My mom died a year and a half ago. But yesterday my daughter came tentatively into my office, sat down on the couch where I was working, and sighed.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Athena humphed. But tears trickled out of the corner of her eyes.
I put my arms around her. She started sobbing.
“Something bad at school?”
“We were starting a new unit on poetry. There was a book of Emily Dickinson poems…”
Athena was crying too hard to continue.
Finally she managed to squeak, “It reminded me of Grandma Lynnie.”
My mom was 73.
She was a young 73.
Just before my mom died she was full of energy and ideas
That day in mid-November just before my mom died she had recently returned from a work trip to Mexico.
She biked to her lab at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst every day and she went swimming at the pool there in the winter and across Puffer’s Pond in the summer.
She had just taken on two new students. Like she had been for her whole life, my mom was full of energy and ideas, working on half a dozen projects at once—most about microbes—and totally full of life.
In her home office on the third floor, writing a letter of recommendation for a former graduate student.
She did other things that day: She mailed a package to me and she bought plane tickets to come visit us in January. She was too busy to come for Christmas, my mom told me, but she would come before school started again.
I couldn’t open that package.
It arrived after my mom died.
I closed my computer.
Talking about Grandma Lynnie
Athena and I hunkered down on the couch together crying and talking about Grandma Lynnie.
“I’m glad you miss her,” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks. “It’s good to remember.”
Athena nodded and clung to me.
“I wish she hadn’t died,” I said. “I know that’s how it’s supposed to happen. But I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t really think my mom would ever die.”
How could my mom, who was so full of life, whose theories revolutionized our modern understanding of evolution, who always had time to encourage and support other people, who was as eccentric and articulate as she was compassionate and impatient, be dead?
She never regained consciousness after the blood gushed out of a broken vessel in her brain. My mom died after the brain hemorrhage.
An urgent phone call
My brother called me the evening she collapsed, as soon as he found out.
“It’s urgent,” he told my husband, who passed the phone to me in a rush of concern.
My toddler and I got on a plane at 5 a.m. the next morning. But I live so far away that I didn’t get to her bedside in the neurological ICU until that evening.
I grabbed the hand that wasn’t paralyzed. I leaned over and gave her an awkward hug.
There were so many tubes.
She was on a ventilator.
“I’m here now, Mom. It’s okay. It’s Jenny. I’m going to take care of you. Everything’s okay now. I’m here.”
I put my hand on her chest and felt her heart race.
Even though the doctors opened her eyelids and showed me there was no consciousness behind them, I know she knew I was with her.
Before my mom died she talked to me in my head
She talked to me in my head.
She told me what she’d been telling me for twenty years: that she wanted to die at home.
“Maybe we should open the package today?” I suggested to Athena.
It had been gathering cobwebs in the corner of my office.
I just couldn’t bear to open it.
She sent it to me the day she collapsed.
After I opened it my mother would never send me anything again.
“Okay,” Athena said, drying her eyes.
Opening the last package my mom would ever send me
By now the whole family was crowded into my small office.
The baby wedged herself onto the couch.
My 9-year-old son put an arm around me.
Hesperus, my 13-year-old, came bounding in like a firefighter poised to stop a blaze.
James stood beside the couch.
My mom sent me a white blouse embroidered with purple flowers that she got in Mexico, a country she has always loved so much. A country that has always loved her too.
She sent me a postcard of a pyramid from Uxmal, Yucatan.
And she wrote me a note in her signature lopsided scrawl but with an uncharacteristic lack of punctuation:
“Pls call me when you find a quiet moment, no hurry
I wish I could call you
If only I could pick up the phone and call you.
Athena wrote an essay about hiking for four hours in the hot sun and I know you would love reading it. I want to tell you about how when you’re on satellite TV, you sit in a pitch black room with floodlights blinding your eyes staring at and talking to a blinking red light, hearing the hosts in Toronto talk through an ear piece without being able to see them; and how Roxanne Hawn’s dog Lilly has been severely damaged by vaccines and how she wrote about my book; and how Denise Schipani is brave enough to admit she still feels bad about her C-section births. We would talk for an hour; and I would tell you that I miss you every single day.
