Missing my mom

My mother, Audrey Nemeth, is on the right.
She is pictured here with my Auntie Joy.

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death.  It was on October 10, 2004, that she passed away from emphysema.  You know, as a mother, I don’t fear dying, but I do fear leaving my children, not being able to be there for them when they need me.  I have this idea that when life breaks their hearts, I need to be there for them.  I have this idea that I can give them a hug and it will make them feel better.  As they grow up, I am actually discovering that I don’t have that magic power anymore.  Shockingly, when they are sad they may even want me to leave them alone.  And I guess this is right, whether I like it or not. 

One thing I was always aware of, after Michaela was kidnapped, was that my mother suffered a double burden.  She had her own deep grief over what had happened to Michaela, and on top of that she suffered because her daughter’s heart was broken as well.  The day of Michaela’s kidnapping she came to my house and went home that night.  What an awful night it was, though, and she returned the next morning and stayed for weeks, sleeping on my couch with broken springs.  She was waiting with us for Michaela to come home, but she was there also because she wanted to try to keep me from having to endure another night like that first awful, horrible, terrible night.

In her last years, when she knew that she wouldn’t be with me for much longer, she actually had the same concerns for me that I have for my children.  She really wanted me to find another mother figure in my life.  But that’s just silly.  That’s just impossible.  There are people in my life who love me, but the difference between the way they love me and the way my mother loved me is that my mother is probably the only person in whose life and heart I came first.  Cause that’s the way it is, isn’t it?  I know that deeply now that I no longer have that in my life.

Gosh, I just don’t know why I am having such a difficult time putting what I mean to say into words.  A few years ago, I broke my ankle, and it required surgery to put in a metal plate.  I was really out of commission for ten weeks.  I was unable to put any weight at all on that foot, and I wasn’t able to be up for long periods of time because when my ankle wasn’t elevated it would swell uncomfortably within the cast.  I was stuck at home and not able to do a lot without much difficulty.  So my family, who was used to having me do for them, suddenly had to do for me.  They rose in varying degrees to the challenge, but in varying degrees I also really felt that they didn’t want to be having to do these things for me.  I was a kind of a bother, you know.  I remember one day sitting in the bathroom crying over this, but what I was really crying for was my mother.  I felt like a burden to my family, and I felt as though that burden was unwelcome.  I didn’t even want to ask for anything from them anymore.  And my heart went out to my mother, and I couldn’t help wonder if she had sat and wept like that.  She’d never been a complainer.  How many things had she longed for help with?  How many ways had I let her down? 

I really look back on those last years with my mother as absolutely the most precious in my life.  I have this deep love for the elderly, because when I see them I see my mother, and I have to restrain myself to keep from reaching out and hugging them.  I have said to people who are caring for their ill or elderly parents, treasure this time and do everything you can for them.  When you think you can’t do it one more time, when you think you can’t give one more minute, when the very thought that this is an imposition even dares to cross your mind, shake it off.  The time you have to do this is brief, and you will not get a second chance to make up for what you didn’t do.  So pour your heart into it, do it with love and treat your parents as though they are the most important thing to you, treat them as though caring for them is as much of a joy and delight to you as caring for you was to them.  Just love them, freely and fully, as they have loved you.  Love them joyfully, so that you will bring joy to their lives.  They are not a burden.  They are a gift.  Let them know that always!

