Sometimes, You Just Need to Cry in a Closet

– Posted in: Cancer Sucks, Grief, Momless, Mouths of Babes, Newt, Sappy Tammy, Tammy Thinks

“I’m going to keep these dinosaurs. Just because they’re the ones from Nan, so they’re special to me.” My 11-year-old son, Newt, is going through a box of toys, figuring out which ones to give away. When he says this. I actually feel my entire body relax.

Newt and dinosaurs

My mother died five years ago on July 3rd. With every toy that goes out the door, every piece of clothing the kids outgrow, a piece of her leaves. In an attempt to keep from turning into some psychotic hoarder who ends up on a Bravo show, I grit my teeth and watch as bags get loaded into the car on their way to Good Will. I tell myself that giving our most treasured possessions to our closest friends is like keeping them with us. I convince myself I haven’t completely rubbed off on my daughter who wants to hang onto everything from pipe cleaner bracelets to children’s restaurant menus.

Box of toy dinosaurs

“I’m glad you’re keeping those,” I say. “That makes me happy actually.”

July 3rd. I thought I was fine about July 3rd.

Apparently I wasn’t.

It turns out death is so much more complicated than anyone ever really talks about.

I remember a few months after my mom died. I was talking to my dad about her and I started to cry. He said, “That’s good that you can still feel so much emotion about her. That your memory of her is still so strong.” And that’s when I realized — when people say that the pain will dull, what they really mean is, you’ll start to forget.

I know. This is a terrible reality to hear. But all the platitudes in sympathy cards and grand sentimental statements at memorials about people living on forever because they live on in your memory are just that. Platitudes. People don’t live on. Like photos printed on paper, the images of them start to fade around the edges. The stories you tell about them become “the” stories, and the photos you do have become imprinted in your head as the “real” pictures of their life.

Because everything else starts to slip away.

And so there’s a strange arc that’s drawn. While your grief for that person begins to wane and you start moving on with your life, you suddenly experience a new type of grief – you’ve created a life that doesn’t include that person.

For about three years, I’d open up the blinds in our house every morning and pass by a framed photo of my mom on the piano. I’d say, “Hi” to her and sort of carry her with me for a while. She’d pop up throughout my day.

Mom

1968

Then slowly, I stopped opening the blind on that window as frequently. I’m not sure why. I got lazy. I got busy.

I moved on.

And truly, I convinced myself that I was fine without my mother. That I was “over” her. That I’d grieved well and openly. And that I’d built a life that felt different but still…okay.

But there’s a reason why we count years based on revolutions around the sun. We don’t really need calendars to keep track of the days. Our bodies have marked certain events. And on Wednesday, mine reminded me that my heart was broken on July 3, 2009.

And I’m not sure what was worse — remembering everything that hadn’t faded or realizing how much had.

“They’re just kind of important to me,” Newt says. “They’re kind of a memory of her.”

Nan and kids

2009

Every once in a while, I get these really ridiculous ideas about having my life completely pulled together. And then something happens. Like July 3rd.

And I find myself, crying uncontrollably. Huddled inside my closet. Feeling like I never left.

And wondering if I ever really will.

Mom and me

1972

 

34 Comments… add one

vanita July 4, 2014, 4:19 am

Do we forget or accept? I guess it’s different for everyone, but for me, I’m hoping it’s accept. It was just me and mom for a lifetime. We had our ups and downs. She went through sickness and suffering. I really hope that in my case, it’s just acceptance that she’s in peace and no longer suffering and not me forgetting her. Acceptance that she’s in a better place and just not coming back. I would hate myself if I forgot the “Ups”, but hell, I was forgetting those even when she was still alive. Hugs to you my sister. Love you always. (creep u made me cry, hate you) Vanita
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 8:24 pm

If I didn’t make YOU cry, it’d mean I wasn’t doing it right. ;)

xo
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AlwaysARedhead July 4, 2014, 6:32 am

Last week, middle child was helping my sister move when she come across a towel that smelled like my mom. My mother passed away years ago, but this towel was enough to bring my daughter to tears. Death and acceptance is very difficult, for some it takes years to overcome.
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 8:22 pm

Isn’t that wild? I know exactly what you mean about the smell. I get the same thing from certain stuff. It’s not exactly “her,” but it’s her.
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Kelly DeBie July 4, 2014, 6:51 am

Sending you so much love. XOXO
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 8:21 pm

XO
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Vidya Sury July 4, 2014, 7:27 am

The memories never go away, Tammy. We just learn to live with them. My Mom passed away in Feb 2010 and I still burst out crying when I hear a song she loved, or hold one of her things. We used to share “sarees” you know – and so my cupboard is full of clothes we both wore. The utensils in my kitchen are more than 50 years old and probably will never be changed for as long as I live – they also happen to hold happy memories along with the food they served. While life goes on, and we carry on with what we have to do, I don’t believe we forget. And I am also convinced there is nothing to “get over” I find that I want to remember. I imagine I hear my Mom’s voice often. One thing that has changed, though, is – I now cry openly and no longer hide the tears.