“Still?” people ask me, surprised.
Why is there no Day of the Dead in America? Maybe that would help?
If only we had a Day of the Dead in America like they do in so many other countries.
I wish it were okay to admit to being sad that my mom died.
I met a young mom this weekend who lost both her parents and three other relatives, all within a year, all before her own two sons were born.
It’s too much to bear alone.
I want to share her burden, carry some of the weight of that loss on my own shoulders for her.
Maybe if public mourning were more accepted, more a part of our culture, the pain of the death of a parent or a spouse or a child wouldn’t be as great? My mom died. And I wish people were willing to talk about death more.
Or maybe grief is always heavy, no matter how many loved ones and strangers share it with you.
Be Good to Your Mom, You Only Get One, Warts and All
What if it Wasn’t My Mom’s Time to Die?
Do You Want to be Buried or Cremated?
Remembering Lynn Margulis
Published: April 24, 2013
Updated: January 5, 2021
Claudine M Jalajas says
How on EARTH could anyone ask,”still?” How?
My father died 4/27…. but many years ago. 31 actually. I still miss him. I was thinking just 2 hours ago, “I can’t believe its still this hard.”
My dear sister in law Eva died only 4 months ago. While it’s not uncontrollable weeping all day–it hits me suddenly and without warning. It’s still so new, losing Eva, and I find myself wanting to text her something funny or random and then I remember and it hurts.
There should be a day to be sad. I agree. And I like what you said to your daughter. I think her missing her grandmother shows the bond they had. It should never be forgotten.
This is so beautiful, jennifer. It is clear how deeply you loved your mother and what a special person she was. I know a part of her lives on in you, and in your children. I fear that you will never stop missing her, but I hope that the sadness gets easier to endure in time.
What a beautiful tribute to your mom~
I hope that writing it helps you heal, even if it is just a little bit.
Thanks for sharing. I loved that you could hear her talking to you in your head after she had become unconscious. I’m sure she was and that she realized you had come to take care of her. It’s so hard, this modern life, where families live so far apart.
Donna Hull says
What a beautiful remembrance of your mother. Thanks for sharing her specialness with us. I hope writing the words down will ease your pain. My father (who had been very ill) died on the morning that I was flying home to see him. I will always live with the sad feeling that I didn’t make it there in time. Hold your mother’s memories close to your heart.
alisa bowman says
I wish I could take your grief from you, just sucking it out like a vacuum. Loss is so hard. So final. Hugs and love to you.
I am glad you finally opened that package. It was a lovely thing to have from her. I’m sorry you are so sad, but I think it is good you and your children still feel so close to her. I know nothing makes it truly better, but I have found that there are small things I do that keep my grandparents (who practically raised me) close to my heart and make me feel better even though I still feel terrible grief at their passing. My grandfather began a successful greenhouse business with geraniums – growing them and creating new strains. Every spring I plant his geraniums. My grandmother had a passion for collecting and traveling. I do those two things and feel closer to her. I also make an effort to “curate” the collections she left me – caring for them, moving them around, keeping them alive. When I do these small things, I feel closer to them. Maybe there are small rituals like this you could find that would keep you close to your mom on a regular basis. Wishing you comfort in your sadness.
I’m so very sorry for your continued grief. We’re approaching the first anniversary of my MIL’s death, and everyone at our house remains completely gutted by the loss. Since my own mom is also terminally ill, part of me cannot finish grieving one, when I know the other loss is coming. Thanks for the mention of my book review. We appreciate your interest in Lilly’s vaccine case.
sheila callahan says
What a lovely tribute to your mom. And how amazing about your mom’s package.
Ruth Pennebaker says
What a lovely tribute to your mother. You were so fortunate to have had each other.
Michelle O'Neil says
You go on right ahead feel all you feel.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
Debra Zaslow says
This made me weep, Jennifer. So real and heartfelt.You don’t get over the ache of missing someone you love. Being able to grieve with your family, to cry with Athena, makes it more bearable maybe. Yesterday at Buckhorn Springs Leslie rang the bell outside the dodecagon (the meditation house). I asked her if there was a meditation group coming. “No,” she said. i just ring it for my dad who died.” “Is it the anniversary of his death?” I asked. “No,” I just ring it every now and then because I miss him.” And the resonance of that bell and her love for him was flowing out across the meadow.