I really thought my mother would live forever.  She’d survived a couple of crises I’d thought she wouldn’t, pneumonia and a fall which had resulted in a cracked rib and punctured lung — both considerably dangerous for someone with advanced emphysema.  I had asked her doctor several times how long she had to live, and had not received an answer.  On her last visit to her pulmonary specialist, he said, “Okay, that’s fine. We don’t need to see you again for six months.”  She’d thought that was good, that it meant she was doing well.  In fact, she died just a couple of weeks later.  At her last hospitalization, that doctor told me that her lung function had been negligible at that visit.  After she had been admitted to the hospital with an oxygen level in the 70’s he thought it over and said that if I wanted him to he would sign a family leave authorization for me.  There is a provision, at least in California, which allows you to take a leave from work to care for an ill or disabled parent or family member.  And how I wish I’d been able to do that.  How I wish that the doctor had leveled with me.  It is true, there are things we cannot do forever, there are things in our life we can’t bring to a grinding halt for an extended period of time.  But when the time left is short, we can do anything.  We can drop everything.  I’d had a difficult time trying to force the doctors to tell me how much longer my mother had to live, because I felt guilty even suggesting that she was going to die at all.  So let me make this just one more thing in my life that the rest of the world can learn from.  Corner those doctors.  Make them be honest with you.  And do everything you can for your parents, or for your husband or wife, your brother or sister or aunt or uncle, or whoever it is who loves you, who needs you.  When you give your heart away, you always get it back bigger and better.

My mother’s death was peaceful.  She had worried, and so had I, about what it would be like to die from emphysema.  We had both had fearful visions of her gasping for air like a fish out of water.  But I’d worked with a woman whose mother had died from emphysema and I’d asked her what it was like.  “It was very peaceful,” she’d said.  “She just got more and more tired until one day she was too tired to get up. We took her to the hospital, and she died three days later.”  And I have to tell you, that is exactly what happened to my mother.  She was in the hospital for two days, during which I sat by her bedside, holding her hand and watering it with my tears.  I’m sure that was not helpful for her.  She was unconscious for the most part, waking only a few times.  I asked her, “are you going to get better?”  I wanted her to tell me that she was not going to live.  I wanted to be able to say goodbye, to release her, but she wanted to make me feel better, so she said yes, she was going to get better.  She woke another time and started to try to say something, but turned her attention instead to my children, who had come to visit, to smile at them and hold their hands.  As time went by, she had been breathing through her mouth for a couple of days without being able to take in any liquids, and I knew that had to be uncomfortable.  Her general practioner had been in that morning, and he’d said she didn’t have long, that the way she was breathing indicated that her organs were shutting down.

Me sitting by her bedside crying had probably not been very helpful.  I knew how concerned she was to be leaving me.  Finally, I took her hand and wept more tears on it, but I told her, “I don’t want you to suffer anymore.  It’s okay for you to go now.  You don’t have to worry about me, because I will always have you with me in my heart.”  Less than five minutes later I looked up.  There had been a change in the room, and I realized it had become silent.  My mother’s labored breathing had stopped.  She was gone. 

When I told the nurse, she asked me if I wanted to go back in and sit with my mother.  I didn’t know anything about this, but I said yes.  My husband and my children were not there at the time, but I called them and they came, and we all sat there with my mother.  It was amazing, because in those minutes after she died, she became perfect.  She’d always been beautiful, but every imperfection left her skin and she became even more beautiful than she’d been in life.  I thought that was symbolic, leaving the imperfections of this life for the perfection of her new life. 

I’d thought it would be easy losing my mother compared to losing my daughter.  I’d thought the grief would be nothing like it.  But I was wrong.  The morning after my mother died, I woke myself sobbing in my sleep, and when I became conscious, the sobbing got worse.  You just cannot quantify loss.  You can’t say “I miss this, or I miss that,” or say that it hurts for this reason or that reason.  It just hurts. 

In accordance with her wishes, my mother was cremated.  We didn’t have a memorial service.  I don’t know how people can handle all that formality in the midst of that kind of grief.  I could barely get myself up, and I really didn’t want to see a lot of people.  I wanted to be alone to grieve.  After a few days, the Neptune Society returned her ashes to me in a golden box.  I made a reservation for their boat for November 19th of that year, which was the 16th anniversary of Michaela’s kidnapping.  Our immediate family went out on that day and scattered my mother’s ashes just outside the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We each threw a bouquet of flowers into the water for my mother, and a bouquet for Michaela.  This was Before Hope.  My mother had believed that when she died, she would probably be reunited with Michaela.  I had told her, “If you see Michaela, will you tell her that I love her?”  And she had said, “Yes, I will. I will tell her.”  I think sometimes that it would have been sad for my mother if Michaela had not been there.  I think also that it will be sad for Michaela if she comes home and finds that her Nana is gone.

