Monday, March 2, 2020

The freedom of not knowing.

I grew up saying, "I know,"
And I said it so many times,
I started to believe it was true.

Then, the knowledge demanded
That I never question
Never wonder
Never see things differently.

If I did, I was unworthy;
If I didn't, I was good.
That's how it was.

Knowledge demanded that I give everything
And I did!
Oh, I did.
Until I had nothing left to give.
Just a hundred questions,
A broken body,
A broken mind,
And a broken heart.

Then one day,
In my shattered state, I decided:
I don't need to know,
I don't need to worry.

If there's a God --
The parent of my spirit --
He, she, or it loves me,
And they won't care
Whether I know or not.

I exhaled.

I started to heal.
The pieces  of my mind, body, and heart are coming back together,

I am loved
I am safe
I am whole
I am free

And I don't need to know anything.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Learning to live, part III.

Part I here.
Part II here.

Photo by Tanja Pearson of My MOD Images.

Have you ever moved before? I can't speak for anyone else, but each time I have relocated from one home to another, I've been confronted by the harrowing realization I have a lot of CRAP and it all needs to GO, immediately. A trait I inherited from my mother, actually.

It's not until the moment I have to put everything I own in boxes (of which there are never enough, I might add) that I get this insatiable urge to donate or discard every single one of my earthly possessions. Even things I once considered important or valuable. No object is safe. Each is a potential victim of what I call The Purge. The items which end up taped securely in the confines of cardboard survive The Purge. All others do not.

It's weird. Prior to packing for a move, I simply co-exist with all this junk in my house and it troubles me very little. But moving is one of those big life events that triggers the desire to eliminate stuff with wild abandon. And it turns out, similarly momentous events can trigger other types of purges in me, too.

When I lost my mom and consequently, my sense of safety and normalcy, I soon realized my mind had become a dire hoarding situation. I had collected so much extra stuff over the years. But in my state of grief, I had no idea what to do about it. It was like the movers had shown up with their truck, and it was time to go into this new phase of post-loss life, but not a single box had been packed.

I tried to manage this situation in several ways. One was to acquire more stuff, as if I could perhaps use new things to cover up the stench emanating from my existing collection of junk. I started saying "yes" to everything anyone offered me. More private music students? YES! A job playing piano for a high school music program? YES! Two social media management jobs? YES! More responsibilities at church? HECKIN' YES!

At first, it was fun. I felt an incredible surge of energy (I would later learn this was actually a form of mania). I was doing stuff, and doing it well. Not just surviving, but thriving. A rock star.

Take that, tragic, untimely death of my mother!

Then, it started to catch up with me. It was no longer fun. It was hell.

I was staring at my trash heap of distractions one day, and I realized they were covering up all kinds of torment I couldn't bear to address. Grief. Inadequacy. Doubt. Pain. I had some work to do. But I had just committed to so many shiny new endeavors, and I couldn't just walk away from them! Jenna Elizabeth Haney Foote DOES NOT QUIT. Ever. She sees things through. She is a badass. She can be counted on!

So I kept trying. And that's when the real trouble began -- the manic-depressive cycles.

I had never experienced mania before. I woke up one morning around 3:00 and I wasn't tired. Every day of my life prior, if I woke up before 7 AM, I was dead to the world. But not this day. I was not only not tired, but I was full of energy and devoid of any feelings aside from pure euphoria. It felt like a vacation! I woke up and single-handedly trimmed every bush in my entire yard. Which sounds awesome, I know. But for a grieving mother with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression who might get a single load of laundry done on a good day, this was highly unusual behavior. Especially on a sweltering day in August.

Also on that day, I cut then-3-year-old Clara's hair into a very short bob. VERY short. Mind you, I am not a hair stylist and have exactly zero formal training on the matter. Also, I USED CRAFT SCISSORS TO DO THIS. (It actually turned out super-cute, but that is neither here nor there.)

This abnormal behavior of waking up at unusually early times with boundless energy and unfounded ambition to Cut Stuff continued for a few more days, and then almost as abruptly as it began, it ended. I was left behind in a cloud of thick depression. Cold, painful sadness. Debilitating.

