Last week I wrote a post about how I’m actually feeling excited about the holiday season in spite of it being the first one without my mom.
That’s all real and true. I’m not dreading the holidays at all this year. I’m actually really excited for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But there’s something else that’s been on my mind that I didn’t touch on in that post.
I’m not dreading the holidays, but I am dreading the few months immediately following them. I am dreading the first few months of the new year.
I’ve already been playing the “this time last year” game in my head for a while now.
“This time last year we just found out we were moving back home.”
“This time last year we put our house in Florida on the market.”
“This time last year we flew home to start looking at houses.”
“This time last year we started packing for the big move.”
Pretty soon it will be:
“This time last year my mom started the final decline.”
“This time last year my mom became bedridden.”
“This time last year my mom was dying in a hospital bed in her living room.”
“This time last year my mom was still alive.”
Until she wasn’t…
More so than dreading all the firsts without her, I’ll be ruminating in the painful memories of all the lasts with her.
My last birthday and her last birthday — both in January.
Her last Valentine’s Day and her last St. Patrick’s Day.
The last time she was out of bed, the last time she said “I love you,” the last time she said anything at all.
The last time she had anything to eat or drink, the last time she showed a glimpse of recognition, the last time she opened her eyes.
So many last times over the years, but especially during those last few months.
There’s something sacred about the time spent kneeling at her bedside, stroking her hair and massaging her hands.
Sacred, but painful. Oh so painful. A pain unlike anything else I’ve ever felt in my life, even during the ten long years my mom suffered from Alzheimer’s.
The truth is as hard as the entire journey was for me, those last few months were by far the hardest. That was the darkest time of my whole life.
The months following my mom’s death pale in comparison to the last few months preceding it.
The pain, the stress, the anxiety — all unlike anything I have ever felt in my life.
It was so bad I developed a sudden fear of driving over bridges, which I had to do to get to my parents’ house from where I was living at the time. I used to picture my car going over the edge, into the water, and I would panic. I vividly remember driving with my hands clenched around the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles turned white, as my heart raced and I was unable to catch my breath.
I would lay in bed every night, scrolling through pictures and videos of my mom on my phone, sobbing. I wanted the suffering to end, but I wasn’t ready for the journey to be over.
I was living in a fog, simply going through the motions of daily life on the outside while spinning uncontrollably on the inside, and just feeling so incredibly sad all the time. I was dizzy with grief.
It was hard. Really fucking hard.
Naturally, I’m not looking forward to reliving that time in my life. I’m dreading it, actually. But I do think that it’s all part of the grieving process and I know I will get through it, no matter how hard or how ugly it gets.
In the meantime, I am going to embrace the joy of the upcoming holiday season and make the most of this time with my family. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the grief, pain, and trauma of this journey, it’s gratitude.
So much gratitude.