I have been to a lot of funerals.  When my daughter was a freshman in high school, I went to the funeral of a friend of hers from school, who had died when she was hit by a train.  I’d engaged in some pretty heavy duty crying during the service, but at the graveyard I just simply lost it.  There was the casket holding this young girl, and there was the hole dug in the ground, and here the service was ending and we were just going to leave her there, and that was just too much for me.  I seriously wept hysterically and uncontrollably.  And did I mention that I’d never even met this girl?  By comparison, going out and scattering my mother’s ashes was almost a joyful release.  It was beautiful.  But there are times I question whether I should have done that.  I live on a hill, and when it is very clear outside, I can see the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge from my window.  But I can also see when it is cold and stormy at the Golden Gate, and that makes me sad somehow, even though I know that my mother is not there.

If my mother had a grave, I would take flowers there on this day.  But she doesn’t.  Yet I can’t just let the day pass.  What do you do with these days, these sad anniversaries, of deaths, of kidnappings, of birthdays for those who are not there to celebrate?  What do you do?  I’ve had almost 21 years of trying to figure that out just for my daughter.  And I’ll tell you, this is what I do.  I write about them.  I create what I hope will be a bouquet of words for them, and I toss it in the ocean of the internet.  I remember them out loud, and I bring them to life in the minds and hearts of others.  That is all I can do. 

I love you, Mama.  I miss you.  As I promised, I carry you in my heart always.  I carry your love and faith and all you have given me, and that is good.  And yet in the end, it only makes me miss you more.

20 thoughts on “Missing my mom

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  1. A beautiful bouquet this was…..I know your pain in this regard. I lost my father on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1998. It was 6 weeks after my youngest child was born. Her name is Lauren. My father never got to see her. He never held her in his arms. He was too contagious and the doctors didn't want me to bring her into the hospital, let alone his room. He had staph and sepsis. He lived to be 82, which was quite a miracle. He had a triple bypass when I was but 3 years old, and he was 49. He was told in 1995 that he needed another one. He felt he was too old, and would be paying for his own funeral. Not choosing that was a mix of good and bad. He lived 3 years longer, but the end was long, painful and sad. He deterioated into a very helpless person, and this was way hard on him. He had a leg amputated, he endeded up in a wheel chair, and he had to rely on others to eventually change his own diaper. I can't imagine how hard it is to have your own daughters changing your diaper or placing you on the potty to go. Still, when he ended up getting to the point where we all knew it wouldn't be long….I wouldn't trade the closeness and the love I felt for my father. We grew much closer and that was great. As I said, he died on Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful day, and my father was a devout Christian, so it was almost fitting for him to pass on that day. I went to see him early in the morning. I didn't want to leave, but I was breast feeding, so I had to leave. Somewhere around noon my daughter got quite fussy, which was highly unusual for her. I drove her around trying to get her to fall asleep. The titanic song that Celine Deon sung was on. I began crying, and crying, because I knew he'd be leaving soon. I drove into the parking lot of the interim care facility and was going to take my daughter in, despite what I had been told. I remembered she was wearing my favorite pj's, which had been worn by her brothers too. They were worn, and thing….but fussy. I decided I couldn't take her in there looking like a rag a muffin. I drove to a pay phone and called my sister and cried. I told her it wouldn't be long. I then drove home, and the phone rang within minutes of entering the house. It was the facility. They couldn't get a hold of my mother or my brother, so I was the next in line. My father had passed away minutes before I got home. Oh how I wished I had gone in…..was I supposed to? I will never know, but I know I was being drawn there…the song, the fussy baby, the driving. I immediately drove there and they had drawn the curtains around him. It was so peaceful. Like you said, he looked more beautiful in that moment then he had in a long time. I prayed, stroked his hair, kissed him goodbye. I wouldn't trade that. I only wish I had been there to hold his hand as he passed away. I remember his eyes in the morning when I left. He knew he was going….I could see it in his eyes. Why didn't I just stay with him. In the days, weeks and months that followed it was good I had my baby with me. She helped me through it, just by being there, being able to smell her, care for her. Oh how I wish you had your baby Michaela back. I pray you get peace one way or another. I will be at church tonight serving the other volunteers. I will pray for you and ask for prayer for you.Love and hugs to you on this day……and every day.


