The days, they get longer now

The short days, the long nights, the cold—sometimes I feel like I’m just surviving in these waning days of the year. Especially as the calendar winds around to today’s date, December 22. Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my mother’s death.

It’s hard to write this in the midst of so much holiday gaiety (cue record scratching sound). For so many years, all of December rang hollow for me, a month to simply get through. I used to wonder where I could go that would feel completely unlike December, and where I could find a place without Christmas, which was now so indelibly linked to losing her. It is no accident that my babies were born in the lightest time of the year—I couldn’t imagine the load my heart would be forced to carry if I had a baby in the darkest days of winter.

But the years, they do march on. It tugs on my heart to know I am so far from the person my mother last knew, that 21-year-old college senior. That Maggie, Matthew and Kate, my three siblings, have now, in reverse birth order, each spent more of their lives without her than with her, and my heart aches for that loss.

It wasn’t in her plan, that’s for certain. Diagnosed in April 1992 with metastatic colon cancer, my mom bargained for life with everything she had. Disregarding her terminal diagnosis and her doctors’ urges for quality of life, she said, “Nothing? I have to do something. I have four children.”

Just 50 at the time of her diagnosis, she pursued treatment at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, followed a macrobiotic diet and underwent experimental liver surgery at Yale before entering a study at New York’s Maimonides Hospital. She set goals, adjusting them as the cancer moved in. First, to see her eight-year-old daughter become a teenager. Then see her fifteen-year-old daughter graduate from high school. Then see her twelve-year-old son get his dream fulfilled—a dog. And finally, with the window closing on her, she hoped to at least see me graduate from college. She missed it by exactly five months to the day.

And now the thing I didn’t understand fifteen years ago, is all the years we have without her. It wasn’t just the self-absorbed 21-year-old that would miss her. I didn’t understand how much the 25-year-old scientist-turned-writer would miss her when there were career choices to make. And how much the 29-year-old bride would wish she could be there for a day filled with joy, yet one that underscored her absence more than any day so far. And how, when the 32-year-old first-time mother would shed tears, they wouldn’t all be because of post-partum hormones. And then again with another baby, this time a sick one, that the 34-year-old mother would mourn her absence so deeply again.

My heart clenches when Will asks me my mother’s name, or why she isn’t here. I wish she could have met my husband and held my boys. I wish, political junkie and presidential historian that she was, that she could be here to see that the once portly governor from Arkansas is now campaigning for his wife. I wish, techie before her time that she was, that she could live in this age of the Internet, instant information and blogs! I wish she could explain why I can’t get the snowflake cookies from her cookie press to come out properly. But most of all, I just wish she was here.

A close family friend of ours said my mother’s funeral mass on December 26, 1992.  His words offered me perhaps the only comfort I have ever found in the wrong that is the mother who was taken away from her four children. Over the sounds of my eight-year-old sister sobbing in church that day, I heard him say, “She stayed with them through the darkest days of the year. She stayed, until it began to grow light again.”

And I do take comfort in that still. Because while I am still without her, and in the words of poet Dylan Thomas, I can rage all I want at the dying of the light, the days are getting longer now, and the light is coming back.

And I have a little boy who says, “Tell me who your mom is?” And I can hold him tight and say, “Her name was Carol, and she would so have loved being here with you.”


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30 Responses to “The days, they get longer now”

  1. Shannon Says:

    Love you, Anna. Thanks for this post and for leading the way.

  2. arizaphale Says:

    Oh dear, I am pulling myself together now. How beautifully written. It reminds every one of us who still has their Mum to stop whinging and enjoy every precious minute we have with them.

  3. amy Flood Says:

    Anna. i don’t even know what to say. thinking of you and your gorgeous kids!

  4. Karen Says:

    Anna, I’m so sorry for your loss and for your pain. I can’t imagine how difficult this time of year for you is, with the conflicting emotions and pulls on your heart. You’ve captured these emotions so beautifully. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  5. mikesgotnothin Says:

    I’ve read this three times and it’s better each time. There’s always a void this time of year with my dad, who made it through one last Christmas, but passed away in January. And this year will be hard with my brother. Each week at church, Aidan lights a candle for papa o and uncle tim….it’s the best. thank you for sharing!

  6. The Casual Perfectionist Says:

    Oh, Anna. My heart goes out to you… 😦

  7. L B Says:

    Anna that is beautiful. I am going to have my mom read it right now. We lost my grandmother (her mother ) unexpectedly last year, so this is the first Christmas without her, I think my mom will be comforted by this. Thank you.

  8. Amily Says:

    Anna, sending you and your family hugs. You are all so very loved.

