3 Things Losing My Mother Taught Me About Women
The day after my mom passed away in 2004, one of my mom's best friends picked me up and took me to her house. Her house was quiet, but warm and welcoming just like she was. Despite my mom's friend being the mom to three boys around the same age of my siblings and I, she always seemed to be calm and collected. She was especially calm on this day. We made loaves of fresh bread, spreading the flour out on the countertop and kneading the dough while making conversation. I couldn't tell you what exactly we talked about but I will always remember her being there. In the midst of her own grief after losing a dear friend, she showed up for me and my family. This leads me to my first point.
#1. We are Better Together
Perhaps this is a concept everyone regards as a common truth, but it's worth talking about. In the months and years after my family adjusted to the loss of my mom and my dad being the sole parent, my mom's tribe showed up for us over and over again. They never asked for anything in return. Her friends picked us up from school, showed up to my 5th grade talent show in great numbers, raised money for the non-profit Mom started, and never wavered in their support. My teacher at the time of Mom's death added ways to help my family into the class curriculum and kept in touch with us closely for many years. Mom's friends brought me tampons and explained things to me that needed to be heard from a woman, not a man.
Whenever my Dad needed a little extra help my Aunt would drop everything in her life and fly out to take care of us- usually on her own dime. She eventually took over my Mom's non-profit and has turned it into a huge success that has operated in multiple states for over 10 years. She always tells me she truly loves us like her own "adopted" children.
I was a firsthand witness to the strength of women when push came to shove. I know what we are capable of when we show up and lift each other up- there's nothing like it. We are better together.
#2 We are Many
One of the largest struggles in my life has (and probably always will be) the push and pull to put myself in a box. Some of this is self inflicted, but some of it feels like trying to compete in a society that expects women to be master parents, homemakers, spouses, relationship builders, and "boss babes" all at once.
I've cried my eyes out to a few people wondering why I feel so guilty for not feeling completely fulfilled by being only a wife and mother. I've wrestled with finding a balance between building my dreams and building my family. I've searched for my purpose, my greater calling, for longer than I can remember.
This struggle can be so isolating, but I realize I'm not the only one that feels the burden. My Dad has told me many times that my Mom had the same struggles. After building a successful career as an electrical engineer, she left her corporate job after I was born to spend more time with my sister and I. But one thing I didn't know as a child was that she kept working, just on a different scale. Even after my younger brother was born, she completed contract engineering work out of the office in the front room of our house. She even developed the entire HOPE Retreat in between naps and laundry.
I will always remember Mom as being there for us, for me. She was present- she took us to practices, got us ready for school, and kissed us goodnight. She also had other things that were hers and it never affected me. I try to think about that when I feel guilty for leaving for a photoshoot. Mom was the best in the world, and I'm pretty sure your kids feel the exact same way about you. We are many... and that's not taboo.
#3 The 'Before & After' Makes Us Who We are
There are many moments in our lives that I like to call "B&A's." These are times when we look back on them, we can see a clear "before" and a clear "after" in ourselves. Some of these are huge moments and others a lot harder to place our finger on. The loss of Mom was, for me, one of the most significant "Before and Afters." Although I was young when she passed away, large parts of my personality, experiences, and environment were shaped around her absence.
As I grew older and connected with more people and women, it was easy to see that we all have B&A moments... big ones and small ones. Sometimes they aren't even realized until we give ourselves permission to sit with them. Frankly, I used to spend hours upon hours wishing those moments away, regretting every mistake and misstep.
It took me a long time to give the "before" Dana grace for her selfishness or grief. It also took me a long time to give the "after" Dana continued permission to grow and evolve.
I can now look back on those pages of mistakes without wanting to close the book of my life and toss it aside. For me, that is significant.
If you are still punishing yourself for the actions of the "before" you, please know that you're not alone and you are so much more than the culmination of your mistakes. Truly.
Each of my B&A moments has molded me into the woman I am today.
They have done the same for you. These experiences and moments have also given us new ways to build relationships with people who have experienced similar and allow us to extend our hands to people we might not yet understand.
You need to know that you are allowed to tell the truth about your life. You are not too much. Your "B&A" moments, along with many other things, shape who you are- and who you are is uniquely created and loved. You matter so very much.
The grief of losing Mom, as I've written about many times before, is something that never leaves me. The depth of the loss still surprises me even after all of these years.
I only got eleven years with her... it was not enough time.
However, I will forever be grateful for the women who stepped in for us when they didn't have to. I hope to be like you- a woman who is willing to stick around when things get bad, one who looks hard things in the eye and leans in instead of hiding behind the busyness of life. I hope to be one who cultivates beautiful things, raises a happy family, and lives her purpose, but is truly remembered for the way she loved others. That's how you will all be remembered to me.
I am a better woman because of all of you. Thank you.