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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

How is it that, at twenty one years old, nine years after my mother’s passing, I still can’t find a vessel to store all my love? My joy, my tears, and my frustration have no one to hear them. It’s maddening to not have her. My love for her has nowhere to go.

My mother, the most kind-hearted, intelligent, free-spirited, and beautiful woman that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, passed away in 2015 after a decade of battling cancer. I was twelve then, not even a full teenager, and I was left with this feeling that I can only describe as emptiness. It took me years until I could finally name it. I started chasing banalities, looking for something I knew I wasn’t going to find. It wasn’t until I was about nineteen that I realized that I was feeling grief all along. This all-consuming, suffocating feeling was unexpressed love, and I couldn’t get rid of it. 

I started doing the work. Finding out what I could do to channel that love somewhere. I took creative classes, like a performance art class, where I dedicated my final performance to Her. I chopped off my hair and I started to write poetry. For a moment, that worked. It felt like a weight was being lifted, but my classes only lasted six months. By the end of the semester,  the dreaded feeling started creeping back in, catching me unawares in the most bizarre places and making me explode into tears. 

By some force that I could only call fate, I stumbled upon a conversation between journalist Anderson Cooper and late night talk show host Stephen Colbert. They were talking about grief and their words touched my spirit. Stephen Colbert said, “What punishments of God are not gifts? It is a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.” He was grateful for the thing he most wished had not happened. One must be at peace with grief to come to that realization and that’s when I understood that I was already experiencing the last stage of it. I was beginning to understand that, if everyone has to suffer in their lifetime, why not me? This pain, whether I like it or not, solidifies the human experience, and what a gift. 

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Zulma Raíces Román (Second row, third person from right to left), UPRRP Law School Graduation (early 1990’s)

There are five stages or five steps one must take to heal. These are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

I think denial started right when my dad told me she passed. In my mind, it felt like she was just away on vacation and would come back at any second. She still felt close to me. In my twelve-year-old ignorance, I remember dreaming of her and waking up still expecting to see her. I still sometimes wish she really was on vacation somewhere and could come back. 

Anger was the most terrible stage. I was simply mad at everything and everyone. I felt anger towards my mom and my whole family for not preparing me for that loss. So much so, that I didn’t talk to my family for two and a half years. I felt like they didn’t care about me, so going to my childhood home to visit them was unimaginable. With time, I slowly healed those relationships, but that anger I felt is something I never want to feel again. 

In retrospect, I really think I skipped the bargaining stage. I knew that once she was gone she wouldn’t be back, so I didn’t waste my time asking for her back. The depression got to me instead. For six years straight I felt like I was sinking and nobody knew. I’ve always had a very bubbly personality, so since everyone in my life saw that, they couldn’t tell my light was dimming. I felt it. With every day that passed I felt less and less like myself. It was so hard to shake that feeling because I thought I had nobody to talk to. I couldn’t talk to my dad because he never actually listened, and I couldn’t talk to my friends because I didn’t want to seem like the girl that just couldn’t get it together. 

To be honest, I’m still not over the depression stage, but right now, I feel like everything is finally getting lighter. That brings me to acceptanceーa stage that I haven’t fully explored yet, but I think I’m getting the hang of. Hope feels attainable and I finally feel ready to move forward. 

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From left to right: me, my mother (Zulma) and my sister (Sofía); 2003

Her favorite song was “Top of the World” by The Carpenters. The chorus of that song resonates with me in the most wonderful way. It always reminds me of her great example of love for humanity. It goes:

 “I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation

And the only explanation I can find

Is the love that I found

Ever since you’ve been around

Your love’s put me on the top of the world.”

Most people wouldn’t believe the gem she was. Her optimism was strong enough to turn pessimists. Life was a wonder to her; precious and fleeting. With her, there were no wasted opportunities and no taking life for granted. 

P. S.

I don’t know how Her Campus articles work in heaven but Mami, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that I’m ready to let you go. Healing has not been easy, and I’m not done yet, but I know you deserve to fly. I adore you, see you soon. 

Hello! I'm Carmen, currently studying Advertising and Gender Studies in the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras campus. I love advertising but what i love most is getting to write about thing I'm actually passionate about like music, cinema, self-acceptance and the beautiful place I call home.