December 13. Bittersweet.

When something bad happens, people say the wrong things so often. They say weird, hurtful things when they’re trying to be nice. They say things that don’t hurt until later, and then when they do begin to hurt, you can’t get the words out of your mind. It’s like a horror movie; everywhere you turn, those awful words are scrawled on every wall.

But there’s something worse than the things people say. It’s much worse, I think, when people say nothing. -Shauna Niequist- {Bittersweet excerpt}

On Thursday, December 13th, 2007 at 1:05 a.m. my mother, my mumsy, passed away. She left the pain and the illness she’d been living with and fighting seven months and went home to be with our Father in heaven.

Three years, today.

I have found over time that when people find out my mom has passed away, a lot of times they don’t know what to say. Sometimes it gets real awkward. Sometimes they quickly say they’re sorry and then change the subject to something lighter and happier and sometimes, people say nothing.

For a long time I would avoid the subject because I was so tired of these adverse reactions. Just about lying when I’d see people that didn’t know the news. Avoiding any conversations that centered around our mothers.

What’s funny though is sometimes I really want to talk about it.

When you’re mourning, when something terrible has happened, it’s on your mind and right at the top of your heart all the time. It’s genuinely shocking to you that the sun is still shining and that people are still chattering away on Good Morning America. Your world has changed, utterly, and it feels so incomprehensible that the bus still comes and the people in the cars next to you on the highway just drive along as if nothing’s happened. When you’re in that place, it’s a gift to be asked how you’re doing, and most of the time the answer comes tumbling out, like water over a broken dam, because someone finally asked, finally offered to carry what feels like an unbearable load with you.-Shauna Niequist {Bittersweet excerpt}

Sometimes things feel so fresh and I want to tell you what it felt like when I heard the news that my mom was sick. How I bought an “I heart mom” shirt in San Francisco just a couple days later. I want to tell you that I actually told an old friend that I wished it was someone else who had cancer and not my mom. As if I could make a trade with God. “I’ll give you this one, God, but not her.”

I want to tell you what it was like when I took my mom to chemo. How it felt to spend all day taking care of H and my family and then spending some evenings at my mom’s, scanning photos for her and having dinner and hearing her say “Just like old times.”

I want to tell you about the week my mom went into the hospital and how it felt to sit in urgent care with Maddy, who was sick and then getting the call that it was time. How it felt to drop off Henry with Ty and Maddy’s mom and just go.

I want to tell you about the sleepless nights, wondering if a call would come and that the night the call did come, I had to run through the house to the kitchen to get the phone in time. I want to tell you that as long as I live I will not forget the words my dad spoke and his voice that night.

I want to tell you what it was like pulling a sleeping baby from his crib and riding in the car with Jeff in silence in the middle of the night. And I want to tell you what it was like walking out with my dad.

I don’t believe God’s up in heaven making things go terribly wrong in our lives so that we learn better manners and better coping skills. But I do believe in something like composting for the soul: that if you can find life out of death, if you can use the smashed up garbage to bring about something new and good, however tiny, that’s one of the most beautiful things there is.

I learned to say something. And I offer my apologies for all the times I didn’t say something. I’m really sorry about that. For a whole bunch of not very good reasos, I didn’t know better then. But I know better now.

So when there’s bad news or scary news of when something falls apart, say something. … And if you don’t know what to say, try this: “I heard what happened, and I don’t know what to say.” – Shauna Niequist {Bittersweet excerpt}

I try not to dwell on the fact that my mom passed away. When friends sit and talk about plans with their families at holidays, I listen quietly. At Mother’s Day, I am silent. Everywhere I go I am asked what I am doing, or will I be seeing my mom, or what am I buying her. And it’s awkward and strange and I’m never quite sure how to handle it without making it strange.

I have this friend, who’s incredibly busy with her three small children. But what I love about her is there is no barrier and she’ll just say it. She’ll just ask. She’ll say the awkward thing or ask the question while others stay prim and proper and quiet, she’ll say something like, “It must have been so hard. I think about it all the time and I’m sorry.” And just like that, I’m validated and I know she cares.

