I am good

If my Mom had been worried about me and my life after she was gone, the past 6 years would have assured her that I am good. Supported. Loved. Surrounded by people, especially amazing women, who lift me up every day. 

This day of the year is always the hardest and always the best reminder of how lucky I am in this world. 


she's in every quiet room

Today has been 5 years since my Mom passed away quietly in the middle of the night at a Hospice House in Muskegon, Michigan. Her lung cancer took her quickly from us as it usually does. 

It has taken me five years to really move through the stages of grief, to reconcile my loss and pain and love. One year for each phase, I guess. My Dad made a comment a few weeks ago that he, not us kids, is the only one that seems to go to her internment site to visit her ashes and change out her flowers. I explained to him that the final resting place for their ashes was something special that they planned together, something between them. For my Dad, she is there and he should go there. But for the 4 of us, it is not where she is. I won't write for Misty, Bry or Steve, but for me, she is with me when I sit in the sun and drink a cup of coffee. She is with me when I am emptying out my kitchen cupboards and wiping them down in the same manner she did every spring. I finally understand that when the room is quiet, my mind is quiet, that my heart is full of her. 

It took me 5 years to get to the same place as her but I'm here. Finally. 

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am in the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.

I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush,
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the star shine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.

I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

Linda Cunningham, May 2008. Santa Barbara, CA. The first time she ever saw a whale. We stayed and watched for over an hour. I will never forget this afternoon. (This is also the morning I told my Mom I was pregnant with Charlie.)

May 22

I woke up hoping this May 22 would be different than the past four May 22nd dates on the calendar but it wasn't. Today hurt. My whole body hurt. Because when your heart breaks, your whole self aches.

My Mom has been gone four years now. The same amount of time it took me to get through college. I thought maybe with four years behind me, her death would feel like less of a trauma and more of a part of my story. But that hasn't happened yet. 

I don't hurt like this every day. But on May 22, like an annual gravitational pull, everything just feels heavier. 

Tomorrow will be a fresh start. And maybe over the next year, all of this ache will weave into my story a little more and the calendar will pull me down a little less. I'm hopeful. I'm always hopeful.

a daughter who misses her Mom

writing down memories

I walked into my bedroom that summer night and she was stripping my pastel, butterfly patterned wallpaper from my walls, making room for the much more grown-up striped wallpaper we had chosen together. It was almost dark out, she had one of those work lamps from the garage pointing to the area she was stripping. I sat on my bed and babbled on to my Mom about this boy I liked. How tall and cute he was. What she didn't know is that was the first night I had kissed Rich. But she certainly knew how heart-sick ushy gushy teenage in-love I was with him. She quietly listened, nodding her head and putting strips of my little girl wallpaper into a garbage bin. 

I wish I would have thanked her for working her hands to the bone to make my room beautiful. For taking the time to shop for new wallpaper and bedding and make sure everything was exactly as I wanted it. For listening to my boy stories. But at 15, you don't see much past boys and kisses. She knew that. It made her happy. 

My Mom was always like that with us kids, with me. She did quiet and thoughtful things for us and didn't ask much of us in return. Just that we be happy and move forward in our lives. 

I was reading a book recently and in it was a quote about one of the main characters. I read it over and over. I cried. This quote embodied my Mom: 
“. . . a woman who will make small demands on life, who will never burden others, who will never let on that she too had sorrows, disappointments, dreams that have been ridiculed. A woman who will be like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her."
- A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

Today is 3 years since she passed away very quietly in the middle of night. We had all said our goodbyes, laid next to her in her Hospice bed, paced the hall. All of her children by blood and marriage and her grandchildren lay sleeping in the waiting room of that Hospice House when she took her last breath. My Dad was in and out of sleep in the chair next to her, his feet propped up on the bed, ankles crossed as if it were an ordinary couch nap. But it wasn't. And he had said his goodbyes, too. Laid next to her. Quietly, enduring without complaint and never burdening any of us is how she lived her life. And how her life ended. 

