“You are stronger, braver and more resilient than you ever thought possible. You just don’t know it yet.”
It was a cold Friday night in January and I was curled up on my couch after a long day at work, bowl of ice-cream in one hand and TV remote in the other. The night was ordinary just like many others before it. I never expected that it would be the worst night of my entire 25-year-old existence.
I was just about to unhook my bra, slip into my oversized pajama shirt and call it a night when my phone flashed and mom’s husband’s name, Dale, appeared on the screen. I considered letting my phone ring and going MIA for the night, possibly polishing off the last bit of ice-cream and falling into a deep sugar coma. But for some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that it could be something important, so I answered.
“Jessica, your mom’s in the hospital” said the empty voice in the speaker “You need to get in a cab right now”.
My mom had always been in good health. At the young age of 51, she’d never been struck by illness besides the odd flu or cold. So when I heard that she was in the hospital, the severity of the situation didn’t immediately register – until Dale said this: “She’s bleeding in her brain and it doesn’t look good”.
What happened after was a complete blur; the tear filled cab ride alone, the sea of hugs and tears when I arrived at the hospital, and the look on my 17-year-old sister’s face when the doctor told us our mom was brain-dead almost instantly after an aneurysm burst in her brain.
What wasn’t a blur was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life, the last time I held my mother’s hand. She was lying on the hospital bed looking exactly like my mom always looked, bright colored lipstick, freshly colored and straightened blonde hair and dressed to the nines. At the same time, she looked nothing like my mom. There was no color in her cheeks or warmth in her eyes. I knew that she was gone.
I looked down at her hands and cradled them in my own, memorizing every inch of them. I was very aware that this would be the last time I would hold them. In this moment I realized her hands were exactly like mine, maybe a bit bigger and stronger, but identical in every other way. I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling – with my mom’s death a part of me would die too.
I’d never lost anyone close to me before. I had never experienced grief like this – so raw and so deep. It completely consumed me. I was scared that it would destroy me and the life I had just begun to build for myself. I wanted to just get through it, and perhaps heal from it unscarred like a bump or a bruise.
Almost 2 years later I now realize that grief will always be a part of my life and many other important lessons for coping with the loss of my mom.
Your life will be beautiful again, just in different ways.
I remember feeling like my mom’s death would be that one life event that would push me to my breaking point. Maybe I would disappear on a drug binge, or quit my job. I joked with my family a lot about moving deep into the woods and living off the land, foraging for berries and making friends with the squirrels.
This was my way of telling them I was scared. Terrified even. What would losing the woman who gave birth to me do to my life? Who would I become?
I hear grief is different for everyone and for me it was no cake walk. It took me a week to come out of the most excruciating emotional pain I had ever felt in my life. It took months after that not to come home every day and cry.
BUT! While it’s been extremely tough at times, my life didn’t completely fall apart like I thought it would. Instead of becoming a shadow of my former self, I heard my mom’s voice repeat in my head “be strong my baby”. I knew she wouldn’t want to see me fail; I knew she would want me to make her proud. So that’s exactly what I did!
In the last few years I met the absolute love of my life, got my first car and moved into a bigger apartment. I left a job that wasn’t making me happy and started a new one I’m very proud of. I didn’t just survive, I made my life better. And I owe it all to her – for always loving me to pieces and making sure I knew it every single day.
Your life will only fall apart if you let it. You are stronger, braver and more resilient than you ever thought possible. You just don’t know it yet.
I would later find out that my mom was sitting down having a drink when it happened. She was in mid-conversation with her husband when she told him her head hurt. Less than a minute later she was unconscious, and less than 10 minutes after that she was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. She was brain-dead before she arrived. Her death’s likelihood was 1 in 1 million; the chances of this ever happening to anyone were extremely rare.
How could this happen to her? One minute she was alive and well, the next she was gone. Just like that. This made me realize exactly how precious and fleeting life really is. Growing old is a privilege and a gift that not everyone gets to experience.
All the people we know will eventually pass away, and one day we will too. It’s the only certainty in life that no one ever talks about. Your own mortality is a tough pill to swallow, but once you do, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for your own little life and the people in it.
If you have experienced great loss, chances are, you’re one of the lucky few who truly understand the value of life and love. You’ll spend more time with family and friends who matter most to you. You’ll walk through life holding each and every second with them close to your heart. You’ll make sure to say “I love you” at every chance you get. You’ll enjoy all the little moments, because you know that they are numbered. It’s a perspective that not everyone can grasp, but you will – and that’s a true gift.
She lives within you.
Have you seen the movie Collateral Beauty? If you’re in the mood for an emotional drama I’d highly recommend it, it made me sob like a baby! I won’t give too much away, but in it Keira Knightly plays love (the feeling) as a character. In response to a father getting angry at love for being so painful when his young daughter died, love said “I was there in her laugh, but I’m also here now in your pain.” Those words really meant something to me, because it’s extremely true.
I know my mom lives within me. She lives in the love I feel for her when I smile at a happy memory, she’s there in my tears when I miss her. She’s there in everything that I do because she was my mom and her love will always be part of me. It’s comforting to know that whatever you believe in (reincarnation, god, heaven, or even nothing) that your loved one is never completely gone, they’re right there with you. Love never dies.
I’m living my life for two now – mostly for me but a little bit for my mom too.