Christmas Eve....1 Year since I lost my mom

Mom, my sister Meghan and I on Vancouver Island. I will always remember her laughing this way.

I can't believe we are here already... On Christmas Eve it will be a year since my beloved mother Valerie died from breast cancer. I recently did a "Writing for Grief" course through the Lumara Society. It has helped me process my grief in a cathartic way.  In that course a man shared this quote by Washington Irving "There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.

Christmas used to be such a special time for my family and I. My mom made Christmas so very special. I still don't remember how we made it through Christmas Day 2021. The day after she died the last thing we wanted to do was celebrate… frankly it was hell. I remember Ilya forcing me to get out of bed and get some air. Somehow he held me up and got me to the Richmond Nature Park and we sat together watching birds coming to the feeder in the snow, as he held me and I cried. My mom had wrapped a gift for me before she died but was too weak to write a card. It was a necklace that I have never taken off since. She thought of me right up until the day she died always so brave in her illness never complaining. She was a true inspiration to me in her selflessness. Her last words to me before she lost the inability to speak and then went unconscious when the liver toxins went to her brain were "I love you" and "thank you" in a very slurred speech. It makes me cry just writing and remembering this...I really miss her telling me she loved me every day.

She thanked everyone for looking after her and even got me to buy the care aides gifts as she lay there dying. What a woman! Here was a RN who helped people her whole life dying in such a horrible way with so much internal bleeding.. so much blood. I'll never forget the trauma of it all. Oh Mom I loved  and adored you and will always until the day I die too. Thank you for loving me and giving me the life you did. Thank you for believing in me.

It is hard to be jolly at this time and I really don't feel like celebrating Christmas this year but will try for my mom. I love and miss her so much it physically hurts. I’m still so angry about it. The moment she died I felt my heart physically break. I never ever felt so much pain. I not only lost my mother but my friend. I really would cut off my own legs and arms if I could get her back. I am afraid that I will soon start to forget her or things about her as the years pass by.

I still remember her face and jaundice eyes looking at me the moment she died in my arms and the moment her soul left her body. I still remember how her body went from warm to ice cold and the entire night my sister and I sobbed and screamed until I thought we would lose our voices. I never will forget the wounded sounds my sister made when she didn't make it in time to say goodbye and be there the moment she died. Although our collective tears could fill two oceans, somehow they kept coming. I remember my dad's face the moment she was dying, the fear.... we were so damn helpless and the words he said as she passed. I remember the fear that I can't go through this again when he dies. It all happened so quick the actual passing. I remember waking up the next morning with so much dread, trembling and in shock and that tears were streaming from my eyes the moment they opened. I didn't even know that was humanely possible. I was so lucky to have a mom who loved me so much.

My Mother kept a garden.
A garden of the heart;
She planted all the good things,
That gave my life it's start.

She turned me to the sunshine,
And encouraged me to dream:
Fostering and nurturing
The seeds of self-esteem.

And when the winds and rains came,
She protected me enough;
But not too much, she knew I'd need
To stand up strong and tough.

Her constant good example,
Always taught me right from wrong;
Markers for my pathway
To last my whole life long.

I am my Mother's garden,
I am her legacy.
And I hope today she feels the love,
Reflected back from me.

-Author Unknown

I miss seeing her beautiful Black Skin. I miss seeing and smelling all the Black hair products, creams and lotions the scents that are in a Black woman's home. I miss her Bajan cooking that I can't replicate. She was the only fully Black person in my family that was left alive who lived near me. I am biracial (product of a white father and Black mother) but the world sees me as Black and that is the race I identify most with. When you experience racism you quickly see how the world views you. Just as biracial President Barack Obama is known as the first Black President. It is how the world works... the one drop rule. I am proud to be identified as Black. I love my dad but he can never truly know how it is to be a Black woman or how the racism feels. My sister can but my mother knew in a different way. There is colorism and darker skinned woman frequently experience even worse racism. 

