In a perfect world, I would go back in time and enjoy precious moments a little longer. In a perfect world, there would be no such thing as cancer. In a perfect world, my mom who was my best friend would still be here. But the reality is – it’s not a perfect world. And at the age of 30 I was left trying to navigate a new world without my mother.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since my mom passed away. That day, and the weeks leading up to it, were the most difficult days of my life. My older sister and I spent countless evenings at the cottage, talking about our fears of losing our mom and what our life would look like without her. The idea of her not being around seemed surreal and completely unfathomable. This is a woman who graced any room with her love and light. She was the rock of our family. The person we went to when we needed guidance. Nothing could have prepared me for the upcoming emotional roller coaster called grief, and the loss that ensued in the days, months and year following.
Grief is a funny thing. It has so many different faces and emotions connected to it. It is like a giant ball of sadness, anger, fear and loneliness that appears on any given day at any given moment. Grief doesn’t care if you’re grocery shopping, enjoying a family dinner, out for lunch or my favourite – behind the wheel of your car.
In the beginning, like many, I didn’t know what to do with myself. All I knew is that a tremendous loss, like my mom, is a lifelong battle with grief and I wasn’t sure I was ready to soldier through it.
For me, this past year has been about learning, growth and healing. I’m not sure I can put it all into words but I will do my best.
Here’s what I learned…
Everyone deals with grief differently…And that’s ok.
It is incredible to see the strength someone can muster during times of complete and utter sadness. I watched, listened and admired the strength of each and every one of my family members during this past year. There isn’t a right way of dealing with grief and everyone does their best to survive after the loss of a special person.
My journey this past year is what I’m calling my grief transformation. In the beginning, I wanted to be strong. I wanted to help comfort those around me. I avoided the sadness at all cost and focused on family. I controlled my surroundings, hoping to keep my emotions at bay. I wanted to feel normal again. I took my son to the pumpkin patch, decorated for Halloween, and started planning Christmas. This only worked temporarily. The first couple of months ended up being the most difficult. I could barely pick myself up off the floor. I yearned to touch her hand one more time, to tell her about my day or celebrate my son’s uniqueness. I missed our close bond and relationship so deeply, that I was pretty sure I would never feel whole again.
Thankfully this was temporary, because this stage could only be described as lonely. It wasn’t until a friend gave me a book called “Motherless Daughters” did I start to feel a shift. I needed to learn. I needed to learn about grief and what to expect. This need to learn continued when I finished the book. I wanted to learn about death. This might sound silly but I needed to know… What happens after death? Is my mom at peace? Will I get to see her again? My next journey became exploring the multiple ideas and experiences of others with the afterlife. Some books angered me and others gave me peace.
Firsts are the hardest.
I was warned that the first of everything will be the most difficult. We were hit with many firsts right away. Christmas, her birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day and my own birthday…each one passed and I can say none of them were the same. The one I found most difficult was going back to the place she passed. On the week leading to the first trip back to the cottage I expressed this concern to my 8 year old son. His response was so simple and yet had the most profound impact on me. “Nan IS at the cottage. She is all around us mom. Every fun thing we do, she will be there enjoying it too. Don’t forget that her energy is everywhere…just feel it.” If I knew it was that simple, I wouldn’t have needed to read all those books.
Music is healing.
Our family has a love of music. We don’t play it…but damn do we ever sound good behind a microphone – well we think we do. I think each and every one of us have used music to heal. Our sad days have been supported with sad songs or lifted by that tune that makes us dance. I have moved furniture to dance in my living room countless times. My mom shared this passion of dance and music. She could often be seen grooving in the living room or around the kitchen. Every family gathering has either started or ended in a dance party and singing karaoke. The soundtrack to my mom’s life is happy and upbeat. Rock n roll, disco and stomping melodies. All meant to make you smile and dance around.
All consuming grief is temporary. Loss is forever.
It comes in waves. Sometimes small and other times like a giant tidal wave. The key is to ride it out and accept it. Honour those feeling of grief and give yourself room to ride the wave to shore. You will grieve for a long time. But it will start to look and feel different. I have good days and bad days. I have moments of sadness and I have days of complete happiness. My heart may never be whole, because her presence will forever be missed, but I will experience pure joy.
Here’s the thing about grief…Even though it can be all consuming and you feel like you are wading through a constant shit storm that won’t let up…Things do become clear. There really is a rainbow after the storm.
I can’t say when or how…but I am beginning to reconnect with me and in turn this has allowed me to reconnect with the world. I gave myself permission to live a happy life. I gave myself permission to love myself enough to heal.
Sometimes through grief you have a sense of guilt to enjoy happy moments without the person you lost. As if living a good life after loss means you have moved on.
Give yourself permission to let go of the pain… Let go of the guilt and anger and just heal. The things you hold onto are the fun and joyful memories; the things that make you laugh and smile. It is ok to be happy. In fact, my mom wants me to be happy.
There is light.
I am blessed. I have the most amazing family. I have the most supportive husband and I have the most amazing child. For this, I am so incredibly thankful. Mostly, I am blessed that my teacher in life is my mom. I say “is” because she continues to challenge me to rise above everyday with purpose in my heart and experience pure fulfilling joy. Her life lessons live in me. It’s an honour to continue to live a full life with her teachings and beliefs as my foundation to give back to this world.
Thanks Mom. You are missed every day. For you…I live my best life.