When you’re a kid, you think that your parents will be around forever. Despite all of the Disney movies reinforcing how possible a motherless existence could be, it’s so tough to think about your own parent passing away. I was 19, going on 20, when I lost my mom, and there was still so much I wish I could have asked her about the life ahead of me While I had so many good years with my mom, she only got to see the awkward, child-like stages. She never got to meet a boyfriend, or give me advice on boys, or even see me graduate college.
When I was in high school, my mom started feeling pretty tired at work. She was a teacher for elementary education, so it all made sense at the time – she had to deal with a classroom of kids, and then come home to two of her own. And while we were older, we still had our own difficulties. Sure, many people would complain about being overworked, but my mom never even let out a frustrated sigh. She was in her element both at home and in the classroom, and handled each role like a champ.
Eventually, she had a break from school – and after a bit of nagging, she finally went to see a doctor. Unfortunately, her symptoms lead to the worst case scenario. My mom was diagnosed with renal cancer, otherwise known as cancer of the kidney, and suddenly had a whole new set of obstacles in front of her.
Throughout everything, my mom had rough patches and healthy spells. In fact, she was in remission for about a year after having the tumor surgically removed, giving us all a lot of hope. But unfortunately, during the summer where I was going into my sophomore year in college, the cancer returned – and it spread everywhere. The only hope left were a few experimental trials, which gave us hope, but were fruitless.
In December, in between semesters, my mom passed away. I remember it all so vividly – happy that I got a chance to have a little bit of closure, but obviously miserable. I wasn’t ready to close any sort of chapter just yet. Since she was going in and out of experimental treatments, learning that each “experiment” was a fail was mentally draining for both of us. I knew that she passed without a lot of pain, surrounded by loved ones, and had no regrets about the wonderful life she lead. But it was too soon.
But obviously, I wasn’t ready to close any sort of chapter just yet. Aside from the cancer, she literally was the healthiest woman I knew. She never smoked, almost abstained from alcohol entirely, was a healthy weight, and made a point to smile often each and every day. There’s no perfect person out there, but I still have yet to find a major flaw in my mother.
I went to college out-of-state, and prior to her passing, my mom told me not to take any time off. Again, as an educator, she knew how important college was, and feared I’d never go back. It was one of her last wishes. And while it was extremely tough to be separated from my family at a time where I needed them most, I trudged back to college and tried my hardest to pretend that nothing was wrong. But on the inside, I was falling apart.
The worst part about going back was having to break the news to people who casually asked me about my winter break. Nobody wants to deliver bad news, but it was impossible to put a positive spin on what occurred. No good came out of those few weeks, and nothing good would immediately follow. Some of my friends had no clue what to say, so they chose to say nothing. They ignored me in the hallways, or just gave me a sheepish look as they walked by. It’s amazing how much you actually lose when you suffer such a big loss.
Of course, there were certain individuals who came out of the woodwork to support me. Those people, surprisingly, also dealt with parental loss – and prior to my own tragedy, I had no idea. Thanks to them, I eventually rebuilt myself and became a little stronger every day.
It’s true when they say that the first year is the hardest. The first year, you have to adjust to such a big presence missing. Traditions change up, and even the merriest of holidays has a dark shadow over it. You definitely get used to crying a lot during that first year. But of course, most of it is done in private – on the outside, you truly just want to project to the world that you’re okay.
The loss definitely helped me grow up faster than I would have imagined. And, it also made me realize what was truly important in life. When you lose your mom, you realize that the reality is that you can’t control much as far as the big picture goes. You can do everything right, but still get bad news. Everything is pretty much one big gamble.
But really, the biggest lesson I learned is that the small stuff doesn’t matter. It makes little sense to hold big grudges over small things. It’s a waste of time to get mad over someone else’s honest mistake. And there’s no shame in asking for help if you truly need it. Even if it’s someone to vent to or talk to, or to get you out of your unfortunate mind frame, it’s better than sitting alone in silence, accompanied solely by your negative thoughts.
After my mom passed away, I feel like I stopped being so hard on my expectations of others. The truth is, you never really know what someone else is going through. Often, people suffer with big news in silence – kind of like I tried to do. While close friends and acquaintances knew about the death, professors didn’t. Nor did classmates. So, I made sure to never judge someone right off the bat.
I also became extremely close with the rest of my family, since they were my true support system throughout all of this. While people can definitely relate to the situation, my dad and sister could best relate to my situation. My mom touched all of our lives simultaneously, and we were a unit. We made sure to check in with each other often, and today – well over a decade later – that habit has stuck.
Losing a parent will always be devastating, even if you have a rocky relationship with your mom and dad. There’s no right way to grieve, nor one path to take after the news officially becomes real. But if you find yourself in despair after losing someone, just remember that it takes a strong person to get over such a big hurdle. And you? You’re much stronger than you think. Processing the news will never get easy, nor will saying the phrase “my mom passed away” never fail to sting. Sometimes a small memory will hit – even if it’s years later – that’ll turn you into an uncontrollable ball of tears. These things happen.
But the only thing you need to remember is that this big life event will definitely change you, and make you re-evaluate your own life. You’ll figure out what’s truly important to you, and what’s no longer worthy of your time. And your own parent will always be with you – since so much of who you are has already been shaped by them.
You can follow the author, Karen Belz, on Twitter.