Colleen's Journey

Happy Birthday GiGi

I recently moved to Chicago…in part to escape the minute-by-minute constant reminders of what was missing, in part to explore my independence, and in part to honor one of our Mom’s greatest dreams. I have now been here for five weeks.

I can’t help but think about how foolish I was to believe that running away would be the answer. I am lonely, I am empty, and I have that ridiculously heavy elephant constantly sitting on chest. The reality is, I am finally grieving.
Before I made the decision to uproot my life, I truly believed that I was ok. I believed that I was the exception to the 5 stages of grief. Well, the joke was on me. I have continued to live in the stage of denial now for 7 months. I became a person even I couldn’t recognize. I was careless and I was unattached – and in some ways, too attached – to so many aspects of my life.
While I recognize that I am still very much living in a state of denial, as demonstrated by my tendency to speak so nonchalantly about her passing (because let’s be honest, it isn’t real), I am slowly coming to terms with the reality that is now my life. Every job interview, every job offer, and every exciting or terrifying event that has happened to me in the last month has only served as a stark reminder of the fact that no matter how badly I want to pick up the phone to call her, she will not answer.
One of the most difficult things about experiencing such a great loss, especially at such a young age, is that there are very few people who can truly understand the ever looming pain that seizes to pass. It’s almost as though people expect that you will just get over it. They have moved on so they tend to assume you have as well.
People stop paying attention to the small details that signal moments of extreme pain and sadness. Very few notice the glaze over my eyes when certain songs come on over the radio or when a random endearing thought of her crosses my mind. They stop noticing, so they stop asking, and I stop talking. I feel guilty sharing my pain because I feel guilty ruining their day. So, I act normal and the people around me feel normal. I sacrifice my opportunity for relief in exchange for their comfort. It’s a viciously painful cycle.
While I have a handful of college friends here in Chicago that either knew my mom personally, or at least met her in passing, I find it incredibly challenging to truly honor the exceptional woman that she was – energetic, heroic, compassionate, kind, and daring.
I went 5 months without purposely looking at a picture of her, even though they were posted all over my house. In the last week I have watched the slideshow of her life played at her service more than 10 times. I watched it twice today. Every time I watch it, its like I’m seeing it for the first time. Each time I notice a new detail of her face or a new detail of her life. Every time I watch it I am reminded of every “first” that she will not be there experience.
Last week happened to mark one the “firsts” that seems to be so much harder and even more dreadful then all of the “firsts” we have faced so far this year. I was the first of my sisters to have their “first” birthday without the compassionate celebratory love that our mom exuded every minute of our birthdays. Before my birthday was our “first” Mother’s Day, which my sisters and I spent picking up pine needles at our cabin, exactly as she would have done. Then there was Michelle’s birthday, her 31st birthday, pregnant with a daughter our mom was not be here to meet.
Last week was our Mom’s birthday. How incredibly impossible to celebrate the birth of the person you love most in the world when they aren’t even here to celebrate it themselves. Last week was, and will continue to be one of the most difficult weeks for my sisters and me. I have had 3 dreams over the last 7 months that my mom has appeared in. Yet, two of my sisters had a dream last week alone in which our mom came to them, in her natural voice, excited to celebrate her birthday.
So, in true GiGi form, we celebrated.  I flew home to be with the girls, to sip champagne at high tea, to sit on our mom’s favorite restaurant patio, to listen to live music, and to drink lots of sangria, exactly as she would have done. As each one of us has mentioned time and again, the greatest gift our mom ever gave us was each other.
Happy Birthday, GiGi. We love and miss you more every day. We know you were there with us.
– B
  • Barb

    I lost my daughter Amanda, 10 years ago. I am still learning to handle my grief. Amanda has six beautiful sisters and together we are learning to live without her. Amanda was only 21 when she left us. She lost her battle with depression. Amanda is still apart of our lives. We wear her clothes, her jewelry and her photos fill our homes. She has graduated from the School of Visual Arts in NYC just before she died.
    Yesterday I wore her perfume and it was just lovely. Her nephews and neice that were born after Amanda died all know about her and love her. Her friend just used Amanda’s middle name for her son. It was so wonderful for all of us.
    Life after losing someone is hard, grief catches us off guard and we all have our bad days. But the dreams we have about her are always so wonderful and we all share them the next day. The depth of our grief reflects the love we all shared with her.
    She made us all laugh and cry when she was alive and losing her made us even closer.
    I am so sorry that you lost your mother. She sounds like an amazing woman. I wish you the best with your work with raising awareness about ovarian cancer. You are making a difference for so many people.
    All the grief books in the world can’t truly help you cope with the pain, but reading about other families and how they are handling their pain is so helpful. I think you are doing a wonderful job helping others not only by teaching about ovarian cancer but by sharing your stories and inspiring other people that are dealing with grief.
    Best wishes always!