"Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely."

Monday, April 7, 2014

On Loss, Change and Motherhood

It has been an absolutely lovely, joyous weekend!  I look forward to General Conference and love the traditions we have started with our little family over the last couple of years.  Today was a day full of delicious food, powerful inspiration, beautiful music, our sweet children, and the company of some wonderful friends.  The kids went to bed on time (something we have struggled with in the last week), and Jason had fallen asleep too, so I came out to the living room to listen to some peaceful music and rock the baby to sleep.  As I snuggled my little man, soaking in the calm moment, I was suddenly overwhelmed with how much I miss my mom.  So much has happened in the last 11 months!  I can hardly believe I have lived almost a year without her.  How I long to just talk to her and see her face!  

They say that everything gets better with time, but I’m not so sure.  It is true that I am used to life without my mom – I have adjusted to a new normal where I cannot pick up the phone and call her to talk about the big things or the little ones, and where she is less and less fresh in the minds of my children.  I no longer jump when the phone rings and says “mom home.”  (It may seem weird that I haven’t changed that, but I just can’t do it.)  I am used to the fact that I can’t talk to my mom now, and that she isn’t coming over for dinner, and that she isn’t going to visit the fire station with Sophie’s preschool class this month, and that we aren’t getting together for our birthdays.   But the feeling of vacancy is no less.  I miss her when I’m sad.  I miss her when I’m happy.  I miss her when something great is happening and I am on top of the world, or when I have ideas I need to share, when I am overwhelmed, or worried or stressed.  Just always.

The sense of loss varies, though.  Sometimes there is a week or two or even three where things seem great.  Then, the smallest thing will make me miss my mom with such intensity that I am instantly sick to my stomach.  Without question, the most difficult times are those of change. Weston’s last day of kindergarten was a rough one.  That was the first real change in our lives that she wasn’t a part of…and since I had spent the last 2 months of the school year completely consumed in her sudden cancer resurgence, aggressive decline, funeral, etc…it seemed so sudden that my baby was no longer a kindergartner!  And then there we were, facing our first summer without her.  We have had quite a few firsts without her, actually.  I had my first birthday without her, and so have each of the kids.  We had a Thanksgiving (which was brutal) without her, a Christmas, and now we’re coming up on Easter. The day that Brighton learned to crawl just broke my heart.  No one would have cared as much as she would have about that small development in his life.  It was so exciting, but I couldn’t share the excitement with her!  Even though life has continued to move forward, up until about 2 months ago, life hadn’t changed dramatically.

The first major change in my life since mom’s passing was getting released as young women’s president in February.  My involvement in that calling truly made life seem normal after she died and kept me very busy!  It has been a significant part of my life – something that I threw myself into for over three and a half years. I spent many hours each week devoted to the young women.  The feeling of loss after being released was huge.  People kept asking me if I felt relieved, but nothing could have less accurately described my feelings! 

Then a week ago, Jason was called to the bishopric of the singles ward.  Although I am excited about this and know it will be a huge blessing for our family, I have struggled a lot with the fact that we will no longer be members of our Harmony Hills ward - at least not until Jason is released, which could be years from now, although no one ever really knows these things in advanced.  

I have been trying to figure out why this is so emotionally traumatizing for me.  At first I thought, "ok, this is a change, but not so huge - I mean, we still live in the same house, and we still have friends in the ward, so the only main difference will be Sunday."  Technically, I suppose this is true.  But we all know that in the church, your ward defines your life in many ways.   It is true that many of the amazing Harmony Hills ward members know me and love me. And I love them.  I have let them into my life, and they have let me into theirs.  Being in a new ward, therefore, should not change these important realities.  Certainly, I will get together with friends that I used to see or talk to at least once a week, and we will have lovely times together yet in the future.  There is no doubt in my mind about this.  Yet, there is something about the consistency of Sundays that makes you more connected, more like an extended family.  I think I have finally pinpointed what it is - at least in part.

Before landing ourselves here in the Harmony Hills ward, I had never been in any ward for more than a year straight (since leaving home at age 18, that is).  I am friendly, so I always jumped right in and tried to become a part of each ward, but with a few exceptions, I found that you don't forge deep bonds in less than a year.  I was used to this from my almost 10 years of being a young single adult, so for the first few years of marriage it didn't bother me much.  At any rate, no matter where we went, we still had family - for me, my mom - involved in the details of our lives.  I talked to my mom almost daily (as I had my entire life), and we got together about once a week.  It was a huge blessing to me that when she passed away, we were very much established in our ward.  With my mom gone, I lacked the involvement of family in my daily or weekly life.  While I am close to my dad, brother and other family members, they live far away which makes it difficult to see each other very often.  My ward family, which had been a huge part of my life already, became that much more important to me.  Who were the people involved in the weekly happenings of life?  My ward, of course!  

