Dealing with Loss Through Memories

The year 2018 ended with a major family loss. My Mother, who was ill, passed away on New Year’s Eve, four hours or so before midnight. When I got the call that she was gone I had the most bizarre feeling come over me. I was not sad. I did not cry. I did not go running around looking for items she had given me to be more “near” her. I just sat there. Confused.

I couldn’t think. I was confused about how I was suppose to move forward. It was like someone took my name away from me. How can you go forward if you don’t have what you’ve always had in life, my Mom.

I sat on my bed and I starred at my phone as if it were going to give me answers and make my confusion disappear. After a couple of minutes I opened my photos and looked at old pictures of a trip we took together, and smiled at my beloved memories.

The next morning I packed up and pointed my car toward Florida. I figured along the way it would hit me and I would finally be able to feel again. Five hours with my mind going everywhere from the comedy stations to music stations to silence in a repeated circle did not bring me to a changed emotional state. I was still confused. And, it was as though my Mom’s passing affected the day. The comedy stations were horrible, the music was blaa and the silence put me to sleep.

I arrived to Florida. It was Tuesday. Over the course of the next few days my sister and I did a lot of walking and talking about how we felt, which was not feeling at all. Then Friday came. We were finally invited to Mom’s house by our stepfather to find Mom something to wear. We had been waiting for this moment not sure if it would even happen. I still had my non-feeling, confused state that I assumed was my new norm. Then we entered Mom’s house.

When we walk through the back door I was first hit with the smell. My sister said to me immediately, “wow, that’s the smell of mom.” However, that was NOT the smell I connected to Mom. The smell my sister had adopted as Mom’s was her “in care” smell, for lack of a better way to put that. It was the smell of a nursing home.

I am still in the Army for a few more months. My living in Georgia has buffered me from the realities that my sister and stepfather had to deal with on the daily. To me, Mom’s smell was of flowers and food. She always had something cooking on the stove, or had just finished cooking or was about to start cooking. That was Mom’s smell to me. The smell of food mixed with the sweet smell of her perfume.

But this smell, this nursing home smell… that only contributed to my confusion. As I moved into the kitchen to see the place where she spent so much of her time, I noticed her kitchen table looked like it always did. It was covered with mail, and random belongings that had not been put away yet. It looked as though she simply stepped out to go food shopping. Yet, she had not. I was confused as to how I could still be smelling a nursing home when I was in the hub of her home – the kitchen.

Me, Mom and the kitchen have a great history together. Some of my earliest memories are of her teaching me how to cook and letting me help her make dinner every night. I would pull a chair up to the stove to stand on and stir whatever she told me I could stir. As I did she would explain to me everything she was doing. I asked questions about spices and creams and temperatures and times. Every night – it was our thing.

At age four I asked her, “can I cook dinner for everyone tonight by myself? I can do it. I know how?” I was convinced. She was not. She said, “Sherrie Bear, you always cook dinner for everyone. We do it together.” She never turned the kitchen over to me. She valued having a home and felt the need to protect it from an over zealous four year old thinking she was a chef.

Back in Mom’s kitchen, I looked to the stove. It was uncharacteristically clean. Free of food and pans and spoons and even the butter that was ALWAYS out. It was an unfamiliar look and a clear sign that she was missing. My brain failed to compute that though. It was still going through smell memories, searching for Mom.

I moved to the living room and there is where my confusion that had plagued me began to clear. I looked down at the foot of the couch and saw Mom’s shoes. I am not sure why shoes of all things was my trigger. Maybe because I love shoes so much, but more accurately it’s because for some reason in that moment, those shoes were my Mom. I could not find her in our beloved kitchen, but I found her in the living room. On the floor… in the form of two blue cloth tenny-runners – as she would call them.

I didn’t break down, because that is not how I react to things. And after 20 plus years in the Army, I am an expert in compartmentalizing stuff. However, my breath left me and that is when my confusion turned to pain and loss. I realized in that moment that those shoes would never be worn again. That she would never talk to me about her big, monster bunions on both her feet ever again. That we would never cook together again and that I would never sit on the couch with her to watch Animal Planet with those feet of hers on my lap or tucked under my leg.

I blinked hard, wiped my eyes and moved on. I was on a mission – find Mom a nice shirt. I did.

I could go on and on about this day and even bleed on into sidebars about who my Mom was and how she impacted my life. I think it is safe to tell you that she impacted my life profoundly. I have SO MANY memories of her. She was a beautiful woman, who had many flaws (like us all) but most importantly, she was my best friend.

I don’t know when I will fully let go and experience the loss of my Mom. Maybe never. And that’s okay. I’m a firm believer in making, documenting and visiting memories often. I will have all my memories of Mom to help me through when the time comes. I am also not sure I will ever return to my Mom’s house. I would like to, but when I do all the essence of Mom will be gone and only a cold shrine of her belongings will stand. When that day comes, I will use all my many memories to give the place warmth and her presence and smile back.

Peace and love. And make beautiful memories people!

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