It’s been four years this week since my mom taught me the hardest lesson, the last lesson she ever would: how to live without her. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 366 days before she lost her battle with the terminal illness, and even with a full year to mentally prepare myself for the worst, I still wasn’t ready.
Grief is a silly thing. After four years and nearly mastering the art of grieving, I still don’t get it. There are a lot of things I’ve learned about myself through the journey, but I would like to share some of the perspectives that have made the process much more bearable and have helped me grapple with the emotions that arose after losing a loved one.
Finding the Beauty in the Trauma
During my first six months of grieving, my thoughts were mostly anger. I was the one who was sitting with my mom when she passed, and I was only 17, so I was mad that I had been exposed to such horror and that it would affect me for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I heard a podcast break down the mindset of viewing traumatic losses as a beautiful, natural experience of life that not everyone will encounter. When I looked at it with optimism, I was able to see her passing as something blissful, that I was the one who she sat with before she went to the better place rather than feeling broken and alone.
Expect to Make Big Changes
The entire first year of grieving was really hard, especially because it felt like a lot of the past was following me. When I wanted to grab the bull of depression by the horns and start making moves to feel better, I felt like it was impossible to do. Take school for example; I wanted to do well in every class, but how could I focus on World War I when two hours earlier, my friends sat me down in the same classroom to tell me that I needed to get real help? How could I take a bathroom break during class when I could remember each time I cried in every bathroom stall already that year? How could I be expected to determine chemistry calculations when it felt like the entire room was staring at me, wondering how I could even bring myself to school after such a tragedy? The answer was simple: I needed to switch schools. Do not mistake this for running away from your problems. There is a difference. It is very hard to run a race when your shoes are tattered under you; there’s no shame in buying a new pair of shoes.
The realization that it is possible
It’s common to fear the future after losing a loved one. I was just a junior in high school, so I was scared for my future prom, senior night games, wedding, and all those other milestones. I wasn’t sure how anyone, let alone a 17-year-old girl, was supposed to do this. It’s one thing not having your mom there, it’s another when your mom doubled as your best friend. I would dread each of those events, hoping they wouldn’t feel as isolating as they sound, but to my surprise, everything was fine. She was there for all those events and will be there for the rest to come. She was there in the pop music that I couldn’t resist dancing to, she was there in the orange Gatorade I drank on the field, she is always with me. That was the most valuable thing I was able to learn through this crazy world of death and grief.
Experiencing the loss of a loved one at any age is traumatic, but especially for those 25 and under. To anyone who had to grow up earlier than their peers, I’m with you, and I’m here to say that it gets better. I won’t say you eventually move on, because I don’t think that’s true, but you learn to live with it and find peace in the situation over time.