Drowning Inside

I must preface this with a warning. This is about the loss of my mother. It’s honest and raw emotions. I lost my mother on January 28th to a heart attack. Her death was so unexpected and caught my family completely off guard. Writing about it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Below is me, laid bare, looking for solace in getting out what I have kept inside. Thank you for taking the time to read about this time in my life.

It’s interesting the waves of emotion attached to the death of a loved one. You’re suddenly no longer in control of yourself, as a tsunami of suffering wages on inside of you. It feels as if you are drowning in whatever emotion grips you in that moment. Once the water is finally less choppy, another wave crashes in and pulls you under.

That’s how I’ve felt these past few weeks. It’s hard to look in a mirror without the freckles I inherited from my mother jumping out at me. Dotted reminders of a woman I will never see again.

When I was eight I moved across the country to live with my brother. I saw my mother a couple of times for a few years after that. The visits became infrequent, as did the letters and phone calls. I was sixteen the last time I saw my mother. For most of my life, I was away from her.

I would often think about her possible death while growing up without her around. How tortured is that, a boy playing out his reactions to his mother’s death on a loop in his head; unable to shut it off.

How would I react? Would it be like hearing about the death of a stranger? Would it even move me to tears or any sort of emotion? How fucked up am I for playing out the scenario of her passing in my head almost weekly since I was eight?

These past few weeks I have learned the answers to such questions.

Growing up away from my mother I had developed this resentment for her. She had always made me feel like it was us against the world. Sending me to Connecticut felt like abandonment. My sadness over being away from my mother turned into a hatred for her.

When I was sixteen I flew out to Colorado to spend time with my mom. Before going, I spent time mentally prepping myself to be tough; to shield myself from potential hurt or disappointment.

I did the same thing a few weeks ago when I had to go to her funeral.

Visiting with her at sixteen, I told her how I felt. How she hurt me, abandoned me, didn’t love me and fucked up my life by not being a part of it.

The pain of a child who truly felt alone in this world.

“It was us against the world, and then, you were gone.”

I remember the understanding, weighted in sadness, those eyes I stared into held. Those eyes, that matched my own. In color and pain.

“I love you son. I’m sorry, but I want you to know I love you.”

Letters and infrequent phone calls did nothing to convey the feelings I longed for. I didn’t know that she loved me, I needed to see her and hear her say it. In that moment I realized it wasn’t hate I harbored. It was longing. I wanted my mother. I wanted to be her son. I wanted to feel like, even with miles between us, she still loved me.

I forgave my mother. Largely because it was exhausting carrying on a façade of toughness. I wanted to be loved by the person I spent my youth feeling inseparable from.

It was us against the world all over again.

How will you react to her death? What will you do when the ball drops?

Questions that constantly ran through my mind, since I was eight.

“Get the fuck off of me”

Twenty minutes staring at a wall, followed by those words.

My wife lay on me, sobbing, after waking me to tell the news.

“Your mother passed away, I’m so sorry”

I wanted to be alone. To scream and cry and die inside.

“Get the fuck off of me.” All I could muster in my state of complete and utter shock.

It now truly was me against the world. Paralyzed, unable to move, unable to register the news I had just heard.

My mother was gone. Forever.

The emotions overloaded and short circuited my insides. A numbness crept in as subconsciously I began trying to protect myself from the news. I stared at the wall, pondering whether to punch it until feeling returned to my body. I was too numb to even do that. My phone beeped and buzzed with missed calls and texts. My aunt, my brother. Trying to get a hold of me and let me know what had happened.

My mother was dead. Only two weeks removed of outlining a plan to visit and meet the kids. To visit me, her son, who she hadn’t seen in seven years.

I couldn’t sleep well for a few days. Over and over I tried to rationalize her death in my head. Friends told me to write about it. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I always try to write in a positive fashion. Nothing about this made me feel positive. I hardly could leave bed. When I left bed, seeing my kids would make me want to cry, so I retreated back to my bed.

People around me worried for me. It made me feel bad.

So I began to pretend to be okay. To hold up appearances, I smiled. I acted like I had grips on the situation.

All the while I was drowning inside.

The outpouring of support only made me feel more of a need to put on a smile. I couldn’t disappoint those who took the time to care. I couldn’t wallow in sorrow, although it had swallowed me inside.

So I began a new façade of toughness.

The return to Colorado, I steeled myself. Mentally readying against hurt and disappointment, all over again.

