The Things We Hide: A Lost Mother

This is the third post in my new series The Things We Hide.  Last week I started talking about some harder topics with my eating disorder.  Today is going to be about a tough topic as well.  I’ve talked about my mom before in a post about An Artistic Lady.

My mom passed away when I was eleven years old.  She had been sick for over a year before that.  She had breast cancer.  As a child, it’s hard to register what it means to have a terminal illness.  Yeah, my mom felt sick a lot of the time and puked more than anyone I knew.  But, that was just how life was at that point.  I never knew that an illness like that could take her away.  So, when she had surgery in November of 2003, I thought that everything would be okay.  The doctors told us that the cancer was gone and we had a beautiful Christmas together as a family.  It wasn’t until two months later that we even knew anything was wrong.  Mom started coughing a lot and felt ill like she used to.  That’s when we found out that all of the cancer wasn’t gone.  In fact, it had spread so much that there wasn’t anything the doctors could do.  She died the following month.

I don’t think that having a sick mother really affected my childhood that much, because she tried so hard to not let it.  In fact, one of my favorite objects was something that she gave me during that time.  It was bring your parent to school day at my elementary school, only my parents couldn’t make it.  My dad had to drive my mom to another chemotherapy treatment.  My mom felt so bad about missing it, that she made something that would make it seem like she was there anyway.  It’s a picture of her and I in our yard.  She made a little picture stand out of cardboard and glued it together.  She also added a couple of flower stickers to the corners.  I brought that picture to school and set it on my desk in every class just like she wanted me to.  I love that photo for what it represents.  It’s a way to bring her everywhere and I really have.  I brought it to all of my vacations that lasted more than a couple of days.  I brought it with me when I studied abroad in Japan.  I even brought it to my wedding.  That photo has traveled with me everywhere just as I feel she has.

The Things We Hide: A Lost Mother
This is my favorite object.

I’ve spent a long time denying that my mother is gone and even lying about it to others.  It’s surprising how often the subject of parents come up in common conversation.  I could never truthfully talk about my parents in the present tense, because I only have one living.   And yet, I did.  I wouldn’t make up stories or anything.  I would just change the verb tense to avoid that awkward conversation.  It can be difficult to tell someone about a dead loved one.  They feel obligated to extend sympathy and it always makes things uncomfortable.  So, for over a decade now I’ve been avoiding it.

It wasn’t always easy to ignore my mom’s death.  When I was a child and even well into adulthood my grandma was a frequent reminder.  Whenever she introduced me to someone she would immediately follow up with “her mother died when she was 11.”  I can’t even count how many times this happened.  It’s one of the reasons I didn’t like going to meet people with my grandma.  I can understand why she felt the need to tell people.  Her youngest daughter had died and she didn’t want anyone to forget the tragedy.  But, I still had my whole life ahead of me and felt as if I was stuck in the shadow of my mother’s death.  I don’t know how to express the awkward feelings of those brief meetings, especially when I was older.  It’s hard to put into words.  All I know was that I want to avoid them as much as possible.  Which is why when people ask about my parents, I don’t follow up with “my mom died when I was 11.”

This is something that I’ve been hiding for years.  In elementary school everyone knew and I felt so alienated.  No one else had a dead parent.  I was the only one.  When I switched to public school, it was easier to blend in and hide.  No one knew about my mom, they hadn’t gone to her funeral.  So, I tried to assimilate.  I avoided the topic.  I didn’t want to still be known as “the girl whose mom died.”  Even if I never heard my classmates refer to me as that in elementary school, I know that’s what they thought.  The Monday in school after my mom died, I was out sick with the flu.  The next day I found out that the school had their counselor talk to my entire grade about how they felt about my mother’s death.  I don’t know if that’s the normal procedure in those situations.  But, it made me feel like a freak.  Those people spent the whole day talking and thinking about my own personal tragedy.  I felt exposed.  I never wanted to feel like that again.

