Lessons Learned in Loss and Love

My stepmother and I had a complicated relationship. This was mostly due to her mental illnesses, the worst of which was her crippling anxiety. Because of that, we had a lot of discontent in our family. It’s hard in the moments to know how to handle things sometimes. Mental illness causes so many hurdles and problems for the people around us in addition to ourselves. I know this first hand since I, too, suffer from anxiety and OCD. Luckily I have recently found a medication that has helped immensely. My stepmom never got that lucky. It wasn’t for lack of trying, believe me. She tried every medication they suggested, tried every self-help book and article’s advice. Nothing helped. When her anxiety wasn’t at it’s worst, usually in the evenings, she would come up with fun things she wanted to do, ideas she wanted to try, and goals she hoped to accomplish. But come morning, the anxiety would come back, rendering her incapable.

A lot of that I didn’t know. When she was alive I only saw the frustration that she caused us. I was crippled by the abuse she inflicted on me, and my brother, in our childhood. In adulthood I didn’t know if she was trying hard enough to push past her anxiety. I didn’t understand why she was so controlling of every aspect of everything. I knew she had anxiety but I didn’t really understand how hers was different from mine. A year and a half ago, she died. She was young, only 61, and she had a sudden heart attack. It was a shock to everyone, and in the moments, and days, leading up to her death, I prayed that she would live. I hoped that maybe she would get a reset. I hoped that, while in a medically induced coma, her brain would rewire and she would wake up without that part of her. Maybe she would get another chance – we all would. But she never woke up.

The loss hit me harder than I could have ever imagined, and I realized I was grieving for many, many things. One of them being that we never had the relationship that we both wanted. Another being that she didn’t get to live the life that she had always wanted. And by talking more with my father, by going through her things, I got to know her in death, feel closer to her and more understanding of her, better than I could in life. I consider this a huge blessing and I have faith and hope that she knows it. I hope she has heard me and seen me and knows that I love her, and that I learned to understand her. Finally.

Her anxiety led to a lot of things, and one of them was the beginning signs of hoarding – which is a facet of mental illness. She would purchase things in hopes of one day using them, but never did. When she died my dad asked me to go through the things she had placed in my old bedroom. Bags of brand new items, just sitting there in their bags, with their original receipts, unused. Clothing, home decor items, sunglasses, even presents for my children. Things she bought for the future she hoped for – the one she never got. We donated a lot of the items, some we gave to family members and close friends, but some we kept. Some of them I kept, to have a connection to her I suppose. But also so that they would be used. Be cherished. She bought these things because she loved them but she saved them. She set them aside to use for a day that never came.

Just the other day I was telling my husband that I wanted to get new silverware. We have had ours for many, many years. We didn’t get any because he didn’t want to spend the money when the silverware we have works just fine, albeit a little bent and scratched. Yesterday my dad stopped by and dropped off a huge set of silverware – 80 pieces. It includes serving sets and dessert forks, and it’s truly lovely. Brand-new and still in the box. She had bought it to use one day. A few Christmases ago I bought her a gorgeous silverware box to put her new silverware in. It was something she said she wanted and must have purchased the silverware around that time. When my dad dropped off the silverware he also dropped off that box – and once again I was thrown into that feeling of missing her. And of feeling so sad that she never got to do all of the things that she wanted to. To never use all of the beautiful things that she bought.

So I got our “nice” silverware set and brought it into the kitchen to use as our “new” everyday set. And her lovely set is out of it’s packaging and in the wooden box I bought for her years ago. It will be in our dining room and we will use it, each time in remembrance of her. In addition to learning more about her and coming to a better understanding of her, I have been able to forgive her. And with that, I have the relationship, and love for her, that we couldn’t get to while she was here. I continue to grieve and have cried while writing this – but I do so with less regret and more compassion. She always loved my writing and was so proud of me when I started this blog. I hope that wherever she is she will see this and know how I feel. And that I am cherishing her things like she never could. And every time I use that silverware, look at that box, wear her sunglasses, or let my eyes fall upon some of the decorative items my dad has dropped off over time, I’ll think of her. And I’ll remember not to wait for the right time to use something or to do something. I’ll do it now. I think that’s how she’d tell me to live. I love you Mom. And I miss you. So many of us do.

Mom’s silverware in her Reed & Barton box

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