“After Every Summer We Fall”

I don’t even know where time is going.  Yesterday I was talking to a friend and realized her baby is five months old, and I’m pretty sure it feels like she just had him.

It also means the six month anniversary of Mom’s passing is coming up.  How can she have been gone for half a year?

Summer is my favorite season and I always feel better in the summer.  I love the sand beneath my toes, the sound of the waves, and sunshine on my face.  I love flip flops and bikinis and my hot pink beach towel with sea turtles on it.

This year was different.

I would describe the summer of 2014 as being about acceptance and making the best of things, and sunshine and happily driving to PEI listening to Matchbox 20 and the Goo Goo Dolls.

This year didn’t have the same cheerful vibe to it, although it still had beach time and flip flops and family,  it was almost more about just getting through it, if that makes sense.  The sunsets didn’t feel as beautiful.  I was driving around listening to “With You In Your Dreams” by Hanson and Backstreet Boys.

I’ve realized I have a strong will.  Maybe it’s all that character I developed as a child.  Whenever I complained about something I didn’t want to do, my parents told me it would “build character.”  I may struggle and feel down at times, and it would be so much easier to curl up at home, but I don’t give up, I keep going, and I keep making the effort to improve my situation.  I need to remind myself I’m strong. When I’m on the treadmill and want to stop, I tell myself “you’ve gone through chemo and lost your mom to Alzheimer’s. You can keep going.”

My yoga instructor would talk at yoga about life and summer being made up of “moments” and how everyone always wants to have a super awesome summer and puts pressure on themselves to make the summer the best ever, but when you break it down, you’re going to have some great moments and some not so great ones.

My grandfather passed away in August, and that brought up a whole lot of feelings.  I felt guilty because I hadn’t spent as much time with him since I started working because he lived far away and it was harder to make time to visit.  I also felt guilty because I had forgot to send him a birthday card last year, and had told myself I was going to make sure to send one next year, but now I won’t get that chance.  The funeral was also deja vu, with going being in a receiving line at the funeral home and my cousins all being pall bearers again.  It brought up feelings about Mom.

I went to a couple of weddings at the end of the summer.  I was really looking forward to them and seeing a bunch of friends from university I hadn’t seen in a while.  What I wasn’t expecting was how I’d feel awkward around them because I felt like my mom’s death was the elephant in the room.  It was the first time I’d seen a lot of them since Mom’s death.  No one brought it up, and I’m not sure if it’s because no one thought it was important, or because it’s awkward and people don’t know what to say.  My sister told me when it gets too much for her when she’s at an event like a wedding, she goes and hides in the bathroom for a bit.  That’s some good advice.  I also wasn’t expecting how seeing the Mom of the Bride and the acknowledgement of family members who had passed on and couldn’t be at the wedding would affect me.

Take this as a learning experience.  Weddings = supporting friends on their special days + dance floors/wine + fun = missing Mom + sad she won’t be at my wedding (if I’m ever lucky enough to get married) + feelings of loneliness.  Be prepared to take the bad with the good.


Signal Hill in Newfoundland. Visited this landmark while in Saint John’s for a friend’s wedding over Labour Day weekend

I made it through my first birthday without Mom.  I had seen my sister go through hers in April and I thought mine was going to be really hard, but maybe because I had thought it was going to be awful, it turned out better than I expected.  Even though the weather wasn’t great, I still got for a walk on the beach and cake with my family, and a Frosty’s ice cream.  Hmmm… maybe that’s why my pants aren’t fitting as good??


Birthday nutty dip with my brother at Frosty Treat Dairy Bar

I also went to Charleston on vacation recently.  The interesting thing is, missing Mom wasn’t the first thing I thought of every day when I was on vacation.  Sure, I thought about her, and how I would love to be able to tell her about the sea turtles and the beaches in South Carolina and show her the different types of shells and partial sand dollars I found, and the thought crossed my mind that the inn keepers at the bed and breakfast had no idea that I lost my mother this year, but feeling like I missed her and wanting a hug from her didn’t come up as much as they do when I’m at home.


Pineapple Fountain in Charleston

The days are getting darker.  The nights are getting colder.  And my last trip to the cottage is probably going to be for Thanksgiving.  I’m apprehensive about the winter and the darkness.  With winter coming, I know I won’t get to PEI as much, and I don’t like the thought of not being over there and seeing Mom’s grave until next summer.   I don’t think the real hard part will hit until January.  I’m trying to be optimistic and focus on the good things coming up like Thanksgiving dinner at the cottage, my sister’s baby shower and birth of her baby in November, and of course Christmas.  All of these things will keep me busy and are something to look forward to, but I know they’ll all be different this year.

