Making Peace with the Past

From time to time I receive an email from someone who has found Mama Quest.  A lot of times these emails will say something to the effect that I am brave, and generally the email is laced with unbelievable support. While brave doesn’t feel right, hey, I’ll take it. Jokes aside, every time someone reaches out it’s like a dose of fuel to continue my quest and observe as it naturally evolves. Here it goes again. I received an email that really inspired me, so I asked if I could use the question on Mama Quest.

Question: My father died of a sudden heart attack while working-out in his condo building’s gym (where we often worked-out together). It was five days after his 58th birthday, and one week after I moved out of his condo and moved cross-country. I think my reaction is kind of like a PTSD reaction because his death was such a shock and trauma (on so many levels). I often struggle with the question of what I would have preferred: to see my father die of an illness – but have the opportunity to say and do everything I wanted with him; or have that opportunity but see him suffer. Did you have the opportunity to say and do everything you wanted with your mom?

Answer: The answer undoubtedly is no. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 5 but her infectious enthusiasm hid it very well. She dropped everything for me and constantly told me not to worry. She accepted her breast cancer and brushed it off so I did the same. Eventually in the last few years of her life she did start to look a little different but I pushed it so far out of my head that I refused to see what was right in front of me. Then, a few months before she died, she started to actually look sick. She lost her hair. Her body started storing fluid. But I still didn’t see it. I convinced myself there would be some sort of miracle. 

Using Grief’s Power

It’s almost impossible to face the fact that someone might die when they are standing right in front of you. It would have been painful for me to say, “These are my last words,” because I hoped for her recovery. She would say, “If anything happens to me I want you to stay in school. You can’t stop living just because I have.” I ignored those words until she was gone.

There is no right or wrong path. While my mother telling me those things helped me stay acutely focused in school, it also made me live as a robot. I did such a good job of pretending nothing was wrong that I completely avoided it. I didn’t really start grieving until a year later. Once I did, I realized that grief can be a powerful source for good and a release from obligatory conventionalism.

Instead of burdening myself with regret or what grief should look like, I try my best to accept what happened in the past and do my best in the present. Looking back, maybe I should have asked my mother more about parenthood (something I am deathly afraid of, but would really love to do). Maybe I would have asked her about marriage, because she was so great at it.

Thinking this discredits two wildly important facts, though. If I really sat down and thought about her opinion on a given a topic, I could probably come close to knowing exactly what she would say. I may not like it but that’s a different story. Second, and this is something Brother Bill (my brother who is blind and autistic), has said, “Mom is alive in every one of us.” When he first said it, I didn’t really get it, but it kept me from hysterically crying. Eventually I realized he was right. Since then I’ve reached out to people and found that there are a ton of untold stories about my mom. Days when I hear new stories are inspiring and a reminder that Brother Bill was indeed right.

Using Grief as a Tool

To be sure, everyone is different. Everyone has a different path. If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned not take things too seriously and to infuse levity and humor into a situation whenever possible. Grief in the larger sense happens all the time. Things end. We lose friends (even when they don’t pass away). We lose jobs. We lose motivation. We lose our shoes in a crummy motel in wine country, whatever.  It’s all part of our journey. I recently read an article by Lyn Prashant. She said, “Grief is the most available untapped emotional resource for personal transformation.” Looking at it that way, anyone who has experienced grief has an opportunity to learn more about themselves and their individual path.

If you have a question or topic we should address, please feel free to submit a question or essay to MamaQuest. I’d love to hear from you. muscarella.lauren@gmail.com.

One more thing. The person who wrote in with this question also had a great song recommendation. I’m not a big country fan, but this song articulates ideas that are very relatable and very comforting. Positive. Inspiring. And performed by Mr. Keith Urban.


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Filed under Ask a Question, Brother Bill, Discoveries, father, grief, loss, mother, parent

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