Jennifer–I wish I could take some of your sadness away, too. I don’t think it’s strange that you’re still feeling your mother’s loss so heavily. I lost my best friend this summer; I still miss her deeply.
My Mom had a similar brain bleed and died after 2 days. I stayed with her overnight the last night and she died at about 6:10 AM. I talked to her that morning and told her to go. I told her she was hurt too badly to get better and if she saw my Dad or a white light to scoot fast towards it, that it was ok yo go, and she just died. It was the worst day of my life. I was shocked for weeks. I was executor of her will and gave up because my step father and brother and sister disowned me. My stepfather was not even in her will. He is trying to get her home and her money, it was willed to her three children. I quit executor Sept. 10. It still has not become official. I never got to grieve for my mother properly. I have stopped crying, but I had anxiety and it has been pushed to the extreme. I tried to commit suicide in Feb, and i don’t remember doing it. I was put in the hospital for a week. I have been depressed over losing her and not grieving. I try to go out but I can’t. I go to a therapist and psychiatrist once very two weeks. It is hard and I can relate to your post. Thank you.
“After I opened it my mother would never send me anything again.” Those are the little things that people don’t understand if they haven’t lost their mother. My mom died in January, 2013, and I can still say right now, “My mom died last year” even though technically it’s almost two years. But when January 2015 comes along, I will never be able to say she was with me last year. She’ll be that much further away. Little notes in her writing. Hastily written emails. I treasure them all. Yes, I have my memories and I treasure them. But the things he hands touched, she wore, she loved looking at — those make me feel like she’s next to me. I have her cat, Molly. She’s such a pain! A tortie with serious “tortitude” — but I adore her, she can do no wrong, because my mother loved this cat. And in loving her cat, I feel like I’m loving her. Losing a mother is unimaginably hard, and I expect the sadness will be with me until the day I die.
Sandrine Love says
Tears of empathy streamed down my face as I read. We buried my father and brother on the same day in 1997. I still feel the loss all of these years later. Clearly, her memory is a blessing. May you and all who mourn her be comforted and supported.
My mom passed away November 19th 2015.
She had open heart surgery and never regained consciousness.
There were complications during the surgery.
I talked to her every day at the hospital until we made the very difficult decision to turn off the machines.
I feel like a huge part of me died with her that day but I know she could hear me and she did die peacefully.
We both said we did not want to live without the other but I try to put on a normal face for my husband and family.
It is hard knowing I will never talk to her again but long for the day when I hopefully will see her in heaven.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. says
I’m so sorry Beth. That is so sad and hard. (And I’m sorry I did not approve your comment until now. For some reason I did not see it.) It will be hard for a long time — maybe your whole life. People don’t like to say that out loud but I think it is probably true. You will miss your mom forever. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. But it is very sad. Be kind to yourself, if you can, as you mourn your mother’s passing.
Oh how all of these emotions and feelings from so many others stings my heart but helps me to feel like I’m not crazy to still miss my mom two years later like it was yesterday. I lost my very best friend ever and I try everyday to be the best wife and mother of five while still missing her so much that I sometimes feel as though I can’t breathe. I am so sorry that so many deal with this same one of a kind pain. It’s like I’ve had to start a whole new life over and I’m still learning to crawl without her. She was only 58 but I know God will let us meet again.
41 n missing mom….
My mum died nine months ago today.She was my best friend and soulmate.We did everything together.I’m a single mum of three with no support from my children’s father at all and she was my rock.My children and I are struggling because she was the only person who was always there for us.At 41, I felt and still feel like an orphan.I go to work and look after my kids, but there is no joy for me anymore.Most days, I wish to just die to,so I can be free of the pain I carry around with me everyday.The only reason I’m still here is because I don’t want my children to feel the pain I feel now.But I’m not the same person I was, I’m angry and bitter most of the time.I miss my mum so much, I just want to be able to hug her and tell her that I love her one last time.Its unbearable to know that I will never see her again.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. says
Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry. It’s so hard. Can you join a grief group in your area? A good, supportive group for you (and maybe also a grief group for your children) may help you find some solace.