What Grief Looks Like Three Months Out

It’s been three months since Mom passed away, yet somehow it still doesn’t feel real or quite make sense.  Surely, she should be showing up to sit with me on the deck while I drink my morning coffee, joining her circle of friends to gossip on the beach, and always making sure I get one last swim in before I have to leave the cottage.

Unfortunately, she isn’t and that’s the reality of it.  Death is permanent and irreversible.  There will be no one last ice cream cone or walk on the beach, and I’ll never have a hug from my mom again.  I’ll have to settle for drinking my coffee out of the mug with her name on it.

A mother’s love is unconditional and irreplaceable, and while watching Alzheimer’s Disease steal my mother from me, I felt like that love and support was missing for years, but now I realize that it wasn’t as gone as I thought it was.  I thought losing her physical body wouldn’t be so bad because I’d already lost so much.  The truth of the matter is, although it was hard watching Mom struggle with her illness, you couldn’t get up and go as quick as you’d like because Mom would need help putting on her coat and shoes, and it was hard listening to her protest as Dad tried to give her her pills or help her in the shower, she was still here.  There were still sweet moments when she would make a joke and I could still give her a hug…  Do I ever wish I had given her more hugs.  It was very difficult emotionally, but it’s a whole other kind of emotional pain now.  And a void.  I don’t have a mother on this earth anymore.  That’s a tough pill to swallow and I think my brain is still trying to process it.

One of my mom’s friends, who has also lost her mother (another special lady, who lived a long, happy life) said that it doesn’t matter how old your mother is, it’s still hard, and after her mom passed away she told a friend that nothing felt the same.  Her friend didn’t understand what she’d meant at the time.  Recently that friend lost her own mother and said that now she understood.  My sister echoed similar thoughts.  She’s had friends who’ve lost their mothers to cancer, and while at the time she knew what her friends were going through was sad, she didn’t fully understand just how sad and difficult it was for them until we lost our mother.  Maybe it’s something you just can’t understand unless you’ve been through it yourself.

I agree with Mom’s friend.  Nothing feels the same.  Something is missing.  I’m told it gets better, but that “different” feeling never completely goes away.  I’m told to remember the happy memories, and there are lots of them to choose from.  I’m told it gets easier with time.

Shouldn’t I have a very carpe diem attitude now?  After all, I’ve been through cancer and now I’ve lost my mother and I’m only thirty.  Instead, I feel like my focus has narrowed and the thought of the future exhausts me.  I have no desire to plan an exciting vacation or make plans for months down the road.  Trying new recipes and cooking doesn’t even interest me that much right now.  Small things like paying bills on time and RSVPing to weddings feel like daunting tasks.  It’s like all I can think about is getting myself to work, which at least distracts me for a little while.

I’m so grateful I was on vacation last week.  I’ve never felt like I needed a vacation more than I did a week ago.  I spent my vacation at my parent’s cottage.  I guess I can’t call it my “parents’ cottage” anymore since I only have one parent now.  I never thought of that subtle difference between parent’s and parents’ until now.  I’ve been having an internal struggle over what to call the cottage now.  it just doesn’t feel right to call it “Dad’s cottage” because it was always more Mom’s than anyones, and in my mind I guess I still think of it as belonging to both my parents.  Can it still belong to both of them, even though one of them is gone?

I still feel this loneliness that must result from the lack of a mother’s unconditional nurturing and support, but it was easier being on PEI.  There were lots of family and friends around and I could talk about Mom and ask them questions about her.  There were people who’ve lost their own moms, so they understand what I’m going through.


I honoured Mom by baking biscuits using her recipe and eating strawberry shortcake.  I took bouquets of lupins and peonies to her grave.  I wrote “Mom” in the sand and watched the waves wash it away.  I didn’t have to worry about day to day responsibilities or ringing phones or people waiting for me.  I could eat my meals uninterupted.  All I had to do was read my book, cross stitch, go to the beach, and the most strenuous thing I had to do was help Dad a little bit with supper and doing dishes.  I hunted for blue sea glass everyday and I thought that if I found one, it would be a sign form Mom that she was watching over me.   I had found a piece of blue sea glass the day of Mom’s burial, back in June, but I didn’t find any this visit and I was extremely disappointed.  I was jealous of other people when they found pieces.  Eventually, I had to stop searching so hard because it was making me feel worse.   Maybe I’m being unrealistic expecting her to provide me with blue sea glass everyday, but I want to feel comforted.

