As the first anniversary of my mother’s death approaches, I reflect on my first year without her physical presence in my life…and wonder how I ever got through it.
The thing about being considered “the strong one” is that it eventually becomes a given that I’ll “be okay” because I’ve “gotten through worse” and lived to tell the tale. And, yes, I am proud that I emerged from an entire decade’s worth of adversity a wiser person…and with my sense of humor intact. Honestly? I’m exhausted. I strive to be positive for myself and everyone around me and, for the most part, I do okay. When I still lived with my abusive ex, my neighbors across the street helped me, in every way possible, while I planned my escape. Until we chatted for hours over coffee one day, they only knew bits and pieces of what was going on and, when they heard the entire story, they both shook their heads in disbelief. The man said, “First of all, if I didn’t know you or your ex, I would think you’re making it all up. If anyone made your experience into a movie, nobody would believe it was all true. Second, how are you able to sit there, after everything you’ve been through, and be able to smile and laugh with us? Anyone else would be bitter and depressed.” I just smiled and said, “Because I’m too determined to let him win.”
That said, I repeat ~ I’m exhausted. I have reached a point where the inner strength that got me through the last decade ~ surviving abuse, obtaining a hard-earned divorce, 2 life reboots (one in the UK, when I had to move into my place and start over, and, again, when I moved back home and, again, started from scratch), supporting my daughter in the aftermath of losing her father and being abandoned by her paternal family, traveling BACK to the UK to get her and bring her back here, supporting her through her transition to a new country/education system, fighting to get her back on the right path after she took a self-destructive one and, finally, losing my mother ~ is in dangerously low supply.
As much as I try to put myself first, I rarely succeed. Quite frankly, I find the expectation [of always having to be strong]…well, unrealistic. I want to be taken care of, for a change. I want the option to be vulnerable sometimes. Not weak, just not the one expected to hold everything up. All. The. Time. Maybe we have to learn to articulate our need for a break to recharge without feeling shame or guilt. It makes me wonder why we’re expected to be strong all the time, to a point where we are reluctant to admit that we can’t ~ don’t feel like? ~ be(ing) the ones who take care of everything and everyone. Again, it’s not a weakness, but a necessity. Building a strong network of support, consisting of people who recognize the need for give and take ~ I’ll take care of things for a while, until I need a break, and then it’s someone else’s turn.
My mother, in the months before she passed away, made sure I knew she wanted me to take care of myself; she told me, every time she saw me. For 49 years, she raised, supported, guided and loved me; her role in my life was changing in such a profound way ~ watching over me from another place. She was telling me that I didn’t have to be strong all the time and that it was okay to ask for help. I believe that’s what true strength is ~ knowing when we’ve had enough and that, if we don’t take the time to recharge our batteries, we risk damaging a lot more than our pride. We needn’t feel guilty for admitting that we need a break.
My mother knew how important self-care is and always went out of her way to remind me that taking care of myself was important to her. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been rather lax about it but I think she would understand that my children have needed me to be strong for them because they have already been through so much. Now, it’s time I kept my promise to her and that’s how I’m going to honor her on the first anniversary of her passing.
No more excuses. ♥