I’ve lost a mother.  It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with that and to learn how to grieve.  It took me a very long time to grieve.  I’m still not “over it.”  No one ever recovers from something like that.  But, I know how to cope.  There are still days that are full of tears and longing.  However, MMR helps a lot with that.  He never got the chance to meet her.  Losing a mother affected me in a lot of ways that I didn’t know it would.  Mother’s Days are particularly depressing.  For years, even now, I look at mothers and daughters and feel so envious.  When I was younger and my friends talked badly about their moms, I would yell at them and be so angry.  I’ve gotten my emotions under control since I’ve had so long (nearly 12 years) to do so.  But, I still feel those pangs of envy and anger.  I still feel longing on Mother’s Day and when I see a happy mother and daughter.  She never taught me how to wear makeup.  She never dressed me up in pretty dresses as a teenager.  She always told me how excited she was to dress me up in floral patterns as I grew older.  She never read my poetry or writing.  She never taught me how to shave my legs or care for my hair.  She didn’t teach me about dating or coach me on how to find a job.  She wasn’t there at my first day of high school or when I graduated.  She didn’t see me accepted to college or that graduation that happened four years later.  She didn’t get the chance to help me move away from home or see me on my first day of work.  I didn’t get to tell her how I made the Dean’s list or how nervous I was to study abroad in Japan.  She wasn’t there to help me get ready on my wedding day.  There are so many things that she missed.  But, I won’t hide her anymore.  Yes, I’ve lost my mother.  This next month I’ll have spent more of my life without her than with her.  That’s something that I’m still learning how to accept.  It’s an awful feeling.

But, I’m going to remember and honor her by not hiding it anymore.  She’s done so many things for me in life and in death.  She was there when I learned how to walk and talk.  She taught me how beautiful art can be and how it’s everywhere.  She taught me that gardens are a sacred place.  She taught me to respect my teachers and honor them.  She was there on my first day of school and at all of my dance recitals.  She was there for my first piano recital and helped me make my sewing project for the county fair the night before.  I waited until then to tell her I hadn’t done it.  She was at all of my Girl Scouts meetings because she was the troop leader.  We made brownies and cookies together.  She took care of me when I was sick.  When I was 10 and broke my arm, I had a really weird cast that made it so I couldn’t feed myself with my right arm.  I’m right handed, so eating soup was a real effort.  She was there to feed me every spoonful of soup until I could do it myself.  She washed my hair and braided it.  She threw me beautiful parties and loved all of my friends.  She taught me everything she could about life and art in those 11 short years and I will always treasure them.  I’ll never forget all of the times I helped her in the garden by pulling weeds or bringing her water.  I wanted so badly to be her little helper.  As an adult I can look back and see all of these valuable lessons she taught me.  They’re part of what’s shaped who I am today.

So, yes I lost a mother.  But, at least I had one.  I still have a mother even if she’s no longer here in person.  She’s all around me.  She’s in the artwork on my walls.  She’s in the color of my eyes.  She’s in the furniture that she built.  She’s in the home movies that I have.  And most importantly she’s in me.  When I was 18, I got a tattoo on my left shoulder.  It’s of her signature.  I took the signature from the last Christmas card that she gave my grandma, just two months before she died.  I like to think that I’m one of her works of art.  After all, she did make me.

The Things We Hide: A Lost Mother
A part of my mother made it to my wedding day.

What’s your favorite memory of your mother?

31 thoughts on “The Things We Hide: A Lost Mother

  1. Gina, I’m so sorry that you had to go through this and I mean it truly. I also lost my mother at a very young age. I really feel like all of what you described above. I too, many times wish she and my father could see my daughters and so many other things… But I think it’s great to remember all the things you didn’t miss with her and be happy for those.

    1. Thanks, Katrin. It’s hard to lose a parent or loved one at any time in one’s life. But, I think that losing one as a child has it’s own unique consequences. I’m sorry that you had to go through that as well. I’m sure that wherever they are, they can see your daughters and they know that you love them. 🙂 It helps a little to remember the happy things, they help outweigh what’s been missed.

    1. Thanks, Lindsey. I will hold onto those memories forever! Writing them down helps me keep them longer. 🙂 I just wish that I’d started doing so sooner.

