Grateful for my mother

I have always been close to my mother.  We are great friends, travel companions, and confidants.  I have laughed with her so hard that my stomach hurts and tears roll down my cheeks.  We have been on many adventures together.  We worked together. We found and bought our vacation home in Costa Rica together.  We've made and shared friends together.  I even lived with her for eight months when I was 32 - In fact, I was living with my mom when Ted and I started dating.

My mom and I have also had some of the most major blow out fights I've ever known.  The most memorable blow out was when she came to visit me while I was living in Israel.  I was 21 and feeling pretty adult, having spent the previous 7 months living abroad.  As we traveled around the country together, we were at each others throats.  I felt pretty confident about how to move around in what was considered a pretty unstable time (when isn't it?).  She was more adventurous, wanting to explore places that I thought were risky or dangerous.  I have always been cautious - she has always thrown caution to the wind.  We ended up in a screaming match in downtown Jerusalem the day before we were leaving for a 5 day tour of Cairo.  "I can't wait to get there!", she screamed "I'm going to make all new friends on the bus and we are going to take pictures together and stay in touch after we leave and you can make your own friends!"  It's hilarious to me now - it was actually hilarious to me then too.  What was most hilarious is that when we got there, we found out that we were the only ones booked on the tour.  Not one friend was to be made.  We laughed and laughed and still laugh about it.

Last year was a very hard year for my mom and I, despite the obvious reasons.  I decided to write a bit about it because so many of the other grieving parents I have spoken to over the last 22 months have shared similar experiences with me about their relationships with their own parents since their loss.

When I look back, I remember that everyone in the hospital room with us and Max was in shock.  We were all feeling devastated, sad, out of our minds.  It felt then like we were a team.  We had each other.  I think I thought we would leave that hospital and continue to be a team - holding each other in our pain, going through hell together, crying over the tragic end to the happiest nine and a half months of our lives.  I think I thought we would grieve together.  That isn't what happened....with any of us.  I still don't even know who grieved and who didn't - or if anyone didn't - or if everyone did.  I honestly just don't know.  I know everyone was upset-  but I am not sure if everyone felt destroyed, like me.  I am not saying they weren't destroyed, I just really have no idea.  As it turns out, grief is so personal, that some people just never even talk about it.  No wonder people keep telling me how "honest" I am - there were times like I felt I was the only one willing to admit that the landscape of my life was completely changed - that the good I had known was gone - and that I was (am) completely devastated and unhinged.  As I've mentioned before - I KNOW Ted felt (feels) the same way - but our expression of that pain was completely different and it was sometimes (often) hard to relate to each other.  We have closed that gap tremendously since the early days but it will always be hard I am sure.

I am not sure if my mom had delayed grief, or if she just needed to keep busy, or if she wanted to demonstrate strength to me - but I felt we didn't connect.  I felt all alone in my grief and I needed her.  I felt that there was nobody who could relate to me.  There were people I could call, who would listen (and I am so lucky to have had those people - SO LUCKY!), but they didn't know and love Maxie the way we did.  Nobody was really saying "My life feels ruined too and I just want to sit and cry with you"....and that is ok in retrospect but at the time, it didn't feel ok.  It felt very very very lonely.  I just wondered how every single person who loved Max didn't feel just like me (again, they may have - I just didn't know) - all of the emptiness, the darkness, and the pain.  Ted told me many times, "not everyone feels ruined".  I couldn't even imagine it.  Still can't.

Max was my mom's only grandchild - he was wild about her and she felt the same about him.  She babysat for us - he had overnights there - he even spent a whole weekend there while we attended a wedding when he was about five months old.  I knew she had to be out of her mind.  I knew it!  How could she not be?  But, when I saw her, I would cry and cry and she was generally so busy with work that she couldn't let herself go there and it made me mad.  I wanted her to sit on my couch with me and hold me and cry and scream at god and I don't know.....I wanted to know that he was SO loved that his absence had caused a deep dark hole in the lives of everyone who knew him.  I would end up so upset that she was being so strong and distant, that I would get mad at her, and then she would leave with hurt feelings....causing her to feel even more distant - widening the gap.  This went on for months.  MONTHS.  I finally stopped calling her for support.  We just weren't on the same page.  I don't think it was anyone's fault.  Human interaction is already very complicated - Mother/ Daughter relationships are some of the most complicated out there - communicating through grief is like speaking to someone in morse code.  It's just hard to understand.

