I’ve been quiet on here, as well as on social media for a little bit as I process my Mom’s passing. June Stockus-Stevens died on 3/20/2018, after struggling with pancreatic cancer for a year and a half or so. It’s been a lot to process so I thought I’d share those thoughts with you, in hopes of a) making more sense of them for myself and b) helping others who are going through something similar.
My mom would have wanted me to write about this, because even after everything we’ve been through, she’s always known that the best way for me to express my feelings is through writing. I’ve always been a writer – even when I couldn’t write. I remember staying up late with my mom when I was really young, like 4 or 5, dictating long letters to my birth mother. Mom would write down pages and pages at a time, writing exactly what I needed to say for me because I couldn’t write it myself.
Cancer is a Bitch
My mom was in and out of the hospital several times after she was diagnosed, mostly from complications that arose from the initial surgery to remove cancerous areas. During one of her most recent hospitalizations (about 2 1/2 weeks ago), her and my dad found out that she had 6-18 months to live – 18 with aggressive treatment to prolong her life. Obviously that wasn’t what everyone was hoping for; 6-18 months is not a lot of time to finish living your life and to tie it up in a bow. I told myself that even though that wasn’t a lot of time, there still was some time to prepare for what things would be like after her passing, and tried not to feel too rushed.
A week and a half after that, my dad let me know I should get to the hospital, but my mom passed while I was on the way. It was painless and as peaceful as death can be, but it happened so soon. Suddenly, 6-18 months seemed long compared to 6-18 days.
Grief Part 1: Memory
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there’s no way to escape grief, and that it often comes in unexpected ways.
I had a really complicated relationship with Mom, even from a really young age. Some of that came from figuring out my place in the world as an adopted child, some of it came from figuring out my place in the world in general but regardless, my mom and I never seemed to really land on the same page.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve always harbored a lot of anger towards her from my younger years, anger that very few people know the crux of, and things that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to reconcile. But that’s what makes this grief that much more complex. I feel the loss, but those negative feelings are there, too.
Yes, I am saddened by my mom’s passing, but I am even more sad to think about its effect on everyone who knew her. People remember her as smiling, funny, upbeat and with “childlike wonder” and she was all those things – even if sometimes it took me an extra minute to remember that. To lose someone who shone so brightly is truly a tragedy. The feeling I get when I receive yet another Facebook message from someone telling me how much my mom meant to them is the hardest part of her death, and I never expected that.
Grief Part 2: Where have you Been?
Like I just mentioned – I’ve been getting a lot of messages from friends, friends-of-friends, friends of my mom, etc. Part of me thinks it’s nice to see the outpouring of support, but then another part of me feels bitter. A lot of the people who have messaged me are those friends who I’ve tried to make plans with in the past, but have never gotten any follow-up from. I get that life is busy, and I have anti-social tendencies all the time, but after a while, I move on from those people that I send messages to but never get messages from, or say “come see me the next time you’re in town” and don’t hear from, even though I know they’ve been around. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, or the wrong thing and I’m not saying it’s the best approach, but it’s a self-defense mechanism that I’ve built to keep myself from being repeatedly discouraged or feeling rejected. So when I get a message saying “let me know if there’s anything I can do,” part of me thinks, “Well, what I needed you to do was be there for me this past 1.5 years so we aren’t practically strangers in this moment.” I’ve wanted to turn off my Facebook Messenger multiple times since my mom’s passing, but I think it’s important for me to hear the positive memories that people share with me, and to try and allow myself to accept support from others, so that maybe the support pushes out the negative.
I realize that what I just wrote probably sounds childish – but I guess my point in mentioning it is to say that it’s OKAY to feel this way, and any other way! Grief is an ugly beast that is colored by a lot of things. The last thing you want to do is hate yourself for feeling a certain way when you can’t control it. It’s how you feel – embrace it, and grow from it. Easier said than done for me, but sharing it is at least a step forward.
Finding the Positive
In the midst of all this confusion, anger, and sadness, it’s still important to pick out some positives.
I’m glad that my Mom isn’t in pain anymore. The pain was constant, and at times unbearable, since before her diagnosis and she was very scared about what the rest of her treatments would look like, as more discomfort was inevitable.
I’m thankful for the time that I did get to spend with my Mom. We may not have always seen eye-to-eye on things, but I’ll miss our visits to Starbucks, tea parties on snowy days, and lounging on the deck in the summer. She helped make me the person that I am proud of being today. I’ll smile more thinking of her, and not take any time I spend with the rest of my family for granted.
I’m glad that my Dad can start to heal. He has taken care of many family members before their passing, and that takes a toll on you. No doubt that losing his wife of over 35 years is difficult, but I hope he can start to navigate a path for his life filled with fond memories of her, and start to forget the painful parts of the last 2 years.
I’m thankful for everyone’s support. I know that this one is a little bit of a two-sided coin, but in the long run, I’d much rather know people are thinking of me and my family vs not thinking of us during this time. My Mom would appreciate it.
I’m thankful that my brother has his wife to lean on, and that I have my husband. If I felt super fortunate to be married to my best friend before, I feel that x 100 now. Our relationship is much like what my parents had – loving with an acceptance of each other’s faults – and I think one of the best ways to keep my mom’s memory alive is to continue striving to have a marriage similar to her and Dad’s.
Last but not least, I’m thankful for everyone reading this post. Thanks for taking time out of your day to read what’s on my mind, and helping keep my mom’s memory alive.
Thanks for reading,