On Life After My Mom’s Passing & How I’m Doing

The passing of my biological mother has been tough. Tougher than I ever expected. This is how I’m doing.

The sunset on September 19, 2019 | DeKalb, Illinois

My biological mother passed away on September 19th, 2019, and life as I know it started to unfold before my eyes. Since her passing, I have had to come to terms with my internal conflicts with my mother and learn to reconcile those conflicts in a time where I was not necessarily ready to do so. The question of how I am holding up persists — even weeks later. This is my attempt to memorialize what exactly I went through during this time (publicly and not), offer my thoughts on death, and offer insight into what life looks like after such a tough time.

My Mother’s Death

My mother had fallen ill suddenly. She was at home and had been dealing with pain for quiet some time already. One day, the pain got so bad that she could not move. She was rushed to the hospital by ambulance and was later diagnosed with multiple forms of cancer is the most advanced stages. My mother had been living with my biological father at the time and kept in close contact with my former stepmother, Kaylie* (who once married and unmarried my father). I received all of my information through Kaylie, which felt disingenuous at its core.

The news of my mother’s hospitalization came just days before my sister’s wedding. To keep the vibes uplifting, I opted not to tell my siblings until after the wedding. As such, I made a secret trip to the hospital to see my mother. It was then I knew what we were up against. My mother was fragile and could not speak full sentences. She could barely lift her glass or water or move her feet. I received confirmation of her diagnosis and was told they were providing care with the objective to keep my mom from feeling pain.

Much of my hospital visit was a blur. I couldn’t believe that I was standing at the bedside of the woman who birthed me and ultimately changed the course of my life forever. My mother told me she missed me. I gulped and turned my head so as to hide my face. She explained to me she loved me. We talked about God’s plan for life and how we cannot alter it, but rather come to terms with it as best as we know how. I didn’t want to leave because I knew this was the last time I would see my mother, but I had a wedding to attend for my sister. Leaving her hospital room, I felt my heart sink to the floor. I stood against the wall with tears flowing down my eyes. I asked God to show my mother mercy.

For the last hours of her life, my mother was transported to Kaylie’s house so as to respect her wishes of not wanting to pass in a hospital room. As soon a my mom passed, chaos ensued between Kaylie and I. Kaylie, without my consent and against the protocol for legal next of kin, began the process for my mother’s cremation. Only after things were finalized, was I notified. What happened from here started the clock on what I consider to be the most hellish time of my life.

Immediately upon being notified about the paperwork and her intention to withhold my mother’s ashes from me, I contacted the funeral home to produce a legal execution of my mother’s cremation paperwork. Upon explaining how this was done behind my back and that I am the legal next of kin, the funeral home understood and worked with me to right the wrong that had been created. Once Kaylie found out, all hell broke loose. It started with the possibility of a long and intense legal battle. Then began the slanderous text messages which went on for days calling me all types of names and threatening to make defamatory statements about me.

While I am abbreviating the story by excluding the minor details of what was said, you can probably gather that none of this went down easily. I wanted nothing more than to give my mother a proper homecoming and to finally put to rest all of the emotions I was feeling during this time. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out like that. At least not easily. In the end, my mother did receive a proper homecoming, and I think my family and friends for endlessly supporting me and helping me see this through.

My Thoughts On Death

Luckily in life, I have not had to face death much. However, when I did, life afterwards always seemed to shift for me. Be it my perspective on things or how I approached life after that, I always found death opening me up to a new way of thinking. I realize most people wouldn’t say the same thing. Most of that has to do with my lifelong journey with adversity and my resilience in life. I am appreciative that I can regulate my emotions to the point where I can turn a bad situation into something productive.

In my observation, death and the formal grieving process (a.k.a. The wake, memorial, or other service) is strung out for way too long. For me, I wish everything were said and done within 72 hours. As someone who stays in his thoughts, I found myself revisiting the thought of my mother, our shared pain, and so much more each and every day. I found the phone calls about the arrangements and the text messages from various people in my life to be overwhelming.

Aside from the arrangements, I found taking off of work to be the hardest. Being someone who is committed to what I do and to the people I lead on a daily basis, I found handing off projects or tasks that I invested myself in to be jolting. I also found the grapevine method of communication most offices have when something bad happens to be daunting. Before I knew it, people I hadn’t told yet, knew of my mom’s passing. Finally, was integrating back into work – which even after a relaxing vacation expenses the body like nothing I’ve ever seen.

The settling, uprooting, and re-settling processes that are faced when death occurs is one of the hardest things I’ve experienced with my mother passing. Anyone who has lost the death of someone this close to them knows exactly what I mean. I’ve learned from this that when my times comes, I want everything to be planned and paid for so that no one has to lift a hand or think about a single detail on my behalf.

Life After Her Death

My mother’s death hit me a little different. By now I’ve told the story of my childhood, and thus, the story of the relationship between my mother and to literally thousands of people. I’ve always thought of my mother as a distant figure – and rightfully so. Her death, however, jolted her to the forefront of my mind and resurfaced lost memories both good and bad. As distant as my mother had been, her death — the formal separation of her physical presence from my life — was something that took me completely off guard.

For starters, I was forced to face everything that I had swept under the rug when it came to my mom. Why was she the way she was? What was she thinking when everything went down? What was her recovery like in prison? Most of all, I wanted to know if she was sorry. I don’t intend to ruminate on these questions, but deep down I wanted to the answers. Even when she was alive, I craved a connection with my mom that she never provided to me. Now that she’s gone, I need to come to terms with that.

A second observation that I found striking during this difficult time was who I found beside me when I needed them the most. As the saying goes, “tough times will show you who is really there for you.” While I don’t want to has this out too much here, I observed folks who I considered friends witness my experience with my mother’s death and not even reach out. Again, I don’t want to go into this here, but forming this realization showed me a lot about whom I choose as friends and about the company I keep.

As I said at my mom’s memorial, I believe my mom loved my siblings and I – without a doubt. Unfortunately, her drug and alcohol abuse, coupled with her struggles with mental illness, I believe my mom was stuck in a body and mind she never wanted to be in. I watched my mom go in and out of sobriety, happiness and hard times. Through it all, there was a woman who wanted to love her children, but never got the chance to.

What I do know is the choices my mom made, for better or worse, materially altered the trajectory of my life. I’ve been able to have world class experiences, obtain an education I am proud of, and do work that I enjoy. I’ve come out on top of so much, made so many connections and formed lifelong relationships. I can’t help wondering what my life would be life if it had taken a different path.

Matthew 11:28 reads: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” September 19th, 2019, was the way day, I believe, my mother stopped carrying the burdens of her life and finally had her time to rest. Thank you again to everyone who helped my family and I during this time and me.

*Name changed.

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