March 5 marked eight years since my mother’s death. This was a rough year. Year eight was one of the worst emotional years I’ve had in five years. And it was the year I succeeded in doing something my mother spoke of doing but could not. This was a year of shedding more of the pre-loss skin that tried to cling to a crumb of the life I had before my mother died.
I recounted some of the drama in my post “A Year For Rest.” Family health emergencies triggered hurt and unresolved feelings as I watched things unfold similarly for a family member seeking assistance and inclusion.
Year eight was the culmination of a few years of escalating criticism of everything I do in life by people who aren’t physically close enough to witness my daily life. It was the conclusion of years of feeling excluded from my family and desperately trying to claw my way back in. These are things I struggled with in year seven. This year, I got confirmation that I am not welcome or included. Why? Because I am a cousin and my mother is dead…so there’s no need to engage after decades of being engaged.
My mother had been increasingly aggravated by the family behavior, and many interactions sent her into a tailspin of irritation. She would say she was done with them, say she only wanted to deal with the three of us (her, my dad, and me), and walk away from the intense stress. She said it but kept hoping that the toxicity would end on its own. It didn’t.
I was dragged into the same issues she had railed against, and I found myself saying the same things she had said. I finally confronted it head-on and was made the bad guy…again. I was told that if I didn’t like the toxicity, I should leave the family because this was just who we are. Well, it’s not who I am, it’s not who I’ve wanted to be for decades, and it’s not who I want my child to become. So I broke the link. I’ve stopped trying to be part of the family that no longer wants me; I’ve stopped trying to be part of a family that is so toxic it can’t even speak kindly of people. I’ve just stopped. I finally broke the pattern. I hope. For good.
In addition, my spouse and I contemplated making changes this year. They came to fruition, and we are making some big steps in several weeks. I love adventure and am ready for the next chapter in this second volume of my life. But change, especially significant change, comes with emotional upheavals. Could I leave the people I held so dear? Would my child be wanting for family in the future? Can I leave the world that I knew with my mother to begin something entirely new that has absolutely zero connection with her and our shared past?
These changes are great for us. But they are big and involve leaving behind the world I have known with my mother. We are moving across the country. To the Pacific North West. To our next adventure. There will be no signposts that remind me of my life with my mother. There will be nothing for me to show my child as a place where her mother and grandmother spent time. There are no stories for me to share about the memories we made. There will only be brand-new memories to make. I know that my mother would have been excited about our adventure. She may very well have moved as well. She always said she would move wherever I went.
Grief continues to inform every decision I make in this post-loss life. But grief has also shown me that I can and should not wait for a life that promises something that never materializes. I should take my chances while I can, I should lead the life I talked about, and I should be as free as I can be.
I am ready to let go of the things that never worked to begin with and to focus more on myself and the life I am building. I am ready to give more to the family members and friends that have been rocks in my life. I am ready to grow more in my relationship with my sister-in-law and her partner. I am ready to cultivate the “chosen family” my spouse and I have around us, and in making that a good, safe place for our child to land as well. I am ready to pour all the energy that I wasted on others into my life as a wife and mother and to dump the bulk of that energy into the life dreams I have pursued and run with it as long as I can.
Every year I feel like I am sloughing off more persona and becoming more “me,” if you know what I mean. Year eight has been like shaking off the cocoon. I am stumbling in the aftermath of the transformation, getting used to the changes, and ready to do what I was meant to do.
Year eight was painful, unrelenting, eye-opening, and exhausting. Year nine begins with adventure and the leap of really moving into a life my mother has absolutely no part of, not even as a memory. I think she would have welcomed the change for herself, and I think she would have enjoyed watching my adventure unfold.
This is eight years.