No one has grieved harder than me.
Those are the words that just came off my keyboard. And then, a second later, I thought about grieving parents. And that grief isn’t a contest. It just isn’t. We all grieve as hard as we need to and as long as we need to. That’s truth.
Mom’s been gone 20 years now. 20 years! An eternity, I was going to write, and a second later I thought, “We’re all living in eternity.”
Yeah, there’s no winning when you 1) work in grief and 2) work in afterlife stuff.
My mother’s death was huge for me. The biggest thing that had ever happened to me, and the most mysterious.
So in that last year of her life I traveled thousands of miles every month to spend a week or two at her hospital bedside and as I walked into the hospital every day of every visit, an essay was writing itself in my head. I took everything around me in. And then finally, after she died, this piece came out of me.
It sat around for month, years even, and then, a few years later, was accepted for publication in a literary magazine affiliated with a medical school.
Mom’s death catapulted me into a search for the answer to this question: “Where did she go?” and that led me on a spiritual journey that hasn’t stopped. A story for another day.
I read once that the death of the mother is the first sorry wept without her. How true that is.
For today, though, the day before what would’ve been her 94th birthday, I’m sharing this piece in her memory.
20 years. That’s how long it’s been since my mother left this earth.
I still grieve. She no longer crosses my mind every single day, but most days, yes, thoughts of her come up and I grieve her loss. Her way too early death.
Her friends thought she was a saint–most of them, anyway, but the truth is, she’d never have made mother of the year. She had her issues and lots of them. There were traumatic times she should have stepped up to protect her children and didn’t and there were times she shouldn’t have stepped in when she did and consequences were paid. She paid them and so did others.
Once, walking through a mall with my brother on one of my visits (long ago, when I had an actual relationship with him) a complete stranger stopped me.
“Are you Carol Cassara?” she asked. “You should be ashamed of yourself for how you treated your mother.”
Immediately, I knew my mother had spun something really terrible she’d done so that her culpability disappeared. In a way I felt like laughing–this complete stranger had no clue about what had really happened. In another way I felt like crying because I could see my mother was unable to look at what she’d done, maybe out of shame or embarrassment. I even understood why she’d done this awful thing. I got it because I got her.
I tell this story to underscore that love can be complicated. But the truth is:
Love is love.
Even with all her flaws, I loved her and I always felt protective of her. I spent the last year of her life flying back and forth from Florida to my upstate NY home town to be with her at the hospital. One or two weeks a month, work be damned.
“It’s always a party when you come,” she once told me from her hospital bed. Even as a write this the tears come because I still remember those long days at her bedside. Sometimes she was on a ventilator. Other times she was totally with it. I didn’t accept that she was dying. She was only 74. It was an early death.
So when I sat down with my Guided Journal through Grief, which, by the way, I have worked through for most of the significant people in my life who have died, and saw this question, I was stricken.
“What didn’t she get to finish?”
She didn’t get to finish her life. She didn’t get to see her beloved only grandson graduate from law school or even high school. She didn’t get to see Michael and me remarry, something she had always longed for. She didn’t get to enjoy her golden years.
The list is long. Some people don’t get to finish what they started and she was one of them. She didn’t get to finish her life.
She didn’t get to be happy. Because despite what people in her life thought, she was an unhappy woman with a very sad life. A life that had gone bad. A life she didn’t know how to live.
On the positive side, she didn’t live to see some of the most shameful of family behavior. But she did live to see some of it and she was the cause of some of it, something she regretted in the end. Nor did she live to see my father deteriorate with dementia.
But still, I know she would have rather been here than not.
Oh, life is so complicated, isn’t it? Death is easy in comparison.
Can you feel my emotion? Because it’s all over this screen.
One of the gifts the Guided Journal through Grief has brought me is the ability to work through some of these heavy issues. To see them in a new light. And no, it wouldn’t have been better to keep it all buried. Ask any therapist: stuffing our feelings is absolutely the worst thing we can do.
The healthy thing to do is to work through these complex emotions. When we’re ready. Which is why it’s a beautiful gift to give ourselves. And a beautiful gift to give someone we love.
You can find it right here.