This blog post originally published on 1/21/19 and was updated on 8/1/19
I’m finally to a point in my blog editorial calendar where nothing is scheduled, sponsored or on deadline. It’s just me today. Sitting here. Trying to find the words. Mom passed away on August 1, 2018 and nothing has been the same since it happened. While I’m still trying to process it all, I find it helpful to write my daily blog and keep moving forward. And I feel that I need to be 100% honest with you. Let’s talk about How to Move Forward after Losing a Parent (or any loved one).
Before I dive into this topic, I know that I typically don’t get too personal on here. I often wonder how I became a successful blogger since I’m really a private person. Typically you will see FASHION, BEAUTY, LIFESTYLE and TRAVEL posts on here. Nothing too heavy. There is another personal blog post that you really seemed to like titled The Secret I’ve Been Keeping about my scare with skin cancer. You really identified with that one and many of you stopped me in person to thank me for helping you. So it is with that intent that I write today’s blog post.
Moving Forward After Losing a Parent
Death is inevitable, isn’t it? It’s certain to happen as it is unavoidable. I remember reading a story about how to deal with the loss of a pet and the writer matter-of-factly wrote “the minute you pick up your kitten or puppy the clock starts ticking as you know the pet will have a life cycle and ultimately die”. I remember thinking that although that is indeed true, it’s a terrible way to approach things. How morbid and sad.
The reason I tell you this is Mom really began this journey back in November 2015 when she became very ill. This blog post The Sandwich Generation is what I wrote at the time because I stepped in to help Mom and Dad sell their house and move to a retirement community after she was in the hospital for four months. I guess in the back of my mind, I knew this day was coming since the entire 2015 ordeal was due to a fatty liver. But no matter how healthy or sick your parents are, you will never be prepared for the day they leave you. NEVER!
Once I moved them into the retirement community in May of 2016, our new normal was adjusting to Mom in a wheelchair and seeing my parents when we could. We would have them over to our house for family gatherings and pop by their place too. I called them to chit-chat and get updates 2-3 per week and we saw them on average once a week. My parents are extremely proud of me and our entire family but they really don’t get the “blogger thing”. They understand that I work but they really don’t fully understand exactly what I do. Believe me, its hard for a lot of my friends to understand it too.
Mom’s Gradual Health Decline
Mom’s life revolved around many doctor appointments to monitor her heath. She would always tell me that everything was fine and the doctors said she was great. I knew better. This was someone who had Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and a bevy of other medical problems. You should have seen the medications list. Even given all of this, she was the happiest person you would encounter. Always joyful and sharp as a tack. She memorized everyone’s birthdays and could at any time tell you how old any family member was. She LIVED for her grandchildren and all of their activities. I loved her spirit, infectious laugh, sharp wit, German accent (she never lost it even though she moved to the US in 1963) and quirky ways. Mom would send a birthday card, anniversary card, any kind of card and it would be sealed with a gazillion stickers on the back. It was her thing! I called her Mrs. Hallmark because she had a card for any occasion.
Pete and I had just returned from a trip to Sonoma in late July and I resumed my regular work and shoot schedule. I had called my parents a few days before the incident and everything seemed fine. But I noticed that when I asked how things were going, her answer was “Oh you know… So So”, which was not her normal answer. I was shooting with my photographer Audrie Dollins on Wednesday morning August 1 at 9:00 AM. This was a weird day for me to shoot on but we had rescheduled due to heavy rain that Monday.
During the shoot Dad called me to say that Mom had a rough night and was having difficulty breathing. In my mind I thought it couldn’t be too bad because he would have called 911 (I could also hear Mom chatting in the back so I knew she was breathing). I left my shoot and headed to their place. En route I told Dad that I thought she should go to the hospital so I planned to just whiz by, pick her up and keep going. When I arrived I knew something was terribly wrong. She was pale as a ghost and barely coherent. I rushed her to the emergency room and I will never forget this car ride. While driving I asked her what was wrong and how long had she been feeling this way. She matter of factly answered me “Tanya, I am dying.”
When Everything Hit Rock Bottom
I will save you all the horrible details of what happened once we got there. If you can envision an ER scene where you start with a bunch of doctors ordering every test known to exist, followed by “we would like to run this, try this, to offset this, in case of this and does she have a DNR” all while hooked up to machines with bells and alarms going off. By 3:00 PM my mother passed away. I witnessed it all along with my Dad. In the end there were at least 10 medical professionals in the room going through heroic efforts to save her life. I will tell you that when you observe a devastating event like this, you immediately go into shock. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience. I remember being there but it feels like I was watching a clip from the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. Pete was there for the end and sheltered me away knowing what the outcome was going to be.
The rest of the afternoon at the hospital was a blur. Something about what would you like for us to do with the body, funeral arrangements, burial site, SSN, proper spelling of her middle name and so on. Pete had to take over because Dad and I were simply incapable of giving answers. Do you want to know what was surreal? I drove home by myself in my car completely numb. Just hours before I had her in the passenger seat with me and now no one was sitting there. No one.
