It was days before I entered high school when my mother underwent her first surgery. She had gone to a doctor's appointment just weeks earlier and they had found a lump. I remember when she came home and she and my dad told us the news, she had breast cancer. I was just fourteen.
I didn't have a typical teenage relationship with my mom, we actually got along. We were very different, but complimented each other and shared a lot of the same interests. She was always very honest with me and taught me to leave the world better than I found it. She was a teacher by profession, but a mother first.
For two years she underwent surgery and treatment. She fought hard, but lost her battle when I was sixteen. It was hard going through life milestones without my mom. My father had his own issues and wasn't able to get over my mother's death. I had support from family, but ultimately I was thrust into adulthood.
Looking back now, I wish that I could go back and tell my teenage self some very important things I've learned over the years. It's amazing what kind of insight grief can bring into your life.
1. Let Grief Happen. I was so scared of feeling more vulnerable than I already did and that manifested itself into me feeling like I couldn't break down. To grieve felt weak to me. I thought that I had to hold it all together because everything else in my life felt like it was falling apart. It took years and counseling to realize that I couldn't just push this aside. It caught up with me. It was something that had to be dealt with.
2. Talk About Your Loved Ones. I don't know if it was conscious or not, but after my mom's death, I didn't really talk about her. My father would break down at the mention of her, so I tried to steer clear of memories. As a child, you don't want to see your parents cry. I regret this so much. Talking about loved ones that have passed are part of the grieving process. Your memories of the person don't just disappear overnight and you should try to keep them fresh in your mind by talking about them.
3. You Will Forget Things. It's inevitable, we're human. I can't remember how my mother smelled or the sound of her laughter. That kills me. It was like she was taken away in pieces over time, like grains of sand on a beach being washed away. I wish that I had written down more about her, but I didn't. I have some pictures and video and that is how she will live on.
4. Do Something in Their Memory. This was a huge help for me in dealing with my mother's death. Eight years after she passed I signed up to walk in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure 3 Day Walk. Through this walk I was able to raise money for research, education and awareness. It also provided me a way to be amongst survivors and people like me that had lost someone to breast cancer. I was able to find a community of people that had gone through what I had gone through. Suddenly, I wasn't so alone, I didn't feel so powerless. I was able to do something. I continue to walk twelve years later and I use this time as a weekend to connect with my mom and her life.
5. Ask for Help if You Need it. When you are grief stricken, the last thing that you want to do or sometimes can do is to ask for help. I think we sometimes forget that there are so many people out there that want to do something to assist the grieving and we don't reach out because we can't or we won't. I know that it personally kills me to ask for support. Sometimes you have to though. Sometimes you just need an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. I turned to counseling and was able to get the help that I needed there. There are support groups for just about anything these days. Get help if you need it or even if you don't.
6. You Will Miss Them Forever. Grief doesn't end. It gets easier, but you will miss that person in your life that's gone. I've had many life milestones that I couldn't share with my mom. There will always be that person missing. As amazing as my graduation, wedding and birth of my children were, it was bittersweet because I wasn't able to share it with my best friend. I found it easier to honor her absence in little ways so that she could be a part of those special moments with us. For our wedding we lit a remembrance candle and when our first daughter was born, we gave her my mom's name for a middle name. It's those little reminders that I'm continuing to regard her life.
7. Live Your Life. I'm not saying you need to move on from grief, but quite the opposite. Live your life as a tribute to those that are gone. Try to be the best version of yourself. This is very hard when you've lost someone so important. After a while, I found it put my life into better perspective. I was able to distinguish between what was important and what wasn't. It's still a work in progress that I take day by day.
Everybody's path in grief is different, so be gentle with yourself. Find what is right for you to get through this tough time. Happy Mother's Day to all of the sons and daughters missing their mom's today.
"But in all the sadness, when you're feeling that your heart is empty and lacking, you've got to remember that grief isn't the absence of love. Grief is the proof that love is still there." Tessa Shaffer
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.