I remember when I first got very hateful racist emails from some in the birding community with threats against my life. Threats of sexual violence and physical violence and lots of racist words. Then Ilya started to get emails calling him a N**%#* lover and then my friend Jeremiah Kennedy got similar for being my friend. My mom helped to guide me through and helped me go to the police and get it investigated and stopped. This wasn’t the first or last racist email nor event from microagressions to overt that I suffered while being a BIPOC birder. All the more reason why I champion diversity in the birding community and tell organizations they must actively make BIPOC people feel welcome instead of assuming it is a given.

I miss having someone to talk to about these difficult racial issues and I miss seeing and touching the beautiful melanated skin that made me feel whole, safe and welcome.

Since one year has now passed, I have realized how much truly the human body is capable of surviving. There are many days I didn't want to live without my mother and still those days are there but somehow I am still here, still surviving despite the pain and it is not easy. Not only have I lost a mother and friend, I am also grieving the loss of my old life and plans and things (important milestones) I will never get to share with her in the future. It is so hard not being able to pick up the phone and tell her about exciting things in my life or the cool bird I saw. You also lose that shared history. I always used to say to my mom "remember when we.." but no more. 

“When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you

When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.”

~John O’Donohue

The pain is still so strong, even a year later and that is normal. The regrets, the guilt too. Studies have shown how hard it is to lose a parent, especially for daughters losing mothers and how NORMAL it is to hurt so bad. Even though society may say it is not healthy to feel so much grief still. Society has an unhealthy relationship with grief. After a few months no one seems to want to hear about death anymore or how it still makes you sad. A common theme in the grief support groups I've been going to in the past year. I rarely talk about my grief with anyone anymore because society has made most people so uncomfortable with grief. Let's face it, grief is a lonely place to begin with and it is an even more lonely place because of this. Friends and people are really supportive at the immediate time of your loss but quickly drop off as the months pass on. I am thankful for the societies and people in my life who have normalized grief and who gave me a safe space to talk about it. When I don't have to say “I'm doing better” or “I feel fine now” just to make someone feel better.. or I can express my true pain and sadness, I know it is a safe place to talk about the loss of my mom. There is so much to do after a loved one passes. It is overwhelming and I still have stuff left to do.

Mom and I the day I graduated with my BSc from University 

You never get over a loss like this. I have realized you just learn to live with it and cope as best as you can. To blink your eyelashes every day, brush your hair (when you can), breathe and keep on going. After you lose someone you love you really realize how hard the act of taking care of yourself is. I know brushing my hair was painful. I know sleeping has been a real challenge. You wonder what’s the point. You feel frozen at times but somehow even though you aren’t thriving you do what you can to survive. Mother's Day, Her Birthday, Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, New Year’s and our birthdays are all hard because she isn't there.

My mom gave my nephew a build a bear and it has her voice recorded in it. She did this shortly before she died. I play it whenever I am babysitting him. I wish I had made recordings of her before she died. I just have old home movies my dad made from when we were little that I watch now to hear her beautiful voice.

I don't have twitter but one day saw this tweet by a man much older than me speaking about the pain about the loss of  his parent. Then I read all the comments in reply to that tweet. I felt their collective pain.

Especially for those who wrote about the immense pain they feel around Christmas which really hit home. When you love your parents so much and they die, it never goes away... even when you are older you continue to miss them forever.  All my pain and grief is the unexpressed love that will stay with me until I die.

Mom and I at one of my fave childhood places "Dinotown" in Bridal Falls, BC

I have learned a lot about systemic racism in Cancer Care and how studies have shown that a Black woman is 42% more likely in Canada and the US to die of Breast Cancer than a white woman or any other ethnic group. I still get angry when I think how doctors told her she didn't need chemo and it was all cured. When they found her stage 3 cancer had come back and now spread to the liver and bones she had to go on tons of hard chemo but it was too late. I believe had she been given the proper treatment earlier after surgery and radiation, she would likely still be here. Also, she found the cancer herself at stage 3 despite regular mammograms. Unfortunately for women with dense breasts mammograms can't always detect these masses but there are other ultrasounds that can but this was never offered to her. It is time to decolonize and acknowledge the racism in our cancer care and health care systems, as it will save lives.