My sister and I have noticed that people will often ask us how our family members are doing, but not ask us directly how we’re feeling.  I’m sure it’s because no one knows what to say.  There are no magical words to fill the void.  There is no perfect thing to say.  How does one even answer that question, “How are you doing?” anyway?  Try to be strong, and say “Alright.”  The more truthful, but still socially acceptable, “Some days are harder than others.”  Or the most honest answer, that I still feel like crying somedays.  That I’ve fought back tears at work and that my eyeballs have been known to start leaking at yoga, prompting strangers to ask me if I’m OK.  Maybe people don’t even need to ask that question.  Just say hello so the grieving person knows you’re thinking of them.  Show your support just by being there and being understanding.


Dad and I were driving along one of my favorite routes on PEI, taking in the stunning views of farmers’ fields, Malpeque Bay, and the pink, purple, and white lupins that lined the ditches, when I said to him that I thought PEI was the prettiest province in Canada.  He said, “Do you think you were influenced at all?”  Mom had always had an intense love of all things PEI, and you know what?  I am my mother’s daughter.

I’m A Poet And Didn’t Even Know It

Tomorrow will be the first Mother’s Day that I don’t have a mom to celebrate with.

After Dad found those poems in Mom’s file she’d saved and I found them comforting, I searched for more memorial poems on Pinterest and found so many lovely ones.  Looking at poems on the internet doesn’t quite have the same feel as holding a yellowed newspaper clipping, but they were still touching.  I was inspired to write my own memorial poem.

I haven’t tried to write a poem in years, not that I ever was much of a poet to begin with.  Although, there was that one epic grade eight English assignment known as “An Anthology of Karen and Natasha’s Poems,” which earned us an Outstanding++ grade, that I re-discovered tucked away in a drawer when I was home visiting Mom at Easter.  Finding that gave me a laugh.

This is what I came up with for my memorial poem, and I’m actually pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.

Poem for Mom

A Tribute to Mom

After struggling for six years, my mom lost her fight against Alzheimer’s on April 16, 2015.  She was fighting a hopeless battle because when you’re up against Alzheimer’s, a disease with no cure, there’s not much you can do to defend yourself.  It’s just a matter of time before the disease takes over and robs the body of it’s ability to carry out the functions required for living.


This is one of two poems Dad found that Mom had cut out from a newspaper at some point. We’re not sure when she saved it, and whether it was when my grandmother passed away, or if she had cut it out to comfort us once she was gone. One of my cousins read it at her funeral.

Maybe Mom did fight back.  Perhaps her weapon against the disease was doing her best to recognize her family and friends and to still get excited about the things she loved, like PEI, the beach, ice cream, and Leon Gallant.

I will always remember Mom greeting me at the door whenever I came home.  She must have seen my car coming or heard it in the driveway.  She was always so happy to see me, and always ready with a hug and smile for me.  She did well.  Her special greetings continued until last fall.  This past Christmas was the first time I noticed that instead of meeting me at the door, she was sleeping on the couch when I arrived home.

It’s unfortunate that it often takes disease or death to make us realize just how truly special someone really is.

Mom may never have been the “coolest” or “hippest” mom.  She may have been a bit traditional and over-protective, and I know I disappointed her when she found out I planned on having a few drinks at grad parties, but she was the best mom.  She had a lot of love to give, and she showered it upon her entire family.  It’s unfortunate that I was just starting to outgrow the I’m-embarrassed-by-my-parents-and-don’t-want-to-be-seen-in-public-with-them phase when she got sick.  I know my relationship with Dad has evolved over the last couple of years, and I feel robbed of the opportunity to have a more grown-up relationship with Mom.

Mom was a secretary at the office where my Dad worked (that’s actually how they met each other), and after my older sister was born, Mom left her job to stay home with us.  She was the best stay at home mom.  She kept the house spotless and knew how to clean everything!  She was an excellent seamstress and made my sister and I Anne of Green Gables dresses and Halloween costumes.  One Christmas she even surprised us with a shoe box full of Barbie clothes she had made herself.  She would dig out her sewing machine and work on them while we were at school so we had no idea what she was up to.  After Mom’s passing, while looking through photo albums with my aunt, I realized that some of those handmade Barbie dresses were actually made out of fabric left over from bridesmaids’ dresses at Mom’s wedding.  I had had no idea.

And Mom could bake!  Her chocolate cookies were legendary!  There was always a fresh batch whenever extended family came to stay.  My cousins have been sharing lots of memories of Mom since her passing, and a few of them have confessed to sneaking chocolate chip cookies in the middle of the night.  Mom would wonder how they disappeared so fast.  I’m not sure if she ever knew about the midnight cookie thieves.  Mom would always send a batch of cookies back to university with me after I’d been home for the weekend to share with my roommates.  Mom was also well known for her Divinity fudge at Christmas, chocolate cookies with marshmallows on top, mud slide pie, Skor squares, and no-bake cherry cheesecake.