Another friend of mine, who has suffered her own unbearable loss a few years ago, remembers things and will just send me an email or a note and touch base with me and connect and tell me, “I was thinking of you, I know it’s your mom’s birthday.”

Shauna’s book, Bittersweet, touched me and hit a nerve in me in many ways, the chapter I’ve shared above is just one of many that really resonated with me.

Her essay-like chapters flow and bring you from happy laughter to tears the next. She grieves a different loss than mine and writes about it and around it and in it that you can feel the loss.

After reading Shauna’s first book Cold Tangerines, I was sharing it and quoting it and telling people, they must read it. And now, after reading Bittersweet, it’s the same thing. Anyone who has ever had a loss or has wavered or wondered or waffled with something must read it. Each chapter flows as though you are sitting having coffee with her and by the end, when I turned the last pages of the last chapter, it felt as though we were friends.

There would seem to be nothing bittersweet about a loss like a parent or a miscarriage or a baby but that’s where I’ve learned I’m wrong.

Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. -Shauna Niequist {Bittersweet excerpt}

I miss my mom. A lot. There are so many things that have changed and ebbed and flowed and I wish so much sometimes that I could have a day, an hour even, just a little more. But I also have strangely, over the last three years, grown and while I still miss her and have a mom-shaped hole in my heart that only she could fill, I have felt at peace.

Three years feels like an eternity ago. And then again, just like I said on Evelyn’s birthday about her life, it feels like yesterday.

Three years ago, today. I lost my mom. My children lost their grandma Nan. My dad lost his wife. I would be lying if I said today’s not a sad day, because it is. It is bitter.

But the sweetness, my friends, comes from the memories and the smiles and the photos and the stories that are passed along.

Shauna Niequist is giving away a signed copy of Bittersweet to one of my readers. If you are interested {and I hope you are!} please leave a comment here. A winner will be chosen Thursday, December 16.


  1. And now, I'm bawling.
    4 months ago today I lost my mom.
    It's our first Christmas without…

    I am still flabbergasted by the 'best friends' that said nothing, did nothing (and by did nothing, I mean something as simple as an email or a text that said 'hello, thinking of you', not anything elaborate.

    I am thinking of you today, and this holiday season –
    I MUST get a copy of this book…
    Sounds like it is right up my alley –

    Big hugs to you and yours – xoxo

  2. Hugs and thinking of you today. That book sounds incredible and I know of a few people that might benefit from reading it, I'm going to spread the word.

  3. The Bishops says:

    I'm with Darcie. The tears are rolling down my cheeks. For all of us that have experienced the loss of someone so close to our hearts.

    My Dad has been gone 6 years now, and it is STILL bittersweet. When you love someone deeply, I believe you miss them the same when they're gone.

    I hope I've always said something to you. Maybe not always the right things, but something. To let you know that I care.

    I'm praying for your peace today.

  4. Even though my dad passed away 16 years ago, I too still go through those awkward moments when people find out. And I feel the same way. It's a strange feeling to want to talk about it but then not want to at the same time.
    I even still remember that night we found out. I definitely know those moments stay with you. Sharp and clear, like the blade of a knife.
    Thanks for sharing those excerpts, it sounds like a beautiful book.
    You're in my thoughts today, Samara. Take care.

  5. Samara,

    I can't imagine the loss of losing a parent. It is sometimes hard to know the words to say to someone who has lost a loved one or is going through a tough time. I try and let those people know that I am here for them, whatever they might need. I think giving your time is one of the most important gifts we can give to someone grieving. Just to lend an ear, to cry with them and mourn their loss. Jesus is there with us all the way, never leaving us, and I think that is the best example of how to be a good friend to somebody; especially during times like these. I want you to know that I am here for you and will be thinking of you on this day, throughout the day. I know we never really got to know each other all those years ago, but I like to think that everything happens for a reason and I am SO excited that we have another opportunity to reconnect and perhaps build a friendship.

    God bless you on this day and always – your friend, Rachel

  6. Many Christmases without my Mom, and really, the pain never gets better. I wish it did, that I could say it will get better; the only thing that happens is that it fades, becomes less acute and you have days that you don't think about it, but that takes a long time.

