I don’t usually like to put information about my personal life online, but I know many people who have lost loved ones recently. I want to share my experience so that maybe it can provide a little hope to someone else. I also didn’t really edit this, so please forgive all of the ways I’ve abused the English language.
Today is the seventh anniversary of my mom’s death. She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer around Christmas 2004, and she died just a few weeks after her 51st birthday in 2009. I had just turned 23, my sister was 19, and my brother was 14. She was too young to die, and we were too young to have a dead mother. We still are.
I don’t remember much of the year that followed her death--it was as if my brain couldn’t create memories. I was just trying to stay alive, and anything more than that was too much to handle. During this time, I described myself as “unmoored,” feeling like I was adrift on a rough sea with nothing to tether me to reality. Even though my mom had been sick for years, and I understood that cancer sometimes leads to death, there was no way for me to comprehend what that really meant, that once she was gone I would lose the person who created me, taught me, infuriated me, loved me more than anyone else. I didn’t realize how much she was my constant, the person who I thought would always be around and who had given my life stability. I felt really, truly alone for the first time.
My friends were amazing. They gathered around me and held me up, literally and figuratively, as my new reality became clear. Some took charge when I couldn’t care for myself, some gave me a home, some were just there. They reminded me that I was still loved, even though the person who loved me most in the world was gone, and that family means more than having remarkably similar DNA. Despite that, though, my heart was still broken.
There were times in that first year, and beyond that year, when I thought I would never recover. How does a person come back from these kinds of losses? How does a person who can barely get out of bed to go to work somehow feel like she’s capable again? Will there ever be a time when it doesn’t hurt to be around other people’s families or listen to an Eric Clapton song or hear the phone ring? Phone calls were the hardest--they still are--because I got the news of my mom’s death over the phone. I still feel dread anytime someone calls me unexpectedly. The moments between when the phone rings and when I answer are dread-filled. (So please, just text me, okay?)
However, aside from my Pavlovian anxiety response to ringing phones, I finally feel at peace. Today I went to work as usual, talked to people as usual, and will make dinner as usual. I will go to bed at a normal time and get a good night’s sleep. Nothing feels more out of place today than it usually does. It’s not hard to meet other people’s parents or hear my mom’s favorite songs. I miss my mom, but I don’t feel her loss any more today than I did yesterday, or than I will tomorrow. The acute pain has subsided. Sometimes I get sad--really sad--when I think about all of the parts of my life I haven’t and won’t be able to share with her. But the sadness isn’t all-consuming anymore. I feel joy and love and contentedness again, and I feel those good emotions far more often than grief, sadness, and loneliness.
Healing happens. It takes time, and therapy, and self-care, and more time, and distractions, and new adventures, and sometimes there are setbacks when new terrible things happen in your life. But one day, you will wake up and the person you lost won’t be the first thing you think about. They won’t be the last thing you think about. You won’t forget the person, but eventually the grief gets pushed out and is replaced with the happiness of daily life. You will think about the person daily, weekly, monthly, but you won’t be consumed with sadness when you do.
So if you’ve lost someone you love and you think you’ll never feel like a whole person again, please know that, in time, the pain fades away. I know it seems like that will never happen, but it will. Reach out to others to help you, whether that’s a therapist, a grief support group, or a trusted friend who’s also experienced loss. You can, and will, feel whole again. I did.