I saw this cycle  -- a few days of sudden onset mania, followed by weeks of depression -- occur several more times over the next 15 months. Each time, the manic behavior got a little riskier. On the third or fourth occurrence, I decided it was time to sell our house and move, AND accept a job offer I had no time for amidst the multitude of other things I was already doing. I was making other completely reckless choices, which both alarmed and thrilled me.

All of this came to a critical point at the end of 2018. Side note: there was this memorable episode of Hoarders I saw a long time ago where the person would buy stuff from Target and not even take the new items out of the shopping bags before throwing them on top of an existing heap of stuff and running out the door to buy more. Well, that was my life. I would run from my problems all day, distracting myself with unhealthy coping mechanisms like social media, Netflix, and the acquisition of more responsibilities, only to come back to see my piles of crud right where I'd left them, and I'd panic. I'd start the destructive behavior over again the next day.

Run, run, run away. I stopped eating. My hair was falling out in clumps. I was really sick.

I fantasized about abandoning everything and everyone. My escape became an obsession, until one day, I snapped. It was a dark day. I was ready to metaphorically burn it all down. I believed this was my only option. I would just have to start over. I couldn't face those insurmountable piles of stuff overtaking my life. The memories. The pain. The questions. The mental illness. I couldn't do it.

Dillon saw what was happening. He stepped in, took the figurative blowtorch out of my hand and said, "Let's get you some help." He saved me.

In that moment I broke, and The Purge began. I quit my whole life, as I often tell people. I had to. I frankly don't think I would've survived much longer had I not.

My calendar was somewhat comical for a while there -- nothing on it except for psychiatric therapy. Blank. A stark contrast to the multitudes of color-coded blocks which covered every inch of it just a week before.

I had to spend time in therapy learning some harsh truths and going through all my stuff, deciding what to eliminate. Slowly, I started fitting some things back in where they belonged. And if something didn't serve me, I dismissed it. Not heartlessly, though. Like Marie Kondo advises, I held each one and thanked it for the time it served me and blessed my life. And then, I sent it away.

I added new things to my life that would help me heal and focus. Yoga. Meditation. Myofascial therapy. Time with friends and family to make meaningful human connections.

I learned to set boundaries and to say no. I'm aware that the eliminations I've made in my life are confusing and even painful to some people. Maybe someday, I will talk more about the specific aspects of my life I have parted ways with to answer some questions about it. But today is not that day. It's still new to me. I am not ready.

I sometimes feel guilty for letting people down. I am working on it. I remind myself constantly that I had to do this, because I don't know how much longer I could've lived if I hadn't.

Shortly after I began The Purge, I got a fresh, new haircut and hired my dear friend Tanja Pearson to take photos of me. I had already begun to feel rejuvenated by that point, and I wanted to capture the new, healthier me. I scheduled the shoot around Dillon's birthday to present the images to him as a gift. Little did I know, these photos would be a gift to myself, too.

As I sat in Tanja's studio in March and smiled for her camera, I had an out-of-body experience. I saw myself as my mom always saw me -- as a whole, good, worthy person. And I saw her in myself. Completely without prompting, Tanja mentioned she saw it, too. Toward the end of her life, my mom was unapologetically herself. She did what was best for her. Even in her sickness and in her death.

I resolved that day to own my existence. To live. To move through the hard stuff, but to support and care for myself in the process. To honor my own wishes. To be mindful. To take care of myself so I could give more to those who I love.

A wise man once said, "Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." And that's what I'm doing these days. I'm not all the way there yet. But I'm learning. I'm learning to live.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Learning to live, part II.


When I left off last time, it was February. I had just decided to attend yoga classes at a gym near my home. I was excited, but also nervous. I hadn't been very physically active in the months leading up to my mental health "detour," mostly due to the chronic pain I experienced pretty constantly. I worried I would be judged for my lack of flexibility and strength. I had done yoga previously and knew how demanding it can be. I hoped the teacher and other yogis in the class wouldn't be too hard on me.

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong in my assumptions -- the teacher, Leilani, was SO kind and understanding. We spoke outside the classroom as we waited for a Zumba class to finish up. She asked me was about what I hoped to get out of yoga and why I was there. I told her about my mental health struggles and the somewhat recent loss of my mother. She said that mental health was one of the biggest reasons she got into yoga herself, and I found that very reassuring.