  2. Gina, that is the sweetest thing I have ever read. That you took her signature because she made you. I too lost my mom when I was 19. And have lived most of my life without a mother. For a long time I mourned all the things I didn’t do with her. But now that I’m a mom of grown kids, I look around me and see her in their faces and feel her presence all around me. She will never be gone as long as she is in your memories. And you will find that as you get older you will have a lot of her characteristics in your personality because she was your role model.
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    1. Thank you so much, Mary. 🙂 I’m sorry that you’ve had to live without a mother too. I think that I’m starting to transition to like you said, seeing her all around me. I look around and see her in so many places and things in my life. It’s hard to get past the mourning and all that’s lost. I’m glad that you could focus on how she is in your life and your children. 🙂 That’s beautiful. I always love it when my mother’s friends tell me how much I look or act like her. To me, it’s one of the best compliments.

      1. Gina that’s exactly how I feel. When the tell me I have some of her traits. You’ll grow into it as you get older and feel more comfortable. But the mourning will never end… and actuallytI think it is a good thing, because we would not be human if we did not miss the ones we love, the ones who have shped our lives. There are mothers out there that never cared for their kids. Hold onto that and know you were greatly loved. I also believe she is looking out for us now. But that is another subject 🙂
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        1. I can tell that I’m becoming more like her in many ways as the years pass. It’s not sad or scary to see reminders of her and I smile when I look at her paintings. I’m learning how to find the comfort in this life. I agree that it’s good to keep mourning. You’re so right, that if we didn’t miss them we couldn’t be human. It’s the human and natural thing to do. All we can do is manage to survive the pain. Thank you so much. 🙂 I know that I was lucky to be loved by such an amazing mother. I’ll always hold onto that memory.

  3. Gina,
    Oh, sweet girl, my heart is with you. You are a treasure. Your Mom would be so very very proud of you. I believe she would nod her head with a great big smile and say, “Gina, not only are you one of my works of art, you are the very best and most beautiful and treasured work I have ever done!”

    I’m praying for you – for deep healing, comfort, and a continued use of your life to bless others through the hurts of your past.

    1. Thank you, Lori. I’d like to think she’d say something like that too. 🙂 It’s a happy thought. Thank you so much for the support. I’m hoping to continue to help others by talking about the tough things in life.

  4. Gina, this post is beautifully written. I lost my husband to cancer when my daughter was 12. You have made me see what it was like for my 12 year old daughter. We grieve differently. It has been 15 years, and we still grieve for him. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Thank you, Sherry. I’m sorry to hear that about your husband. It’s an unimaginable loss. I’m glad that I could help shed some life on how your daughter might have dealt with the pain. One of the things that I’ve taken from the loss of my mom, is how to help other children deal with grief. A couple of years ago, my sister in law lost her father to illness and didn’t know what to do for her younger sister (around the same age as when I lost my mom). I tried to give her advice on what to do and what not to do. But, there really are no right answers. And even though the loss of a parent as a child can be a similar experience, we all grieve differently. We’ll never stop grieving. I only hope to be able to remember the good memories instead of just the absence. Thank you for sharing your story as well.

  5. What beautiful memories you have of your mother, treasuring her in the way you do honors her memory. It’s a tragedy that she didn’t get to see the woman you have become but she obviously impacted you so much in your brief time together you will remember her always! I love the tattoo and the sentiment behind it, it’s really just an extension of the sentiment she gave you with the photo 🙂 thanks so much for sharing and being so honest!
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    1. Thank you, Charlotte. I try to honor her whenever I can. It’s so true, I remember her every day. She’s impacted my life in so many ways that it’s impossible to forget who she was. After all, whenever I look at my back I see her signature. 😉 Thanks so much! The tattoo is a way to have her always be a part of me and my life. <3

