This is not just a story about grief. This is a story about birth. This is a story about grief and birth so deeply intermingled that, for the past two and a half years, I have often found myself unable to answer the simple question, "How are you?”
I waited until I was 34 to start a family. By that point, my mother had been harassing me on the topic for more than a decade. "When are you going to make me a grandmother?” she would say.
Five years ago, my mother got her wish; but it was my brother's daughter, Madeline, who would make her a grandmother.
Oh, how Mom loved Madeline. It was like her heart had burst. The night Madeline was born, Mom hovered over Jaimie's hospital bed, eagerly snapping photos, until she was ultimately banished to the corner of the room. I wasn't there, but I will forever have that image seared in my mind: my mother, huddled in the corner of the delivery room, silly smile on her face, awaiting Madi's birth.
Four years later, I was able to share with my mother and grandmother that my husband and I were expecting our first child. We were in a cafe in Birmingham, Alabama, where they had just flown in from California for a visit.
When I uncharacteristically declined mom's offer to split a bottle of chardonnay (our favorite), she guessed that I was pregnant. Mom then shared the news with the waitress, the busboy, anyone who listen, and she made a loud, tearful toast in the middle of the restaurant.
It was one of the sweetest moments of my life. It was also one of the last times that we would be together.
Mom passed away from complications due to pneumonia three months later. She was only 63 years old.
I was able to get out to California to be with mom by her hospital bed. I wore a mask, as to not endanger the baby growing inside of me. I squeezed my swollen body into an armchair and spent the night in her hospital room. I sang mom Joni Mitchell songs (our favorite) in her final hour of life.
Despite the heartbreak of losing my mom, I have never been as strong as I was during my pregnancy. Something about having my daughter inside of me calmed me.
I immediately threw myself into the details of arranging Mom's celebration of life. We hosted a fabulous party in her honor for her family and friends, with raw oysters and plenty of chardonnay. I sang and spoke at her memorial service, in the church she had raised us in.
The siblings dutifully divided up Mom’s end-of-life arrangements. We paid her bills. Sold her house.
But mostly, I focused on the upcoming birth of my daughter.
I nested. I read every parenting book imaginable. I started obsessively buying bespoke dresses and tiny white mary janes for my soon-to-be daughter. I decided that I would dress her in classic children's clothing, like my mom dressed me. I would honor my mom in big and small ways daily by becoming a mother myself.
All of a sudden, Evelyn was here, and I was a mom. Evelyn was, and still is, perfect. Healthy, advanced, sweet. She looks like my twin, but with the most gorgeous mop of curly auburn hair. Mom would have been, and somewhere is, over the moon.
As joyful as every single milestone has been in the first months of Evelyn's life, each special moment has been tainted by the grief of not having my mom by my side, or even on Facetime.
From time to time, my brother will say the words that I cannot bring myself to say: "I just wish mom would have been able to know Evelyn... I can't believe that they will never know each other. It’s so unfair."
I usually respond with something like "At least mom knew I was pregnant, and that it was a girl," or "She is always with us." But, the harsh reality is that she is not here. And it is not fair. And I need to acknowledge that, and feel the pain and rage, no matter how much they bring me to my knees.
Between the stress of my emergency C-section, and the grief that I tried so hard to bury in joy, I developed a nasty case of postpartum anxiety. Every time my newborn cried, my heart would race. I felt like a failure (as if there was something I could have done to prevent my newborn, or any newborn, from crying). As a result, I would lash out at my husband. I sobbed while trying to breastfeed. I was generally scary to be around, and sometimes I still am.
While I have learned to deal with my anxiety through medication and counseling, it is still something that I am managing daily. Some days are better than others.
I have invested my portion of proceeds from the sale of Mom’s home into a small startup. Alli + Evie is a mommy and me fashion line that honors the special bond between mothers and daughters.
Just as I wish mom would have been around to meet and get to know my baby, I wish she were here to see me launch my company.
But, the truth is, if she were still here, I am not sure that I would have had the courage to start Alli + Evie. Losing my mother has given me a radical sense of perspective.
Life is short, I can hear Mom whisper to me.
Live your dreams. Start that company. Take that risk. Call that friend.
Book that trip. Dance in the kitchen. Eat dessert.
Lose yourself laughing with your daughter. Tickle her delicious belly.
Kiss her perfect lips, just like I kissed yours.
Your story is very moving and your mom is proud of you and your family! So many good things are to come, sweet friend.
This was the most beautiful thing I have ever read in my life … serious! It’s true, Pam would be so proud, but the truth is, she was always “over the moon” for you!! Pam was always singing your praises because you have always been such a role model. I am so proud of you and look up to you so much. You are an amazing mother, worker, wife, sister, daughter, and now DESIGNER!! Your collection is a beautiful reflection of you, Pam and Evie.
Can’t wait to celebrate this success with you soon!
Jaimie & Madeline
This had me in tears!! Your mom was a beautiful person and I can’t even imagine how hard this has been! She is watching over you two and even though she was never able to meet Evie – you can tell Evie all the wonderful stories of her and she will never be forgotten.
Alli. What an incredibly touching and powerful piece of writing. It moved me to tears. I am so sorry that you lost your Mom. She sounds amazing and I am sure that much of what I love about you is thanks to her. Sending you love.
P.s. I can’t wait to be a customer of your new business!
This is beautiful and I thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life to the world. You are an amazing woman, friend, wife and mother. Pam would be so proud of you. Love you lots. 💞