This is a letter to a stranger whose mom died. I ached to write a letter to her, although I don’t know her. It’s about my mom’s death and what I’ve learned so far on my grief journey.
Dear kind piano teacher,
Hello, I heard your mom passed away. I’m sorry she is no longer a living person on this earth. I know everyone is different, and all relationships are different. But I wanted to tell you how I’ve experienced life since losing my own mom.
My mom died just over two years ago. She was 63 years old. I miss her every day.
Death is sad, so I thought I would get depressed as my mom died. Wow, I was shocked at how death is terrifying, so I got very anxious. The anxiety meant I had a lot of trouble sleeping. So I went into a hypomanic state for more than a year.
This hypomania with chronic sleep deprivation was not good for my health. My lymph nodes swelled up and hurt, and my white blood cell count went up also. I was afraid I was dying myself.
Because of the hypomania, my mood was often chipper, even though I was going through the biggest crisis of my life. I was very upset, but people would think I was fine. They had no idea how I was feeling. I was very not fine. But they didn’t know how to see me.
spouse relationship change
Another surprise was the change in my relationship with my spouse. My spouse and my mom were the two people I was closest to. I didn’t know I was relying on my mom to feel safe in the world.
Once she died, I lost the person I checked in with every day, who cared endlessly about my well-being, and who I couldn’t overwhelm with contact or ask too much of. My mom was also my plan b place to live, the person who always welcomed me.
I lost my sense that the world is an ok place; I could no longer take risks knowing she’d always be there for me. It was horrible.
I struggled painfully, trying to live without her. Many times I thought I could not live without her–I was suicidal very often, that first year especially. I learned so much about death when she died, and some days I felt I could not live with the knowledge of that horror. It was terrifying to move forward with that knowledge, knowing what the ending often is like, and that everyone I love will experience that, and I’ll have to watch.
I needed to rely on my spouse for reassurance and support he wasn’t ready to give. After my mom died, I realized that my mom, my spouse, and I were like a three-legged stool. When my mom died, my spouse and I became a two-legged stool, which was not going to remain upright.
The world suddenly had no one in it who knew how to care for me emotionally. My spouse had to learn really fast–emotional skills, including communication skills. He has a huge heart but a language-related learning disability, so this was extra difficult.
I feel sorry for my spouse and the position he was put into. Looking back, I wish we’d taken a class before my mom died in relationship skills. We needed to be better at asking for what we need, clarity, giving each other space, word-love, and how to nurture. We were already good at that, but suddenly we had to become really, really good at that.
I needed to find self-reliance and re-learn how to be a person, as my mom’s death meant the world didn’t make sense to me anymore. Two months after my mom died, I met someone who became a close friend. I thought he was really there for me. We spoke on a daily basis, which was important to me, and I loved him very much.
My friend’s life had big issues of drug addiction, domestic violence, mental health struggles, and lots of chaos. But I thought we had a great friendship, building something mutually supportive for the long term. Texting daily meant a lot to me, and weekly phone calls.
This friend was an artist, and I was starting to make more art. I looked up to him and wanted him to approve of my creations. He also rapped, and I wanted to rap also. He did graffiti. I love graffiti. He joined the radical mental health collective, and we talked about visiting in person. The interests lined up, and I gave everything to him that I could. Love, attention, support, stability, care, forgiveness, concern. Affection, gifts, money, spiritual connection, my community, my spouse, honesty, truth–my whole self.
content warning: mention of domestic violence
Turns out the friend was irresponsible and used me. The friendship was unbalanced, full of conflict, and confusing. I bit my tongue and was endlessly generous. He’d make appointments with me and forget them. I’d feel heartbroken, but I wanted to be low-drama in his high-drama life. I didn’t want to ask too much of him, so I tried to turn my needs down to zero, which was self-denying, self-sacrificing, self-destructive.
His abusive partner would physically attack him, and they would break up. Then a week later, they were back together, but he would never tell me that. I’d just figure it out from context clues. It felt creepy and destabilized me. I was terrified to watch the domestic violence cycle, and I panicked for his well-being.
This friend met me when I was in a vulnerable position of need. I was totally wrong about him being a good person who I could have a happy relationship with. He saw what I lacked and pretended to be that person, to take all he could. That culminated last year when he visited me and Ming in Las Vegas and hurt me in a way I couldn’t live with. He’s the only person I’ve ever kicked out of my house.
Conclusion: the few months after a huge loss are very vulnerable. Con artists prey upon people who are ready to love and full of need. I wish I hadn’t been so vulnerable to this person who took advantage of the situation I was in, using me and Ming for all he could, until I had to cut him out of my life, which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Another huge surprise that came with my mom’s death was the freedom I found. My mom had been protective of me, especially when it comes to sexuality and my body. She was always telling me to cover up.
The summer after my mom died was the first time I wore a tank top outdoors as a fat woman. I’d spent my whole life trying to hide my body. The freedom I found after my mom’s death was nothing I anticipated.
We didn’t live together, or even live in the same state. So why did I need to cover myself all the time? My mom’s protectiveness got inside of me and became part of the water I swam in. I didn’t even know I was doing it until she died and I didn’t need to do it anymore.
Also my queerness was nothing I mentioned publicly. Once my mom died, I felt free to speak about my queerness, including how Ming is non-binary gender. The freedom felt great.
But I was sad that it took my mom’s death to find that freedom. I wish I found it 20 years ago, and my mom could have enjoyed my happiness of speaking more truth, wearing tank tops, and feeling comfortable in my own body.
When I look back on the few weeks after my mom died, I’m amazed at all I was able to do. I’d just endured the biggest loss of my life. My dad had died three years before, but I didn’t depend on him emotionally. I’m astounded that I was able to go outside, interact with people in a normal way, and do life at all.
At the time, I was afraid I wasn’t doing enough. I handled that early grief and mourning the ways I needed to. But looking back, I wish I’d given myself way more license to rest and just breathe.
I don’t know the relationship you had with your mom, how much you needed her, and how painfully you feel the loss of her as a living person. But my heart is with you. I wish you strength in your grief and the energy to face your loss. I hope you can stay safe from predators and that your relationships are strong to support you in this huge change.