I still miss her, even more than yesterday. I bought a book called "Permission to Mourn" by Tom Zuba. It is a beautiful, quick and easy book to read. When you lose someone, even a year later, it is hard to focus the mind to read a difficult book. This book is written in a way that makes it palatable for a grieving mind.

There were two poems in there that resonated with me profoundly called "The Secret Is Out" and Keeping Busy."

The Secret is out.

No more hiding.

In order to survive and kind of blend back in with everyone else you pretend to be just fine much of the day.

Much of the week

Much of the month.

Much of the year.

When you're at work.

(Can't cry there.

Can't bring my "problems" to work.)

When you are socializing with friends.

(People are tired of me complaining.

No one wants to hear about it anymore.

If I'm always a downer they'll stop inviting me.

When you're with your family.

(Don't ruin Christmas/Easter/Mother's Day/Father's Day.

Can we have one family gathering when you don't cry?

We all miss him/her but can't you be happy for one day?

For me?)

You stuff your feelings.

You repress and deny any and every emotion that arises.

You try to look and act "normal"

hoping and praying

that one day you'll actually feel normal again.

And people tell you how strong you are.

How "good" you are doing.

How great it is to have the old "you" back.

But you know a different truth.

You feel numb.





On the inside.

When you 're really honest

and quiet

and alone

you know that you are a swirling cesspool of feelings and emotions wanting to explode.

You're angry.

And you're not even sure what you're angry about.

Or who you're angry with.







Deep down you're angry that life changed

and you don't know what to do about it.

You're sad.






(Fill in the blank.)

You're wondering how 

and if

you are ever going to be able to turn this ship around

Recognize yourself in these words?

If so

take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

What you are experiencing is common.

It's the old way of doing grief.

In fact it's the way most of us do grief.

And it doesn't work.

It causes pain on top of pain on top of unbearable pain.

Recognizing that this is the pattern you have fallen into

is the first step in changing your life

And yes

you can turn this ship around.

There is a new way to do grief.

-Tom Zuba

Keeping Busy

Many well-meaning friends and family members 

and even others

who are a little farther down their own grief path than you

may be telling you to keep busy.

"The best thing for you right now

is to keep very




They tell you how important it is

to fill your days with "stuff" to do.


not knowing what else to do

(Really how could you know?)

you take their advice

and you work very hard

to fill your days with work

and errands

and task

on top of task

on top of task.

They tell you that by keeping busy

you can keep your mind off of  "it."


of course 

being the truth

that someone you love


has died

and the world as you knew it

shattered in a million or more little pieces.

You hear people say

"It's so great to see you out and about.

You're really doing well.

You are so very strong."

While deep inside

you know the toll

that faking it to 

to please others

is taking on you




and spiritually.

You wonder how long you can hang on.

The pain seems to actually be getting worse.

You feel pain

on top of pain

on top of unbearable pain.

And at night 

when you finally drop into bed

exhausted from all the scurrying

and the running

and the pretending to be just fine

you begin to get a glimpse of your new life.

Just a glimpse.

You begin to feel your feelings.

They bubble up.

They have to.

You can only deny

and repress

and numb

and pretend for so long.

And very often 

this encounter with your feelings

is frightening

and overwhelming

and confusing

and uncomfortable.

It feels messy and out of control.

You have been lead to believe

that feeling your feelings is the problem.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Feeling your feelings 

is the path to healing.


and remembering

that you are not your feelings

is the path to healing.

You are not sadness.

You are not anger.

You are not despair.

You are not loneliness.

You are not confusion.

You are not regret.

You are not guilt.

You are none of that.