Loss is Hard
No matter what your relationship is with your parents (or any loved one), nothing will prepare you for their departure. I was in shock for days following her death but got through the mechanical part of letting the kids know and calling relatives. The next day I called the German relatives and spoke my best Germlish (German and English mixture) to convey the news. I spent 24 hours in a tailspin thinking I needed to fly her body to Germany for a funeral because that’s what she would have wanted (note: my parents did not make any arrangements). Pete was the voice of reason throughout all of this and we determined it was best to bury her here so that Mom and Dad could be buried together. Thank God for Pete!
There are so many family members and dear friends that stepped in and I will forever be grateful. Food showed up immediately and this is so helpful. Cooking is the last thing anyone wants to do. Pete and I planned all the funeral arrangements and just kept Dad in the loop. The time between her death and burial seemed unbearable. Nighttime was the worst for me as I would cry hysterically questioning everything about the end of her life. Why didn’t I catch her declining health sooner? Why didn’t I do more? WHY? Fortunately, I got in to my therapists office quickly and she helped me start to process through it (and is still helping me).
Finding Happiness after Losing a Loved One
Why am I writing this now? My birthday was on January 12 and it is the first time she didn’t call me to say “Happy Birthday Tanya”. And her birthday was January 18. I couldn’t pick up the phone and call her to wish her Happy Birthday. When we did this we would speak German and say “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag”. Instead I took Dad to her grave and we brought her flowers. She would have been 78.
Believe me, 2018 was the most difficult year of my life. Her death shook me to my core. There were many times that I wanted to give up and simply shut down the blog. To say “that’s it folks – the end”. But then I found that getting up each day and writing content gave me some purpose, a reason to move forward and stay busy after losing a parent. In essence, you saved me. And for that I am thankful!
I’ve learned a lot through this process and have compiled a list that might be helpful to others. I’m also sharing some photos and memories with you. If you have been through this and have some words of wisdom I would love a comment today. Posting this picture on Instagram and the flood of sweet messages gave me the courage to write this blog post. By the way, Dad is finally doing ok but it’s been a difficult journey of depression and having to move him to Assisted Living. That is another blog post for another time (see update 8/1/19 below).
To my blog readers: I appreciate you. I love you. Thank you for listening.
Mom, I love you! xoxo – Tanya
P.S. We will be back to our regular scheduled programming tomorrow. If you feel this was helpful, please share this post.
LIFE AFTER LOSING A PARENT UPDATE 8/1/19:
It’s been one full year since Mom left this earth. Since we went through losing a parent. And while I do think of her every single day, I can say that time is indeed helping heal the enormous hole left in my heart after losing a parent. Her infectious laugh, mannerisms, incorrect pronunciations of words like fajitas (she would pronounce the “j” and call it fajeetas), her German accent that she never seemed to lose even though we have lived in the U.S. forever, and her incorrect sentence structure due to German being her native language are things I still miss. But then my heart is filled with joy I think of how proud she would be of Taylor and P.J. and the responsible, kind and loving mature adults they have become. Which constantly makes me miss calling her and telling her about their successes and I’m terribly sad that she will never see their future children.
Selfishly, I’m disappointed that we will never have a four generation picture (her, me, Taylor/PJ, their children). I have two of them! 1.) On my Dad’s side: My Great Grandma, Grandma Smith, Mom and Me (when I was about 5 or 6 ears old) and 2.) On my Mom’s side: My Oma, Mom, Me and Taylor (when she was 2 years old and we visited Germany). I know she would have loved Ruby Lou as she was a cat person. I think of Mom especially now since I am planning our trip back to Germany and her hometown of Oberammergau when we visit for the Passion Play in May 2020. I will be so happy to see her family members!
How Dad is Coping
Many of you have asked how my Dad is doing so I thought this was a good time to amend the blog post. By November 2018, Dad sank into a deep depression that wasn’t completely unexpected. They had been married for 54 years and were not very social so the two of them were joined at the hip. When she died, he was lost! Pete and I were on this trip in Disney World when I got a call from the Independent Living facility that he had been rushed to the ER. After frantic phone calls and talking to doctors, we assessed that he must have had a panic attack from anxiety and depression.
In hindsight, I should have just stepped in and taken over when Mom passed away. It became very apparent that he could barely get through the day and when we visited him, we would just start crying. This was a man in deep despair. I called UTSW and had him admitted for depression. It’s probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. He was there for a month and in that time the doctors helped assess that he really didn’t need to live alone anymore. Since all of our bedrooms are upstairs, moving in with us was really not an option. In the time he was hospitalized, I gained control over all their finances and legal matters. I made the executive decision to move him and never have him go back to the home he shared with Mom.
