Grief is such a strange thing. When we lose those who we love so dearly, grief manifests itself in different forms. It cycles in and out of our lives as we grow older, experience new things, and change our priorities and perspectives. Some days it weighs heavier on us than others. Sometimes it’s a thought that brings a smile to our faces. Sometimes, it’s the debilitating pain of remembering or not being able to remember. My grief has come in waves throughout my life. It has helped me to grow up. It made me more responsible. It put certain things into perspective. It made me a better mom.
I was 20 years old when my mom passed away. A sophomore in college, I could hardly see past the end of my own nose. Although it briefly crossed my mind, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what it would be like raising children without my mom there to guide me through the experience. It never dawned on me what it would be like to go through labor without my mom by my side. Or what a challenge it would be to make sure my children know how awesome and loving she was. It wasn’t until I was much older and had been parenting for almost a year that I realized how navigating motherhood – without my mother – would cause such a wide range of emotions to surface at different stages of my parenting journey.
Fast forward 10 years to last April. My father, who had been the unwavering rock of our family, unexpectedly passed away. This time around, I was in my early thirties, had a 3-year-old son and an entirely different outlook on life. I knew, all too well, the importance of children bonding with their grandparents. My son absolutely adored his grandfather. In just 3 short years they had gone fishing together, had countless wrestling matches, shared endless laughs, and tossed every kind of ball back and forth in the backyard. This time, I had a better understanding of what it would mean to be a parent without parents. I knew that tears would come at the strangest times. I knew that milestones would always seem slightly incomplete. I was sure that Grandparent’s Day would be the worst. But I also felt a great sense of responsibility to honor my parents’ memory by raising my son in a manner that would make them proud. I felt there was something positive to be learned from my parents’ lives and even more from their untimely deaths.
First, I’ve learned the importance of moments.
I’ve learned that tickle monsters and hide-and-seek are a high priority and should be cherished as such. I realize that reading an extra story at bedtime is well worth the 5 minutes that it takes. I understand the significance of the simple moments that are weaved into our daily routines because that is what I remember most about my own parents, not the extravagant birthday parties or the expensive Christmas gifts. I remember Friday game nights with the neighbors. I remember singing in the car on road trips. And that time that my dad came home with a turtle he’d found in the street. I remember crawling into bed with my mom on Saturday mornings once my dad had left for work. And how she threatened to drive from Texas to Colorado to pick me up from church camp the first year because I was so homesick. Moments make the best memories. Losing my parents taught me that.
I’ve also learned the value of documenting expressions of love.
Fortunately, my parents were pastors, and a lot of their sermons were recorded. On days when I can’t quite remember the sounds of their voices or the pitch of their laughter, I’m able to pull out a video or listen to a downloaded audio. Those recordings are a treasured possession and bring me the most comfort. I also cherish the things that allow me to see, touch, and hear what I feel in my heart as often as I need to … birthday cards, my mom’s old prayer journal where she petitioned God on my behalf, and the hand-written notes she loved to leave for us in the most unexpected and unusual places . I’ve made it a point to write letters and make both voice and video recordings for my son. I’ve kept a list of things I want him to remember, audio of us singing some silly nursery rhyme that he loves, or just a simple notes to say “I love you.” I’m saving these things for him because I know, firsthand, just how much they will mean when I’m gone.
I’m so aware of the fragility of life that I’m constantly looking for opportunities to live it up.
I never thought I would be able to say that losing my parents made me a better mother, but it’s true. When I’m tired or frustrated or annoyed, something in the back of my mind is reminding me not to sweat the small stuff. When I’m in a hurry to get things done and there are more tasks on my to-do list than hours in the day, somethings tells me to slow down so that I don’t miss the moments. If we’re scheduled for some outing or event but my son is more interested in snuggles and Saturday morning cartoons, you better believe we’ll be in bed watching repeat episodes of Lion Guard for as long as we can. I know that someday, he will have to live without me. That is the natural order of life. I want to make sure that he never has to wonder about my love.
Some things in life, you can never really prepare for. Losing your parents is one of them. I know that nothing I do will take away the pain that my son will feel when I’m gone. It breaks my heart just thinking about it, but I know that there are a few things I can do to help soothe the pain. I can make sure that I’m never too busy to indulge in the things that bring him joy, at this stage of his life or any other. I can document my love in little notes and card and journals. I can leave my voice on video and audio recording so that he can access it when his memory fails him. I can take advantage of each moment because I know they are what he will remember most. Losing my parents has grounded me in the truth that nothing lasts forever – no matter how much we wish for it to. Although it has taken many years to realize and acknowledge, losing them made me a better, more present mom than I may have been otherwise.