The dull ache of missing her is gone. I don't feel it every moment like I used to. Mostly, I can think of her or talk of her easily, with a smile or laugh and I feel grateful for the Mom I had and the childhood she created for me. 

But sometimes, my mind wanders to The Last Few Days. And that is not a dull ache. It feels like (what I imagine) a heart attack. Like someone has reached into my chest and is squeezing my heart with both hands, pushing down on my lungs. For my own good, I usually force my thoughts elsewhere, leaving The Last Few Days alone to someday calm itself into an ache. Because remembering everyone's pain, remembering her confusion, her frail body, her bald head, her inability to communicate well, the dementia, the overwhelming worry that she had regrets and sorrows and fear . . . well, that serves no purpose for me. It can't ever bring a smile or gratitude like the wallpaper memory can. 

I want to write down so many memories. I don't want to forget them. I want her legacy to be passed down to my children and my niece. I want them to know how much she loved iced tea (unsweetened), how she looked when she sat in a lounge chair with her freckled legs crossed, reading one of her many books. How she always had mascara smudged on her bottom lashes. Her penmanship. What a horrible driver she was. That she loved prints of flowers, mauve colors, historical cities and Lifetime movies. That she never traveled farther than Canada or the Caribbean. Her picky eating habits (plain chicken, no barbecue sauce). She didn't wear much jewelry, just her wedding ring and maybe a delicate necklace or earrings for a special occasion. How she celebrated our high school and college graduations with such fanfare. That she made the best pumpkin rolls known to man and was a night owl and a late sleeper. That she called Kayle and Charlie "pun-kin" when they were babies. 

I have so many memories. It's a good thing I have an ability to write them down and share them with my world. That would make her happy, too. 

She is missed as much today as she was 3 years ago. 

moving on

I lost my Mom 2 years ago today. 

I'm still grieving. A well-meaning person in my life said a few months ago "I think the loss of your Mom is affecting your confidence, affecting a lot of your life. Maybe it's time to find a way to move past it." This person was acknowledging a change in me over the past 2 years. Not that I'm depressed and locked in a room but that something is different with me. 

What does that mean . . . move past it? Package my loss up in a box, set it on the ground, and walk away? Even if I could, I don't know that I would. Because with grief is memory, sentiment, a current of love. If I tell myself I've moved past it, that box will show up on my front porch when I least expect it, something will jump out of it and claw me apart. 

Grief is not a straight line that disappears into the horizon. It's a curvy line that goes up and down, thins out for a while then widens when you're unsuspecting. I'll have days in a row where I don't feel the weight of her loss, when my new "normal" has settled in. Then I'll see a woman sipping iced tea the same way my Mom did and it's back, the wide line, running through my heart. 

I'm sure those days of normal will continue to increase in duration, running into each other for weeks, then months, then maybe years. But there will always be iced tea sipped the same way she did, a Christmas ornament that she would've loved, grandbabies born without her there to welcome them into the world, her robe hanging in my closet that still smells like her. And my heart will skip a beat, I'll think of her, and I will grieve. 

Does this affect my confidence? My otherwise optimistic "the world is meant to be lived and loved in" personality? Sure as hell does. Do I feel like my safety net, my ever-present cheerleader is no longer on the sidelines to tell me I'm making the right choices, and the right mistakes? Yup. But that's ok. Death is part of life, and it can change you. Change is also a part of life and not a bad thing. I'll search the crowd for my other cheerleaders, I will. I'm just having a little trouble moving past the empty spot where she once was. 

I'm fortunate that my loss feels like this. Because it means she was such a force in my life, so dear to me, so loved to be so missed. She, too, is missing the richness in the lives she created. 

There is so much I plan to do with my one wild and precious life. The grief and the knowing of my loss will accompany me along the way, not impeding my joy but rather, weaved into my heart, a wavy unpredictable line of memory. 

 Linda Kay Cunningham. April 2005. 

Linda Kay Cunningham. April 2005.