Or any of the other feelings or emotions

that are grief expressing itself through you.

Remind yourself that every feeling and every emotion has

a beginning

a middle

and an end.

Practice meeting each feeling and each emotion

that arises

with compassion

and tenderness

and gentle kindness.

Remember that you are not these feelings

and you are not these emotions.

They are energy currents running through your body

rooted in the beliefs you hold on to.

You are not your feelings.

You are not your emotions.

You are actually a spirit

that has come to earth

to have a human experience.

And when you are finished

you will return home.

And part of your work

here on Earth

is learning to live a full

joy-filled life

with the death of your beloved.

-Tom Zuba

I adopted a new dog from the BC SPCA at the end of October. I wish my mom could of met him. He has brought some joy back to my life. Plus he gets along with my cat Milo. In fact they sleep together. I had lost my dogs in 2019 and 2018 and wasn't ready to get a new dog until now. When I was looking after my mom as her caretaker, I had no time and I was still grieving the loss of those animals as they were like family to me. This dog which I named Pipit (after the bird the American Pipit) has given me a thing to focus on.... another reason to get up each morning.. a dog has to be fed, has to be walked.…Plus animals comfort you when you are sad and bring you joy and help combat loneliness. My cat Milo has helped a lot in my grief. As my mom lay dying on the hospital bed in the house, the cat would sit on the bed beside her and purr while she petted him before she went unconscious. I'm so grateful little Milo brought her comfort and she got her wish to die at home surrounded by the love of her family. So yes this dog is just another part of something helping me to heal on my long healing journey.

My dog "Pipit"

My mom loved Willie Nelson and I want to share this beautiful song of his that makes me think of her every time I hear it:

I have finally realized that although my mom is physically gone and that my life is shattered because of it and will never be the same and I and those I love are forever changed, and will be forever in pain, that the relationship with her continues.

My mom is still right here. She is beside me, above me, below me, in front of me and behind me.

She is in the song I hear on the radio or in the mall at the perfect time. She is in those butterflies that seem to come out of nowhere.

She's the bird, that hummingbird or bluebird, the feather, that smell that reminds me of her, from the bread she baked to the perfume she wore and that weird coincidence. She is in my dreams.

I have realized I am now never alone.

She is with me.

We are together.


Mom and me at Bridal Veil Falls together then and always.


  1. What a lovely tribute to your beautiful Mom Valerie, such wonderful memories... So sorry for your loss and the grief that never leaves... you are lucky to have known that much love. So sorry for the racism and ugliness in our society today. Thank you for sharing all this with us Melissa. Wishing all the best to you and your family, please take care of each other this Christmas time and may kindness cover you all... (I love that photo of Pipit too) - Kate "Grief I've learned is just love. It's all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go." - Alyson Noel, Evermore

    1. thank you Kate for your kindness. thank you for sharing the beautiful quote by Alyson I definitely agree.

  2. Thank you for sharing so much of your journey, I hope it helps you in your grief and that it helps others to know their grief is valid too. So much of what you say resonates with me, so many of the mental health challenges people face are ignored, or encouraged to be kept quiet. I truly believe we need to do a better job of supporting everyone in their challenges and acknowledging each person experiences life in their own way.
    I am glad you have so many wonderful memories of your Mom and will always carry those with you. I still nearly 30 years later, get hit by a wave of grief from time to time when I remember something about my grandma, and I was only 12 when she died! I cannot imagine the pain you are feeling now. I imagine there will be many things that remind you of her. I hope that you will soon feel more joy with those memories than sadness.
    Pipit is adorable!
    Thank you for all you do for the birding community.

    1. Thanks so much Alaina. It helps to pour all my feelings out onto the page. It is ok to not be ok with loss and to feel deep grief, sadness, anger and pain a year later and I am truly not ashamed of it. Thank you so much for having understanding for what others feeling comments like "it was their time" are very painful and unhelpful but validating someone's genuine pain and immense loss means the world. Thank you for your words of comfort and sorry you experience those painful waves of grief they have hit me when I was driving once and had to pull over to stay safe.