Thank you.I might do that.Two of my co workers,one 12 years younger than me, both lost their mums the last few months.The younger one said to me recently ” I thought I had already felt the worst pain I could ever feel.I was wrong”.I just hugged her and cried.Shes only 29.To young to bear such a loss.I knew right at that moment that I wasn’t alone in my pain.
My mother died August 29 she did live a good life she died at the age of 97 she would of been 98 October 22. I looked after for twelve years when My dad died in 2004. I spent so many hours with her when she was in hospital at different times.
My brother and sister have been no help over the years to me or my mother and now that my mother is gone my sister and brother are just making it worse for me by trying to change my mother will. I have been trying to get my life back in order like I no both my mother and father would want.
I am all alone with no help just memories of my mother and father I am no idea what the future will bring me.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. says
I’m so sorry for your loss, Dave. That sounds really hard. The best advice I can give you is to be patient and gentle with yourself. You knew your mom her whole life. It will take a long time to heal from her death. It doesn’t matter how old your parent is. It’s still really, really hard.
Michele Giglio says
I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved Mom. I would have loved to have heard her speak. I always thought she resembled Meryl Streep and once read an article where the author thought so, too. I lost my mom almost a year ago and know I’ll never get over it. I know this because my dad passed 28 years ago and it feels like yesterday. Surround yourself with your family and sweet memories.
Helped me heal a little, I miss her everyday just like this guy
It’s been just over two years. I was in the store today and they had Christmas stuff out. Mom loved all the fall holidays, especially Christmas. I felt horror today. Christmas feels so dead to me. I keep feeling shock that she is dead. I don’t think I will ever recover. My mom had a brain aneurysm too.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. says
Oh Lisa, I’m so sorry. I don’t know if it helps at all but I really know how you feel. Holidays (and birthdays) are the hardest time. I honestly don’t think it ever gets easier though the grief changes. What helps is talking to other people who are experiencing a loss too. I found a local Death Cafe (there is one in every state) that meets once a season and that has been incredibly helpful for me, much more than the grief group I tried. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and to share a little bit of your pain with us.
Lisa H says
I just read your latest article in the Jefferson Journal and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your reflections and resources.
I lost my mother 20 years ago in December 2019. That has become the most difficult time of year for me because I still miss her every day. Thank you for sharing.
Carlos F Allan says
My best friend, mom, dies on September 2019 just like yesterday. I missed her every minute, every second. I can cope with this pain. She fullfil my life like not other. I took care of her my whole life, I’m sixty now and loneliness and sadness surrounded my life now. I justed see world thru her eyes I was the happy man on earth, now I only exist but not live. My only hope is when I pass to meet her again. I don’t know how to bounce back, I asked God in different ways but I can’t brake this pain.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D. says
It’s so hard Carlos. I’m so sorry. Now is a particularly hard time to lose a parent. The world is upside down and we need our family to help us through these trying times. Perhaps there is a grief group in your town that can help. Or perhaps you can attend a Death Café. (I’ve found these very helpful.) Hang in there. Be kind to yourself. Sending healing your way.
Brenda Conley says
This is so true…
“Maybe if public mourning were more accepted, more a part of our culture, the pain of the death of a parent or a spouse or a child wouldn’t be as great?”
The truth is, there is not one way or a right way to grieve or respond to grieving people, know one gets taught this. It’s just one of those life experiences that you have to walk through to know about it.
Thank you for writing your experience.
Thank you for this!!! My dad died in October, and I have had the most difficult week. Sitting at work, I shut my door as the grief came on suddenly and I could not stop crying. My calendar at home is still on October, because I feel like I will be leaving my dad behind when I change it. My world stopped the day he died, but the world around me keeps spinning, and I’m trying to figure how how to slowly move forward.
Tears are flowing. Thank you so much for the words you shared.