Grief is an Independent Variable

This was my first year without a birthday cake. My mom wasn’t here to bake it for me and no one else thought to fill the void. My mother was killed in a car accident this past June. She was the passenger in a car where the driver made a fatal mistake that touched four lives, but only took hers.

And the birthday cake is only the latest in a long line of “firsts” that continues to deepen and widen the void in my life.

There were no “Happy First Day of School” cards for my children. She commemorated everything with a note or a call to let us know we were always in her heart and on her mind.

There was no one to hand out Halloween candy during our neighborhood festivities. She took great joy in this and celebrated in costume.

There was no sous chef by my side as I prepared Thanksgiving dinner. She would have known how to get the potatoes going without blow by blow instructions.

There was no one in the rocking chair watching my children open their gifts on Christmas morning. She was joy personified during this holiest of seasons.

There was no one here to enjoy December 26th with us, one of my most favorite days of the year because I can finally slow down to smell the proverbial roses. She always liked to stay in her pajamas with us as we sat back to enjoy all of the blessings at hand.

And there was no cake.

My mom was eighty. She was spry and active. She was a guiding light in so many people’s lives. I know because the friends and family who streamed through non-stop for two hours during her viewing told me so. And I know because she was a beacon in my life.

It’s true; we had started to make plans for elder care. There were decisions to be made; health could fail at any time. But in one swift motion, I was no longer among the ranks of women sandwiched between caring for their aging parents and their children. Now I was, am, an open-faced sandwich – exposed, unprotected, unshielded, but also freed from the toil of caring for a loved one.

But it is hard to find comfort in that.

People frequently commented and still do:

“You’re lucky you’ll never have to watch your mother’s health fail or her mind go.”

“She’s lucky it was quick and she never had to lose her independence.”

“You’re lucky you had her for that long.”

“She’s lucky she was really living until the very end.”

I must admit, “lucky” does not describe how I feel as I suffer this season of “firsts” without my mother.

I know people mean well, but it would be so much easier on my heart if they “did” well. A simple, “I’ve been thinking about you and your mother, how are you doing?” would suffice.

See, grief is an independent variable. My grief is not lessened or heightened by a list highlighting all of the horrendous things I have avoided. Not suffering other tragedies and heartaches does not lessen this one. Unfortunately, there is enough room in this big, wide world for all grief to exist simultaneously, side by side.

What I can feel is blessed.

When I woke up trembling from the horror of what must have been my mother’s final moments, I remembered the book on my shelf, “To Heaven and Back,” lent to me months before by a good friend. In this book, the author recounted how she was lifted away and spared the pain of her accident and I felt soothed.

When my cousins and aunts stepped in immediately to help with my mother’s services, I did not feel the sting of being an only child so acutely. My family and friends continue to hold me close and lift me up.

When two separate people recounted to me they had seen her the day before she died and she had told them, “If the Lord calls me home tomorrow, I’m ready;” I knew my mother was with our Savior.

Maybe I am lucky in a sense; lucky that so much love and faith can nestle in the void with my grief.


Grief is an Independent Variable




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19 thoughts on “Grief is an Independent Variable

  1. Mary

    Firsts are hard!! Acknowledging the blessings can be hard too. I have been known to throw great pity parties but in the end they never help. It is only when I choose to look at all the blessings in my life that I heal and can move on. Thank you for sharing your blessings and being so transparent in your grief. Hugs Ellen!!

  2. Aunt Karo

    Dear Ellen,

    Your post was so wonderful, and I feel for your heart ache and the missing for your Mom (MySister). She was one in a million and I am so glad that she had you for a daughter, and the girls and Frank. She Loved you more than words can say
    We LOVE you all so much and are so proud of you and your family. May God bring you comfort.

    Love, Aunt Karo

  3. Teresa Townsell

    You are never old enough to be without your mother, are you? My arms are around you. I was touched by the commemoration you gave to your mother through this article; and thought this is the legacy I (and all of us) want to leave behind when we go . . . valued, loved and missed. So beautifully written.

  4. Peg

    I so feel your pain. I’m still counting the firsts without my Mom. Grief is a weird feeling that can grip you almost anywhere and anytime. I found great comfort too hearing what others had to say about her. May you continue to find peace in those memories.

  5. Angela McKeown Momopolize

    This is such a beautifully written post. I lost my Mom several years ago and the firsts are so hard (and the seconds and thirds aren’t much easier). For as long as I can remember, she always sent everyone a birthday card with $10 in it. I was so touched that the first birthday after her passing, my brother sent a card with $10 in it. He has done that for every birthday since. I’m so sorry you didn’t have anyone to bake your cake. If you lived closer, I’d bake you one in a heartbeat!! Sending big hugs your way!!
    Angela McKeown Momopolize recently posted..Why We Should Be Banned from Family PortraitsMy Profile

  6. samatwitch

    What a lovely tribute to your mother. Yes, those firsts without her are hard – so are the second time around and the third. I’m so sorry for your loss. It doesn’t matter how old you are – or how old your parent is – losing a parent or becoming an orphan is always difficult.
    samatwitch recently posted..HURTMy Profile

  7. Keesha

    Ellen, such a beautiful and moving post. Your “open faced sandwich” image packs a punch. And I am an only child too, which means so much, so much responsibility. Your mother was obviously a special lady, and this post is a beautiful testament to her, and to you. I know you miss her every minute of every day, and manage to care for your family and friends. Hugs to you, Ellen. Big, big bear hugs.

  8. Pingback: Describing the Tsunami of Anniversary Grief - Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms | Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

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