Searching for my Broken Heart

It’s been six months. My mom died last summer. Although she was elderly, she was in pretty good shape, so her death, while not untimely, was unexpected . . .

We sat in the rabbi’s office and shared stories to prepare for the memorial. Everybody laughed. Everybody cried. Everybody except for me. I felt nothing. After the meeting I asked to speak to our rabbi alone. I told him something was wrong with me, that I felt no emotion – no sadness, no loss, no heartbreak. He said I was in shock.

“I’m not in shock,” I said. “I feel fine.”

“It’s sort of like being in shock,” he explained. “Your subconscious is not ready to deal with the loss of your mom.”

I had trouble with this explanation. “But that doesn’t make sense. I should be devastated. I should be sobbing. I cried more when my dog died.”

“It’s normal,” he assured me. “Your broken heart is there. You’ll find it.”

I left feeling skeptical. I went through the motions, played the role of dutiful daughter, took care of arrangements, hovered over my father, prepared food for visitors, wrote my speech. At the service I spoke with confidence, laughing in the right places and not crying when expected to do so. The tears of people in front of me, some who didn’t even know my mother, failed to move me. All I wanted to do, what I needed to do, was take care of everyone else.

The Friday night after the memorial, we went to services. We said mourners kaddish – I tried to cry. Nope. People visited me, brought treats, and gave comfort. It was nice, and I appreciated it very much, but still no tears. Yom Kipper came and went. Nothing. I took my mother’s things home with me – her nightgown, her cuddle pillow, some half-used cosmetics, the red infinity scarf she wore every day because she always was cold. It held the faintest scent of her.

I prepared myself for the worst Thanksgiving of my life and my birthday the same weekend. The proverbial first “fill-in-the-blank” without my mom. We ended up having a wonderful Thanksgiving. And my birthday, well, I don’t really remember it.

I stopped searching. Maybe I would just be one of those who would weather the death of a parent without feeling loss. Maybe I was so relieved not to be worrying about her anymore that the relief outweighed the sadness. Maybe I didn’t care as much as I thought I did. Oh God, maybe I should go back to the rabbi or see a therapist . . .

I had a plant of my mom’s. It was ugly. I think it had once been two plants that she had stuck into a pot together with a scoop of dirt. One piece of it was a wispy fern and the other a more hearty-leafed thing. I liked the pot, so I brought it home intending to plant something that flowered. But the ugly plant my mother had created seemed healthy, so I just left it alone. I did nothing to it – maybe a bit of water now and then. It thrived. Ugly as ever, it just kept living. Then one day, my dogs made a play-thing out of it. I went outside and found my mother’s ugly plant knocked over and ripped apart – the wispy fern shredded, the hearty leaves scattered across the grass. I stared at it for a moment or two, and my eyes filled with tears. The tears ran down my cheeks like streams of melting snow. The sob that came out of me scared the birds away, and my heart broke apart. I frantically gathered what was left of my mom’s plant and tried to find one root that could be salvaged. I yelled at my sweet dogs who had torn up the plant because I had left it where they could. It was all my fault. My fault the plant was dead. My fault my mother was gone.

Intellectually, I know that’s ridiculous. My mother was old. She had many health issues. But I’m a second-guesser, a “what-if” kind of girl. What if I had done just one thing differently?

Now the tears come easily. When I see her handwriting; when I walk by Chico’s and think “Mom would love that top;” when I see her little soap dish and remember how she washed her hands; when I make the cookies we used to make together.

Mother’s Day is coming. Another “first.” The first mother’s day of my life that is not about my mom. I cry just thinking about it.

17 thoughts on “Searching for my Broken Heart

  1. Robin Schwimmer

    Wow Julie! You nailed it. Everyone mourns in their own way. There is no right or wrong. Do not judge yourself one bit. It’s crazy how the smallest, silliest things can bring you to tears with no warning. All in good time. I still tear up and/or laugh when I think of my mom. Your mother was loved and you loved her and that’s all that matters. What a blessing! I love your writing because you speak from the heart. Much appreciated. Xoxo ~Robin

    Reply
  2. Jay Cutler

    So sweet, so real. The emotions from the loss of someone close come and go at the least expected times. The triggers are there but subliminal…until they’re not.

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  3. Karen Cutler

    Beautifully written, Julie! I think emotions catch up with us when we least expect it. I still haven’t outwardly mourned the loss of my mother…but after 7 years in a skilled nursing home confined to a bed, the mourning probably took place little by little. When she finally passed, it was more a feeling of relief and joy as I knew she didn’t want to live that way. Could also have had something to do with the power of Zoloft! Thanks for sharing. XO

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  4. Mary

    Julie, I can relate to every single word you have written. My Mom has been gone for over a year now and the littlest thing, the most incidental thing, is what brings tears to my eyes. As I write this, I am lying in bed at my sister’s house in KY. Sitting inches away from me on the bed table is my Mom’s small little rose-colored purse. She carried it everywhere. All its contents are exactly as they were left by her when she passed away. Sometime I zip it open just to look at the things she left inside. I never rearrange them, I just look. I have chosen to leave it in KY, since this was where I came for so many years to visit my Mom and spend time with her. Whenever I come home now, I count on it being there for me on the bed table. Somehow it makes me feel like I am coming home to her. Some little piece of her. My Mom’s purse is kind of like your Mom’ plant. If anyone ever riffled through the contents inside, destroying the order of how she left things, I would be devastated. Silly, right? But it isn’t. And I completely understand why seeing your Mom’s plant strewn across the lawn brought tears to your eyes. However painful, I truly believe we are blessed by the tears we shed as we grieve the loss of our Mothers. XX

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  5. marcie Rees

    So beautifully written, but not surprised in the least!!!! Ruth is still very much around us because I see her in you and your wonderful family!
    xoM

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  6. Paula

    Julie,
    There are no rules or timelines for grieving. Your heartfelt story will give comfort to any reader who mourns, not only for a mother, but for any loved one who is no longer with us.

    Reply
  7. Suzanne

    Jules! I’m heartbroken. You expressed your feelings just as if I were there. My eyes filled up as you shared your feelings. I’m so sorry we all have to go through such grief and separation. Keep those cherished memories close to your heart and find comfort in knowing that she knew how much you loved her.
    (Hugs)

    Suzanne

    Reply
  8. Shari Schenk

    Thank you, Julie, for sharing your personal thoughts with all of us. My mom has had health issues over the past few years, and I am so grateful every day when I hear her voice on the phone, so afraid that this day will be the last one.

    Reply
  9. Jaye-Jo

    Once the mind knows that the heart is strong enough to endure the pain of accepting loss…it doesn’t take much…even an ugly plant can do it! Thank you for sharing your feelings so generously and without caution. You make everything seem OK and normal for the rest of us. Thank you for being “you” Julie. XOXO

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  10. CHERI NEWELL

    JULIE… beautiful story about your mom! It brought tears to my eyes because my grief over losing my mom came in a similar way!!! I kept feeling like something was wrong with me because I was not sad! I was with my Mom and witnessed her seeing “Angels”… my dad… grandparents… aunts… uncles… friends… so I felt I had witnessed a miracle and knew where she was going. No more pain… no more alzheimers! There are just certain moments when something reminds me of her or I wish we could enjoy something together… then the tears come!!! I usually end up smiling because I do know I will see her again! Life is bittersweet!

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