  3. LOVE YOU. I feel your pain. She would be proud of you.

  4. Hey Mel, every word on this post is well expressed. Truly said from the heart. So unfair that she was taken from you so soon, and faced the discrimination from our medical system. There are some parallels to my grieving of the loss of my own dear mom, my biggest supporter and best friend. It really feels so unfair. Please enjoy a wonderful Christmas.
    Love Shou

    1. Thanks Shou. I know you know this pain because you lost your own mom to breast cancer too and you know the hole in your heart it leaves. Thanks for your kind support thinking of you this holiday season as well and sending my love

  5. Thank you for being so open with all of this, Mel. It’s true that no one can know just what we’ve lost, but we are definitely not alone in grief. It’s incredibly generous of you to share what you’ve learned through unimaginable and often indescribable pain. Thank you for being here, and please take all the time and space you need to get through this enormous day. Sending you love from the desert. ❤️

    1. Thanks Alecia. I hope that being open about grief and challenges that others will see it ok and feel supported. I have no shame in sharing my pain. It is human and normal and should be reflected that way in society. I also feel it is vital to talk about the discrimination Black women face in the medical and cancer care system. Thanks for being a great support and friend through the year. I know you have gone through the same pain when you lost your beloved dad. My thoughts are also with you this holiday season.

  6. So proud to be your friend. Thanks for all your hard work you do for the whole birding community including the young birders program you created, the rba and so much more! I can imagine how hard this Christmas is for you. Your mom was lovely and is still with you every day my friend.

    1. Thanks Jeremiah for always being a true friend and how you stood up against the racism I faced from the get go. Wishing you the best for 2023 and hope to see you soon.

  7. this was so beautiful it made me cry. the love you had for your mom is so evident. I pray for your peace and comfort

    1. Sorry to make you cry Jenn... I cried while writing it and then re-reading it. I loved my mom so much have been crying a lot these past few days as I remember how lucky I was to have her in my life and all the joy she brought to it. Thank you for praying for my peace and comfort that is so kind of you.

    2. It seems very hard to explain what gone forever means to some people. They have difficulty opening their heart and being honest with life in its journey which has both fragile times and stronger moments. The mother/daughter connection can be one of the strongest bonds as you will always have with your mom Melissa. Hope that your grief gently lifts away into more of your beautiful artwork, photographs and birding. A genuine mother gives unconditional love which is something many are lucky to have and others less fortunate never have experienced that connection. A decade after my own mom went to be an angel she still guides me in everyday decisions - her strength, wisdom, care and concern. When a mom is gone, part of you dies inside but we must carry on the best we can because that is what she would have wanted - her daughter to thrive- that is the greatest gift we can giver her back. I always ask what she would want me to do or be.... the inspiration and love and acceptance that a wonderful mom provides continues long after she's gone. A moms spirit stays with us forever......we become part of who they were - they are always in our hearts, thoughts and actions.

    3. Thanks Debbie for your very kind words and understanding it means a lot to me. Your words brought tears to my eyes. It really is not easy to just get over this and move on. A piece of my heart is forever gone now. All my best to you in the new year. Thank you xx

  8. I am so sorry for your pain. It really is something no one can understand until they go through it. Thanks for being such a good friend to me and so many. You are always eager to help others and are kind. All the young people you have mentored and continue to are a testament to that. You are strong and you will get through it but yes never over it. If you can survive losing someone you loved so much like your mom you can survive anything. Keep looking at those birds hon they will continue to guide you through and yes she will be right there beside you giving you strength to carry on.

    1. Thanks for your comment since you posted as anon I am not sure who you are but thank you for your kindness <3 I am looking forward to my young birders christmas count this weekend will be a nice uplifting way to start 2023. My mom was always supportive of my work with young birders too so I know she will be with us.


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