On March 1st five years ago, my world was changed forever. I was woken up from a dead sleep to my cell phone ringing. I didn't get the call in time. When I heard it ringing again, I knew something was really wrong. I don't remember who drew the short straw in my family that day. I don't think it was my grandmother and if I had to guess today, I'd say that it was my Uncle Jeff.
She was gone.
My mother had died.
I was living in New England. Everyone else, including my mother was in my hometown in Illinois.
We would later learn she died of alcohol poisoning. She was an alcoholic and I had noticed it was getting worse when I was home in January. She was trying hard to be sober while I was home. My eyes couldn't help but see her hands shake as we looked for wedding inspiration ideas at Michaels.
She was really excited about getting to play her role as mother of the bride in August. I remember the joy she felt as she gave her opinion on bridesmaids dresses. I wanted my girls to pick something they felt comfortable in. Each choose a dress that was different but within the same color scheme.
I had already picked out my dress and it was on order. But while we were at the bridal boutique she said "This one is like yours, try it on just for fun." I did. And she looked at me with beautiful tears in her eyes and told me what a beautiful bride I would be. It was the only time she would get to see me in a wedding dress.
After hearing the news of her death, I immediately went into shock. But just for a moment. They say that your best qualities come out during tragedy. Mine are organization and leadership.
I called my boss. It was early morning. He was an older gentleman with a sweet soul. I still remember his words.
"Say it ain't so, NJ. Say it ain't so."
But it was. I told him we were leaving for the airport. And I didn't know when I'd be back. I hoped there would still be a job for me to come back to. But I understood if business needs couldn't support it. I'd be back when I was ready to be a functional person again. Two weeks later, I wouldn't say that I was functioning. But at least I was managing.
The flight home was not without drama. The airport was in the middle of a remodel and the ticketing desk was at one end of the airport but the make shift security line was at the other. The line was long. We were not going to make it. I made it know that we NEEDED to get through ASAP, my mother had just died and we had to get to our family waiting for us. We made our flight, by the skin of our teeth.
When we finally got to my grandmother's house there were family friends and close family waiting. Word travels fast in a small town. Everyone was in shock. No one knew what to say, so they didn't really say anything.
One thing that really surprised me was the strength and love I felt from my friend Tim's dad. Tim was in my graduating class and committed suicide as a result of PTSD after returning home safely from a tour in Baghdad. A father without a son, comforting a daughter without a mother.
People filed in and out over the next few days.
Flowers and plants came.
Arrangements were made.
I found the decisions to be very difficult. I wasn't sure on which hymns she would have wanted sung. I didn't know if she'd want communion. We had never talked about it. The only thing I knew was that she wanted to be cremated. My grandparents and uncles kept saying "it's your decision, you decide." But I didn't know what she wanted. So I tried to read their minds to figure out what they wanted the service to be like. After all, their world had been crushed too.
The next few days went by with a blur. We welcomed more friends. Memories were shared. Tears were shed.
We had the service.
I delivered a funny and beautiful eulogy.
People thought it was strange that I was so held together.
Someone had to hold us together.
I promised my husband I would address my feelings as they came up.
A few weeks after I got home, they did.
5 years later, they still do sometimes.
Its strange. I mostly feel like she was jipped.
It wasn't until after she passed that I really started to blossom into the person I wanted to be.
I grew up and out of the "wandering" years that are your early twenties.
I left my job in retail and got a position in a company I'm madly passionate about.
I got married and and a child.
I found some my of the best friends in the entire world.
I miss her the most when I look at Malone. He is a spitting image of me, and I of her. I can't give him a bath. It makes me miss her too much. It is such a mundane task but makes me think of her. Of all of the times she sat by my bath, caring for and nurturing me.
There are times when the grief hits me like a wave slamming my body against the shore.
But there is no place to go but forward.
Second by second.
Minute by minute.
Hour by hour.
Day by day.