People of all ages, skill levels and genders attended the class. Leilani emphasized that each student had permission to back out of any stretch or pose that felt uncomfortable, and that we could modify our experience for our own needs as she guided the class. I immediately felt like I could just enjoy myself and not worry about what other people were thinking. This would be a personal experience for each of us, free of criticism.

The first class was such a beautiful, healing time for me. I watched myself perform poses I didn't think I could and felt my confidence and self-love grow as the class progressed.

The end of most yoga sessions includes savasana, or corpse pose. This is where you lay on your back on the mat with your eyes closed, in total stillness, for several minutes at minimum. Stillness has always been difficult for me as I suffer from anxiety. But as I lay there on my mat in the dark room, I let go of everything I had been holding onto, all the stress, the worry, the sadness, the anger, the self-loathing. I felt total peace wash over me. I hadn't felt this in so long, it brought me to tears.

After such an impactful experience, I knew I would be coming back regularly.

Prior to class one of those first times, I overheard Leilani and another class member talking about the massage therapist and fascial stretch therapist who worked at the gym and how incredible they were. I had tried massage for my chronic pain issues, but it never seemed like enough and it only improved my symptoms for a day or so. I didn't know anything about fascial stretch therapy, but their discussion led me to look into it. I took a card on my way out.

Later in the week, I visited the therapist's web site, Superior Strengthening Systems, and read what it said about fascial stretch therapy (also called myofascial release). This type of therapy had been recommended to me by several people previously, but having been burned by alternative treatments and medicine so many times, I never bothered to look into it. But here it was, and it seemed to be exactly what I needed. And if not, what did I have to lose? I made an appointment for an hour-long fascial stretch session.

That session changed my entire life.

I met with Ian Lawson, the fascial stretch therapist. We talked about my symptoms, how long I'd had them, what kind of activities made them worse, etc. After the evaluation, he had me lay face-down on a massage table and began to work on the fascia in my upper back where I experience most of my pain. The best way to describe it was like the part of a massage that you want more of, that "hurts so good" feeling that seems to melt away the tension. Ian directed me to breathe low and deep and to relax into the pressure. He also worked on my shoulder joint, gently loosening it as the fascia released. It was difficult at first, but as the session progressed, I felt the pain dissipate.

When I left an hour later, I couldn't believe how amazing I felt. I came in at a pain level 8 and left at a 2. I was in complete disbelief -- I had found the answer to a problem that plagued me for almost eight years, a problem no other doctors or therapists could explain.

Since that day, I have been seeing Ian weekly for stretch therapy. The pain has drastically decreased. On days when it comes back, it is manageable and I know how to stop it before it gets out of control. Ian also located other areas of tight fascia and low mobility in my hips, which has contributed to my upper back and shoulder issues. Ian taught me some resistance exercises to activate and build the muscles that will prevent my pain from returning. I am now at the point where I can reduce the frequency of my sessions, and my symptoms are completely manageable.

This therapy, coupled with yoga 2-3 times a week, has all but eliminated the acute, debilitating pain that prevented me from having a normal life before. I no longer wake up wanting to go back to sleep to escape the pain. I do not have to rely on pain medication to get through the day or to sleep at night.

So, I'd found a real solution to my physical pain! But, I was still dealing with anxiety and depression. As I continued talking to my counselor, I learned a lot about myself and was confronted with some things I'd need to drastically change in order to heal my mind.

I'll talk more about this journey in Part III.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Learning to live, part I.

"I want to change the world; instead, I sleep.
I want to believe in more than you and me.
But all that I know is I'm breathing.
All I can do is keep breathing."
-Ingrid Michaelson

I've been going through a really rough time, particularly over the past several months. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I am addressing the root of my issues one by one, and it's very tiring work. I'm hanging in there, but please be patient with me. I wish I could be more to everyone, and someday, I hope to share with you all my journey of healing. But right now, all I can do is keep breathing.

On February 21, I shared the above image and caption on my Instagram account.

Prior to this, I was in such an incredible amount of pain. Of all kinds.

