Without Her

I’ve started this post about nine times in the past year but the words didn’t come. Like this post, I’m disjointed and my brain is jumbled. I don’t work like I used to but I needed to get it out of me so here I go…

We aren’t taught how to grieve. I wish we were. I wish there was a way to do it “properly”, a formula with a begining and an end. Knowing that this sadness had an end would be really nice. The truth is that this grief doesn’t have an end. It is a part of me now. It has overshadowed my whole self and I am changed. I miss Marmee with my everything and the reality of that has left me so desperately SAD. I like the explanation of grief touching every part of your life, every part of your being, and instead of the grief growing smaller with time, our lives grow bigger around it but the same amount of grief remains within us always.  (You can check out a good explanation HERE)

Christmas is coming soon and it has always been a little extra special for my family. I’m not sure what it is exactly but I think it has to do with the chaos that we needed refuge from as kids and the peace that Christmas at home brought. I know that sounds a little cliche and if you know my family at all we aren’t very “peaceful” or quiet when we are together. But, when I talk about the peace at Christmas I mean Peace in the deepest sense of the word. I’m learning that my new reality of peace cohabitates with sadness. Joy comes with pain. I am finding my way with out Marmee and it is THE HARDEST thing I’ve ever had to do, but I am doing it with sadness and contentment.

For many years growing up we had to visit our birth father over Christmas, which was never a good experience. Despite rarely taking his visitation days through out the year, he always ensured he took us over Christmas and threw an ample amount of chaos in to our lives over the holiday. Because of this I learned to really embrace this time we had with our Mom early on. She was our safety and our calm after a stressful, often scary and sickness inducing visit with our father. We knew early on that Christmas wasn’t about the presents, because those often came with strings or where used as weapons from our father. What we wanted most at Christmas was time together at home with our Mom, in safety, peace and love. We cherished that time together and continue to make our Christmas’ center around those values. This year, it all seems to be even more prevalent…

What we want most is time together with our Mom.

I look back at the last year and wonder how we actually did it. How did we get through it all? How am I actually still standing? I didn’t write about it here because I think I was already numb, just surviving. The words couldn’t come. I’m just starting to find them again actually. Three weeks after my Mom died, before we had even come up for air, Jon’s brother Jeremy died. Last Christmas was a blur. I actually don’t remember much of it at all. This year, I can take the time to actually feel all the feelings and not just survive through them. This year feels more like the first Christmas without her.

How has this past year without her been? Devastating and Beautiful at the same time. Before cancer I didn’t know two such opposing realities could exist together. Neither one pulls more than the other but they live and breathe simutaneously.

We’ve had A LOT of hard stuff happen this year. Jon’s brother died 3 weeks after Marmee and our beloved angel dog, Aura, died 5 months later. She had never been healthy but we were not expecting her to go so quickly. Our own bodies kind of gave up and we had numerous visits to different doctors offices and went to the ER countless times for various and seemingly debilitating illness that led to respiratory issues, dehydration, numerous antibiotics and interupted vacations. The biggest and most scary hospital stay was in August when Jon and I were called home from our anniversary weekend in Victoria. Sofie’s underestimated eye infection reached dangerous levels very quickly. She had to be put on 2 heavy duty IV antibitocs every 8 hours to help rid her of the infection and keep it from entering her central nervous system. Apart from that we also recieved an unexpected dual diagnosis for Sofie of ADHD, with a probability of Autism as well. The official autism assessment will come in the new year though. As the new school year started, our bodies healed and we got to experience the wonders of the ADHD medication for Sofie. We have been able to start finding our new normal.

I know Marmee would be amazed of how well we are all doing through it all. She’d be so proud of how my sisters and I have come together, gotten through any grief-induced sister pettiness that pops up and risen to the challenge of taking care of each other and staying unified. My sister Maggy, with Down Syndrome, is living with Vanessa and Josh and THRIVING. Liz started a new job working in the same office as my husband with the government in the community living field. Apparently working with and for the differently abled is a family legacy our Mom has passed down to all three of us girls. I’m sure she is smiling because of it.

Her grandbabies are doing really well too. Her biggest regret with leaving to soon was not getting to see them grow up. That reality is the most painful part for me and creeps up at Christmas concerts, milestone moments and those mundane family giggle nights. I can’t even think about it without crying still.

