"WHERE IS IT?" I screamed, slamming my palms against the blank dry-erase board that hung in our kitchen. "WHO ERASED IT?" My shrieks shook the walls of the house and one by one my children emerged from their rooms to gather around their hysterical mom in the kitchen who was snotty-nosed and red-faced about her dry-erase board.
"I did it!" My eldest daughter confessed. "I was sick of seeing that date every time I came into the kitchen and being reminded of that day!"
As I faced my then 12-year-old with angry tears streaming down my face, for the first time in a long time, I thought about how this tragedy might be affecting my children instead of just how it was making me feel.
After my brother was killed in combat on December 14, 2011, the date was marked and circled on our dry erase board because I wasn't ready to move on. When he died, I wasn't ready to move past that day and I certainly wasn't ready to be a mom, even though I had four little ones.
I'm ashamed to say that, for many months after his death, I was an absent mom. I was emotionally unavailable to my own tender-aged kids who desperately needed me. And I needed them, too, but I felt so caught up in my grief that I did not know how to be there for myself, much less for my kids.
Maybe you have your own dry-erase board in your home or in your heart. There's that memory, item, time of year or moment in the day that can send you reeling back in time to the event that changed everything. A miscarriage. An argument that would escalate to a divorce. A medical check-up that revealed something much more complicated.
Whatever your dry-erase board moment or memory is, all mothers are going through or have experienced that time where a certain thing triggered the height of grief, making every responsibility and duty seem obsolete.
I will not pretend that I was a perfect or present mom during the height of my grief, and to be honest, I still have my days. But to the mamas out there in the thick of it right now, there's something I'd like you to know. If I could go back in time and speak to grieving me who had just lost her brother, this is what I'd say:
Your kids don't need you to be perfect; they just need you to be there.
Forget folded laundry, a swept front porch or hosting the sleepover. Do you know what can't be replaced for your kids? Your love, support and affection. Trust me, your kids are feeling some of the weight of your pain, and they need to be comforted through it as well.
It's okay to get help, and you need it.
I knew that things were not as they should be. I wanted to be a better mom, but on some days, it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe I knew it at the time and my judgment was just too clouded to act on it, but that's why I would go back, shake my own shoulders and tell past Renee to get help. Pay for counseling, join a grief support group, whatever "help" looked like for me, I needed more of it. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.
You are so blessed.
I know, this one might sting for those of you in the midst of terrible loss or pain. But consider this: you were chosen to be a mom. Maybe you don't feel like a good mom right now or that you don't even want to be one at all, not because you don't love your children but because you don't feel you have the strength to be one.
Know you are so blessed to be in this coveted role. Your little ones may not have gotten to pick you to be their mom, but you were picked to be one. That's a gift we must always be thankful for, lest we forget to treat our kids like the treasures they are.
Time doesn't heal all wounds, but time did allow me the opportunity to reflect, acknowledge my pain and reach out for help in getting my life back together again. As moms, we have the difficult role of needing to take care of others even on our worst days, but I think much of that difficulty would subside if we committed to talking about it.
If any of my memories or tips are reminding you of yourself or a mama you know, check on them. If that's you, let a fellow mother know what you're going through. Because I promise you, you aren't alone, and this will pass.