    You ever want to talk about your Mom, I'm willing to listen. I sure know that pain. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  7. Jon, Sara, Tyler, and Sophie says:

    Thinking about you, friend.
    Your mom was such a wonderful lady! I remember fondly spending afternoons and evenings at your house – your mom always reminding us to make good choices before we left. 🙂 Wishing you some wonderful memories today, and always.

  8. I have the date marked in my calender book and if I were more organized I would mail you a card to say I am always thinking of you on this date! I hope you know that I am and that I remember it like it was yesterday, Madi and Henry playing in the nursery at Salem during the service, me not having the ability to say anything, let alone anything worthwhile!

    What a great book you quoted. I will have to write down some of those quotes. Thanks for sharing. Thinking of you today!

  9. This book sounds amazing, but i have to say, if you draw me, I'm giving my copy to Darcie!

    I never knew that you'd lost your mom. I think it must be a horrible experience to continue to endure, but I am glad that there are the sweet memories for you as well. Today may be bitter but it is clear that your mom has given you loads of sweetness in your life.

    Hugs to you friend. I may not always say things right but if you ever want to tell me stories just to talk I am always happy to listen.

  10. Very wonderful post. In March of 2009 I lost my husband of 32 years at too young an age and too fast from cancer. I remember, as you, every minute of our last weeks together.

    I have a friend who calls me from time to time to have a "Mike Night" and we get together and all we pretty much talk about is him. It does my heart good and it has inspired me to do this with others.

    Thanks for your honesty in the pain that you experience. It never goes away is what I hear – it just changes as new memories are created.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

  11. Grieving the death of a loved one is a forever process, I think. It has been 39 years since my mom died. I was 8 yrs old. It is not a paralyzing grief for me, but there are things that come up or memories or days on the calendar that open up another spot in your heart and mind that you may have forgotten or didn't remember until that moment. Once in awhile they can cause a wave of grief, but now days they mostly come as a ripple when they come. I see it as God's grace and mercy that I only have had to process this one piece at a time.

  12. As others have said, I am sitting here totally crying my eyes out. As someone who has lost both of my parents in the past three years, I cannot begin to tell you how much of what you said makes sense. It is often difficult to put into words how it feels, but like you said, sometimes we WANT to tell our friends just how hard it is. Just how sad we can get and just how much we miss the ones we have lost. Thank you for saying it so eloquently. May they be watching us from above and proud of who we have become.

  13. I love you so much! I am thinking of you today and I can't imagine life without my mom right now and how hard it must be for you. Life has been crazy busy lately and your post brought me back to reality. I wish I could be there for you more, especially on days like today, but I am so glad for the loved ones that you have surrounding you.
    It is hard to know what to say to someone who has experienced something like you, but I have learned to let them know that I am there for them and then to actually be there. So many people say "I am here for you" but when everything is all said and done are they there?
    Well I am here (well 5 hours away) and I love you.


  14. I am so glad you wrote this. It really helps us all understand what we can do to help others through hard times. I have always thought saying something was better then staying quiet but didn't know if that is what was best. I just know I love talking about my Grandparents that I have lost over the year. I love re-living the good memories. I am sure you have plenty of those with your mom!

  15. Great Post. The grieving is always there. I think about your mom and my sister often. I speak to her alot.I just need to learn how to quiet my mind so I can hear her. I love you lots and think of you and your sisters often. Love Janet

  16. I can't imagine and hope I don't have to. The pain of losing someone too soon and too young must be so painful. Recently a family at my school lost their 26 year old aunt suddenly. It makes me think how incredibly fragile life is. I see the mom drive to pick up her kids looking like she's just barely holding on. We are just trying to take care of her kids the best we can. Your mom would be so proud of who you are and what you've become. Thinking about you tonight. Hope to see you soon.
    Auntie BB

  17. Thanks for writing this — I really like chapters you quoted and feel many of those same things. I lost my mom earlier this year and am going through the first Christmas without her and feel so much of the "bitter." But, I am also expecting a baby girl at Christmas, so there is much "sweet" going on right now too.

    Take care of yourself.

