January 29, 1958, on a cold, blustery day before dawn, my mother died. I was just four years old, but I remember waking up early and padding into the living room. A lone lamp was on in the corner and across the room, my father was sitting in the old rocking chair with his head in his hands, sobbing.
He saw me and opened his arms as I jumped onto his lap. We rocked and he cried, holding me tighter than usual. Behind my parents’ closed bedroom door, my mother lay, having taken her last breath.
We rocked while we waited for the funeral home to come. I’m sure Daddy told me that Mama was gone, but I don’t remember his words, only how I felt. I’ve heard it said, the body never forgets. My brother was up by now and he and I stood like soldiers watching her being wheeled out of the house.
My life since then has been a mixture of poor decisions and lucky breaks, answered prayers, and untaken guidance. I have two beautiful daughters and two master’s degrees. I’m married to a kind, loyal man and I have a brother, four years older, who shares my early life and gave me his memories about our mother, so I could have them too. As kids, we survived an abusive stepmother, an emotionally unavailable father, and the never-ending sadness of not having our mother. When she died, our father said, “I will never be happy again.” And he wasn’t.
Still…my life is good. My children and grandchildren are happy and thriving. My home is open and loving. I’ve had a fulfilling career and now my husband and I are still healthy enough to enjoy our travels and live the retired life. Nevertheless, some days I still have an overwhelming sadness that takes my breath. I’m teary for a moment or for an entire day. I’m melancholy. I’m tenderhearted or just plain lonely down in my soul. I need my mother. Sixty-four years I have missed her. Sixty-four years and I still carry this sadness.
How can I carry so much sadness while still living such a beautiful life?
Is it God who grants me the reprieve from a sad, sad heart or rewards the sad heart with a lovely life? As a child, my father would chide me, “You’re too sensitive.” As an adult, I’ve been told, “You’re too serious.” Too much of other things like too tenderhearted, too nice, too emotional. I ask myself now, “Am I extra?” Do I have too much of the sadness gene? My being too much of anything is not the cause, it’s the effect.
Before I had the words, I would just take in that criticism, assuming “they” knew me better than I knew myself. But now I know it is the shadow that floats across my soul. The heavy weight of sadness that I sometimes stagger under, all while living my beautiful life. The sadness triggers a remembrance, and my body reacts with tears or solitude or wanting to rest. Psychologists now say this remembering is the impact of trauma on the body and the somatic (relating to the body) memory. The body of the traumatized person holds an implicit memory of the traumatic event in their brains and bodies. Sometimes it is expressed in PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks, and startle responses. The body remembers and refuses to be ignored. I have a hard time labeling myself as ‘traumatized.’ But thinking about being four years old and watching the funeral directors take your dead mother away, I feel traumatized. Having my father pick me up and lean over the casket to kiss my mother goodbye is traumatic. Not remembering her touch, or face or voice.. what would you call it?
The definition of trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. For me, trauma manifests like this: I am busy living my happy life and I see a young mother holding her child’s hand as they walk home from school. This never fails to startle me, like I all of a sudden remember I never had my mother walk me to or from school. I never had anyone to walk me to school, except occasionally my brother. I missed feeling secure in my childhood. I was hyper-alert, constantly wondering what would happen next.
When I see my daughters laughing with their children, playing games, or enjoying a moment, I feel joyous, too, yet empty because I cannot ever remember my mother interacting with me. I cannot remember her voice, smile or even her face. Did she think I was clever and precious? I would like to think she did because I have this wonderful life with loving people in it. My mother must have insisted I be given an extra dollop of blessings before she left this earth. She knew I would need it.
So, I continue to live my beautiful life, while sharing the sadness as it comes in spurts. I accept the good and the bad, knowing that is just the way it is. It is my normal.
I continue to learn the lessons that grief has taught me, like how to listen, to be gentle with myself, and to be compassionate to myself and others. I try to remember; this too shall pass, and above all, gratitude is the glue that holds me altogether.
I cannot say I am fully grateful for the sadness, but it is a reminder of where I have been. That reminder feeds my gratitude for the lovely life I am living now, and proves what I know is true, all things work together for good.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
7 thoughts on “Too Much”
Beautifully written Nana ❤️
Thank you, dear Fran. You have been my sweet friend for so long. I am grateful for your friendship through my ups and downs.
Romans 8:28 put everything into context. God loves us so much.
Thank you, Richard. The older I get, the more I believe. All things work together for good to those who love God and want God’s will. xoxo
*puts* – I need to proofread before I post.
Your writing always hits a raw nerve that I try to keep hidden away from the rest of my world! I cannot even begin to imagine not growing up without the love and guidance of both of my parents! Not only did they raise me and my 2 sisters, they helped me as a struggling single mom — they bought lots of clothes and shoes for my kids, and they also would drive the 350 miles to come and get them when they were sick because I didn’t have the sick days to spare! (They also potty-trained Matt, but that is a story all in itself!!🤣) Six years ago, I was holding Mother’s hand when she took her last breath at the age of 90, and I know the agony of watching the funeral home directors as they came and took her from her bed an hour or so later! I remember the wave of immense sadness as I realized she was leaving her home for the last time. I still find myself picking up my phone to call her to tell her some bit of news or to ask about instructions on one of her fabulous recipes — is it crazy that she and Daddy are still on my speed dial?! While I know that because of God’s grace I will see them again, that empty feeling never seems to go away!
My dearest Janis…thank you for sharing your heart with me. How blessed and loved you and your sisters were, but that does not stop the grief. I know you must miss them terribly. Thank you for your comment and beautiful words. xoxo