Surviving Grief & Big Life Changes
My beloved mother passed away a few days ago. It all happened so fast, in less than six weeks.
She was definitely the strongest person I’ve ever met. She willed herself out of the Philippines and into the US to attend college and get an MBA, and lived with a host family in the Bronx to attend Fordham University, though she had to teach herself English.
Her singular main purpose in life was to provide and make a better life for us, and she gave my sister, my dad and I absolutely everything. She was my passage into the world, she was the one that I knew that no matter what, would always take care of me.
She was fine at Christmas, walking down to the beach with us in the days leading up to Christmas. Getting last minute cards and wrapping gifts. Giving Lil Bub a bath with me each evening. Having a festive Christmas Eve and morning.
The day after my birthday, on February 7th, my dad told me my mom was feeling really tired and they were running some tests. It felt something ominous, and I flew back to the East Coast the next day. On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, her biopsy came back positive for colon and liver cancer. Her doctor there said the hard mass in her middle can grown much bigger from the week before, when she last saw her.
By February 18th, we flew back to LA. I had contacts to get her straight into UCLA with great oncologists, and I needed them to be with me. I knew it was advanced, but I still believed she could get chemo and I would make all her food in the way I had for other clients with cancer back in NY, and she would heal from it.
When we got into UCLA the doctor said she needed to be checked into the hospital immediately. She was in pain. She got a round of chemo right away and recovered…but then got weaker again. She got a second round of chemo three weeks later but this time it was a really rough recovery, with her heart rate getting really high.
She couldn’t eat as she was nauseous and the mass pressing against her stomach made it painful to eat. I spoon fed her protein smoothies and lots of spirulina and soaked chia seeds, tiny bit by tiny bit.
My dad slept at the hospital with her every night. During those weeks, which seem to be a blur now, I went in the morning and stayed all day, then went home at 5:30 to get the baby down for bed and then went right back to the hospital afterwards. I cancelled and delayed pretty much everything else in my life. It was super intense in every way.
I had to pull down into the depths of my being to function and drive without crying too hard. I was trying to not cry in front of either my mom and my dad, to be the strong one and reason confidently out loud that she would get better…then go in the bathroom and cry into a paper towel. I’m not sure how I got through those weeks.
Since she could eat so very little, she started getting IV nutrition, or TPN as they call it. It was so frustrating, because we know she needed food, but she simply couldn’t eat. But the fluid in her body started building up in a major way. Her limbs swelled because her cells couldn’t keep the fluids in anymore. The doctors were worried she might drown, if the extra fluid got into her lungs. So they had to turn off the IV nutrition.
Somewhere along the way, my hopes of her living into her 90’s, the way her mother has (who is still alive by the way, at 94 years old), became crushed. One of the attending doctors gently told us that someone with her advanced kind of cancer lives on average 1-2 years, and it could be much less. I was started to process that, but was still thinking she was so strong that she could beat the odds. But then a few days later, the doctors came back to say she would only probably only live 1-2 weeks.
It was a surreal experience when I heard that news. I felt like I was out of my body and it wasn’t really happening. I could see the mouth of the doctor, named Dr. Goldman, moving, but I felt like it was an echo or I was watching a movie from far away. I was up all night crying and I had such small amounts of sleep that I felt like I was really hallucinating. I was out in the hallway outside of mom’s room, and I just felt the overwhelming need to be with her, so I blurted something out to the doctors and ran into her room, closed the door crawled into the hospital bed with my mom. I tried to tune it all out, everything they said.
On March 28th, around 5:30 pm her blood pressure started dropping. They gave her some salt water solution to see if it would help, and she did not respond. After the weeks of talking to every doctor out there, exploring every possible solution, natural and Western, having my mom talk to some healers even to do “clearing”, alkalizing her body in the best ways I knew with food and drinks… we had to face that there was nothing else to do. Except make sure she was comfortable and completely peaceful.
My dad and I didn’t leave her side. All night we sat in chairs at her bedside. We talked to her and talked to her and told her everything from our hearts. At around 3:00 in the morning, something amazing happened. Her eyes opened and she gazed deeply into my dad’s and my eyes. I told her to squeeze my hand if she could hear me, and she was able to squeeze. For two hours we told her everything and I knew she hear us. I thanked her for being an amazing mother and person. I told her she would soon know how perfect she already was, and that she was pure light and love. I told her I would love her always and for eternity, because love is never ending, and I knew we would always be together spiritually.
And finally my dad and I had to coach her it was okay to let go and rest. I promised her I would always take care of my dad. That it was okay for her to go to the light. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to let go of my mother- and to tell her to let go as well. But I knew that it was the most important thing for her to pass peacefully. Her breathing got slower and slower, and 9:55 Wednesday night she took her last breath. I knew she was going because she couldn’t squeeze my hand anymore. I was right in the bed with her.
After her breathing stopped I felt an energy around the top left side of the bed and the bottom. It was beautiful because I knew that she wasn’t really “dead”, that her spirit was just freed from her body. But still. Knowing she was really gone from her body and in a form I could see was shocking and I wailed and I cried inconsolably for a long time.
So, how does life go on? My dad is going to live with us now. I’m so thrilled we can all be together and he will see Bubby every day . There’s no way he could go back and live in the house they lived in. They were married for over 40 years. We are selling that house, the childhood house I grew up in. I’m diving back into work, and of course my main priority in Lil Bub. I let myself cry when I want to. I encourage my dad to do the same. I talk to my dad and my sister and my partner and my best friends a lot about it, but when I don’t feel like talking I don’t. I don’t work when I can’t.
There isn’t an easy way to get over grief. I think about the loss of her not being able to watch Lil Bub grow, to not be able to meet my future children, at least from her physical body. It makes me so sad that I ache.
But what has really carried me through is my spiritual practice and beliefs. I do strongly believe she is in a better place now, with God. She is so amazing and nothing can ever fill her place in my life, but I believe it is part of a bigger plan and there was a completeness to this life for her and it was her time. I do believe that she can still feel her love, and that I can feel hers and she will always watch over us and will still see Bubby grow, just on a different plane.
Though I let myself cry as much as I need to, I remind myself that I am crying for myself, and my loss- and that she is in a better place. That she is in bliss. And that even though we are on different planes, our love is still as strong and even stronger than it ever was.
I am so happy that Mama can rest now, and know the truth of the pure light and love that she is.
I feel very changed by this experience as well. I feel more awake, more real. I can feel people more, and I think that even more so than every before, little things won’t bother me as much. It’s easier for me to let go, I can already see. My heart has grown. I’m so happy I am able to be closer to my dad and loved ones more than ever before. I know that God or the Great Mother or whatever you want to call it, is ever with me, always. And I know that love truly is the most important thing.
If you are going through grief also, remember to be extra gentle with yourself. Let yourself take time and be quiet or cry or do whatever feels authentic. I’m getting a massage tonight in fact, because I realize that my body feels as knotted and stiff as if I ran three marathons in a week. Get massages, talk to loved ones that make you feel good, and if you have a spiritual practice, lean on it. Hard. If you are interested in learning to meditate, I’ll share that I practice the Kriya yoga method by Paramahansa Yogananda. We also have free meditations you can download. Give yourself lots and lots of space.
We are a community that is here to help support each other and love each other, and I wanted to share this part of healing and life, instead of tucking it away. I’m taking it one day at a time. Life does go on, and love is never-ending.
Dedicated with great love to my mother, Salvacion Snyder, the most strong, beautiful and amazing woman I’ve ever known.