  6. Gina I am so sorry that you had to go through that, and at such a young age. I can’t say that I understand how you feel, because I can’t but I know it had to be heart breaking. I’m glad that you are learning how to live with the loss and start remembering your mother and the good times that yall had together.
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    1. Thanks, Linda. It can be heartbreaking. And even though it was the same person, I know that it’s affected my whole family in different ways. We all deal with grief and loss in our own way. Thanks so much. It’s nice to work my way through the nice memories. For too long I was haunted by her illness and absence in my life. I don’t want to dwell on what could have been any longer. It’s much better for me to focus on what was and how she’s still a part of my life in many ways. 🙂

  7. This is beautifully written! I can’t even image what it must be like to lose your mother, but it sounds like she would be so proud of the woman that you have become. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  8. Wow Gina, that was an incredibly moving and heartfelt tribute to your beautiful mother. I have never been in you shoes, but your words really conveyed your pain and triumph. You have accomplished so much at such a young age and that, in and of itself, honors your mother and her influence on you.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

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    1. Thank you so much Lynn! 🙂 It took me a while to write this post and figure out where to start and how to go about it. I’m so glad that you think I conveyed it all well. It means a lot to me. It’s something that I’ve been struggling with for over a decade. Thank you so much for the support and beautiful comment. 🙂 <3

  9. Hi Gina, you are a brave girl. I think you did right by sharing this with us. Sometimes it is better to share, I think now you will feel better. I am glad that now you are leaning how to live with this loss. Remember , so many people in this world have so man problems with them, we have to learn to live, and move on in our life.
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    1. Thanks, Sadhna. You’re so right. Everyone has their problems in this world. The hard part is to learn to live with them. I’m glad to finally be getting there myself.

  10. I grew up without a father…. So I know exactly how you feel. My dad died a few days before I turned 3 and we buried him on my birthday. It’s been almost and I just pains me I have no memories of him at all. I will always long for a father…. Oh I know so much how you feel. 🙁
    I just love you have that tattoo. <3
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    1. I’m so sorry to hear that, Lindsay. I can’t imagine not having any memories at all. I hope that you at least have some photos and the stories that your family can tell. That’s so sad that you buried him on your birthday. What an awful thing to have happen! 🙁 I’m lucky to have memories of my mom, I wish that I’d started writing them sooner though. Every year it seems that they become more fuzzy and I know that more and more of them are disappearing. Thank you. Getting the tattoo was a very special experience I think. It’s so hard to be missing a parent, a part of you is gone. I’m always here to talk if you need someone to listen. <3

  11. Wow, Gina. You have me balling like a baby over here. I lost my mother ten years ago this year on Mother’s Day. Although I was an adult when I lost my Mom, I can empathize with every thing that you are saying, some because I can imagine it, some because I live it. I, too, have pretended that she is still alive and spoken of her in the present tense just to avoid what follows when you tell someone that your Mom is gone. It absolutely tears me apart to see the look in someone’s face when you tell them (especially when you tell them she died on Mother’s Day.) We are not alone even though it is one of the loneliest feelings in the world to be a motherless daughter. Your post is a reminder of that. Thank you for sharing
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    1. I’m glad that my post touched you enough to bring tears, but I’m sorry I made you cry! 🙁 It’s so hard to tell someone about your mother being dead. I always feel like I have to console them and justify it. It’s impossible to not follow up with something like “but that was a long time ago. I’m okay.” It’s such an impossible situation. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to say that it happened on Mother’s Day. I’m so sorry that the holiday has taken on a more tragic meaning for you. You are so right that we are not alone. There are others like us out there and even though we may feel alone and just want our mothers, they’ll always be with us.

  12. , Gina, girl you know I just want to scoop you up hug you and bring you home with me, right? I am so impressed by who you’ve grown to be, you are so caring, and pathetic, full of grace, and smart. Your heart couldn’t be any bigger. I know I’ve said this before but I am so proud of you, I know you are surrounded by the women you love every second of everyday. And they are smiling at who you’ve become. I love the tattoo, its like your mom has her arm wrapped around you at all times. Xoxo

    1. Thanks, Nikki! <3 🙂 That's so sweet and means so much to me. They are with me every day in everything that I do. I've never thought of my tattoo as her having her arm wrapped around me. I love that image!

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