  2. PJ, I understand what you mean. I know what you mean about your baby helping you through it. When Michaela was kidnapped, Robbie was only 7 months, and I would hold him and feel his warm little body pressed up against my heart, and I called it my heart medicine because it helped so much. Thanks and God bless,Sharon


  3. Sharon,I am a young widow still struggling with grief. I read your words almost daily for inspiration. I read to find hope that I will find my way out of my darkness. Your words touch me in a way no one else has ever been able to. You are an inspiration and your life is a tribute to your mom. You are a living bouquet for her.


  4. Thank you for your comment. That is one of the nicest things anybody has ever said to me. I am so sorry for your loss. Sorrow and grief are so hard to bear, but they also carve into us entirely new pathways through which love is able to flow with an even greater depth. Once we know its cost, love is never again frivolous. If you ever want to email me, please feel free to. missingmichaela@gmail.comGod bless you,Sharon


  5. Hi Sharon, wow…you always have such a way with words. Little did you know that you reached out to me today…I was touched and blessed to read your blog. I remember the times you experienced with your mom when she was not in good health and I remember the pain you experienced when she passed away. I can relate. I remember when my mom had her stroke and the first week when we almost lost her several times, I was beside myself. I immediately had to take charge, take care of her home, take care of her bills, take care of my brother, take care of my children who were in so much pain and change roles overnight…One day when we were told she probably wouldn't make it through the night, I went to my home where I hadn't been in days and sat on the floor and cried hysterically… all alone..I felt so lost and wondered how I would live my life without my mother….I knew I had to get it all out then because I knew when I got back to the hospital, I had to be in charge…I was lucky, blessed and grateful for the miracle that happened because she made it through. As you know my mom now needs 24/7 care and I sacrfice for her and I feel lucky to do that. She is a prideful woman and would never have let me help her but now she doesn't have a choice and I do it lovingly…It feels great to give back and when she passes, I know I will be at peace…There are times I still grieve because on that day, I did lose the mother that I knew that day because she can't have long conversations with me or walk with me or give me advice or do anything without someone's help but I'm grateful…. Thank you for your words, Sharon…you reminded me today that the sacrifices I am making are temporary and it gives so much to someone who has given everything to me… Sharon, my thoughts are with you today and your mom. I remember meeting her when we went to Rainbow Market on one of Michaela's anniversary and I thought: “Wow, what a beautiful, put together woman!” Sharon, she was beautiful…so poised and classy… I cry with you today as I know the hole in your heart from what once was…Hold your memory of her close and remember all the great times you had and how much you cared for her when she was not doing well. You came through for her beautifully!What a wonderful tribute to her today! Love, Jennifer


  6. Sharon,You can't even begin to imagine how much you ministered to me with this! Today, I went to a funeral of my Aunt. My aunt was an amazing mom, and watching her children grapple with the realization that they have lost their best friend, reminded me of what it was like to lose my own mother 11 years ago.I remember praying a lot that year, because I trusted my mother to be there for me more than I trusted anyone, even God. I remember praying, “Lord, help me to trust You the way I trusted my mother, because she isn't here anymore and I have always had this sense that as long as she existed anywhere on the earth, things were okay.”I guess that is still my prayer for me, and for my cousins who will be needing to trust God like they trusted their mother, too.


  7. I wish I had read this sooner then perhaps I would have insisted on you accepting my offer today. I could have at least given you a hug. Just remember, God sent us to each other for a reason. Thank you for gently reminding me not to become annoyed by my mother which I feel myself doing more frequently lately. No matter how I treat her, she never loves me any less. Isnt a mothers love amazing? Reminds me of Jesus!