  18. Theresa Valento says:

    I think of your mom so often and I can't believe she's no longer with us. As neighbors, we looked out for each other's children. She had a special bond with her little Kenzie. Your mom was a special lady with lots of energy, compassion and especially love. She loved you girls and your dad so much. It was ALWAYS obvious. They were best friends and you guys were the light of their lives. I think of her often and pray that you girls have the strength to live with your memories. She must be looking down from her heavenly home and smiling so proudly. She will always be in your heart and I know I will never forget her.

  19. I love the quotes you shared from that book. It sounds amazing. Wishing you peace and love and sending hugs to you through the cold MN air yesterday, today, and always!

  20. Much love and God's comfort to you and yours as you remember your mom, Samara, every day but especially at this time. Thinking of Nan, and the legacy she has left, inspires me always. XOXO.

  21. Thanks for some quality points there. I am kind of new to online , so I printed this off to put in my file, any better way to go about keeping track of it then printing?

  22. EyeBeeLeaveEweHoney says:

    My heart breaks for you. No stranger to loss myself, I know that sometimes we need peace and quiet and sometimes we need the peace that comes from simply sharing.

    So hard to know when to offer a hug, a shoulder to cry on, a laugh, an ear, or some well placed wisdom. The point is that when people offer any of those, with the intent of easing your pain…they are giving a huge gift.

    I wish you great solace and that the memories of the many years you had her on this earth with you keep you warm. Smile when you think of her, and know that from time to time the breeze that comes through the window at an odd time is really her way of brushing your cheek.

  23. I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. Even though it was a few years ago, I'm sure it still really, really hurts.
    I just lost my dad unexpectedly in April. He was 56. It's so hard. So so hard.
    Praying for your hurting heart.

  24. Reading your post brought tears to my eyes. I was thinking of you yesterday and always.

  25. A friend forwarded your blog onto me, and now I join those with tears streaming down their faces.

    I lost my mom in January, I can't believe it's been almost 1 year. Thank you for your words. And for letting me know about this book. I will definately be getting it.

  26. Elisabeth Badenhop says:

    My 22 year old brother Chris was killed in a car accident my junior year in college. We never got along growing up until high school when my dad walked away from my family for a younger fresher version of my mom. Through that season my brother Crusty (the endearing name I liked to refer to him as) and I became close buddies as we tried to navigate the pain and out new life without Dad. Looking back now I think it was so sweet of God to give me and Crusty 5 years of friendship befor his life here ended. The days after his death are still pretty blurry. I dis have a handful of college friends who loved me well during these days. One of my sweetest memories was when I couldn't sleep and called my friend Sadee at 345am. She picked me up and we tried to go find something that was open 24 hours, our only option in out small town was Wal-Mart. We sat in the parking lot for 3 hours…she listened as I shared story after story of my beloved Crusty. She entered into my pain that night in that parkif lot so well! I probably have more stories of how people were awkward, some that I look back on now and just crack up! What in the world was my dad's cousin skipped saw me at the funeral and said nothing other than "only the good die young…guess that's why we're still here."

    I love the way both you and Shauna wrote with such honesty. She puts many words to emotions I felt but was never able to name before excerpts I've read from Bittersweet! Would love to read the whole book.

  27. Thanks for sharing your story. It's very poignant.

  28. Samara, I know I commented on FB but had to write again – this post said it perfectly. So many people struggle with "what to say", and "how to say it", and end up saying nothing…what a valuable lesson you have shared with others through this post. Thank you for sharing the Bittersweet book also, I cannot wait to read it!


  29. says:

    Can I just say that I can not wait to read this book. She has put into words the emotions that I have been feeling this past week. I do wish people would just say something. Yes. My son is sick. But I am still the same. My heart hurts really bad sometimes, but I am still human! And when you see me with my son, and you can tell that something is not right by just looking at him, don't just stare. Come and talk to me! I LOVE to talk. Not that it even compares to losing your Mom. But, I know we can all relate to that fact that life is painful. We have to learn to embrace the pain and try to find joy in the small things! I loved this post. Thank you, Samara!

  30. Kendra Wheeler says:

    I have a millions things that I could say right now after reading this. I just want you to know that I still have the thank you card that your wonderful mom wrote to my kids at school for the cards that they sent her.

    I think of you ALL the time. I know we are far apart but know that you have never left my thoughts and prayers.

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