Livi did an amazing job in her first community theater performance, the one she auditioned for on the day that Marmee died. She’s had a hard first term with friends at school, because her best friend moved and switched schools, but she is finding her groove and excited about her next stage preformance in the spring! Sofie is flourishing in school this year, medicated and with a new teacher and EA. She is finally learning to write her name and preformed a memorized poem in front of an audience! Evelyn is loving Kindergarten, as we all knew she would. She is the fastest girl runner in her class most days and loves playing hard both with her imagination and body!

With the passing of the one year mark and the magic of Christmas here, I really do feel like I can start to breathe again. It’s a heavier breath but it’s there. I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. For me though, I feel like I got through this year, a year where I thought I’d fall apart but I’m still standing and still feeling, so I know I can do the rest of this life thing with out her.  With every groan in my soul, I wish I didn’t have to though.

Everything has changed but life keeps calling. I’m learning to process life in a different way. It’s been really difficult. I’m a verbal processor and I have lost the person I process everything with. The person I would talk to about everything. The person who had the patience and interest to listen to the swirling circles of insignificant and all-encompasing frustrations, joys, questions, fears, judgements and insights that go on in my head every day. We would talk and debrief our day almost every day. Without her, my world doesn’t make sense the way it used to and I’m needing to figure it out with completely different tools than I’m used to using. In case you are wondering where my husband fits in here –  I love my husband completely but he isn’t that person for me and that’s okay. Our brains work too differently, which is one of the things that keeps our relationship so strong. Our personalities compliment eachother but verbal processing is not his strong suit just as internal processing is not mine. He tries hard and I’ve had to learn. I have had to become more introverted and introspective. I am more quiet and keep things to myself more. Maybe that’s not a bad thing but it really sucks being forced in to it.

After Marmee died last year a friend told me she thought Marmee had left me with her peace and I have really felt that. I feel her calm inside me, inexplicably holding me those first few months especially. I still feel it, keeping my anxiety in line and managing it better with this new gift of peace.

Marmee told a different friend of mine that I was “scary strong“, meaning she believed I could get through anything, and I can. Marmee did not see herself as strong though, or resilient, but she was. Brene Brown says “We cannot give our children what we do not have.” My mom gave me so much. She was the strongest, most resilient person I know and she gave that to me, and to my sisters. She taught me how to be a mother and then got to walk alongside me while I became one myself. I can do this all because of her.

My children are a big part of why I survived this year as well. They kept me present as only children can do. I had to allow myself to feel all the sadness and to see the beauty in my life in order to stay present with them. Their joy kept me going and their sorrow gave me perspective. They lost their Marmee too so we helped each other.

Early on, I was driving my girls to school wondering how I was going to do this. Tears and self doubt streamed down my face every car ride at that point. Then Livi’s voice broke through my thoughts. She was singing passionately along to Pink in the back seat…

"This is my rally cry 
I know it's hard,
we have to try
This is a battle I must win
To want my share is not a sin

There's not enough rope to tie me down
There's not enough tape to shut this mouth
The stones you throw can make me bleed
But I won't stop until we're free
Wild hearts can't be broken
No, wild hearts can't be broken"

This became my anthem for this part of the journey. I smiled and started laughing because I knew I would be okay. Grief is always going to call to me, just like Life will always call and I will continue to live as long as I answer both.

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One Day

One day I’ll write again.

I’ve lost the person I process with and I don’t know how to organize my thoughts anymore. It will come eventually. I need it to come. I will heal.

Marmee

It’s been over a year since I’ve blogged and so much has happened. I hate that this is the next post after my “She Lives” post… Two month ago my mom, Marmee, got her second diagnosis of Pancreatic cancer. She was cancer free for 15 months before it came back, but it came back with a vengeance. This is what I wrote for her Fun-eral today. My husband beautifully and tearfully read it as her eulogy today. I wanted to share it here to…

My Marmee was a remarkable woman.

First, to get something out of the way – Sylvia was always “Marmee” to her daughters and grand daughters. Yes, we stole it from Louisa May Alcott’s book “Little Women”. But like Margaret March, she raised a group of fierce and powerful women all on her own, and there is no more appropriate word to describe her. No matter how tough things were, Marmee was always there for people who needed her. She was present with her fierce love, unending compassion and a whole lot of grace.

