This is the second in my motherhood series (read the first post here) of guest posts in honor of Mother’s Day. I first connected with my dear friend Jaclyn over Noonday’s fashion and global impact. I soon learned about her motherhood journey. In this post, she shares how the loss of her mother shapes her own journey as a mom - and what it’s like to live in the tension between joy and sorrow.
Guest post by Jaclyn Persinger
I remember sitting across from her as the tears dripped down my cheeks and I choked back the lump that seemed to never go away when I talked about life without my mom. She had been my therapist for a year now as I was walking into becoming a mother, and we had covered all the things surrounding death and grief and infertility and fostering and anger and depression and pregnancy and joy and guilt and …and… and. I could not seem to move past the idea that the rest of my life, even 13 years after she had died, would continue to be without her. I still did not even know how to make a pan of rice krispie treats, let alone have someone I could call and ask for directions from. I wouldn’t ever be told by that nurturing voice only a mom seems to whisper, “it’s going to be okay, you’re doing just fine,” when I had those hard days of mothering my own children.
I couldn’t call her, ask her for help, ask her to watch my children. I couldn’t even yell at her anymore or get frustrated or roll my eyes or be annoyed. I wouldn’t get the opportunity to talk to her about how the grandchildren’s sleeping routine was important or minimizing sugar helped keep them sane or even though I was thankful she was watching them for me (for free), I needed them to go to sleep by 8pm or I will SUFFER the next three days.
Nope, I didn’t have the choice or luxury of how our relationship would go, because she had died and left me to navigate this new motherhood journey on my own.
Holidays and birthdays and celebrations only seemed to bring forth any negative feelings I suppressed throughout this journey and became a place of deep pain that would cause me so much internal anxiety and anger and sorrow. I would house so much jealousy towards anyone that didn’t understand or know these feelings and went about these celebrations taking their pictures, and recording in their memory books or on Instagram and Facebook and weep when I would go to sleep knowing that I would never have that. I wouldn’t have my mom, or my children’s grandmother come to their kindergarten award ceremonies or show up at our doorstep with balloons and a card or gift on their birthdays, or remember the day they were born just as clearly as I did. I wouldn’t be able to ever make the memories or have the arguments or make the Shutterfly calendars for Christmas or document a generational photo to talk about to my grandchildren one day. Don’t even get me started on how I felt about each passing Mother’s Day.
“Becoming a mother will help you heal,” my therapist said. “There will be moments when life makes more sense and your perceptions, your motives, your life’s purpose will be bigger than you thought possible. You will treasure these hard moments differently and that ache will become bearable. “
So we discussed life’s big moments plenty, and how I could cope and heal through them. But what she didn’t say is that I would still experience jealousy from all that I stated above, or even more so, during those simple, mundane outings that so many take for granted. The ones where a grocery store visit that had me strung out and frustrated and hair not washed for the fifth day, towing my twin three year olds and a brand new beautiful and perfect baby, I would form a crater of tears collecting in my throat as I watched the always and forever present grandmother- mother- child scenario. The kind that made my heart ache so badly all I could do was blink a million times as I fought back the tears that relentlessly overflowed down my cheeks without allowing me any freedom to wipe them away first. The scene where grandma pushes the cart with the toddler in it as the mother, my age, held the newborn in her arms and walked alongside her, picking out groceries, placing them in the basket and carrying on their conversation of which cute thing junior said this time. Lord my heart would sting. She didn’t talk about those scenes because she knew I didn’t want their life, I had told her I didn’t. I didn’t want other women’s moms or babies...I didn’t want their experiences because I knew I wanted my own authentic ones...but maybe, deep down, I actually did?
What she also didn’t say was how much Mom’s death would bring forth truth and honesty in my life. A need for a redemption story of my own.
My therapist - and I - couldn’t have known early on how my loss would shape my own parenting. How my mother’s cancer battle lasted a mere 51 days from the time she was diagnosed to the time she died. She had discovered her melanoma at stage 4 and it was terminal. And yet, she continued to promise me that she would be at all of my life’s celebrations; my first date, my graduation, my wedding, my births. She promised daily that she was not going to miss those events. And to me, her promises meant everything. I believed her. Until she was gone. I struggled with honesty and truth after that. Words became a trigger point which I put a lot of emphasis and expectation around. Truth became something so important to me because I felt for many years that she broke promises and she had lied. It made me desire to never keep a secret from any of my children. And even though I now believe my mother’s intentions were pure and her desire to win this battle and live was so great she wasn’t thinking about the lasting impact a broken promise would have on me...it still did. I eventually vowed to myself that I would put it all out on the table in my home; no matter how uncomfortable or awkward the conversation would be, truth would be spoken out of love. Death would not be feared or an off-topic in our home, but one we spoke of regularly. I promised myself that my honesty with my children would (hopefully) teach them that we don’t have to have it all figured out or even get it all right. That sometimes we would have the answer, and sometimes we would not. And that no matter what the world around us believed or practiced or told us, our family would become truth speakers to the tenth degree, especially when it was hard. I committed to allowing truth to actually set us free and prioritize its importance in our family unit.
