My mother passed away on February 14th, 2015. It was fitting that she chose to leave us on Valentine’s Day – the most romantic day of the year – as she was the ultimate romantic. She was also beautiful, hilarious, magnetic, talented, wise, vivacious, and just one of a kind. And she was the glue that held our family together – something I don’t think I fully appreciated until after she was gone.
I had been preparing for this moment ever since she was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer 5 years earlier. However, I soon found out there is no way to really prepare for losing the most important person in your life, nor was there any real roadmap for how to get through the years of grief that I would be facing – largely because grief is not exactly a topic you find people speaking about openly at parties. In fact, I came to realize there was a bit of a stigma around talking about death, and that, for the most part, the topic makes most people rather uncomfortable or leaves them not knowing quite what to say.
I learned quickly that I had just become an involuntary member of a very exclusive club of other people who had also lost parents. I also learned that the other members of this club, many of whom had previously been distant acquaintances or perfect strangers, would quickly become close friends and my greatest support system – as they just got it.
I learned that losing someone who is such a fundamental part of you was a pain so viscerally real that it was like someone had cut off my arm. I also learned that there would never be a day when I wasn’t aware that I my arm was missing or that life was now always a little harder without two arms, and that while it would never get easier or the same, with time, I would adjust and with every passing day I would get a little better at living with one arm. I learned that while the pain would never fully go away, that the sharpness would dull, and I would eventually adjust to the new normal.
I learned that suddenly every moment in my life would always be just a little bittersweet, and that days like their birthday, your birthday, and other major holidays would be just a little sad. I learned the pain of Mother’s Day and how it suddenly felt like one cruel joke Hallmark was playing on those of us who had lost the person we’re meant to celebrate – as reminded by EVERY SINGLE advertisement for every brand or product created…ever. I learned that everyone would expect you to just “be better” at some point, and it doesn’t really work that way.
I learned how to smile and nod through anger when someone tells me that I should just be grateful for having had such a great mom in the first place and how she wouldn’t want me to be sad about her death. I learned that people who had not yet suffered such a loss or trauma in their life, simply COULDN’T get it, but were amazing friends for even trying – as I also learned some people don’t even bother trying. I learned to not judge people for what they didn’t know, and to appreciate that everything is relative. I learned that perspective is everything.
I saw the best and worst of people. I saw the best and worst of myself. I learned my limits. I learned how strong I was, I learned how broken I could be, and I learned that I am resilient as hell. I learned that nothing in life is permanent and that nothing should be taken for granted. I learned that time is valuable, but people and relationships matter more – but what matters the most is having your health. I learned to give into my passion for fitness and that supporting others into a life of wellness on their terms was a path I had to walk.
Mostly, I learned that loss, just like any other challenge, is not something to fear, but to embrace, as it’s life’s greatest teacher.