I would like to start off by saying, I did not expect this to happen.
I am the office manager at Help Unlimited Home Health Care in Santa Barbara, and I am around families going through transition and loss on a constant basis. Most of the families we talk to are so sweet, and it is an honor to be able to find caregivers who can help.
They are going through such a difficult chapter of their lives and need some help, either because their loved one’s condition has worsened or they need some respite care for themselves.
I was a family caregiver for the last four years, up until a couple of months ago, and getting the opportunity to work with families in a similar situation is an honor because I understand some of what they feel.
My mother battled ovarian cancer for almost four years and was a warrior for that entire time. In the last year and a half of my mother’s life, she never quite went back into remission. It was very important for her to try to continue life as normal and to celebrate every holiday and birthday in the same manner we had for years.
My mother had two grandchildren and three children who she needed to take care of and celebrate with during the holidays, and there was no way that cancer or chemo would stand in her way of traditions and celebrating every moment.
The wonderful thing was that we did — we celebrated every moment! After she was diagnosed in October 2008, we celebrated every Thanksgiving, every St. Patrick’s Day, every holiday like it was our last. My mother was determined to live and relish every moment she had and to be as positive as possible about life. She had kids’ books geared for every holiday she had kept since we were kids; she had cookie cutters for every holiday, stuffed animals and decorations galore.
I’m not sure if Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday. Looking back on it, it was kind of more my favorite holiday where I could get into the kitchen and take over. She was not so much a cook as a supervisor and a kid entertainer.
I will never forget the first year after she had been diagnosed in September. She came to my house for Thanksgiving bald as a baby. I was expecting my second child at any moment, and it was the most special time for both of us. She had chemo a few days earlier, and I was completely worried about her and catering everything to her, and she was following me around doing the same thing.
Last year was equally as memorable. She couldn’t eat solid food; everything had to be in a blender and in soup-like form. My mom, although she was not a cook, she was a voracious eater, until the day she died, and was very specific about what she wanted for Thanksgiving dinner. She wanted everything to have bacon in it, or butter, because she wanted to put on some weight — and who doesn’t love bacon? It was delicious! We had a bacon-wrapped turkey, bacon with Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes with heavy cream and about a stick of butter.
This year, she is just not here. There is no one for us to cater to and dote on. She is gone. I am comforted most days by her memory and her huge presence in my life. I was lucky enough to have a mother I loved and was an amazing person to myself and my two children.
Somehow, though, during the last three days, that feeling has not been sustaining and hasn’t even come close to being as strong as the overwhelming pain and grief I feel about her just not being here on Earth anymore.
I know that I have so much to be thankful for and I have such a wonderful and fortunate life, but where did she go? I don’t need her to read my kids a story, sing songs or play games. I just need her to be here so that we can have Thanksgiving again.
I know that this is the first year, and it is the most difficult. I know that I will carry on a lot of my mom’s traditions and make some new traditions of my own for my family. Logically, in my head, I have read and understood every point of grief and transition that families go through after a loss of someone they love, but somehow none of this makes any sense, because I just have no idea where she went and why she had to go.
I hope that these ramblings and my story relate to anyone going through a recent loss or are just feeling a loved one’s loss more during the holidays. I am smart enough to know that it might not make you feel better, but I hope it makes you not feel so alone. This pain we can’t shake off, and we probably shouldn’t ignore or cover up either, is one of those pains we need to feel, and give some attention to. If you are like me, write about it or talk to someone, and let it take you to a place where you have to let it out and you can breathe again.
— Julie Hodges is the office manager at Help Unlimited Home Health Care in Santa Barbara.