“Becoming a mother will help you heal.” Her voice and words invade my thoughts on a daily basis.
We talked about so many things, her and I. We talked about the trigger buttons, the plan of action when needing to get out of a celebration or holiday invitation. We talked about the years that would pass and the days that would be ok and the days that would flow in like a tidal wave in an ocean, filled with sorrow as great as the day she left.
Death and the grief journey became so complicated to me. The more I learned about it, the less I seemed to know. It is a place that never seems to end, but always has a beginning. A metaphorical ocean of feelings tucking below the surface the multitude of darkness and light, storms brewing, calmness lingering, unknowns and discoveries of deep anguish intertwined with euphoric moments, the mind has a hard time catching up and making sense of it all.
Grief and death and life without my mom has taught me that my motherhood journey of my own now becomes a place in between joy and sorrow.
Where I dance between the two, feeling the most abundant happiness I can dream of and yearning for the comfort that seems to only exist before the loss.
I watch my girls differently. I pause more frequently, silencing my own thoughts and taking in all of it; the way they smell, the feel of their little fingers, the noise of their toys, the mispronounced words.
I do not dismiss the hard. I am not naïve to the concept that even if she was alive, our relationship may have been tricky. I understand what we don’t have can sometimes turn into this alternate universe the mind likes to pretend would be, had the death never have occurred. But I am also not naïve how to valuable and precious life is. How quickly it passes. How time is a thief. My nostalgia is at an all time high, and my intense emotions now long for, and grieve, the moments before they have even begun.
“You will treasure these hard moments differently and that ache will become bearable”
Holidays create this place now where I am able to make a new memory, bring about new joy and watch new life through innocent eyes experiencing all that they have never seen, never tasted, never watched or felt. I get to and have forced my pain to become productive…a sort of goal for myself to help the redemption along. To appreciate the creative ways I have been able to start new traditions or carry on old ones, absorbing the genuine joy my own children now feel, and helping lessen my own pain.
Joy and sorrow… the place I have surrendered to living within.
I appreciate other mothers even more so as well. I look up to the ones who have created family units so supportive of one another, through all of their own junk and I ask them questions. I try to learn from them, mostly by observing but many times through conversations. I listen as my friends speak about their own walks and absorb what I can learn from them as well, often times, simply perspective shifts.
It’s amazing when I listen, when I talk less, and when I observe…how much others are able to teach me.
She taught me that as well. I am convinced living without her has forced me to pay closer attention to life…to not only my own mothering, but to my friends and peers.
To Connect, to Step outside of my comfort zone and watch as the world rises up to meet us for where we are and places the very people we seem to need in our lives, in that moment, day or season. It really is a beautiful thing.
When moving to Madison, one of my first experiences in a mom’s group involved a fellow group member inviting me to a Noonday party where I met the lovely Julie. I did not know any of the women that were attending the party nor had I heard of Noonday and yet Julie had such a warm and inviting energy the minute we all started to learn about what Noonday stood for, we felt this instant kinship. A bond of women, both in the room and across the globe, all wanting the same thing: to raise our babies well and to be kind and caring towards themselves and the world around them. It was beautiful and I fell in love with the story and passion behind Noonday. And I walked away with a new friend.
I hope to continue to find the ways this motherless daughter journey of mine is blessing me more than hurting me. I know that I’ll always miss her and my heart will always have its personal triggers. I understand that jealousy may come and go. But I am also very aware of how fortunate I am to see the world, my daughters, this journey through the lens of very sensitive and observant eyes. I pray that I will be able to take this awareness and pass it on to my own daughters to help them also be sensitive to the women around them. To not only seek them out but to help them be seen. I hope to teach them to invite them into our story and joy and to walk alongside them through their own pain and celebrations.
I will never forget her tender touch, her gentle eyes, her warm embrace and comforting presence. Those are memories of her that exist forever in my mind and my heart. And while I grieve that loss of her on this earth, I try to find ways to thank her for all that she continues to teach me without her even being here. Mother’s Day is this month and more than ever, I will look around at my three miracle daughters, my four animals, my husband, my home, my health and my eyes will fill with tears of gratitude and a cup that runneth over. And when I lay my head down on my pillow that night, I will also feel those same tears, hot and heavy, drip down my cheeks onto my pillow case and I will wish I could have had her with us for brunch. I will feel the magnitude of the entire spectrum of emotions. And I am okay with that. Because living in that space between joy and sorrow has become a sacred place for me. A place I call my own and a place where I can meet others. And what a brutal honor that is to carry while earth-side.
“Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.” -Hope Edelman