Finally, she made herself vulnerable to me.  I don't remember when it happened.  I don't know if it was that she just finally started to really feel the pain much further down the road (most everyone who loses someone they love goes through somewhat of a shocked period and the really awful disgusting grief gets delayed because of it). She told me that she'd been having breakdowns all along but that her breakdowns happened at home.  She felt that she had to be strong for me.  I guess that is what a lot of people think.  Everyone has been so strong for us that most of the time I feel like nobody shares our pain.  And, maybe they don't -  afterall, only Ted and I are Maxie's parents.  Anyway, I'm sure it was selfish of me to want to know that she was miserable and it isn't that I actually wanted her to be miserable, it's just that I couldn't believe that she wasn't.  I could not bear the idea of Max's life and death not having that kind of life-altering impact on the people who loved him.  He was the most amazing person in the world - a baby: innocent, sweet, chubby, cuddly - a bundle of joy and love.  How could anyone walk away from his death without questioning the sanity of the universe?  Honestly, I can't bear the idea of the people who were supposed to have loved Maxie most having been able to walk away from his death without deeply feeling his loss.  Go ahead and think that is incredibly selfish!  I say lots of "controversial" stuff I guess....but I tell the truth.  This is how many bereaved parents feel - we cannot believe that our child's death didn't destroy the world around us.  We cannot believe that the world keeps on turning and that people's lives keep on going.  We just CANNOT even believe it.

Last Mother's Day I couldn't bear the idea of acting celebratory.  I felt like motherhood had been snatched away from me (because it had) and I didn't feel like sitting in some restaurant pretending to be happy.  Plus, I was having a hard time with my mom.  This year, I feel like we are closer than we have been in a very long time - like we have found our way back to one another.  This year, I feel grateful to be able to celebrate my mother along with being a mother.

I am GRATEFUL that my mom and I have found each other again.  I am GRATEFUL that she trusts me enough with her emotions to really tell me how she feels about losing her first born grandchild - about how much she misses and longs for Maxie.  I am GRATEFUL that she continues to include him in our family occasions, that she never leaves him out of the conversation, that she always acknowledges how bittersweet all of the joyful moments are without him.  I am GRATEFUL that she tells me when she has really bad days - the ones where she spends all day crying and wondering how the hell this happened to our sweet boy.

What I have learned is that when life falls apart and you are at your most vulnerable, sometimes you need other people to be vulnerable with you.  In fact, the strongest people - the ones who have really been my pillars of strength are the ones who haven't been afraid to get dirty deep down in the trenches with me.  Being strong is easy - being vulnerable is the hard work.  I am GRATEFUL for my mother.  I love her so much - much more than I ever have in 40 years - if possible.  Her love for Maxie is eternal - as is my love for her.

Happy Mother's Day Mom!  I am so grateful that you are willing to meet me in the depths of this hell.  I know it isn't easy for you but I know that you know that sometimes I need you here.  I hated being down here alone.  I love you.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading this blog for over a year. I donated to Maxie's forest because, through your words, he feels like a member of our extended family. You've made strangers feel your loss; deeply. I wouldn't know how to relate to you if we ever met because it seems as though you want everyone to suffer your loss in order to understand what you're going through or be your friend. You're trying so hard to make people know and love and remember Max and to make people understand what to say and what not to say that seem spent. Everything about you is complex yet very compelling. My grandmother said, "saying it isn't fair or why me is like believing that other people deserve pain and suffering; not you." I believe that to the core. I love your blog and wish you and your family well.

Abby Leviss said...

Hi Anonymous. I agree with your grandmother too. Why not Max?...for sure. I feel deeply the pain of other people. Deeply. Sometimes too deep. And, still, I wish it were any other child but mine who had stopped breathing that day. Only a saint would feel otherwise. But, yes, I still do agree with your grandma. I also believe that when something bad happens to other people that we think "That could have been me" or "Thank goodness that wasn't me (or my kid)". To admit our flaws is to be human. I don't pretend to be anything other than human and flawed. I wish it hadn't been Maxie....every single day.

Anonymous said...

It is precisely because you are human and unafraid to express how you feel that I am riveted by this blog. I wish it wasn't Maxie also. Really I do. I can't explain why I'm so drawn to this blog and your beloved first born. I can't. All I know is that you have definitely helped me reexamine what to say to a grieving parent (or anyone for that matter). I only mentioned my grandmother's words because I live my life everyday expecting to NOT be exempt. I don't know what to really say except that Max & Mo have an amazing mom. Again, I love your blog and I will read as long as you are willing to share.

Sarah P. said...

I agree with anonymous - why do I check your blog every few days? Why do I care about you, your loss, your struggle, Mo, your life? I don't know, but I really do care about all of those things. You have convinced me to grieve the loss of a boy I never met, and to root for you wholeheartedly in the aftermath of this most terrible loss. You are a great writer, your honesty is awesome, your perspective just makes so much sense, and I JUST LIKE YOU SO MUCH!

Anonymous said...

Sponge please!! Never knew tears could flow so fast and so large. Abby, YOU are your mothers heart just as Maxie and Mo are your heart (also hers too). She not only lost you temporarily but her GRANDSON. She had to be so at a loss to know how to comfort you and do and say the right thing. So hard. There are no words in my opinion just being there and her continued love and knowing she's there to cry with you and to support you and now laugh again with you over Mo's cute and funny antics. I'm so glad you reconnected, but reading your blog it was a given. I hope your wonderful writing has been a good release for you. Always thinking of you and your family.

Anonymous said...

My dear and wonderful friend KB (don't want to post names) pointed me towards your blog. It is beautiful. So are you and your family. Wishing you ongoing healing, beautiful memories of Maxie, and a wonderful joyful life with Mo. Sending you lots of love, now and always.

Jen P