Growing up in our early years my mom worked really hard to change the trajectory of our lives. As a single mom with four children (including a set of twins!), and still coping with the aftermath of domestic abuse and a culture that didn’t look favourably on divorced women, she managed to put herself through school. She worked various jobs before she found her career and managed to volunteer time with her church, single mom’s groups and our schools. Despite all her responsibilities none of us kids ever felt like she wasn’t present. No matter how busy she was, she managed to check in with each of us every day and was genuinely interested in our lives. She listened and cared about the mundane parts too. This is one of the things I’m going to miss most. Just knowing that she is there, not to do anything, or to fix anything, just listening and being present.

Because she didn’t want us to make some of the same mistakes she did, Marmee wanted us to be strong and fierce, traits she didn’t see in herself. I think she got more than she bargained for in the powerful women that she raised but it just goes to show what a good job she did. She always taught us to think for ourselves and question everything. Not out of fear, but to make sure our thoughts and opinions were being heard. She wanted us to be the challengers of the norm… and may have been a little too successful at that as well. She went through a lot of grief from us kids because of it. I don’t think she would have changed it for anything though. She wanted to raise some beautifully tough kids.

But it wasn’t enough for Marmee just to raise a family on her own. Our house had an open door policy growing up. She often had five or six kids in the house, sometimes more. On occasion all four of us kids would be gone to various places and she would have one or two of our friends at home with her just visiting. It didn’t matter if it was a big issue, or just a little thing – if someone showed up and needed to talk, Marmee made sure to listen and love on them.

Marmee made a career out of loving people. From a young age she knew she wanted to work with vulnerable people, particularly people with different physical and intellectual abilities. She thrived in her career of working in various day programs and group homes and loved every minute of it. Then, 18 years ago she made the huge and probably scary decision to bring Maggy in to our home and lives. She made a lot of good decisions but this was one of her best. Maggy helped keep us all together through our crazy teen years and was probably the most impactful on Vanessa and I with guiding us to our own careers working with vulnerable people and my own choice to adopt Sofie, my daughter with Down syndrome as well.

My mom and I never had a typical mother-daughter relationship, which we know baffled many of our friends and family, but it worked for us. She was my person and I was hers. We were a little co-dependent, yes, but it was a co-dependency that comes from a place of survival. We survived together and, quite literally, because of each other sometimes. That bond transcends logic. We grounded each other. We built each other up, challenged each other and took care of things when the other needed to fall a little.

When we started talking about moving in with each other again, with my husband and my growing family, we knew many people thought we were crazy. As my husband put it on Facebook recently he “wasn’t necessarily in favor of reducing barriers to (his) wife’s already co-dependent relationship with her mother”. I think we all worried about that a bit, but my mom and I knew it could be great and she never shied away from a challenge, especially if someone told her she shouldn’t do it!

These past 8 years have been some of the best times in all of our lives. She modelled being an incredible mother to me as a child but got to walk along side and with me as I actually became a mother myself. It was also a redemptive experience for her to watch Jon being a loving husband and a caring father, something she had hoped and prayed for for her children and grandchildren.

Sharing a house with her meant she got to love on her grand babies every single day. She secretly enjoyed seeing the look of envy on her friends faces when she would tell them how wonderful it was to have the girls bounce in to her space most mornings to say hi and have a second, or sometimes third, breakfast with her. She loved being their safe place to go when they needed quiet from their sisters or just time away from Mommy and Daddy. I loved it too.

When she got diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer the first time in November 2015 I remember thinking she couldn’t leave because I couldn’t do this without her. I needed my Marmee. We all still needed her too much. Then she beat it! Of course she did… probably mostly out of sheer Schmidt stubbornness. When the second diagnosis came 2 months ago we knew her body was too weak to fight it. We knew this was the end, but we really didn’t think it would be this fast. We also knew that we would be ok because she raised some strong women. It was time for her to stop fighting.

Death is never pretty. It’s not part of any plan. It’s a thief, just like cancer, that separates us from each other. I don’t know what happens after we die. I choose to believe in heaven and a God who restores those relationships through His being, but for now she is gone and it hurts like hell. My mom had fought through a lot in her life. Against many odds and through a lot of hardship. She was a warrior and I’m so proud to call her my mom. I’m also so thankful she doesn’t have to fight anymore, for herself or any of us.

Because of her we will not fall. We will be ok and we will strive to keep her legacy of love, compassion and grace flowing through us. I’m going to quote Ed Sheeran now, much to my husband’s dismay. In a song dedicated to his grandmother, Ed wrote “You were an angel in the shape of my mum. You got to see the person I have become. Spread your wings and I know that when God took you back He said, ‘Hallelujah, you’re home’”