  8. Sharon, you had me downright sobbing with this post. You are so eloquent with your words and so insightful. Your family is lucky and blessed to have you and I hope you feel loved and cherished.I hope and pray and wish with every core in my being that Michaela returns. I open up my web browser everyday looking for that news. I will continue to do that.And I will also reread this post. Because it has a wonderful important message along with your stirring memories and personal stories. Thank you for sharing with us.


  9. Dear Sharon, once again your words have been such a comfort to me. I lost both my parents when I was only 32 and pregnant with my first child. And although I miss my dad, the anniversary of my mom's death, her birthday, etc. is always the hardest to take. Just like you said, a mom is the one person in the world who will always put you first and be proud of you, feel your sorrow, comfort you, and once that is lost it can't ever be replaced. I felt angry with myself that I sometimes got annoyed with taking care of her in her illness, being pregnant and having just lost my father, and being her only child so she needed me very much. But when I start to feel sadness or regret I remember the inspirational lessons I learn from amazing people like yourself. I check your blog regularly because it lifts me up, reminds me to stay strong and trust God. I wish so very very much that one day I'll check this blog and find there's been a happy ending to your search for Michaela.


  10. Sharon your thoughts/words made me tear..as I was thinking back about my mom. What a wonderful special woman.My mom has said on many occasions that a child isn't supposed to die before a parent, especially being so young. When my sister Sharron was murdered in 1975..My twin and I were only 14..and we remembered my mom sobbing and sobbing..we had to “Deal” with it. We were young not much help in those days.My mom is a survivor in many ways!She is a fighter! we love her dearly.keep smiling Sharonwww.sharronprior.com


  11. Sharon,You have such a way with words. I love to read your blog because you always make me think. Loss is such a terrible emotion to have to deal with and you have definitely had more than your share. My best friend's aunt lost her daughter last year. She was 16 years old and she died in a car accident along with her best friend and cousin. This was a horrible tragedy and I mourned with the family because I also had a 16 year old and I could not imagine having to suffer this loss. Then a few months later this family went to a 4th of July party to be with family and celebrate what had been there daughters favorite holiday. That night there was a horrible accident and the father to the 16 year that was killed in the car accident, blew his eyes out with a firecracker. He died a month later. We like to think that his daughter, with whom he was very close, had called him to be with her. This left my friends aunt and her remaining daughter to mourn once again. This family is having a very hard time with the loss of their loved ones. No one is ever prepared to lose someone. I hope when I am faced with such heartache, I will be able to cope.Your mother sounded wonderful. I also have a wonderful mother and they are such a blessing. I would rather experience the heavy heart at their passing than never have experienced that love. When the time comes I will try to let my mother go and ask her to save a spot for me by her side. You are an amazing person. I wish you would write a series of books because I would read them. I love to read your stuff. Take care Sharon….


  12. Your openness reminds me to cherish every day I have with those I love. We should all be reminded to feel the human spirit. I cry every time I read your blog. You are a gift to me; your words remind me to listen to my inner voice, express my love, and nurture my relationships. Thank you for being so real.


  13. Hello Sharon,I was thinking about you today. Did you watch the Oprah show? She featured a segment on missing children and Michaela was featured in a running photo banner of missing children from across the USA. Just thought I should let you know, although I am sure you caught it.You write very beautifully and poignantly.From Port Moody, BC, Canada.


  14. Actually, Anonymous from Port Moody, I was on the Oprah show today. Michaela was the first missing child to be featured on today's show, wiht a clip that they had filmed at my house.Thanks,Sharon


  15. Hi Sharon,Your write up on your mother made me cry and think of how precious my mother is. You write beautifully. Thank-you :)I will post your website on my facebook page,I am praying for Michaela's return….Anna, Mother of two, Kelowna, B.C


  16. “I write about them. I create what I hope will be a bouquet of words for them, and I toss it in the ocean of the internet. I remember them out loud, and I bring them to life in the minds and hearts of others. That is all I can do.” – One of the most beautiful and eloquently stated objectives of the writer. Very well said, Sharon.


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