A nightmare trip out there only made me grit my teeth more. We landed in Colorado after a missed flight, lost debit card and two hours of sleep, the day of the viewing.

I didn’t want a viewing. Seeing her lay there, lifeless, I hated it. I wanted to reach out and touch her hand, but was afraid of how cold it would feel. My kids said goodbye to her, not nearly grasping how much it shattered my heart having to say the words, “Say bye bye to grandma, we love you mom”.

My mother got to meet her grandkids. And my heart broke under the circumstance.

Reconnecting with family because of death is commonplace. You bury the hatchet, if only for the fact that you don’t want to bury a loved one without saying I love you one last time. The trip to Colorado was more of a reunion than a funeral. Family and friends with longstanding feuds laid past grievances to rest alongside my mother.

“It’s what she would have wanted.”

The whole process only made me more numb. Picking out urns. A beautiful green one, my mother’s favorite color.

Four overwhelming days of reconnection and reconciliation. All I wanted was to cry and scream and die inside. My façade of toughness, mixed with deflection, held.

The return home went smooth. As I moved everything inside, first thing I did was delicately place her green urn on a shelf, careful to make sure it had space around it. I haven’t come to look at it since.

Life went back to normal. The world continues to move rather quickly after loss.

“What you been doing, bitch?”

“Your mom, shit, I’m sorry”

A coworker cracks a joke, only realizing too late how insensitive and too soon it is.

“It’s okay, it was an accident”

I drank and sobbed in the shower for a half hour the next day. I knew it wasn’t on purpose, but the memories it brought back broke my shield. I began to drown. Again.

I hate the eggshells those around me walk on. I hate having to pretend I’m okay when I’m nothing more than a sixteen year old, trapped, who needs to look in his mother’s eyes and hear her say “I love you” one more time.

That accidental comment was less than a week ago.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is no amount of faking that will make the loss of my mom any easier. I hope time saps the strength of this constant inner storm that rages.

All I know is the person I need to hear I love you from rests on a shelf in a shiny green urn. A shelf I can’t bring myself to look at. My mother is gone. And it’s me against the world again.

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24 comments on “Drowning Inside
  1. Your mother loved you. I know she sent you away. Maybe she thought you were better off being raised by someone else. I know it sounds completely fucked up but it has to be true. Sadly as an 8yo child you can’t wrap your head around the one person in your life sending you away. You aren’t supposed to understand and never will. I only wished she could have told you why she did it. I imagine it was too painful for her to open up to you. Guilt and regret are a beast. I imagine she went through much of the same emotions you did. She will always be with you now even though it’s in a different form. When I think of you as the same age of my youngest it breaks my heart. Don’t think I’ve not thought about throwing in the towel because he deserves better. I the recall something I read. “Mother is God in the Eyes of a Child.” You will always have that pain but you don’t have to let it burden you anymore.

  2. I am so sorry for your losses. All these years after my mother’s death, I still have unanswered questions or words I want to hear from her. It’s part of being their child, always, which means you will always grieve on some level for them or what could have been…it just becomes more manageable over time.

    Peace be with you and your family.

  3. Oh…. Wow. The years are racing down my cheeks. My heart breaks for you… Wow Briton. This is by far my favorite thing you’ve written. I’m in a similar standoff with my mother right now… We haven’t spoken in years, she has never met my two youngest kids… There is an ocean of emotions, at all times, when your ‘us against the world’ counterpart checks out. I feel for you and your wife, for your kids… I’m so sorry. I wish mothers would do better. I sure as hell will try harder than my mom did, knowing how it feels to be abandoned by her. My kids will always know how much I love them, even if they don’t want to hear it. My kids will always come first. At least my mother taught me how important that is…

  4. I can feel your loss through your words. The empty, angry, epic sadness you feel…I felt it when I lost my mother also. I still feel remnants of it from time to time. That numb feeling…fuck. I wish I could take the pain away. No one should have to feel that. Thank you for sharing your deep, dark and twisty parts with us. Love you B.

  5. I lost my father to cancer 8 years, 6months and 2 days ago. I watched the man I leaned on my whole life melt away. And it devastated me. I moved through the motions for months before I felt any remnant of myself return. I still can’t listen to the songs we played at his service or watch the video of photographs that played. BUT it gets easier…day by day, month by month. The light comes back. I focused on my daughter and my students at school. My husband didn’t necessarily understand…he hadn’t lost a parent. But the children in my life just embraced me. If I needed a hug or an I love you, it came unconditionally. They made me feel alive again.

