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




Share it real good . . .
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponShare on RedditEmail this to someonePrint this page

By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski



19 Responses to “Grief is an Independent Variable”

  1. Michelle
    March 2, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    Oh, Ellen, there are no words…but I’m glad you have yours to help with your grieving.
    Sending you a big hug, my friend.
    Michelle recently posted..Oscar Night BingoMy Profile

  2. Kathy at kissing the frog
    March 2, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    I cringed when I read the “lucky” quotes. There is nothing lucky about tragedy, even despite your mom’s age. I am sorry about all the firsts – I know they totally suck. Thank you for writing so eloquently about them, though. I think your words can serve to ease others’ pain. Lots of hugs and love, my friend.
    Kathy at kissing the frog recently posted..Around the Pond with the Frog~ Weeks Ending 2/28/14My Profile

  3. Mary
    March 2, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    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!!

  4. Aunt Karo
    March 2, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    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

  5. Teresa Townsell
    March 2, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    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.

  6. kim @ the fordeville diaries
    March 2, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    Ellen, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking post. Thank you for sharing some of the memories of your dear mother with us. My heart goes out to you. xo
    kim @ the fordeville diaries recently posted..What Would You Say About Your Husband in a Book?My Profile

  7. Chris Carter
    March 2, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

    Ellen, this is just beautiful. Achingly so.

    As you grieve, remember those hopeful truth that she is home. And someday, you will have eternity to spend making up for this time of firsts.
    Chris Carter recently posted..Devotional Diary: What Is God’s Dream For You?My Profile

  8. HouseTalkN
    March 2, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Oh, Ellen. Your words are a beautiful tribute to your mother. I am so sorry. Big love to you and your family.
    HouseTalkN recently posted..Friendship, Telling It Like It IsMy Profile

  9. Peg
    March 2, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    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.

  10. Angela McKeown Momopolize
    March 3, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    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

  11. samatwitch
    March 3, 2014 at 6:32 am #

    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

  12. Meredith
    March 3, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    I just love you. And I’m sorry. You are beautiful and your words shine. Your mom would be so proud. xoxoxo
    Meredith recently posted..Put Down the Personality Test, MeredithMy Profile

  13. Jessica
    March 3, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Beautifully written. What a wonderful mom and grandmother to your children.

  14. Keesha
    March 4, 2014 at 12:10 am #

    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.

  15. Steph at I'm Still Learning
    March 4, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Wow, Ellen. You’ve moved me to tears. Your mom, like my parents, clearly played a very important role in your life and in your children’s lives. I am so very sorry for your loss—and for the fact that you had no cake this year.

    Loved your open faced sandwich analogy. It makes perfect sense.
    Steph at I’m Still Learning recently posted..Comment on Thank God my husband is easy going… and a new book announcement! by StephMy Profile

  16. Southern Angel
    March 7, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    OMG hun I am so sorry. As a motherless child I totally understand. It has been 2 years, I still hurt. I am so sorry I missed this post, life has kept me from keeping up with blogging and now I feel like a grand tucus for missing this one.. sending you as tight a hug as I can right now..
    Southern Angel recently posted..Life, Death and Surgery.. never a dull momentMy Profile

  17. Monica
    June 17, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    Ellen – What a beautiful, eloquent and moving tribute to your mom. Thinking of you and grateful for your honesty.
    Monica recently posted..A Father’s Guide to Mother’s DayMy Profile


  1. Describing the Tsunami of Anniversary Grief - Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms | Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms - May 14, 2014

    […] a grace period, a quiet before the storm. Or maybe I was just numb, exhausted from the shock of my mother’s sudden death that the summer and swept along by the riptide of my busy teens’ […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge