One year ago today my entire world was shattered with the news that my mother had passed. Something so traumatic completely changes who you are and how you view the world.
I was just shy of 21 with two younger sisters, all now motherless, forced to continue experiencing life without the one parent we always had. It has been a year of gut-wrenching pain and heartache, a year I would never want to experience again. But through this experience, I have gained many hard-learned lessons that I will carry with me for a lifetime.
Many adults that have recently lost their parents will tell you they know what you're going through, they don't.
Nothing has made me cringe more than when a full-grown adult tells me they completely understand what I'm going through, and that they're there for me. Your parents were able to see you grow into an adult, watch you get married, or meet your kids. My mother missed my sister's wedding, my mother won't see me graduate from college, or help my youngest sister get through high school — never mind watch her graduate it. So please don't equate the situation, you have no idea what I'm going through. I've learned that they say this to show sympathy and that sympathy is great and all, but the statement carries so much ignorance. Which brings me to my next point...
People that haven't experienced this yet just don't get it, and that's not their fault.
In the beginning, I spent months being bitter because people just didn't get it, they couldn't empathize or understand what I was going through, what I felt, what I needed — no matter how hard they tried. But then I realized it wasn't their fault, and I should be happy they don't understand — no matter how hard it was for me to accept it. I would never wish this experience on absolutely anyone, and I am grateful that people my age, my sisters' ages, have never had to experience this kind of pain.
People really do use those cliché phrases.
In these types of situations, everyone always says things like, "They're in a better place," "they're watching over you," etc., and it sucks. It's the last things you want to hear. Don't tell me they're in a better place, because if they were in a better place they'd be here with me and my family. I don't want you to tell me they're watching over me, because it's not the same as having them in front of me and hearing their voice or laugh. I know these people mean well when they say these things, but it just hurts more.
I HATE when people complain about their parents to me because at least they have them.
I cannot emphasize how much I hate this, how much it makes my stomach turn and my heart ache. I would give anything to have my mom yelling at me, or asking me to borrow a couple bucks. I would give anything for my mom to give me a hard time again or want to spend time with me instead of having me go out. When people complain to me about their parents, it makes me mad that they can't appreciate the love and care that their parents are giving them. They aren't appreciating the fact that they still have parents and have that bond with them. I would give anything to trade places with them, and therefore I can't EVER sympathize with their complaints.
You learn who's real.
Despite the people that say or do the wrong things, you learn who really cares about you and who really is there. They say a tragedy always shows you who your real friends are, and this couldn't be more true in this situation. Many people can't handle this difficult tragedy and end up walking away from you. Let them. They aren't good enough to be there if they can't find the strength to stay for you and support you. It's difficult to accept because it's at a time when you need all the love and support you can get, but with time you learn to let go and realize it's for the best.
Holidays and important life events will NEVER be the same.
The holidays can be a difficult time for anyone, but this experience has changed the meaning of them forever. Not only are the traditions you held with your parents gone, but you're also left with the emptiness that their absence left behind. Now you forever wonder what things would be like if they were there, and you wish that they were. The holidays now carry a gloom, an emptiness that will never be filled. It also causes the memories of the past holidays and traditions to be brought to the surface, opening back up the pain of what used to be. It reminds you that you would do anything to have it back. The people around you are filled with the holiday cheer, unaware that these days bring you and your family so much pain.
It's OK to not be OK.
I've been through my fair share of life obstacles, but I've always maintained the mantra that things were fine. However, when this earth-shattering experience happened, I couldn't uphold that feeling anymore. I couldn't be OK, no matter how hard I tried. I learned to accept that, I learned that it was OK to admit that I was in pain, that I wasn't OK. I learned how to express this to people, without feeling judged. A lesson that wasn't easy.
It's OK to put your needs first.
After experiencing this loss, this pain, you become empty and unable to offer much. You begin to realize that you can't be as supportive and selfless towards others because you're using all the energy you have on getting through the day. You have to learn to understand and accept that you have to take care of yourself before you can offer anything to another person.
Sometimes you need a push.
Despite how hard you are trying to get through this, there are going to be bad days that you can't get through alone. Sometimes you need a friend to motivate you to study for that exam or go to class. Sometimes you need someone to pull you out of bed and give you the motivation and strength you need to face the day. And that's fine, appreciate the people in your life that recognize this and do this for you, no matter how much it drives you crazy at the time.
The bonds between loved ones grow stronger.
No one else understands what you're going through, which means the people that do understand become so much more important. They are the only people in the world that understand what you have lost, and the weight you now have to carry around with you. Not only that, but you now under how easy it could be to lose someone because you already lost someone so important to you. It makes you cherish the people you have more than ever before, and it makes you want to hold onto them stronger. The loss demonstrates how important the people in your life are to you.
You worry about everything, all the time.
