Matt Niswonger

Adventure Mom Overcomes Grief – My mom died. A part of me died with her.

This time of year I tend to look at my past with a critical eye. No matter the actual progress I have made over the previous year, the defeats loom large and the victories seem to pale in comparison. Deep down I am probably choosing to be hard on myself as a misguided motivation tool, but the feeling of disappointment is so ingrained I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to escape it.

Clearly over-emphasizing defeats at the expense of personal victories is not a healthy way to get results, but hey, old habits die hard. Every year it’s a familiar struggle to put the past in the past and move forward with a clean slate. The cycle is so familiar it’s laughably pathetic.

This year the cycle was broken forever. 2017 is the year my mom died.

After years of developing macular degeneration that resulted in near total blindness, a tough battle with Lymphoma and then thyroid cancer, my loving mother was wrought with a rare form of dementia that took away her ability to speak. In the end my mom was legally blind, unable to speak, confused and often didn’t recognize those around her. It goes without saying that 2017 was a heartbreaking year for my mom and our family.

During her final months I didn’t check items off my to do lists, didn’t find time to take care of myself, and it was difficult for me to be there for my husband and kids at home. My job was pretty much put on the back burner, my voicemail box was constantly full, and unanswered emails in my Inbox were building up daily. I found myself on an emotional roller coaster that made it difficult to connect with others. How could I relate to other people when my mom was dying? She was the one person to tell me everyday that she loved me no matter what.

Then the time came. My mom died on June 6, 2017 and passed peacefully to the other side. Sometime after midnight a group of Nightingale birds began singing outside. My brother and I looked at each other and knew instantly what was happening. We went into the other room to check on her. I looked at mom’s face and felt her cheek with the back of my hand. She was gone. The birds had announced her passage to the other side.

Since my mother is no longer here to love me unconditionally, I understand I need to create this unconditional love for myself. I need to love myself no matter where I am in the process of being human, raising my children, and facing the challenges of running a business.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the day after my first Christmas without my mom, I finally went on a mountain bike ride with someone I’ve been meaning to ride with for months. As we were putting our gear together and packing up our bikes, I told her I was “finally getting my act together to go riding with you.” This statement was a typical act of putting myself down and making myself small for not completing something I said I would do. Without hesitation, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You did what you did, you didn’t do what you didn’t do, and it doesn’t matter.”

Her words hit home and I believe they were a message from my mom to be easier on myself and those around me. Time to stop putting significance on the shit that doesn’t get done and beating myself up for the incompletions that inevitably pile up.

As I look ahead to 2018, I’m not going to put any significance on incompletions — Including adding posts to this blog. I intend to journal this year and share some posts here and there as I work on being a powerful and effective mom, wife, and business partner who struggles with a negative body image and a lack of self-confidence. Still, there is a noticeable difference. Like my mother before me, I now choose to generate and radiate unconditional love. I am Mariann Claesson’s daughter who was Ester Stenlund’s daughter: a phoenix rising from the ashes. To know me is to know a hundred generations of strong women who nurture and heal their family and friends.

–Cathy Claesson

A woman and two children are feeding ducks by a pond, with trees and a man in the background.

My mom would spend hours playing with us.

A monochrome snapshot capturing a serene family moment by a lake, with an adult and two children engaging in fishing, embodying a timeless connection with nature.

Lake time with my mom and sister.

Three individuals outside a house in 1970; a woman in a navy dress holds a baby in white, and another woman in a dark coat and purple hat stands nearby.

Me as a baby with my mom and grandmother Ester.


Main Photo: A mom and her blissful daughter. Mariann loved me unconditionally.