“You must keep writing,” she said. “You have to share your heart with the world,” she would impress upon me. “I’ve never known anyone quite like you Kristen,” she would say after I bounced back from another hit, personally or professionally. “You must write a book… you were meant to,” she insisted in her final weeks. And her “go to” phrase… “This too shall pass, you will see.” The countless words of impact. These are just a few of the words I replay in my mind and my heart each day. These are the words my beautiful mother in law, mother, friend, and confidante spoke to me while she was still here on this earth walking by my side. She spoke these words to me… because she could. Today marks one year that I had to let her go. I wasn’t ready, but I’m not sure I ever would have been. To know Sandy Nan was a joy, and to be loved by her was a gift of immense impact.
Her love had no conditions, ever.
Her love never judged me. Her love always understood me. I never had to find the perfect words or restate the ones I said. She never counted up the moments I gave her, that didn’t compare to the ones I received. She never asked me to give her another minute, nor did she expect it, ever. She never questioned my intent, as she knew my heart guided all my actions. She never needed an explanation, nor did she need me to speak one word, as she always knew what I was thinking. She was my biggest fan and my number one supporter. She spoke words of wisdom and listened with an empathetic ear. She never tried to fix me or the situation, but listened and guided. She held my hand both figuratively and literally, as I stumbled through this thing called life. Oh, how I miss her hand in mine.
You can’t go around it, you have to go through it.
I never quite cared for this phrase, as I have chosen plenty of things to bypass in life… the things that were within my control. But grief knows no bounds. It is a one way lane that you cannot pass on. It is blinded and cannot see… not race, color, religion, ethnicity, social status or bloodlines. You simply cannot go around it, you must go through to find a better tomorrow… the one that brings you joy to know she is with Him. In many ways it reminds me a lot of love. For each day that I have had to go through the grief and loss of my beautiful mother in law, is a day to remind me of the love that we shared… a love so very precious to me. Going through grief has looked differently for me than I had imagined. The loss I felt so great was also my dear husband’s mother, my precious children’s nana, my beautiful father in law’s love for over 50 years, along with sister and aunt, cousin and friend. So many hurt hearts that needed attention. Where did my loss fit into this big picture? I never needed to think about this before… I would’ve just talked to mom and we would have seen it through together, all while holding up our beautiful family. How was I going to do this for them and for her? The one person that held my hand was no longer there to go through it with me and for once I had to be the strength for my family that she had always been… a role I wasn’t prepared for, or at least I didn’t think I was. Faith.
Beyond 365 days of firsts…
I cannot say that time has healed anything for me as this was a year of firsts. The first 365 days without her, not to mention the hours and minutes. Some may think of holidays as the “tough firsts”, but those were oddly okay. For me it was Sunday in church, with too much room in the pew and no one to plan and cook Sunday dinner with me. It was a Monday, when I couldn’t call her for advice. A Tuesday, when the phone would ring and she would start every conversation with a little chuckle after she would say, “Kristen”. A Wednesday, when I just needed to hear her voice. A Thursday, when we would talk about weekend plans. A Friday, when we would just take a deep breath and recap the week. Saturdays, when we jetted down to the Strip District in Pittsburgh for just a few hours and wound up strolling in at 7-8:00 at night. When we would go to Marshalls, grab lunch, a massage, or just run errands together then drive home to tackle the mounds of laundry hand in hand. It was every piece of furniture I sat on that she helped me pick out, the drapes she stitched for me, the pictures full of memories that adorned the walls of our home, the bedding we found for a great price so we bought four sets instead of one, cooking meals she loved or ones we created together. It was setting the table for 5 and not for 6 (I remember the first time I set the table without her and I literally had to put her plate on the table and then take it away before anyone saw it… somehow to acknowledge to myself as it was my first of many moments to endure). The pies that were no longer being baked. The laughter and tears that were no longer there. Each time I hugged my precious boys, I would hug them a little longer just for her. It was Trent turning 16 and not having his Nana there to celebrate with him and tell him how proud she is of the man he is becoming. Jack struggling for the first time with anxiety and she wasn’t here to tell him he was going to be okay. Eric having to grasp a life without his beautiful mother. All while witnessing my father in law gracefully lean into his faith, a place I yearned to be.
Two simple words… “Thank you”
As we gathered around the table on New Year’s Day, we bowed our heads for grace. The table wasn’t full as Jack and pap had been under the weather, so Eric and I sat with Trent ready to bring in the new start that awaited. To hear Trent pray is like witnessing God himself, as he speaks from his heart and always embraces the moment. He went on to say, “Thank you God for this past year.” I could hear the deep breath taken by Eric as I was holding my own in. He continued, “I know it may not seem right to others for me to thank you for the year you took our Nana away, but you also gave us so much. Thank you for being there for us and for helping us through”… and the prayer went on and on. Tears ran down our faces and Trent said, “I am sorry, I don’t want this year to start off sad for us, but I felt that we needed to thank God for all he has done for us.” The countless words of impact. Without hesitation we both thanked him. We both spoke words of humility, love, and grace for this beautiful gift we call our son. This past year has had many firsts. My world revolved around mom in ways that meant I didn’t need anyone else. She filled every role she possibly could and I gratefully embraced every one of them. I suppose in many ways she was a continuous reminder of what joy can bring and that I need to be open to ways I can continue to find it in my life. Time has not healed me, nor did I expect it to. Time has not lessened my pain. What time has given me is opportunity… a chance to refocus, for friendships to blossom, for journeys to begin, to see hands to hold beyond the one that I lost and to thank you for walking by my side through all of it.
Thank you to those who held my heart with the deepest of care.
Thank you to those who had grace on me even when I felt I wasn’t deserving.
Thank you to those that allowed me to feel my own loss.
Thank you to those who placed opportunity in my path and then encouraged me to grab a hold.
Thank you to those who helped to create my new normal.
Thank you to those who didn’t assume or place judgement on me.
Thank you to those who pushed me when I couldn’t push myself.
Thank you God for placing each of these people in my life. Faith