I want to thank all my family and friends for being so supportive during this time of crisis. Alicia W. was so helpful in finding resources for me to clean out their home and sell/donate furniture. Mary E. stepped right in and gave me the name of her mover as well as helped me organize and clean out their old place and set up his new place. Both of them are long time friends with a can-do spirit (they happen to have amazing blogs too)! The rings I am holding in the top picture are some of the things I kept of hers along with my Oma’s china and a few things from Germany. I have all of her Dinderlkleid’s. Precious keepsakes to remind me of Mom.
I immediately contacted Paul Markowitz at Senior Living Specialist (214-929-5055) he quickly helped me find three Assisted Living communities to tour. If you are in need of senior living needs, I highly recommend using Paul! He is free to you and helps you discern all of the information while teeing up the tours and visits. He also discusses budgets, timelines and care needs. I will tell you that touring facilities is the quickest way to make a decision. You will know immediately when you find the right place based on how it looks and feels.
In the end, we decided on a wonderful Assisted Living Community (The Forum Park Lane) that is within three miles of our house and easy for us to get to. Dad is well cared for with all meals prepared and meds administered to him. Pete and I sold his car as his dementia was getting worse with the depression. The good news is he is now on a great schedule, well cared for and fed and he is taking his meds daily at the exact time he is supposed to. More importantly, it is peace of mind for us especially when we travel. Staff members have eyes on him daily due to medication administration and meal service. A huge shout out to Eboni Smith for always keeping me in the loop! Funny enough, it’s almost like having a young child in preschool. I get reports, updates and a phone call if there is any type of concern from the facility director.
Life is that way. In the end, your parents become the child that you help care for.
P.S. Thank you for your outpouring of love and support through all of your comments below. It helps me tremendously to see that I am not the only one going through this process of losing a parent!
Tips on How to Move forward After Losing a Parent
Face your Feelings and Forgive Yourself
Realize that your relationship wasn’t perfect and don’t beat yourself up over it. I spent a lot of time trying to recall my last conversation with my Mom. Was I caring enough in the ER? Did I tell her “I love you”? You are going to experience a range of emotions after losing a parent. Let them come up and process through them. Don’t try to hold everything in.
I sought help from a therapist immediately. She helped explain that I would work through all the stages of grief but that it would not be linear. That the various stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) would come in waves and not always be sequential. Boy was she right! Friends and family can also be immensely helpful during this time. There are good days and bad days the come after losing a parent. Especially days where I am in tears for what seems like no reason. It’s ok and part of the process of healing.
Take time out and take care of YOU
It’s easy to get lost in the endless To-Do list after losing a parent or any loved one. Funeral arrangements, legal and financial matters – it can all be physically and mentally exhausting. I was running on fumes during those early weeks because I couldn’t sleep. I bet my blog posts in August are sub par because I was just trying to get through each day. Get rest and know when to refuel yourself. And if friends and family reach out to help you, let them!
Recovery is different for every person once they’ve experienced losing a parent or loved one. There is no timeline to this process. Time does help but it does not erase the pain. Own your feelings and don’t dismiss them. You will also notice that people who have been through this are your best allies. Embrace them!
Enjoy the precious memories
I still swell up with tears when anyone asks me about Mom. I am sobbing just writing this post about losing a parent. However, I know that eventually I will be able to talk freely about her and enjoy all the memories we had. Trips to Germany, funny stories, childhood memories and more. I’m so grateful that she was there for Taylor and Jeff’s wedding. She had such a great time that night!
Accept the new you
Life will never be the same, it will be different. Somehow, the little things in life aren’t as important. Deadlines, being late for an event, over scheduling myself, being left off of an event guest list – all things that used to annoy me seem so trivial now. When you experience losing a parent or loved one, material things are no longer important, experiences and time are! Accept the new you and keep moving forward. It will get better. And note: All the holidays are hard, especially the first ones without your loved one present.
Pictures of Mom
This is her “cast” picture from the 1950 Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. She played an angel.
10 years later, she was in the crowd scene for the 1960 Passion Play. Being in the Passion Play cast is something only residents of the town of Oberammergau, Germany are allowed to do. We plan to attend the 2020 play.
Mother’s Day a couple of years ago. She loved to celebrate holidays.
I posted this picture in this blog post. It’s worth repeating. Hello 1986. They were visiting me at college.
I am guessing that this might have been us celebrating someone’s birthday. But I can tell it’s before any health issues happened. This is how I like to remember her.
This was from our trip to Germany in 2015. It would be her last time to visit her hometown of Oberammergau, Germany. I’m so grateful that we did this as a Mom/Daughter trip. That’s my aunt in the picture with us.
Our celebrations seemed to always be centered around food.
She LOVED celebrating all of the grandkids activities, achievements and milestones. I know she would be so proud of the amazing adults they have become.
I snapped this last Friday, January 18. Happy Birthday Mom!
Here’s a picture from the shoot I was on the morning of August 1, 2018 (blog post here). I got the phone call from Dad that morning. Things went downhill quickly after this photography session.
This is one of the last pictures we have of Mom. May 2018 at Taylor and Jeff’s wedding.
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Have you experienced losing a parent or loved one? If so, what tips have you used to move forward? Share in a comment below.