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It Never Goes Away, But It Does Get Better


Before your first child is born, you think you understand parenthood. You are sure you're prepared. You have strong opinions and all the answers.

Then the baby comes, and you realize that you didn't even know how much you didn't know. You realize that you were clueless and completely unprepared for the reality of parenting.

You understand that all parents share a special bond because we've all experienced the same floundering. You realize that no one without children can comprehend the confusing mix of emotions you're experiencing or the depth of those feelings.

Losing your mother is just like becoming a new parent.

In the months leading up to my mom's death, I read about death and dying and hospice care. I knew what to expect as she peacefully drifted off to heaven.

I never imagined that she'd refuse hospice altogether, fighting to live even in her last hours. I never learned about septic shock or comfort care. I had no idea what would happen in the minutes after life support ends.

I thought I was prepared. I knew she would die from pancreatic cancer. I knew her liver and kidneys would fail. I longed for her suffering to end, for the wretched indecencies of cancer to abate. I prayed for God to bring her peace and comfort.

I didn't know how much I didn't know.

I never thought about how life support could make her heart and lungs work after her brain stopped. I didn't know that I'd wonder when her spirit departed and whether she was finally at peace.

I didn't know that I would feel so uncomfortable as she lay dying, so impatient and detached, but so sick.

I couldn't imagine that I would miss her before she died, that her death would leave an inescapable hole in my heart, that I would struggle so much for so long.

The day after she died, Old Grandma told me, “It never goes away, but it does get better.”

I cried; I wanted it to go away.

I wanted her not to be gone.

I wanted her to come back, to complain about the dirt in my cats' water fountain or my weedy flower beds. I wanted her to play games at my kitchen table and to pick Grace up for classes at the garden center.

Two days later, I stood among three of my mom's friends who've lost their mothers. One of them echoed Old Grandma's words: “It never goes away, but it does get better.”

The others nodded.

“You'll always miss her.”

“You'll always think, ‘I should call her and -‘ and then realize you can't.”

“The hole will never go away, but you will start to feel normal again.”

“You won't always feel so sick.”

“You won't always think about her so much.”

“It will get better.”

It was then that I realized that losing your mother is just like becoming one yourself. You can't comprehend or prepare for the reality until you're living it.

I felt a bond with these women because we'd all lost our mothers. They understood my floundering, my overwhelming grief, my panic, the knot in my stomach and the weight on my chest.

I cried less today than yesterday. The pain feels less overwhelming, and I can focus more on parenting and working.

It's only been ten days, but I think it is starting to get better.


© 2013 – 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.

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6 thoughts on “It Never Goes Away, But It Does Get Better”

  1. My mother died from cancer as well and you are right I too grieved her before she even died since in the last few months she really was not my mom….although she was my mom. It does get better, but again you are right it never is really 100% better. I remember around a month after she passed away saying to my husband “she isn’t on a vacation is she…she is not coming home”. My brain just couldn’t seem to get it…I was use to not seeing my mom for months at a time so it was not until my heart really realized that this time she wasn’t coming home to me in a few months that I finally started to grieve. Grieving is so different for each of us, just as birth stories are different for every mother.

    • Yes, yes, yes. I felt so guilty for months because I was grieving her, and she wasn’t gone yet. But really, the mother that I knew was gone and had been gone for a long time. Even though she was still alive, she couldn’t go shopping or out to lunch or even just come over to my house to play games.

      Most of the time, we saw her at least a couple of times a week before she was sick. For a little while, we didn’t see her much at all (during chemo especially), and then for the last couple of months, we saw her every day because she needed so much help. It has been kind of nice to have free time again, but every time we have nothing to do, I think, “Oh, we should go see Grandma.” But we can’t.

      I’m ready for it to not hurt so much. I’m not sure why, but today has been especially hard, my worst day in quite a few.

  2. Apparently in my vast absence from the blogging world several of my blog friends have lost their mothers. When mine passed in December of 2011 I felt alone in a huge internet sea with on one who understood. Like you my mother was on life support but I had her removed and put in hospice 3 days before she passed. Simply because from the beginning my mother never wanted life support. Not in the manner she received it. So I have seen both sides of it. The death before the death when machines and tubes are there doing it all. It will be 2 years this December. The other day I heard about the death of Loretta Lynn’s oldest daughter and my first instinct was to pick up the phone and call her.. it does get easier..

    • Oh my, 3 days would be an eternity; it was less than 30 minutes for my mom. She wanted life support unless there was no hope of any improvement, so the doctors went along with it until there was absolutely no hope left. She had always been adamant that she didn’t want hospice (because she didn’t think she was dying), so I’m sure the way things went was just fine with her. Except of course that she wasn’t ready to go, but it just couldn’t have been prevented with the septic shock.

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