Usually when you leave a ward, you know it's coming, and you are the one to make the choice because you are physically moving out of the boundaries of the ward.  Maybe you don't want to leave the ward, but you know that this move is in the best interest of your family, or perhaps it is necessary because of employment.  Usually there is time to adjust to the idea of moving wards.  You know it is going to happen in advanced, and you have a little time to mentally and emotionally prepare for your life to change.  We, however, found out three days in advanced that our records were being moved to the singles ward!  On our last Sunday in the Harmony Hills ward, we were required to keep the move a secret because Jason hadn't been sustained yet!  It is a strange thing to move wards without actually moving physically.  

I do genuinely believe and know that serving in the singles ward is going to be an amazing experience.  I am just trying to process the change, and work through the feeling of loss.  Yes, I will see my Harmony Hills family still.  I will run into people at the store, we will attend the Easter egg hunt and the trunk or treat, and we will make the effort to get together with friends whenever possible.  But we won't be involved in each others' lives on a weekly basis, and I think that is the loss I am feeling.  And, it also explains why I am suddenly missing my mom so poignantly right now.  

Last Sunday I kept thinking how she would have been there.  My mom would have been there to see Jason sustained if she had to fly half-way across the world to be there!  Oh, how I miss that about her! The consistency of her presence at every meaningful moment in life (as well as many others) is something that I will always miss.  And there are SO MANY huge moments in our lives yet to occur. 

Ultimately, I have come to realize how important I am as a mom.  I will be the consistency in my children's lives (along with Jason, of course) through all the many changes they will experience.  I will give them the foundation that will help them stand strong when I am gone one day, too, just like my mom did for me.  I can give them a sure foundation of faith in Jesus Christ, unconditional love, confidence, belief and hope. I can give them all that I am – and in fact am doing that anyway, whether it is intentional or not!  What greater motivation could I have for being the best person that I possibly can be?   

Change is such a huge part of life, whether we like it or not.  And let's face it, sometimes we don't. One of my favorite quotes is permanently at the top of this blog: "Life is change.  Growth is optional.  Choose wisely."  I can be sad because I miss the young women, and I can be sad because I am leaving the ward that has been my "family" these past few years.  But although I wrote a whole blog post about it, I will not dwell on those feelings for too long (though I know they will resurface from time to time). I will teach my children to move forward.  Life is so often not what we expect! I have learned, however, that when we move forward in optimism and faith, life turns out always to be better than what we expected it to be.  And that, my friends, is such a hopeful way to end this post that I am compelled to end it now.  Have a magnificent day!


Jolee B. said...

You are seriously an incredible writer. I felt like I wanted to share your feelings about leaving YW with the primary ladies that I served with when I moved because you said it so well, and reading this makes me feel like I should write about our move. I'm sorry I'm a terrible long distance friend. I still wish we lived by you guys; you are one of the only friends that I feel like I can just show up at your house any time. I miss that. And you. I really am so sorry about your mom and I'm so very glad you are willing to share your feelings with us. Love you friend.

Megan said...

In the lovely series "The Children of the Promise," a character is mourning the loss of someone killed in war, and she asks her grandma, who lost a little girl herself, if the pain ever gets better:

"Grandma, how long did it take before you could think about her without feeling a lot of pain?"

Grandma laughed again, almost silently, and she wiped her white-gloved fingers over her cheeks. "It never goes away, Bobbi."

"Oh, thanks. That's just what I needed to hear."

"But honey, the pain evolves into a delicate sort of joy. Rose has always stayed who she was--that wonderful little girl. I can hold her whenever I need to and know she's still mine."

I don't think the pain of losing someone ever lessens or fades--I like the fact that it evolves. Something that hurts becomes something that sanctifies--that pain becomes a reminder and a motivation, that if we do all we can the rewards is to be with our loved ones forever.

We had the best and most wonderful ward when our family joined the church. After I left for school and got married, the ward split and several families moved away. I mourned as though I'd lost my home. I've never come back to visit my parents with the same sense of returning to a warm ward embrace. However, several of the most key families moved to Utah, and when my parents visits last year, there was a huge reunion at one of their houses. When we walked in the door, we were so overwhelmed with the spirit that we couldn't speak. I've only felt the spirit more strongly at my baptism and at the temple. I thought of the people baptized in the waters of Mormon and how they looked t that place with reverence for having found the gospel there. That is how I felt amidst these families that had shown us so much love. At one point I turned to my mom (we both were crying) and I squeaked out, "THIS is what the celestial kingdom is like. THIS is why we do what we do and why we keep enduring." I've never had quite the same feeling in the many, many wards I've been in since. But I've realized in part that it's my job to serve and love others so that they feel that same love that I did as a convert. When I heard about Jason's calling I immediately thought about Bishop Sowards and Bishop Prigmore and their amazing student wards and how lucky your singles ward will be to have you guys in it to show them what a blessing marriage and family can be.

Knudson Family said...

Great post Michelle. I still have my Grandparents phone number programmed into my phone, and they have been gone for over 6 years. I can't bring myself to delete it, and really, there is no need. It's a sweet little reminder. Also, I think I went through a lot of the feelings of change when we were put into the Harmony Hills ward. Changing wards, but not because we chose that. And I LOVE your concluding thought. A mother can be a constant in their children's lives. Love it.