  9. christine Says:

    oh, anna. i lost my auntie corrie — a mentor, big sister-type, and dear friend — to cancer on new year’s eve several years ago. this season is hard for me, too, and what you wrote rings into the deep, dark corners of my heart. thank you for sharing yourself with us. we are all lucky to know you.

  10. Sheila Says:

    Ah, Anna. I wish I had realized on Thursday. How difficult during as you say during a time of holiday gaiety. I am thinking of you. Thanks also for reminding me to just enjoy the holidays with my family, quirks and all. And to hug my Mom lots. Your courage and grace (and Shannon’s) inspire adn humble me. Lots of love, Sheila

  11. Molly Says:

    Anna, this was so beautiful it made me teary. I am going to share this with my mom right now.

    Happy holidays and many hugs. xoxo

  12. La Says:

    This was such a beautiful post, and so heart-wrenching and real. It seems trite to apologize to you for your loss, because I know that no words are ever going to bring her back. But the fact that you’re able to talk about this openly, this candidly and this clearly about her fifteen years later shows that she is always, always with you. I wish you peace through this holiday season.

  13. Christina Says:

    Oh Anna! I ache for you. I can’t imagine the pain of having this joyous time of year overshadowed by such a loss. Your mother was obviously an amazing person to have raised such an amazing daughter. I felt tears well up by the second paragrpah and they continued through until the end. Such a beautiful, poignant post. Many hugs are sent your way.

  14. feefifoto Says:

    What a sweet, beautiful story. I frequently tell my kids about their grandparents, prefacing my descriptions with: “They would have LOOOVED you.”

  15. Maggie Says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother. She would be so proud of the wonderful person (and mother) you have become!

  16. Maya Says:

    Anna these words are so touching. It makes me so thankful for my mother.

  17. B Says:

    The days are indeed beginning to get longer and brighter. Thanks for sharing your story, thoughts and feelings with all of us..

  18. Belindalouwho Says:

    This post moved me (not like that’s not hard to do). I read it twice. Beautiful.

  19. elizabethews Says:

    This is really beautiful, Anna. Thank you for sharing. I am constantly in awe of those around me who have lost a parent and commend you – and all of them – for being able to get out of bed each morning. This is certainly a post that I will remember for a long time.

  20. Erinne Says:

    Anna – no words can describe the sorrow I feel for you. How wonderful that your Mom had a never give up attitude and although at times I’m sure you have felt like you couldn’t go another step further sounds like you have gained that trait from her.

    We have suffered many losses in our household – and your story brought tears to my eyes remembering all the things the people that we love have missed.

    Keep strong and remember that your Mom will always be with you and a part of you. Although it’s hard I find sharing stories of my Mother-In-Law on a daily bases the best way for our son to remember her and also get to know her.

    Wishing your family a peaceful holiday season!

  21. Stephanie Says:

    Lovely post. I don’t usually tear up at blogs, but this did it. You’re lucky to have had such a wonderful mother for the time you did and it made me want to go give my mom a hug and tell her how much I love her.

    Merry Christmas, Anna!

  22. itsallabouthallie Says:

    This was a wonderful post, i have read it several times and it really touches me. Thank you for sharing.. L,Hallie

  23. Stacy Says:

    Anna, that was a heart-wrenching post about your mother. I can’t imagine how much it has pained you through the years to feel her loss. What a beautiful tribute to her, though.

  24. AML Says:

    Yet again, your words have me mopping up my tears…

    When I went to get flowers ordered for my father’s memorial service last year, the owner of the shop asked me what they were for and I told her amidst all of my sobbing. And then she told me that her father had died too and she started sobbing even more fiercely that me. I asked her when her dad had died and she said “10 years ago, and it never gets any easier”. I’m beginning to understand that feeling. As hard as it was for me, I can’t begin to imagine how tough it must have been to go through this at such a young age. Much love, AML

  25. libound Says:

    The love and bravery that flows out of you . . . well, you know. Love you, your family, and your memories.

  26. Chelle Says:

    I’m the only one in the office today. And I’m just now reading a few blogs. (Guess I need a few tissues for this one…)

    I put my mother on an airplane today. Our relationship is not a good one… And then I read your post. Oh, Anna… I’m so sorry.

    There is joy on the other side of pain. I’m not certain how to get to there, but little by little we each will find it along the way.


  27. Sarah Says:

    Wow. Tears. How courageous you are to write that, thank you.

  28. Smiling Mom Says:

    Amazingly well written. I can’t imagine.

  29. Mandy Says:

    I’m reading this late, but just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. Even though it’s been years, I don’t think you can ever not miss her. I know I would miss my mom terribly should I lose her. Share your beautiful memories of her with your children, and hopefully you can smile and remember the good times.

  30. JC Says:

    love is the answer

    the light of love inside of you for your mom continue to shine within you and out of you with your family and friends.

    love is the answer

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