Losing a loved one is never easy, and our contributor, Chelsea Jackson of Hazel + Scout knows that firsthand. When she unexpectedly lost her mother, the idea of being a good mother to her daughter without a mother of her own was something that took a long time to comprehend. Since then, she’s learned several life lessons, including the importance of photographs to bring back memories of good times. She now tries to capture as many moments, both big and small, as she can for her own daughter to treasure someday. Read her touching story below.
When my mom passed away, I think I must have spent entire nights awake, scouring the internet for articles about grief and how to move forward when your world changes in the blink of an eye. Those first few days, with my whole family huddled under one roof, I stayed awake well after everyone else, exhausted by the sheer emotional wear and tear of the insurmountable task at hand, but unable to quiet my mind long enough to doze off. My husband and I had just made the grueling 12-hour trip from home and driven well into the night with our daughter in tow, but I couldn’t rest. How could I? I spun in circles in my head, pirouetting through thoughts like, “What do I do now?” and “How can I possibly figure out how to be someone’s mother when I have so much more to learn and my teacher is gone?”
This year has been a hard one, to say the least. What started as a normal day in early February (during which I made the usual journey through the school carpool line and busied myself with emails) turned out to be one of those little curveballs that life so enjoys throwing you at inopportune moments. Although she’d been suffering with autoimmune disease for much of her life, my mom had celebrated her 46th birthday just days earlier and her passing was mostly a surprise. That morning however, I knew before I picked up the phone what news I’d be met with on the other line. Sometimes I think I might’ve imagined my clairvoyance, but mostly I know it must have been daughter’s intuition. A leftover link that mothers only share with their daughters since we’d shared everything from a body (hers) to traumatic teenage breakups (mine) over the years. I steeled myself before answering, said “Hi Dad,” and immediately began the rest of my life as a woman navigating the world without a mom.
For all of her faults, there is no question that my mom was good at being a mother. She was a parent-educator, spending her working years helping families through the learning curve of raising children and during her time as a stay-at-home mom, applying that same knowledge to her own two girls. My husband and I started our own family early, becoming pregnant with our daughter when I was just 20 years old. Though a lot about being a mom at such a young age terrified me, I never doubted that a well of wisdom was always no more than a call away. Now, with a big loss under my belt and a lot left to learn (do we ever really stop learning how to parent?), I’m starting to see that my mom’s death has given me something magical. It’s made the experience of having a daughter a million times sweeter and brought me closer to both my own little girl and the memories I have of my childhood.
I’m starting to see that my mom’s death has given me something magical. It’s made the experience of having a daughter a million times sweeter and brought me closer to both my own little girl and the memories I have of my childhood.
In addition to all of the sad stuff (which definitely has its own role to play to grieving), a funny thing happens when something major goes wrong, doesn’t it? Suddenly we savor the other things in life with a fervor that just wasn’t there before. Suddenly I want only to spend quality, unplugged time holding hands with my rapidly growing 6-year-old and giving her a full memory bank to withdraw from later. I’m finding family photos to be more precious because I spend so much time looking back on visual reminders of a time when my mom was here. I’ve started taking more unfiltered snaps of messy after-school evenings. Yes, even the ones where I look like hell. Where I might’ve deleted those photos in the past, I’ll hold onto them now until the day comes when my daughter will want nothing more than to look back on grainy moments when we danced in the kitchen or celebrated her fifth missing tooth. She’ll look at the pictures one day and remember the funny way I used to pile all of my hair on top of my head or how soft my hands were and smile.
In a way, I’m grateful that I got to experience a loss like this one from both a daughter’s perspective and the vantage point of figuring out how to be somebody’s mother. It makes me better able to process it all and gives me the superpower of knowing just what my mom would want for me to take away from the experience. I know what she’d say because I know what I’d want my daughter to know. I’d want her to know that even though our time together could possibly be cut short, I won’t ever really leave her. I’ll exist in all those unflattering pictures and in the songs that get stuck in her head. She’ll hear my voice on the days when she’s hard on herself or when she has something to celebrate. I’d want her to continue to forge ahead happily and not to dwell on what’s missing. I would want her to dredge up memories of aching belly laughs and listening to books on tape in the dark together.
During the moments that I’m grasping at memories for some kind of direction, I remember that at some point, I have to trust that I absorbed enough of my mother while she was here. The things she did and the things she taught me have become ingrained in me, like the songs you try not to memorize from the radio or your favorite lines from films you’ve seen 100 times. She is a part of me like I will one day be a part of my daughter. Knowing this gives me peace, and I think it probably gave my mom peace, too.