    Love your boys and your wife. Take comfort in what your mom was able to give you. Forgive and take it one day at a time. Go for a walk and scream and cry. Let it out. And then let your precious boys bring the light back to you. Much love and prayers to you ❤️

  6. People often say that writing is cathartic. I know it can be, and you’ve gently placed your heart on this page for us to see. The writing here is beautiful, Briton, and the emotion is raw. I’m sorry that your mother is no longer with you. I can relate to that kind of missing. I lose my mother over and over again because she has dementia, and I know how it feels to just want your mom to say “I love you” one more time.

    I wasn’t aware of your past. I assume that you probably have a huge circle of support in Connecticut, but know there’s a little love sent your way from Texas too. I’m always here to lend an ear or a snarky comment if you ever need me.

  7. I can TOTALLY relate to this as I have had a long history of dysfunction with my mother and no real relationship. I always wonder how I will feel when she passes away. I think a portion of the mourning will be for the relationship we could have had and the relationship I wished for. Thinking of you as you work your way through this grief.

  8. I’m sorry, Briton. I usually have the right words at hand, but right now, I’m speechless. Your pain, regret and love is palpable. As a mom, I want to hug you and tell you its gonna be okay. And some day, it will be easier to carry. But for now, it’s just gonna hurt. Stupid things will trigger it. Be prepared. But you are not alone against the world. You have a beautiful family and friends to help you get thru this. Bonnie said it best. So I will leave you with this….you are loved Briton. And when you can take the time, after the anger fades, listen to your heart. You’ll hear the words you need to hear from your Mom.
    Please know this….there is a Mom in Iowa who thinks the world of you, even tho we will never meet.

  9. I’m so sorry about your loss, old chap. Don’t hold any expectations at the moment, for yourself or anyone else. Grief is a weird beast and it will do different things at different times, and you just have to roll with it. Cut yourself slack, because this one’s a game-changer.

    Know that there’s thoughts and care and love coming atcha from England, too.

  10. You’re an an amazing man, husband, Father, and son. You don’t have to try and be strong for no one. I thought when I had to walk the path of my grief losing my parents, that I had to be strong. I believe putting up the false pretences delayed my own healing. I thought I was supposed to project this “I’m ok image” so people would stop asking me if I was. If there’s any advice I could give is grief doesn’t have an expiry date, feel your feelings, and write like your life depends on it. Much love and respect to you Papa. ❤️

  11. Briton, first I want to say I am so sorry for your loss. I have not lost one of my own parents, but I have lost a mother figure and that was pain enough. You are a very strong man and I admire the strength it took to write this blog and to open yourself up to us. And those above me are right, you are loved. Sending you love, prayers and positive thoughts. HUGS!

  12. My friend. We’ve known each other for years and spent most of that time silent, I’ve read this over and over and still don’t have the words. In the last few days we’ve broken the silence and I feel like I’ve rediscovered a kindred spirit. I hate that this has happened to you. I hate that you have to shoulder this weight. I hope you always know I’m around. I can’t take this weight from you, but I can lend as much support as you need to keep you standing. We’ll share a brew or 10 soon.

  13. Pingback: Mother’s Day Times Two |

  14. Biggest hugs Papa! Nothing that I can say to you will make this any better. The first year is the worst. The pain and longing and missing them never goes away, we just learn how to deal with it better! There will always be the difficult marked days, birthdays, etc, where it will all come tumbling out of your carefully constructed compartment, and you will find yourself drowning again. This, unfortunately, is a rite of passage of adulthood that none of us ever wants, a club that no one ever wants to belong to, as I saw another writer put it….I wish I had the words that would comfort you…but I do not. Just know you are loved, hug those babies, your beautiful wife, and when you are done riding out this round of waves, cling to them! They will pull you through!

  15. Sorry PRP. The passing of relatives, especially a parent, is never easy under any circumstances. The loss changes you in ways you cannot imagine. I’d like to say it gets easier, but we just change. (My dad passed away in ’99. We had a very different relationship and I know he was very proud of me, but I regret not being able to introduce him to my kiddos or have him see me in action as a mom.)

    While you may feel broken, you are very loved.

    (PS I have read this prior and just didn’t know what to say. I’m so glad you posted again. It gave me the excuse to comment. Keep on writing my friend!)
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