On Loss & Grief & the Memory of my Mother

Three years ago today, my mom passed away. Today, November 10th, also happens to be the global awareness day for her hard-to-identify illness: NET Cancer

I wanted to take a moment to explain my experience with the process of grief: how I've come to realize it is different for everyone, and how the depth of the grief is equal to the depth of the love for the person lost. I also wanted to take a moment to celebrate my mom. 

Mom

My mother was everyone's best friend. She was my best friend. She was fun, generous, and curious. She made you feel important.

My mother, Pat, went to school for interior design in her 50s. She planned on starting her family five years after she married my dad, but instead had me 9 months after the wedding! She was a quitter (smoking) and had a love of learning. She learned a little bit of everything: pilates, cooking classes at the CIA, an Interior Design diploma program, cross-stitching, skiing, how to drive (she got her license at 25), and everything there is to know about Irish bogs, to name a few,

She raised three daughters with very different personalities, and two well-rounded sons. In the five of us, she instilled a strong Catholic faith, a love of Brooklyn, and the importance of family. She was our home. And she really knew how to throw a party.

Grief & The Healing Process

Loss

Losing my mom was not supposed to happen this soon. She went from diagnosis to death in about a month. I was not prepared; I was 28. But, losing a parent is not unique, and grief in general, even less so. In the past few years, what I've learned about grief is that it is experienced distinctly, from individual to individual. The same loss - of a mother - is experienced differently and even the loss of the same mother is experienced differently between me and my siblings. 

Surrounding her illness and death, my dad, my siblings and I closed ranks. The outpouring of love for my mom and my family was staggering. But, in our private grief, we protected and supported one another as best we could. In our own ways, we have struggled and we have begun to emerge from our homesickness together. 

Grief

As the grieving process progressed, I found less enjoyment in things I used to do. At first, I would wonder, in a crowded room, how many have felt what I am feeling. At times, I have not known what I wanted or needed. I was disoriented. I have struggled with the realization that I will never know Patricia as a complete woman - I can't ask her the questions a daughter asks. 

Eventually, I found myself growing accustomed to being aware of her absence. It has started being less surprising. I've started trying new things - I fell in love; I started racing cars; I followed in her footsteps to complete the same Interior Design program; I decided to take this show on the road.  

Three years in, I feel the loss of my mother most acutely when thinking of milestones: she won't attend, or help plan, my wedding, she won't know any of her grandchildren (and worse, they won't know her), she won't ever meet Joe. It is hard to realize I've been more decisive and adventurous since she has been gone. It's hard because the decisions I've been making about my present and my future are directly influenced by her absence; it's hard because these decisions may have been different based on her presence or may not have happened at all. 

Acceptance

Her death has forever changed me. I am not the same daughter I was before she died, and I don't know that I'm the same daughter I would have been if she were still with us. I must be in the stage they call Acceptance now. But it's not the loss that I'm accepting, it's not the trauma. I've come to accept my sadness and the affect this grief has had on me. I've come to accept that I will never get used to missing her. I will continue moving forward with her absence as a permanent presence. My grief is part of my story now, but it's a small part. 

Remembrance

Since she died, the many wonderful ways in which my mother has been honored have been overwhelming:

  • The best way, of course, is my cousin's son - born the summer after she passed - named for her: Patrick 

  • Two days after she died, November 12, 2012, a Flag was flown over the US Capitol Building in her honor by Congressman Peter King

  • Author Paul McKellips dedicated his 2013 novel (a political thriller called Box 731) to her

  • St. Francis Prep made her an Honorary Grad and the good people at the Prep dedicated a Memorial Bench in her honor

  • SCO Family of Services started a fund in her honor to benefit a deserving college-bound student in their programs: The Pat Brown Scholarship

  • St. Peter's (our parish) honored her during their annual event 

  • A 100,000 ton cargo vessel was commissioned as the PATBROWN in 2013 

  • Her name was inscribed on the spire at the top of the Freedom Tower at the WTC by a group of wounded warriors

  • Her favorite charity, No Greater Sacrifice, a non-profit dedicated to the children of our Nation’s fallen & severely wounded, renamed it's Liberty Award: The Patricia A. Brown Liberty Award - given to individuals that continue to do good and positively impact others, recognizing her as “an Inspiration to do Good”

My sisters and I presenting the 2013 Patricia A. Brown Liberty Award

My sisters and I presenting the 2013 Patricia A. Brown Liberty Award

Moving On

She would be amazed at all the ways she is being remembered, and she would be comforted, as I am, at the amount of people who remember her every day. She wouldn't expect any less than to be remembered for the good times, remembered with a laugh. 

I believe my mom would be excited for the changes I have planned. I know she would be happy that my siblings and I are able to continue expanding into adulthood, creating relationships, and trying new things. Most importantly, she would be proud of us for doing all of this with happy remembrance of her and a healthy acceptance of her loss.

It is hard to try to explain to someone who didn't know her how special she was. My only hope is that I might be able to serve as a clue to what they're missing. If I'm able to have a fraction of the effect on people that she had, I would be thrilled. 

Prevention

Since today is NET Cancer Day, I'll end with this message:

Neuroendocrine Tumors are often misdiagnosed. If NET Cancer is found in early stages, it is possible to survive. The time to diagnosis is critical. If you don't suspect it, you can't detect it - in the cancer world, neuroendocrine tumors are the zebras