Life has now taught you that losing someone can happen in the blink of an eye. This makes you worried and paranoid about all the things that can happen to the people closest to you. When someone is supposed to come over and doesn't, you worry. When someone doesn't answer their phone, you worry. You instantly start thinking about worst case scenarios, and everything that could have gone wrong. And the relief you feel when you finally hear from them is unexplainable. You know you worry too much, and deep down you know they're probably fine, but you still can't stop yourself. The potential of losing someone else closest to you is too much to bare again, and you know the risk is always there. Your loved ones may get annoyed, or feel like you're overbearing, but at least they know you care about them.
You become more affectionate and attached.
You don't want to lose the people that are still in your life, so you become more attached to them. You want to show them how much they mean to you, remind them all the time. I can't explain the feeling unless you've experienced this, but once you do it makes you want to hold on to the people around you tighter, makes you want to show them how important they are to you. It makes you need the affection and love from these people to help you heal from what you have lost, to remind yourself that there are still people in your life that are important and that care about you. That there are still reasons to keep living.
It makes you choose your words more carefully.
You know now how important last words are, whether your last words to your parents were good or bad, you understand the weight it holds and the importance it has. It makes you more aware of how you speak to your loved ones. It makes you say “I love you," before you say goodbye, no matter how angry you are at them. Because if this is the last time you talk to them, you want to make sure they know. You want them to always know how you feel about them and that you love them. You make sure you tell them all the time how much they mean to you and how much you need or appreciate them. Even when you're angry you're aware of how far you can or can't take your words. That small painful reminder is always in the back of your head about how important words are.
You learn to not waste time.
You now understand that life is not forever, how time is always ticking away. This teaches you to not take anything less than you deserve, and to never waste time. It makes you more honest and upfront with people because you understand there's no point in wasting anyone's time being anything less. You have lost and overcome something unbelievably important, which means you won't settle for anything less than you deserve. You now realize how important your time and life is. You won't waste it on something or someone that doesn't measure up.
You live life more...
...because you understand how quickly life can disappear. After losing your parent, you sit there and reminisce on all the lost chances and times you could have had with them. You would give anything to have one more road trip, adventure, or even simply a dinner with them. This makes you more apt to agree to doing things with other people because what if you never get another chance. You start to realize how important adventure and time spent with people are. You understand that these are what brings life to, well, your life. You start to seek out anything that will bring meaning to you or that will fill the hole in your chest. You want to experience life for your parent, for everything they are missing out on. You want to make their loss worth it by knowing you gave life everything you had for them.
You learn to let the guilt go.
It takes more time than you would ever thought, and it isn't one simple task. You have to continuously make the decision to let it go, over and over again. But you do make that decision every time. You learn to let go of the guilt, learn to realize that all the things you could have done differently can't help you now. You can't change anything that happened so you learn to accept it, no matter how many times you have to. You learn to move on and learn to live with it, learn to live with the experience of the loss, and live with how things ended. You learn to accept that it wasn't your fault, you learn to stop hating yourself, no matter how hard that is.
Your world became so negative, and you have to learn to change it.
After losing someone so important to you, you become bitter and resentful towards the world for taking them from you, for robbing you of so much time. You become so pessimistic about life's outcomes. You have to learn to let go of the bitterness. You have to reteach yourself to think positively, to not always worry and think the worst case scenarios. You have to learn that this experience does not mean you will never be happy again, and that life will never be good again. You realize that your parent would never want you to go through life with this chip on your shoulder, that they would want you to be happy again. So you have to learn to change your outlook on life, again.
You learn that you are strong.
You would have never expected this to happen to you, never mind that you would have to make it through this. Yet here you are, you did it, and you made it. And after overcoming something like this you realize that nothing will ever stop you, because none of life's obstacles will ever amount to this tragedy. Once you've survived this you realize you can survive literally anything life throws at you. You begin to realize your strengths and your assets. You learn to start loving yourself again, instead of blaming yourself. You learn to start realizing and appreciating the good things about yourself and the importance of self-love.
You appreciate your parent now more than ever.
They say that death distorts the memory because people start to over glorify the ones that have passed. But I disagree, I think the loss erases the bad aspects of a person because you realize that those no longer matter. You realize that what was at their core was what really mattered. You begin to realize the parts about yourself that came from them, you realize what values and ideals they taught you, how they've shaped who you've become and the life you are leading. You let go of the bad memories because in the end, they hold no value. You just remember the real person they were, the love and support they gave you, and the memories you shared. And at the end of the day, they were your parent, and no one in the entire world could ever replace them.
Don't take anyone for granted.
This is the number one thing I took away. Never take a single person, experience, memory, or moment for granted. Everything you currently have can be lost in an instant, without any warning. You learn to appreciate every little good thing in your life and disregard the bad because it's nothing compared to what has been. You have learned what is important in life, and what is not. Your meaning of life has changed forever.
It's been a year since I lost her, an earth-shattering, core-rattling year. There's not a day that goes by where I don't think of her or miss her. This experience has changed me to my core, changed how I view myself, how I see life, and how I interact with other people. I will carry the weight of this tragedy around with me for the rest of my life, and the lessons I have gained because of it.