Closing the Book on 2012: Life Lessons from a Year of Change

Now and forever, you are a part of me..

Those are lyrics from the Carole King song I played at my mother’s funeral one year ago. I hear them over and over in my head every day. As I sit down to write this, I cannot believe an entire year without my mother has passed. I lost her on Saturday, January 7th, 2012. And my life has not been the same since.

My mother had a lot of health problems practically her entire life. Since I was a little girl I cannot remember a time when she was completely “healthy”. So I was pretty used to taking care of her, but the last three months of her life were especially difficult. I just did not know how difficult at the time.

My instincts were to plow through like we always did and somehow we would make it. We always seemed to. But two days before she left me, I knew my days with her were numbered. I remember going back to the nursing home and laying on the bed with her that night. And she did what she always would do – put her arms around me and told me everything would be alright and not to worry so much.

Two days later, when she finally passed, I felt the strangest mix of extreme grief and relief. So sad that I was going to face life without her yet so relieved that she was no longer in ANY pain. She had suffered her whole life with something, but still managed to be a wonderful mother to me. As I sat by her bed literally crying so hard I thought my chest would explode, I was lucky enough to be watching her face the moment she passed, and all I saw was …

peace.

I feel so very fortunate to have witnessed that. But since then, I had to learn a very hard life lesson without her. Grief. It has been an education to say the least. Your mind plays tricks on you, you dream random things, you explode into tears without warning, your mood swings literally minute to minute, smells trigger memories long forgotten, songs make you sad – a true roller coaster of emotions. It is like trying to learn to swim when someone throws you in the deep end of the pool. Sometimes you can paddle your way around, and sometimes you feel like you are drowning and cannot get enough air. Even though I did everything I could to care for her, I still look back and wonder what I could have done differently or better. What would have helped? What would have kept her with me longer? Could I have done something to save her?

Going through a year of “firsts” was very hard: my first birthday without her, first holidays, milestones my precious daughters are reaching that I know my mother would have loved to be here for. My mom’s birthday and Christmas are both in December which made it a very difficult month for me. Every time I visit family without her it is the strangest feeling – like I am sneaking around or cheating on her or something. It is so bizarre to show up without her.

Because of my grief I have cried a lot, avoided events, emails, parties, people, you name it. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. It is hard to imagine if I ever will. But lately, it is getting easier to smile when I think of her instead of cry. So as I approach the one year mark, I have learned a few things about grief:

Lean on your family and friends. Mine have been my saving grace. Always there for a phone call, email, glass of wine, whatever…
Take some time off if you want to. Everyone will be there when you get back.
If you don’t want to do something, then just don’t do it.
Don’t rush the process. It is your process and you must get through it in your own way.
Take a lot of walks, they help.
Laugh.
Cry.

I am thankful that I experienced all of this as an entrepreneur. Because I work for myself, I was able to reschedule clients when I needed to, utilize technology when I didn’t want to leave the house, and rely on the support of my fellow entrepreneurs to get me through a horrible time. This last year has been a time when I could not think straight about anything, especially business. I was surrounded by a community of loving, understanding and supportive peers, clients, and colleagues. Running your own business and being completely responsible for every dollar you earn can be extremely stressful. We work countless hours, struggle through financial ups and downs, and loose sleep at times. Being able to control my own schedule the week I lost my mother has made it all worth it. Remember that if you are an entrepreneur. When it counts, you are in control of your own time – and that can be priceless.

Let your children grieve with you. I started out by hiding in the bathroom when I had to cry so I would not upset them. But that was wrong. They need to grieve with me. They need to console me and I need to console them. They have a quiet innocence and profound wisdom that comes with just speaking what they feel that was so helpful and yet so heartbreaking at the same time. I am supposed to be the rock for them, but I was reminded by their wisdom several times to not be sad, Grandma is still here with us. Sometimes they don’t even say a word. They just smile and cuddle me and always make me feel better.

So appreciate the people you have around you now. Tell them how much they mean to you. For me, that is my amazing husband. Over the years of our marriage, he was supportive all the nights I was at the hospital with my Mom and has been my rock this year. He has handled our businesses, held my hand, wiped my tears, took care of our girls, let me escape when I needed to, and encouraged my healing. Thank you Marcel. I never would have made it this year without you.

And thank you Mom – for being the best Mom a girl could ask for. I will miss you and love you always.