Sending you hugs and love, girlfriend. I understand how you feel. I still have the dried petals of my Mom’s favorite flower – which she tied in a handkerchief. Sigh.
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:20 pm

Ugh. Vidya. So sorry you understand.
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Tamatha July 4, 2014, 9:06 am

Hugs and love Tammy…glad I will see you today!

Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:19 pm

No kidding.
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Cheryl S. July 4, 2014, 9:46 am

I can’t comment now. I can’t see the screen through my tears. Love you.

Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:19 pm

Love you too. :’(
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Alexa July 4, 2014, 2:10 pm

I can completely, 100% relate to this post. I’ve found myself thinking less about my darling baby, looking at her photos, visiting her grave… but I still hold on. I don’t want to let go. And I still have my moments that I fall apart. hugs to you.
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:18 pm

Ohhhhh Alexa…

All I can do with that one is heavy sigh.
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Andrea July 5, 2014, 4:40 am

Sending love to you through my tears. My mother and I are very close and I don’t like to think of her not being here. Your mom was a wonderful presence in your life and lives on through you.

Thank you for sharing this with us, Tammy. xoxo
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:16 pm

I know exactly what you mean. I used to be the same way. Thinking about her not being here seemed practically unbearable.

And moms are strange. They sort of make you nuts. But when they aren’t around, it changes everything.
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Poppy July 5, 2014, 10:15 am

You look so much like your daughter in the last picture. Thinking of you.
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:13 pm

I know. It’s a little freaky weird.
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Susan Maccarelli July 5, 2014, 12:23 pm

Oh Tammy – My husband and kids are playing in our play room right now and I am all sniffling and teary over here reading your post. They think I am nuts. It’s an Oprah moment where I read or watch something and can’t pull myself together. First the photo is beautiful and so is the story. I’m so sorry when anyone has to go through that and know it will be my turn one day too. Great post.
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:13 pm

I suck, right? Frickin’ ugly cry (quoting more Oprah).
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Cate Pedersen July 6, 2014, 3:05 pm

Darn, ya made me drip tears onto my keyboard! Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart and memories of your mother.

Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:05 pm

Sorry! Hope I helped clean it and didn’t short it out.:)
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Alison July 7, 2014, 3:48 am

My heart hurts for you. xo

Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:12 pm

You’re sweet Alison. Thanks.
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Roxanne July 10, 2014, 2:06 pm

I feel all I can do is send positive thoughts and love. There are no words. XO
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:10 pm

There never really are, right? Great meeting you finally Roxanne!
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Jennifer July 29, 2014, 12:12 pm

Oh hon… March was 12 years for my dad. Some days the pain hits so sharp and fierce it is like it happened yesterday. That’s okay. I told my therapist that I think we hang onto grief because it is the last real emotion we share with the ones that are gone. We have to keep it locked inside of us because we don’t get to make those new memories. Feel the sad. Embrace the pain when it comes. Because as corny as it sounds, it means you loved, and that you still do, and love is never, ever wrong.
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Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:09 pm

Thanks Jenn! I’m so glad we met at BlogHer, btw.
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Tara August 4, 2014, 1:16 pm

Hugs and loads of love sent your way.
-xo

Tammy Soong August 4, 2014, 6:09 pm

Thanks Tara. :)
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Jenna August 6, 2014, 10:34 am

My beloved paternal grandmother, who had a big hand in raising me, passed away on June 6 of this year. Reading this, now, strikes deep in my soul. This is a beautiful piece, and I just nodded… and nodded again… about the giving away of things she purchased. I just did a purge of clothes and wept into a shirt. A five dollar shirt. I mean, what?

So thank you. Grief is messy and hard and it’s nice to know that I’m not totally alone.

(I’m also just now getting around to subscribing to the blogs of fellow VOTYs. I’m looking forward to reading your words regularly.)

Tammy Soong August 17, 2014, 1:57 pm

Thank you so much, Jenna. I’m really looking forward to getting into your blog. I’m sort of preparing myself because I know I’ll be there for a while.
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nelsons August 17, 2014, 10:39 am

Owwwhh.. you have great memory with your mom..
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Tammy Soong August 17, 2014, 1:58 pm

I’m lucky — I know. Thanks for reading!
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