My heart is pounding, palms are sweaty, and stomach has butterflies. I have been thinking about this post for years and it has come time for it to be written. Lately my prayers have been that I will be able to say what I need to say in a way that will let others understand my thoughts today.
Today is the 10th anniversary of my mom's death. Today is a hard day.
The last time I wrote a post dedicated to my mother was 5 years ago. If you are interested in reading it here is the link.
The biggest change from 5-years ago is the intensity of my grief. It is such a personal thing, grief; something that is unique to each person who owns it. For a very long time I held on to that grief, I loved my grief, I nurtured it and was in a sick way - proud of my grief: wore it like a badge of sorrow, it was mine and I wanted it because I was afraid that if I let go of my grief I would be letting go of how much I love and miss my mom. But there was always something that knew it needed to be released.
That something is my relationship with Ethan.
My sweet boy was born 20 days before my mom died. I'm not sure if I've shared the miracle of the events that lead to him in my life. I will here because his journey and mom's are so interlinked I know it is appropriate and that she approves of this being part of my dedication to her.
If my mom had lived until Christmas 2003 it would have been 3 years since her diagnosis of kidney cancer. She had surgery to remove the diseased kidney but by the time it was diagnosed it had spread to several other areas of her body including her brain. She went through several rounds of the cancer treatment called Interleukin-2 treatments and External Beam Radiation done at UCLA medical center. She was receiving amazing care but the treatments always left her feeling weak and incredibly sick. I'm not sure which was worse, the disease or the 'cure'.
Adam and I tried for 2 frustrating years to get pregnant with Ethan. For 18 months of those two years I went to a doctor in San Francisco who basically tried only one approach and didn't ever think to experiment with other alternatives. We moved from San Francisco back to Carson City in June of 2002. In December of that year I started seeing a new doctor and told him about all of the things that had been tried and that didn't work. He suggested that I try a new set of medications and see how that went. I got pregnant on the 1st month of the new medicine. Knowing what I know now, scientifically speaking, the egg that I had that became Ethan was not an 'ideal' egg, and both of the other fertility specialists that I've seen since then would never have used that egg for implantation; however, he was coming. I will not forget the phone call where my doctor told me I was pregnant, after I hung up the phone I hugged Adam and he just kept saying over and over again: "I told you, I told you", I don't remember what it was he told me, but apparently he was right. After hugging Adam I turned around and my mom was sitting on the stairs, crying. She knew how much this baby was loved and needed. He was due on Wednesday, October 15, 2003.
I had a pretty normal pregnancy until early August when I had to be admitted to the hospital for early labor caused by a UTI. My doctor gave me an injection of a steroid that would help his lungs in case he was born those 2 1/2 months early. He wasn't born then, so I was put on bed rest until mid September when I went back to work. I was extremely swollen, I never had blood clots, but my legs were incredibly puffy and hurt - a lot, it was hard to sit or walk, bending my knees was very hard to do without being in pain. I never had protein in my urine, so my doctor didn't ever suspect pre-eclampsia. On Tuesday, September 23, I went for my usual Dr. check up and had gained 10 pounds in a little more than a week, my doctor told me that she wanted me to go to the hospital the next day to be induced and that she was confident the baby would be fine, just 3 weeks early. I have never wanted to kiss another woman as much as I wanted to kiss her that day. I was so relieved that an end to the pregnancy was coming. Ethan was delivered the next day, Wednesday, September 24, perfectly healthy and exactly 7 pounds. He had no problems with his lungs, and had no other complications from being 'premature'. My mom was very, very sick by then, still in my heart I thought she would get better, that she would pull through. She came to the hospital and held Ethan for as long as she could, she was too weak to walk in to the hospital so she was in a wheelchair. After we had taken the baby home we visited mom at her house and again, she held Ethan. She was laying on the couch and couldn't sit up, but she held him in the crook of her arm against her shoulder and kissed his head. I feel so guilty about not getting a picture of those moments. It's one of my major regrets, actually.
On Tuesday, October 14, 2003 I was sitting at home on my couch watching TV, holding Ethan. My sister Melanie called and asked if I was okay. I said yes, why?
It's a hard moment to describe. The world didn't stop turning, but it felt like every cell in my body constricted. Tunnel vision. Dampened ringing in my ears. Not sure if I'm breathing, if my heart is beating, if I still have my limbs.
