I stared at the two files on my screen: The first, an email list, ready to send for when my baby would be born, titled “Newborn Announcement” and the other, “Let people know Mom died.”
I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be facing these two huge milestones at the same time: Losing my mother to pancreatic cancer, while nine-months pregnant and about to give birth to my son.
My mother died on Friday, November 29, 2013. She passed away in Toronto, and I live in Los Angeles. Airlines have strict rules about letting full term pregnant women fly, and I couldn’t travel to be at her funeral.
I hit “Send.”
Her death announcement went out, mostly to local friends here in California. It read:
Dear Friends and Family,
As most of you know, my mother has been battling pancreatic cancer for the last nine months. Today, her pain and suffering ended.
Since I am full term pregnant and not able to fly to Canada to be there for her funeral, we are hosting a memorial service here, in our home, this Sunday, December 1st at 2 PM.
“What can I bring?” My husband’s brother asked. “Do you need anything else?” He texted again, on his way over.
My husband’s sister sat by my side; silently crying with me, arm around my shoulder. Her husband played with my two kids, while I was sitting on my brown sectional couch, staring out the same sliding door that I had been looking out just a day and a half earlier when I sat on the phone, listening to my mom take her last breaths.
“Yes,” I thought to myself. “We have had our ups and downs, my in-laws and I. But this is it. This is what family is about. Being there for each other when we need it.” I gently let out a sigh, for a moment relaxing into the thought of a silver lining on my dark cloud.
“What time are your parents getting here?” I asked my husband. “Can they bring their folding table? I think a lot of people will be bringing food, and we need the space.”
“They’re not coming,” he answered. “They went to Vegas yesterday.” Tears welled up in his eyes, and I saw that he was fighting the urge to cry. As I heard the words come out of his mouth, I felt my own lips part. My eyes met his, and after a few blank stares, I knew I had to say something.
“Oh.” Was all I could muster. I was spent, physically and emotionally; I had already turned numb. I had started feeling contractions, and though they were irregular, it added another layer of worry and anxious anticipation to a highly charged situation. I wasn’t mentally able to process the information he had just given me.
“Are you OK?” I managed to sputter, through the fog, grief, and shock.
“I will be. Go sit down,” He ordered.
As I started to get comfortable on the couch, guests started to arrive for the memorial service.
My dad, who had flown down from the Bay Area, greeted some of my friends. Everyone else from my family had flown to Toronto from their various locations for the funeral. I was grateful to him for being with me, now realizing that my dad was the only extended family member that was by my side.
As I sat in my living room, I looked around. The furniture had been rearranged to form a circle, and the people that had arrived opened a discussion sharing stories about my mom. My husband cried as he remembered her, and I watched as people’s eyes dropped to the floor, accompanying him in his grief.
My dad reminisced about their good years, before the divorce, and when it was my turn to speak, I honored my mother’s sense of family. Some friends that had gotten to know her also spoke of fond memories. I looked around the room as we were sharing. Some people were wiping away their tears, obviously overcome with emotion.
“When you marry someone, you marry his or her family,” is something my mother always used to tell me. My mother.
What would she say if she saw this? That her daughter, pregnant and away from her family, didn’t have her parents-in-law by her side. Would she think I was expecting too much of them? Was I? Shouldn’t family be the ones we rely on when the going gets tough? At least to bring a casserole, or occupy the grandkids when situations like this arise? I realized that the tears my friends were shedding were expressions of: “How can a daughter not be able to attend her own mother’s funeral at such a pivotal point in her own life … about to give birth.” I wondered, then, why I didn’t hear or feel that from my in-laws.
That night, as my husband and I lay in bed, side-by-side, he cried to me. Not over the loss of his mother-in-law, but the excruciating disappointment over his own parents. Too hurt to speak, I rested my head on his shoulder, and let him weep.
On Monday evening, when my parents-in-law returned from their vacation, my father-in-law called and asked to speak to me. I was still deep in mourning, and overrun by pregnancy emotions, so I politely declined. Since then, no mention of their lack of presence has been brought up. Neither has the death of my mom. I have not heard a single word of condolence or support. No words of solidarity, no words of comfort.
Twelve days after my mother died, my son was born.
Over time, I’ve read the quotes and books on forgiveness, and how it’s healthier to let go, even when forgiveness isn’t asked for. And in a way, I understand that death is a scary phenomenon that people cower from, but I will never understand how parents can abandon their child when they’re suffering a loss (my husband loved my mother like his own); or not being there for grandchildren when this type of experience is something that will mold their understanding of life and the universe.
The day my mother died, I lost the person who brought me into the world. I lost her presence, her wisdom, her aide, and her place in memories that had yet to be made. And on that day, I lost another woman: my mother-in-law. The woman who brought my husband into the world, the woman who could have filled in some of those gaps along the way. And I mourn both.More On