Physically, my upper back and shoulders had hurt continuously for nearly eight years. It started in 2011 when my son Carson was a toddler. I thought I'd hurt myself by lifting him. The pain was unreal; my whole arm felt like it was on fire and the pain radiated from the top of my head down to my fingertips. I saw a chiropractor right away who ordered an MRI and X-ray. Both turned up negative.

A year later, I saw a general practitioner who put me on steroids and muscle relaxers. The pain returned full-force as soon as I stopped taking the medications.

I then saw a different doctor who told me it was due to low progesterone and hypothyroidism. He put me on hormones, which helped for a time, but things then got much worse. In addition to the muscle pain, I became exhausted and felt achy all the time. I couldn't get up in the mornings and needed a nap each day by mid-afternoon.

I took matters into my own hands. I stopped taking the hormones. I did a six-day juice fast. I quit gluten. I bought a Theracane. I got massages. I earnestly started lifting weights and working out, but nothing fixed it. I got pregnant with my daughter Clara and delivered her in 2014. The pain persisted.

A year ago, I saw a holistic nurse practitioner who took several vials of my blood and told me I was essentially normal, and she could prescribe CBD oil if I wanted.

I gave up. I was going to have to endure this trial for the rest of my life.

I quit my beloved job as an assistant and accompanist for a prestigious high school choral program. I also quit teaching private piano and voice lessons. Sitting at the piano put me in more pain than anything else, and the amount of hours and attention these jobs required created significant amounts of stress. I felt stretched thin as a mother and worried that my kids were getting only the very little that was left of me.

Emotionally, I was completely drained of everything except anxiety and depression. I didn't have energy for joy, excitement, anger or grief because living with chronic pain is so draining. It saps the life out of you. I felt constant anxiety over the many demands of my life I couldn't meet because I was hurting so much. I felt depressed because I had once achieved so much, but now, I could barely do anything. I perceived that I was disappointing so many people.

Spiritually, my physical pain and emotional sickness impeded my ability to connect with the divine. God seemed so far away. I couldn't feel His love anymore. I started to think maybe He wasn't there, because my endless pleas to be cured were met with silence. Attending church was exhausting. I felt like I had to put on a brave face and endure hours of discussions about how if you're righteous and good, everything in your life will work out and you'll be happy. Here, I had done everything expected of me for my entire life, and I was as miserable as I'd ever been. I would go home after these lessons and cry, feeling like the world's biggest failure.

In hindsight, I see now that I was enduring the effects of a traumatic incident -- losing my mother to cancer. The mental illnesses and chronic pain I'd already had for years became unbearable in the wake of losing a parent. But I didn't feel like I could fully process the trauma. I had to be strong and "get over it." I pushed it down and tried to ignore it. I just wanted to "move forward."

Towards the end of last year, I began to unravel. I was desperate to escape the pain. I wanted to die or to run away. I envied my mother and her escape from this wretched life. I fantasized about leaving my family and going somewhere far away where no one knows me, somewhere I could start from scratch and be totally alone. A place where the people who loved me wouldn't have to suffer with me and my problems. I honestly believed everyone was better off without me.

It was a dark, horrifying and lonely place to be.

Thankfully, my husband Dillon saw what was happening and guided me toward professional help. He saved me.

I started seeing a counselor in January, in the middle of this breakdown. She helped me understand the trauma my mind had endured, and how I could alleviate this suffering. I had to acknowledge some painful truths about myself and make some big changes. Most importantly, I had to learn to live differently. I had to understand my limits, set boundaries with myself and others, and take care of myself.

You see, I had always been very good at taking care of others. Even as a small child, I wanted everyone to be happy. I wanted to do everything expected of me, because it meant people would accept and love me. I was a teacher's pet, a straight-A student, an exemplary worker, always on time, always dependable, always said "yes." This pattern continued on through my life well into adulthood.

In the meantime, I habitually cast my own needs aside. I didn't have time to sleep or see a doctor or exercise or even EAT sometimes because other people -- clients, church congregants, family, friends -- needed me first. And I could manage this type of life before. But post-loss Jenna couldn't hack it, and at the end of 2018, it all came crashing down on me.

