories anymore, it doesn’t mean she isn’t a survivor. Just because she lost her life to a battle that couldn’t be won, doesn’t mean she isn’t a survivor. In fact, she did survive. She survived through it all, better than any one of us could. And today, she’s surviving. She’s healthy, she’s cancer-free and she’s the best kind of survivor – she’s an angel. And that is where she will survive, forever.

My surviving angel, my mom, would have been proud the other night. We all held our composure and celebrated not just all the men and women that breast cancer has affected, but we celebrated her. We celebrated the life she lived and the memories she left behind for us.

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But, when it was all over, it was real again and those feelings of sadness and missing her flooded my mind. And, today I sit here, missing her more than ever. I sit here with tears filling my eyes and wanting so badly to have her here with us. I want so badly to not have to take a picture with just the three of us. I want so badly to not have to visit her at her grave. My grief will always be there, and my sadness with always stay with me, because when you loose your mother, you loose a part of you. But, what keeps me focused and keeps me climbing to my goals and aspirations; and what helps me get out of bed everyday is that my mom was so strong, and she would want us to live our lives.

 

 

What’s your word?

I have these nightmares that wake me up. It’s of how my mom looked during her final hours. I see the image over and over again. It scares me and it puts me right back in that moment with her. It puts me right back begging her to let go, to not suffer anymore. It puts me back to the hardest day of my life.

It’s not how I want to remember her. But right now, that’s what shows up in my head. It’s what keeps me up, it’s what wakes me up and it’s what makes me break down to tears.

Lately, it has been more difficult. Each day is a struggle to not think about her being gone. As Mother’s Day approaches, I have a heavy heart. It’s the first of many Mother’s Days without her. I go into stores and see Mother’s Day cards and I fight back tears. I see the cards I so desperately want to give her, the ones that fit our relationship perfectly. So, like a crazy person, I’ll get a card and I’ll write what I would write to her if she were here. And, I’ll save it. I’ll bring it to her grave and read it to her. Then, I’ll put it in the envelope, seal it with a kiss and bring it home. That’s where it will stay – not on her mantle, not in her hands. It’s the littlest things that make you weak. It’s the smallest tasks that make you miss her.

Yesterday, we had brunch with my mom’s best friend from 25 years ago. We all miss mom so much. She said, no matter how much time passed between her and my mom, they always picked up like it was just yesterday that they talked. We reminisced about mom, and tears were shed. We drank bloody marys and mimosas, because why not?

And then she said something, she said she went to a seminar and a motivational speaker preached to the audience to instead of picking a New Year’s Resolution, because those don’t work, pick a word for the year. For the last couple of years, her words were – believe, optimistic, focused and joy. At first she didn’t know how you pick them, and the motivational speaker said it just comes to you.

So, at brunch, the word came to me – remember. This year, I will do everything I can to remember my mom in the light that she would of wanted me to remember her. I will remember her before the cancer beat her down. I will remember how she would laugh, throwing her head back, feet would kick up and she’d cackle. I will remember how she would blow her nose, and I would be embarrassed. I will remember how she was the one person that I could go to no matter what. I will remember how she would sneak and buy me a new pair of shoes or a dress, hiding it from my dad. I will remember the relationship that we had. I will remember the good times we shared and the moments that made me so happy to call her my best friend and my mom. I will remember her positive attitude through the most negative time of our lives. I will remember her strength. And, I will remember her how I want to remember her – how I want to paint an image of her.

Starting today, the image of her at her worst will not be the image that dictates how I remember her. It may be the image that pops in my mind when I think about her dying, but it will not be the image that I see when I think of the woman who was my everything.

I encourage you to pick a word.

 

One Month Without You

Today is one month. One month without you, mom. One month without my best friend. One month of no phone calls, no texts, no hugs, no dinners, no visits to Yale. One month without the one person who could always give me the words of encouragement I needed.