I attribute my love of the beach and the sea to Mom.  At her funeral, the minister said that he didn’t know anyone in Mom’s family who didn’t have sea water running through their veins, and that we’d all be perfectly happy living down at the shore or on a boat, and I would have to agree with that!  Every day in the summer she would pack my sister and brother and I up and drive us thirty minutes to the beach in rural PEI next door to where she had grown up.  We would always meet up with lots of people; Mom’s childhood friends, cousins, and a rotating stream of families who “come from away,” but vacationed in Sea View every summer.  There’d be trips to the rocks to look for crabs, walks along the shore looking for sea glass, more swims than I can count, and bonfires with roasted marshmallows.

I’m sure it broke Mom’s heart when we moved away from PEI, but my parents always made sure we made it back to PEI for the summer.  The first couple of years before we had our own cottage we stayed in a tiny two bedroom cottage down the road from my aunt, and it seemed like the cottage was always full of my cousins.  Mom would look after my cousins while my aunt worked, and since Dad was on the mainland working during the week, we didn’t always have a car, but I don’t think that stopped us from getting to the beach too often.  It seems like Mom always found a way to get us there, with other beach friends coming to pick us up and cramming way too many kids for the number of seats into the vehicle.

Mom always made Christmas special and it wasn’t until she got sick and lost her ability to do what she had always done that I realized just how important to Christmas she was.  I feel bad for getting mad and upset that first Christmas that was “off.”  I wasn’t mature enough at the time to realize it wasn’t her fault.  Christmas morning we would wake up and our giant stockings would be full to the brim with goodies, all wrapped in the same paper that was different from any other wrapping paper under the tree because Santa used different paper at the North Pole.  There would be a display of candy in her good candy dishes and nuts on the coffee table.  And there would always be an unwrapped gift from Santa for each of us out on display, I guess it was so we would have something to look at until her and Dad got up.  When we lived on PEI, we used to rotate hosting Christmas dinner between my mom and her sister and brother’s houses.  My favorite was always the year when we hosted at our house.  Christmas wasn’t quite the same after we moved, but it was still always special.

The best Christmas present I ever got was my Hanson Middle of Nowhere VHS.  I was so in love with Hanson that year, and Mom liked them too (although my sister despised them).  I had asked for their VHS tape for Christmas, and Mom had told me that she couldn’t find it anywhere so I wouldn’t be getting it for Christmas.  I was so disappointed.  Then Christmas morning came and one of the first things I saw was Middle of Nowhere, left by Santa for me.  I was so surprised and so happy!  Two years ago, to be funny, either my sister or my brother wrapped up that same VHS tape and put it under the tree for me, not realizing the back story that went with it.  After I opened it, I told them the story behind it, and how it was the best Christmas present I ever got.  Mom’s Alzheimer’s was pretty bad at this point, and her communication wasn’t great, but she sat there smiling as I told the story of how she had tricked me that Christmas, and I remember our family laughing and Dad telling Mom she was a “trickster.”  Both of those Christmases are special memories that I will always cherish.

I also remember visiting my parents one weekend shortly after I had graduated from university.  I was going through a rough time adjusting to being a “real adult” and was having a moment in my bedroom.  It was early on in Mom’s disease, and at the time I thought her communication was so bad because she had such a hard time finding her words, but looking back, it really wasn’t so bad back then.   She came into my room while I was upset and she told me that her and Dad would always be there for me.  I’ve thought of her saying that to me a lot lately, in this last month while she was in the hospital and since she’s passed.

It got hard to talk to her on the phone as her focus and verbal skills deteriorated, but she could still usually get “I love you” out.  That was how she always ended her conversation with me when I used to call home every day.

I know it hurt Mom deeply to be sick and not be able to do all the things or say all the things she would have liked.  I know she did her best.  I did my best too, although it sometimes feels like it wasn’t good enough.

Through all of this, I’ve realized just how important family is.  It was looking through pictures, and hearing stories, and sharing memories of Mom with family and friends that helped the most in those early days after her passing.

What I’ve learned through all of this is to cherish the moment.  Spend time with the people that are important to you.  Make memories.  Take pictures… and label and date them so you know who’s in them and when/where it was taken.  Give hugs.  Tell the people you care about that you love them.

Even though Mom is gone, parts of her live on.  I will feel close to her every time I bake chocolate chip cookies or make Divinity fudge, hear geese squawking or a Leon Gallant song, or when I walk along the beach looking for sea glass.


This is the second poem Dad found. It also was read by one of my cousins at Mom’s funeral.

Mom was a very special lady, and I don’t think I ever realized just how special she was until the end.  She was such a kind, caring, loving lady, and I hope that I share those attributes.  Mom meant so much to so many people and she will be greatly missed.  I love you, Mom.