My counselor first gave me some ideas about how to manage my anxiety, process my grief, and begin to heal. One exercise that particularly helped was free-writing. She instructed me to set a timer for five minutes and write whatever came to mind, without editing or analyzing. I often spent more than five minutes doing this, and the time was fraught with strong, painful emotions. But at the end, I felt lighter.

She also suggested I begin practicing yoga. I immediately bristled at this idea, because I had tried yoga in the past and hated it. I couldn't enjoy the practice because I'd get caught up in whether I was doing it right, breathing right, holding the poses long enough, and so forth. It felt like torture to me. But I wanted to get better, so I decided to trust her. I signed up for yoga at the gym just up the hill.

That's when things started to turn around for me.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Three cheers for adopting pets!

This post is sponsored by Nakturnal. All expressed opinions are mine.

Confession: I am a dog lover. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted a dog of my own, but my parents insisted for years that it just wasn't going to happen.

Then, one day, when I was about eight years old, the perfect opportunity to adopt a dog fell into our lap. A friend of my uncle found herself unable to give her 3-year-old black Labrador retriever the type of life she felt she deserved, and she was looking for a family to take care of her sweet dog. We happened to fit the bill, so Isabel joined our home!

Isabel, chilling in her baby pool. She loved the water!

Isabel was the most perfect dog. So happy, friendly, quiet and gentle. She never barked or growled at anyone. She didn't ever need a leash when we would take her out because she would faithfully stay near us. She adored children, which was essential considering there were five in my family. I always felt like she was a loyal friend to me. I spent many days telling her all my problems, and she always provided a listening ear.

The best part about Isabel's story is that we were able to adopt her instead of buying her from a breeder or a pricey pet store. Truth is, there are so many pets out there already that need homes. Pet adoption is both an ethical and inexpensive way to add a furry friend to your family.

If Isabel had been taken to a shelter, she may have never been adopted and could've missed out on a wonderful life. According to the Humane Society, 2.7 million shelter dogs and cats are euthanized in the United States every year because there aren't enough people adopting the numerous pets that come into the shelters. What a sad fact!

Besides the opportunity to save an animal's life, there are plenty of other reasons to adopt a pet. They help you maintain a healthy, active lifestyle, for one thing. You also don't have to house-train them since most shelter animals are adults, and you likely won't need to spay or neuter your pet since shelters often take care of the procedure for you.

Today, there are also numerous sites which allow for direct pet adoption, meaning you don't even have to go search the shelters for your new companion. You can pull up your browser and see if any cats or dogs look like a good fit for your family without even leaving the house.


Last year, we added a pet to our own family through adoption, too! Her name is Tilly, and she's a miniature schnauzer. She's spunky, energetic, cuddly and so much fun. We can't imagine life without her, and we're so grateful we were able to give her a loving home.


If you're thinking about bringing a pet into your family, please consider adoption. So many pets with a variety of personalities fill the animal shelters, and you can be the one to rescue a pet who might not otherwise get the chance to have a loving home!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The reality of metastatic breast cancer.

It's October, which means it's breast cancer awareness month. Those aggravating pink ribbon shirts have already started popping up in stores. I'm now to the point where I only grit my teeth and walk briskly by when I see them. Before, my eyes would fill with tears of rage at the mere thought of them. Progress, I suppose.

Unfortunately, my family members and I are more aware of what breast cancer means than most people. And while many might think it's a "cute" cancer, I'm here to tell you it's not. It's ugly, it's painful, it's humiliating and it's very often deadly. And on that last point -- you're not as in control of your fate as you think you are. The cancer is in charge. Make no mistake about it.

When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2014, the initial prognosis wasn't too bad. Stage 2, they'd told her. She'd need a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. The usual. It would be terrifying and brutally hard, but she'd get through it. We'd all help her. Family, friends and strangers rallied around her, bringing care packages and meals. Wigs were in her future. Maybe I'd shave my head to show support as she lost her hair.

We'd seen this story play out time and time again for many other women, and it would be the same for my mom.

Except, there was this lingering feeling I couldn't shake -- my maternal grandmother had already succumbed to the disease nearly five years prior. Her mother, my great-grandmother, died from breast cancer at age 56. Deep down, I knew where this was really going. I just didn't expect it to happen so quickly.