12512411_10156756053665077_6238938909160909214_nHow can it be? How can a month go by without you here? How did this happen and why? Each day I try to remember you’re still here. I try to think that you’re in a better place. I try to hope that this is a bad dream. I would give anything to see you again. I would give anything for that grave not to be yours. I would give anything to wrap my arms around you and hold tight.

Our routines are different now. There are spaces in our days that you used to fill. Whether it was a phone call or a visit, you were a part of my every day. I used to call you every morning on my way to work. Now I drive in silence. I used to call you a couple times throughout the day to ask you what you were doing or to check in and make sure everything was okay. I used to talk to you on the way home from work, asking you questions about how to prepare something for dinner. I used to drive to Yale to spend time with you after work. I used to drive to the rehab facility to force you to eat something.

Now, I try to visit with you as much as I can. I try to go to see you as much as possible. I kneel down and my tears make a puddle of mud on your grave; my makeup down my face. It’s not always real, but when it is – it’s unbearable. 12993590_10156847078300077_1633827117787585359_n.jpgIt’s the feeling of hopelessness, of weakness, pity and agony. The days that it’s real, my eyes swell, my tears flow, my head pounds and my day drags.

And it brings me back to one month ago today. We sat there at noon, the last time you were awake was 7 PM the night before – the last time you squeezed my hand, the last time you told me you loved me. So, each hour they told us it was closer to loosing you and that you were closer to letting go. Each hour your hands became colder, moving up your arms. Each hour you received morphine and ativan. Each minute we counted your breaths. Each minute we watched your chest. We watched as your breaths got shallower. We watched as you could no longer swallow. We watched as your body shut down and we watched as you battled with letting go.

On hour four, we each begged you to let go. We told you it would be okay, even though it really isn’t okay. We cried to you and told you enough was enough. We cried and told you how much we were going to miss you. You became more swollen and you started to not look like you anymore. I held your hand and my tears didn’t stop. I rubbed your head and tried to make sure you were warm.

The house was full the day you passed. Your friends and your family came to say goodbye and to be the strength we so desperately needed. Your friends, they cried and they told you how much you meant to them. We opened a window to help your spirit along. We left the room to let you be alone. We drank Pino Grigio and ate plate after plate of food. And, every so often we’d break down, cry and be angry.

12994408_10156847092775077_8714010920453037517_nYour nurses became our family and they watched your every move. Their eyes were on you. They told us when they were giving you medication. They moved you so you didn’t choke. They counted your breaths.

One month ago, today, was the longest day of my life, as well as the absolute worst. At 2 AM, I went upstairs to take a break from watching you and 20 minutes later, it was time. We watched you as you took your last breath. You opened your eyes. My anxiety took over and I could barely stand without shaking. I didn’t cry then. But when everyone left the room and gave me and you a second, I cried to you and begged you to tell me this was a bad dream. I asked you what I was going to do without you. What was I going to do when Steve and I decide to have a family? What was I going to do when something didn’t go the way I had imagined? What was I going to do when all I need is my mom? 12308685_10208003571512916_433899780529971083_n.jpg

Your funeral came and went in a blink of an eye. We celebrated you and put in a shift at Rose’s afterwards. And the next day, Steve and I packed up our things and moved back to our home. It was at that moment is was real. We were no longer taking care of you. We were no longer needed. We didn’t have you anymore. So, we unpacked our bags and tried to put our life back together. But, since you’ve been gone, I can’t say that my life it put back together. It’s mostly patched up and there are times when I wonder how I am going to get through this.
There are nights that I don’t sleep. There are nights that all I do is dream of you. There are nights that I wake up in a sweat, tears falling down my face and my heart racing. There are days when I force myself to get up out of bed and go to work. There are days when I’m nasty and angry.

So, one month has gone by and it’s not much easier. If anything it’s a little bit harder. And, I think that’s because until recently I didn’t believe this was real. I didn’t believe that this was the life that we now live… without you. I love you, mom. And each day I think of you. Each day I wish you were here. And each day I wonder what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, what you’re watching.

And, I look forward to your signs. I look forward to the hoot of an owl. I look forward to a knock at my door. And I look forward to the wind at your grave.