What It’s Like Being Anxious, Grieving, and Completely Avoiding Mother’s Day
It’s early April, and just as flowers are just starting to peak out to preview what is to come, the first advertisements are starting to crop up for Mother’s Day.
I’m not going to lie — it’s a little gut punch each time, but at 3+ years out it doesn’t take with wind out of me and ruin the day like it used to. That’s progress, small progress.
I lost my mother smack dab in the middle of my twenties. Immediately prior, my father was diagnosed and recovered from cancer, but when I got that call from my mom to hear her diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer — well, I knew immediately this time wouldn’t have the same outcome. As my twenties are starting to come to a close, I have to fight the feeling that my twenties were robbed from me in a way. I can’t fully articulate it, but that idea is more formed that just anger that used to take up that headspace before.
In a way it feels like at what should be a time of discovery, nervousness, but overall excitement for life was replaced with worry, unease, and self-doubt. In a word — grief. Spoiler alert: grief isn’t anything you expect it to be, but what is definitely isn’t is 5 stages. The unexpected side-effects of radical change have left me with no confidence, unable to make decisions, and anxious. Normal feelings to have, but nothing feels comfortable in adjusting to this new normal. Nothing is normal about losing someone that you weren’t ready to say goodbye to yet.
I’ll echo what I managed to articulate back in 2015 for The Art Assignment, I think my grief has been less focused on accepting the fact that my mother is gone, and it is about mourning the life I had imagined in the future no longer being an option. She wasn’t there at my wedding, she won’t see her grandchildren, and every small win or crisis in between.
That entire inner monologue flashes through my head, and I purse my lips in a way I think I’m being subtle but anyone who knows me knows it’s almost a signature pout. It’s one tiny gut punch while I debate over if this will be the year I’ll get through unscathed.
A week later I have my answer. It’s a no.
When I have a panic attack I ugliest of ugly cry, and fold over. It feels like my eyelids will break they are shut so tight. My hands alternate between obsessively slicking my hair back to deal with the urge to pull it out, and shaking my hands. It’s painful, but familiar — it will be over soon. The word wailing emphasizes how it feels, mirroring from the first time I’ve cried like that, the night she passed. To this day if I’m starting to get overwhelmed I’ll open and close my hands, the compulsory nervous tick to shake unwanted energy out.
I don’t know what one is supposed to do when their parent passes away, but during the insomniatic bout, I completed a 1000 piece puzzle, ate approximately 8 oz of Haribo gummy bears, and marathoned a miscellaneous season on Full House. I don’t like Full House or gummy bears; I’ve learned one of the ways to soothe a panic attack is give in to the small mundane desires because I have nothing else to do but focus on feeling better. Fast forward to this one and I will draw a bath, eat berries and (mostly) whipped cream, and contemplate reading The Great Gatsby for the 28th time.
Looking in the mirror I purse my lips again, silently accepting that I didn’t reach my goal this year, knowing to take the advice from others that it will get easier. I’ll accept this panic attack adjusting my goal of none this year, to just this one, to just letting emotions out when the come so the don’t bottle up and boil over.
Mother’s Day is a hard holiday to take in, being an unsolicited reality check. The actual day when it arrives won’t be hard, although I’ll still take preventative measures and sign off social media for that weekend, checking back in promptly on Monday hoping most posts have subsided, because, well, it’s unavoidable and part of my job. The week leading up to it I’ll distract myself with a work trip to a new city with familiar faces, submerging myself in an atmosphere I usually feel confident in. The artificial fear of the day has always set in slowly leading up it, another reminder that time still presses on.
I take another glance in the mirror. My eyes are much less bloodshot, so time is already working and it’s not all terrible.
Opening my computer I give in to the urge to write down what I’m feeling, not wanting to forget it — good or bad. At this stage of grieving I’m trying to work through whatever emotional backlog I’ve accumulated from 2015–2016. I think back to this time, and…
Well that’s just it, I can’t remember.
Because of that I’ve been struggling to find a way to process and document life since the fog has lifted into what feels like terminally overcast weather. During fleeting moments of confidence I want to write a book. It sits fully outlined in a Google Doc waiting for the next big moment of self-confidence. For now we’ll start with just this — taking each moment as it comes, leading up to the big day.
This article first appeared on jskennedy.net on 4/16/2018.