A few weeks after my parents gathered us in their family room to break the news the first time, I got a call from my mom -- it was actually stage IV cancer. It had metastasized, and not in a way that is treatable. It was all over her skeletal system.

There would be no surgery. No chemo. No hair loss, no nausea and vomiting, no debilitating side effects from the treatments which make cancer notoriously unbearable. A cruelly ironic silver lining we'd all have gladly traded for a cancer that could be treated.

Instead, her oncologist attempted to prolong her life by prescribing hormone blockers to prevent the cancer from spreading as quickly as it would otherwise. That was the best they could do. They gave her 2 - 5 years to live.

The first year was almost normal. Aside from knowing she had terminal cancer, my mom frequently expressed that she felt no different than she had before. She even saw her markers go down, and some of the cancerous lesions shrank.

Then, around the beginning of the second year, the hormone blockers stopped working, and that was that. Slowly but surely, the disease progressed, sapping the life out of my mom day by day. Radiation -- the only treatment option to help with the excruciating pain in her hips -- fried her bowels to the point she couldn't keep any food down. (So much for avoiding the nausea and vomiting that come with chemotherapy.) She spent a lot of time in the hospital trying to rehydrate and regain the ability to be nourished, but for every step forward, it seemed she'd take several back.

My mom wasted away. She starved. Within months, she lost the ability to speak correctly and she lost her vision. She couldn't control her bowels anymore. She got thinner and thinner until there was nearly nothing left of her. She couldn't walk anymore. She was in a hospital bed. She couldn't answer calls or respond to texts. She was on pain killers around the clock. She was asleep more than she was awake.

And then, she died. Just like her mother and grandmother before her.

My family in December 2016, less than one month before my mom passed away.

This is what breast cancer awareness month fails to address -- metastatic breast cancer. Did you know breast cancer can spread to other parts of your body? I can't tell you how many times people I'd discuss my mom's case with would say to me, "It was in her bones? I thought your mom had breast cancer."

That's the thing about cancer -- it's complicated. It starts in one place and then spreads to other organs and parts of the body in different ways. You can't fix it by simply removing the breast tissue and replacing it with implants. It's not as easy as going through chemo, losing your hair for a few months and then happily ringing a congratulatory bell to signify you're in remission.

But the weird thing is, in the worst case, it is simple. Stupidly simple:

When you're stage IV, you're terminal. There's nothing left to do but die. Slowly. In diverse, painful ways. But, you're going to die, and that's that.

You don't get to buy a wig or a cute scarf. You don't get to ring a bell. People don't know how to help you. They don't know what to say. You are a ticking time bomb.

This is a chapter of the breast cancer story many people aren't even aware of. So, I write this blog post not to be morbid, but to help you understand -- to bring awareness.

Here's what you need to know: 1 in 8 women develop breast cancer during their lifetime. If you don't detect breast cancer early, you could die. So, make sure you conduct regular self-exams. The provided link tells you what to feel AND look for, because it's more than just lumps (with my mom, the cancer presented as an odd fold in her breast tissue).

And, if you feel a lump that doesn't show up on a mammogram, pursue further testing. This is KEY. My mom's lump never showed up on routine mammograms, and actually, 10 percent of breast cancers don't. It was eventually found through an ultrasound exam, and far too late.

I HATE that I lost my mother to breast cancer. I hate it. It's been almost 21 months that she's been gone. I miss her even more now than I did the day she left this earth, which is kind of weird to imagine if you've never lost someone.

But, I've learned some things from this real-life nightmare. One of those things is breast cancer isn't fancy, cute, or sexy -- it's serious, and it can kill you. It's devastating. So please, take care of yourselves. If something feels off or looks strange, go to the doctor. Don't wait or think it will resolve itself. It won't.

And if you don't care if you get cancer or not? Perform your checks for someone who does care -- your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends. I wouldn't wish the loss of a loved one to cancer on anyone.

This October, there will be no pink ribbons for me; just the painful reality that my vibrant, hilarious and beautiful mother's life was cut short by breast cancer. But if I can help even one person avoid dying this way, then telling this sad story is worthwhile to me. Do your checks, and if you see something, say something. That's all I ask.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mother's Day can be hard.

My mom with my brother Josh and me.

