Today should be my mother’s 62nd birthday and my parent’s 32nd wedding anniversary. Instead, it’s just another painful reminder that my mother died more than a year ago.
I spent most of last December in a deep state of depression. I’ve never used the words “depression” or “depressed” very lightly. I try to take mental illness seriously. Casually throwing around medical terms incorrectly just adds to the misunderstanding of mental illness.
But sleeping 12 hours a day and crying nonstop every afternoon looks a lot like depression.
In many ways, I’m still living in a fog. It’s as though I used to live in a pink and sparkly world, and now all I see are muted tones.
But I’m better.
This holiday season doesn’t overwhelm me. I cried yesterday for the first time in at least three weeks, a marked improvement from crying daily. Aside from when I was sick, I sleep a normal 8-9 hours each night. Dan and I cleaned all weekend and wrapped presents. I decorated for Christmas. Last night we even dined at the table and played Scrabble after dinner.
View this post on Instagram
My @starbucks soy chai latte is my reward for 1) getting dressed 2) leaving the house and 3) buying groceries. Considering I've struggled just to get out of bed for the last two weeks, today has been awesome progress. Plus I'm wearing one of my late mother's #Christmas brooches. This month has been so hard without her, but I feel a little better today. #LaBelleBlog
My grief doesn’t consume my every waking moment this December, but I still think of my mom daily.
Part of me lives in denial. How does life go on while my mother’s life does not? How am I supposed to survive the rest of my life without my mother? None of this feels real to me.
And yet life does go on. Dan and I finally visited Paris (and London) together. We will celebrate our third wedding anniversary in March. Our nephew just played in the snow for the first time, which resulted in some adorable videos. If the damage in my small intestine ever reverses, or if I have surgery to remove the damaged section, maybe Dan and I will have our own kid some day.
I still feel joy, but my mother is no longer here to share it with me.
Luckily my loved ones understand my bittersweet feelings. My friends and family continue to pray for me. They send me encouraging notes and call me. I’m so grateful to my friends and family who just love on me.
My best friend Libbi has been particularly supportive in the last few years. She flew out to South Carolina for my mom’s memorial service last year. Earlier this year, she came to Georgia for my birthday. Whenever I go to Ohio, she and her husband Henry let me stay with them. Dan and I will enjoy their hospitality again in a few weeks.
Libbi sent me today’s guest post on the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. She wrote it shortly after my mother’s memorial service and tweaked it throughout the following year.
Life Lessons from a Celebration of Life
How will you live your dash? This question came to me while at Brita’s parents’ house – a book sitting on a coffee table in their living room, one I presume her mother, Lee, read as an inspiration during her journey as a cancer patient. I only had time to skim the introduction and the poem that started the book.
Little did I know the rest of the weekend would reflect this concept so poignantly.
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself. My name is Libbi, and I am not a blogger (much to Brita’s dismay). My life changed five years ago when Brita and I interned together for our sorority’s headquarters. If you’ve been following her blog for a while, you know that we forged a friendship that summer that has carried us through living states and countries apart to down the street from one another, through engagements, marriage, and now, through heartbreak of the loss of a loved one.
Being in my late 20s, this is the first experience of having a close friend’s parent die; a new dimension of friendship and finding the best way to provide support. One I am still learning how to be better at, but I do know with grief, it never gets easier, you just learn to cope better. The loss is one you carry the rest of your life.
How did Lee live her dash?
When I got the call that Brita’s mother, Lee, passed away, I immediately told her I would be flying down for the Celebration of Life ceremony. I refuse to call it a funeral. Seeing the humor, strength, grace and dignity her mother carried throughout the end of her physical life, I knew it would be by no means be an affair draped in black and sorrow.
It was quite the opposite – colorful flowers and food galore, stories of quirkiness (the apple does not fall far from the tree…), and endless love and support from an extra-large family and tight-knit community. I wore a floral dress with a hydrangea print – Lee’s favorite flower.
View this post on Instagram
This weekend I went through all the fresh flowers my family received for my mom's memorial service last weekend. I salvaged the blooms still bright and happy, and I created new arrangements, including these five vases. I think they turned out fairly well! #flowers #pretty #pink #bright #joy #family
During my time in Greenwood, I stayed at the next-door-neighbors’ house. I had never even met these neighbors, but they graciously opened their home with an unlocked door so I could come and go as I needed. Before I departed, I found a note on my bed thanking ME for giving them the opportunity to serve Lee and her family. They offered their prayers for safe travel and continued blessings in my life. I met countless friends, coworkers, and family members who traveled across the globe to lift up the Long Family in their darkest hours.
The morning of the ceremony, Brita and I spent time outside together watering flowers and trimming the dead blooms from the hydrangea bushes. We joked that Lee would be proud of us doing garden maintenance as a way to honor her. Lee was actively involved with a local gardening club, including serving as President.
This woman had lived her dash so full that I can only pray that I may measure up to a fraction of the woman Lee Haugen Long was. She taught and served others endlessly. She also craved to learn the Bible in its truest form and its history, and practiced the teachings in her ministry to their church. Lee taught Sunday school and read scripture at services on a regular basis. She left such a legacy at their church that the current ministers openly admitted that she had raised the bar so high, it will be their life’s work to come close to it. Her heart was pure and giving and selfless with endless amounts of love, traits any good Christian strives to attain. She consistently found ways in her life to honor God.
While I only met Brita’s parents once at the Findlay, Ohio wedding reception, I felt like I had already known them through her stories. I told Lee how much Brita meant to me and thanked them for raising such a wonderful daughter who brought so much joy and laughter into my life. The wisdom and life lessons Brita learned from their relationship, marriage and partnership were countless – she’s written about them before, but I learned from them as well. I come from a divorced family, and hearing Brita’s experiences of her parents selflessly serving their spouse was encouraging. And now as a wife myself, I look to Brita and Dan as inspiration to be the best partner possible. Lee’s life is a gift that keeps giving – a ripple effect.
How will I live my own dash?
So how will I live my dash? I pray it is a long time before I am faced with that reality, but in the meantime, I can focus on the here and now and be present.
I will pray more often. I will pray for my friends and family, for those we have lost, and for those who are in need.
I will be a better friend.
I will do my best to serve my community and give selflessly of my time and efforts, even when I find it difficult.
I will serve my marriage by putting it first and nurturing it.
If I am blessed with children, I will do my best to be patient and loving.
And I will continue to foster the relationship with my mother.
I can only hope one day my life can be an inspiration to others, as Lee’s life has been to me.
How will you live your dash?