I think that we as children expect that our parents will die before us. It is the natural order. The old die, the young live until it is their turn. But until that moment is faced it is such a surreal thought that even trying to imagine it is not possible. And who expects when they are 26 and their parent is 58 and their baby is 20 days old that the person who is, really and truly, the reason they live has left them behind? It's awful. I hate it.
I have forgotten most of the days that immediately followed that awful Tuesday. I do remember going to dress her body: walking in to the room, looking to the left, there lays mom, but not mom, on a table, skin like a piece of frozen chicken from the grocery store. Have a few glimpses of silliness while dressing the body, hefting and pulling, and heaving to get the garment bottoms on while maintain as much modesty as possible, discovering that the knee mark was in the wrong place - they were on backwards! Start over... Deciding she didn't like a bra when she was alive so no need to put one on now, right?
I don't remember much of the funeral. The chapel was full and most of the gym, probably 2/3 back was packed. Each of the six of her children spoke. We all love our mom.
Here is the thing that I remember most clearly about the day that we buried her body. As we were leaving the cemetery Adam said to me, "I feel like your mom has already met the Savior". In that moment I saw it as clearly as I would if I had been there. My mom, Shanna Reed, embracing the Savior of the World and begging for her children. For Him to, please, take care of her children. I know it happened. And how could she not, she is our mother and death does not change that. The only thing she ever asked us to be is righteous.
For a very long time I was angry, I was hurt, I was stuck. My relationship with that sweet Ethan was incredibly strained. I didn't necessarily blame him for mom's death, but what should have been joy to know him was always stained with the hurt that was so intense it over powered the experience that should have been. It took me years to let it go and notice him, and the happiness that he is. And that makes me sad. It was unfair to him, it was unfair to me. At my breaking point I prayed for a very long time, for days and months for that relationship to be healed. I am happy hat not only is it healed but the hurt that I caused because of my actions or inactions is completely forgotten. We have a great friendship and love for each other. He is my first miracle. I know for certain that he was born exactly 3 weeks early because my mom needed to see him before she died and Heavenly Father knew that I needed to see her see him before she died. I don't know if I prayed more for the blessing of being a parent, or if my parents prayed more for the blessing of me being a parent. She felt the pain of my infertility as much as I did. And she was there to see the blessing fulfilled. I am humbled for having that great mercy shown to me.
While the sting of her death is not present, the hollowness that it left is still there. I remember clearly the moment when I gingerly approached the hole in my heart, ready to nurse the hurt, when I noticed the frayed edges were smoothed over. The rawness was gone. There is still a hole, she is still my mother and she is still not here, that has not changed. The feeling of needing to keep my anger, to remain stuck in my sadness has withdrawn. I love having the gospel in my life. I love knowing that my mom's life did not end when her body died. I love knowing that my parents were sealed in the temple that our family will be together again. I love that Jesus Christ was resurrected and that we will all have our bodies back one day and that I will see my mom again. The thing I do not love is the tendency of some people in the church to try to minimize when someone is mourning because of all of this wonderful knowledge. They have the very best intentions and are in a clearer state of mind to see these blessings for what they are. But for me, when I was hurting so desperately, I wanted someone to validate my hurt, tell me that the feelings that I have are legitimate, healthy and perfectly acceptable. I found that very thing from Heavenly Father Himself: Doctrine & Covenants 42:45, "Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die..." He knows and expects us to mourn and weep when someone we love leaves us. He doesn't think less of us because in those moments of suffocating sadness we are not contemplating how grateful we are for the temple. He knows we miss being with the people that are gone and He has told me that those feelings are 100% okay with Him. For that I am grateful. What a perfect Savior we have.
Ten years in and I still have to catch myself when I think, oh I'm going to call mom and tell her...
I love to believe that my kids are her favorite grandchildren. I see her expressions, mannerisms, goofiness and joy in them daily.
I still miss mom. I still feel it everyday. It still breaks my heart when I look at my children and know that they will not know her for a very long time. I cry. I mourn. I don't forget.
There are so many things that I regret having not done when she was alive, so many things I wish I could ask. None of them deep and pressing, just the simple things: what did she think about this, what was her experience with that, how would she handle a certain situation? I will regret it if I do not do my very best to keep the covenants I have made with my Heavenly Father so that I will be with my family for eternity. I will regret if I do not tell my children often how much I love them and how much they would love knowing her. I will not regret missing her. I will not regret thinking about her daily. I will not regret choosing to be happy despite her being gone. I will not regret deciding to allow the Savior to heal me, my hurt, and my relationship with my son. I will not regret being her daughter.