Over a decade ago, when I first became a mother at the young age of 20, I couldn't fathom why anyone would feel pain on Mother's Day. Sure, some people struggle with their fertility, I thought, but why can't they just celebrate their own mom, or any other mother figures they know?

As life went on, I met single women who longed to have a family. Women who had lost children. Women who had spent tens of thousands of dollars to get pregnant, only to come up empty-wombed again and again. Women whose mothers abandoned them or mistreated them. I began to see how the second Sunday in May could be hard for some.

Then, my mom got sick and died. And last year, Mother's Day became incredibly difficult for me.

It's not that I don't have other mother figures to honor. It's not that I don't appreciate my own role as a mother. It's just ... complicated.

The day is filled with memories of happier times which cancer later ripped away from me. There's also an accompanying dread that I, too, could die early and leave my family behind to pick up all the pieces.

And, there are those nagging reminders of my own inadequacy as a mother -- I don't spend enough time with my kids, not a good enough example to them, not as kind as I should be, not teaching them well enough ... and, the list goes on.

And then, there's church. I love my church with all my heart and I love the people in my congregation. But, I've found that well-meaning church people make really insensitive comments sometimes.

A common one I hear is that I shouldn't despair because I'll get to be with my mom again someday. Well, the truth is, I do have a lot of faith that I'll be reunited with my mother, and the gospel gives me so much hope. But, it doesn't make me miss her less. In fact, this idea that she's in spirit form "just around the corner" or on the other side of a thin veil actually makes me miss her more!

It frustrates me that even though she's so close, I can't talk to her. I can't reach her whenever I want. Three of my mom's five children got married after she died. Was she there? In spirit -- probably. But, she couldn't help her daughters put on their wedding dresses and freshen up their makeup, she couldn't greet loved ones with big hugs in a receiving line at the reception, she couldn't fret about all the preparations with the rest of us ... none of that. It's heartbreaking.

When people say, "It's so sad your mom died! But, aren't you grateful for the plan of salvation?!" Well, I am! But, I also miss my mom, especially on Mother's Day, and her death still brings me great sorrow. I CAN FEEL MANY EMOTIONS AT ONCE I AM NOT A ROBOT.

It's unfortunate to me that Mormons especially seem so averse to suffering that they feel the need to annihilate it for everyone else with trite comments like this. For one thing, you can't wipe out someone's troubles with a canned statement about a gospel principle. Healing the hearts of others requires you to get down in the trenches with them, understand their pain, mourn with them, carry their burdens and comfort them.

And though the sender might intend to comfort with their comments, hearing them can actually hurt the receiver quite a bit, especially on days when they may already feel sensitive. The anxiety and discomfort caused by those remarks is a big reason women like me don't want to attend church on Mother's Day.

Church should be a safe, warm, judgment-free place for everyone. So, if you're prone to saying things that could be hurtful -- even if you don't intend to -- take a second to think before you speak. What you can say to someone you suspect might be struggling is, "Hey (insert name here), happy Mother's Day. I hope it hasn't been too difficult for you. I love you and appreciate you." Look them in the eye. Be sincere.

Since my mom first got sick, the one thing that has always brought me comfort is the assurance that people are aware of me and care about me. Be it a simple smile or hug, a text, a call, a thoughtful gift, a treat ... any effort to reach out has given me strength and mended my heart in some way.

I also appreciate when people acknowledge how sad it is that my mom's not here. It shows that they see my pain and they aren't trying to dismiss it. It also helps me process the loss. Yes, bringing it up is actually healing for me.

I don't want to forget my mom, and I don't want anyone else to forget her. When I saw Coco for the first time, I sobbed pretty violently at the end -- not because it was so beautiful, but because of how tragic it is when people are forgotten in death. Hearing others talk of my mom reassures me that her memory will live on. I have heard others who have lost children or other close loved ones express the same. They cherish those tokens of remembrance that others give them.

I don't think Mother's Day will ever be easy for me again. But, I do look forward to remembering my mom on that day, as well as spending time with my own precious children and reflecting on my Mother in Heaven.

Just remember -- Mother's Day can be hard for some people. Give hugs and say kind words. Share a memory with them. Those are the best gifts.

(And also, treats and sleep.)