We’re all going to lose our parents one day. It’s a fact of life that we don’t like to think about, no matter how old we are. Even as we age and become more acquainted with the notion of death, losing our parents is just something that never seems to factor itself into our future.
I was 20 when I lost my mother. There was no warning sign, no physical illness or gradually deteriorating state, no hospital visits and no difficult decisions. She just left.
That was 5 years ago and even as I type that I still can’t quite believe it. 5 years. In those 5 years I’ve graduated university, travelled, moved house twice, got married and started my career. When I look at myself 5 years ago, it feels like I’m looking back on a person I almost don’t recognise, like a vaguely familiar friend. Thinking back to the day I lost my mother, I never thought I’d make it this far.
So, if I could go back, if I could offer myself some words of comfort from hard lived experience, what would I say…?
Time Does Not Heal All Wounds
This is one of the biggest lies of life we tell ourselves. Though I completely understand the desperation behind it, I think believing in it is setting yourself up for failure because although yes, time can certainly offer clarity and perspective on some things, others will always remain. Losing my mother before I should have done is always going to hurt – always. There’s no way around that fact and no quote, mentality or religious outlook is going to change that. And so it shouldn’t. Of course it should always hurt. My mother was an incredible person who I loved and depended on for a lot of things. She was a huge part of my world and her absence will always be noticed. The wound will never heal but that doesn’t mean that’s the end. The wound becomes a part of you, as mine is a part of me. Sometimes I almost forget it’s there and others it feels so fresh that I stagger with the force of it. The wound doesn’t define me and it’s certainly not to the death of me – but it’s always going to be there.
There Is No Right Way To Grieve
In all honestly, the 7 stages of grief are bullshit. I think a lot of it depends on the circumstances around losing someone, but there really is no right way to react. There are destructive ways to react. You can let it consume you and choose an escape which will in turn consume you even more. I’ve never used drugs as an escape but I can see why people turn down those roads of self medication when reality gets too much. Obviously this isn’t the best way to handle it, because you shouldn’t hide from it. The grief is going to take over you for a while and I think the key is to just let it. Stay in bed for three days straight if you need to, don’t brush your teeth, be angry at the world, break down in public, laugh at inappropriate memories…just feel it, in whatever way you need to. Feel it for the first week, month, year. Even if a decade later you wake up one day and miss them so much it feels like you can’t breath then miss them. Take a deep breath and miss them. There are no instructions and no time stamps when it comes to grief, just you and your heart and whatever makes it ache and you should never feel like that’s wrong.
Don’t Feel Bad For Remembering The ‘Bad Times’
There’s some strange notion that when someone dies, they instantly become perfect. All their sins of life are forgiven and they may only be remembered as a halo-wearing saint who brought nothing but joy and good times to the people around them. WRONG. Unless they were a cheesecake, that’s just not very true now, is it? People are imperfect, people mess up and people hurt each other. That’s just the way it goes and just because somebody died doesn’t make that go away. My mother was a great mother, but my god she could be such a dick. We argued, we hurt each other, she said some things that cut me down when she should have been holding me up. Sometimes I remember those fights, sometimes I remember something she said and I still get pissed off at her. Sometimes I am intensely angry that she left. It doesn’t detract from the good memories (of which there are too many to name) but she was MY mother and it is MY right to love and hate her whether she’s here or not.
People Will Surprise You (Both Good And Bad)
As difficult as it is to predict your own reaction to loss if can be even harder to predict the reaction of others. There will be those who are grieving along with you and those who are simply watching you grieve. For those simply watching it can be an odd experience, especially if they haven’t had a significant loss in their own life. I’ve had people completely shut down on me, people ignore the fact I’d just lost my mother, even had people just shrug and tell me “Well, it could be worse!”. The truth is as sympathetic as we like to think we are sometimes the brain just doesn’t know how to cope with watching someone break down. Thankfully these reactions can be balanced with the people who spring into action. I had a lot of internet friends at the time of my mother’s death, people from different cities/countries who I had never met or only met once. I was overwhelmed by the support and love I was shown by those people who simply just provided a shoulder and an ear whenever I needed it. I know it’s cliche but you really do find out who your real friends are when it comes to tragedy and the years that follow. Some people are just there for the impact and wander off when they think the dust has settled and some people aren’t. Some people are there for the recovery too. Hold on to those people.
You’ll Never Be The Same, But That’s Okay
Though I was technically an adult when my mum died there were a lot in things in life I still needed her for. Like I said I’ve been to university, moved, got married and started a career in the last 5 years – all things I had previously imagined having my mum with me for. When she was alive she was a big part of planning my wedding and not having her there was devastating (though it was still the happiest day of my life). And I know as I continue to reach these life milestones, both big and small, I’ll still feel like I need her but I also know that I’ll be able to get through it. Who knows the type of person I would have become without this tragedy to get through, without this experience of life tearing in two and building everything back up from ground zero. I’ve taught myself a lot over the last 5 years as well as learning much from others. I’m stronger than I ever thought I was, even when I feel my most breakable I’ve proven to myself over and over again that I can get back on my feet no matter how unstable the ground is. I have no idea if all of this was meant to happen but it has, this was my hand and I’ve had no choice but to play it.
So, 20 year old me. You’re in the hospital and you’ve just heard those words you never thought you’d hear. The room is a mess of gasps and tears and you’re clinging to your dad the way you did when you were 2 and you don’t want the world to keep spinning anymore. You can’t understand any of it and the few seconds of disbelief are about to end before reality crushes you under a weight of pain and despair. What do you do?
You do everything exactly the way you have done. Because even through all the shit, you turned out pretty awesome.
You are your mother’s daughter after all…