Much of my grieving process has been about finding my place in this world without my mom—my best friend, my “person,” my heart.
I want her death to have as much meaning as her life. She lived a life of love and adventure, heartbreak and triumph. And her death can be just as impactful.
I have decided to find purpose in the death of a life so profound—to be testament to her last days, her vulnerability, strength and final expressions of love. I am a sad, motherless daughter, but I want to be a proactive, positive woman who becomes stronger, kinder, truer, in spite of my worst fear—my mother’s death—coming true.
In the 10 months since I said a final goodbye to my mama, this is what I have learned (but I have a feeling her death is full of a lifetime of lessons as long as I keep myself open to them).
Other Loss is No Big Deal.
Through the death of someone I loved more than words, I understand what real loss is. Losing jobs, getting robbed and moving away are not as difficult as they once were. They come, and they go. In fact, change that brings heartache always brings lessons and opportunity for growth.
I have already lost my mom. I have somehow survived that, so everything else doesn’t feel nearly as important as it used to.
I met a girl in Roatan, Honduras, and after discovering both of us had recently lost our mothers, we became fast friends. We understood each other in ways few in our lives can. After a couple days of knowing each other, we sat on the beach all night crying, laughing, and telling our favorite stories about our families. We bonded quickly, because we both mourn our mothers.
What a beautiful, surprising, lovely result of such a tragedy in life: the new ability to relate to and love others like us. Because I know myself on a deeper level, I can now meet others in the same place.
Sense of Freedom.
My mom and I were best friends. I spoke to to her every day to chat or check in. I lived abroad during her last years—with frequent visits—but she still wanted me to call when I arrived somewhere safely. She respected and trusted me, but wanted to know I was safe.
Without her, there is no one to call to chat about my day, no one who particularly cares about the details of my life, or who has me in mind all that often. (I have the best, sweetest, most devoted dad, but fathers are not mothers. He supports me in other, lovely ways.)
Since she has been gone, I have experienced things I never would have if she were alive. Without my reluctance to worry my mom, I have been able to live according to my own desires. I have backpacked through Central America and Cuba, earned my scuba dive master in Honduras, attended a Spanish school in Guatemala, slept in some sketchy homestays, and fed sharks underwater.
There is a sadness in knowing no one is overly worried about what I am doing, but there is also a new sense of freedom. No guilt for making my mom worry, and a freedom in being able to do exactly what I want. I now rely on the instincts she taught me and hope that she would be proud of me for living my own life.
Once you hurt somewhere deeper, newer, rawer and more real than you ever knew possible, it opens up a whole other level of compassion. I used to consider myself a pretty empathetic person, but now I understand that a large part of true compassion is realizing that you don’t always understand another person’s suffering. To assume you understand someone else’s pain is the opposite of empathy.
Instead of putting myself in the other person’s shoes—which is to judge them based on my own experience, coping abilities and beliefs—I listen. The best way to express compassion for another person’s suffering is to deeply, actively, silently, whole-heartedly listen to them. This is what I needed after my mom died. So much healing is possible when your heart is truly heard by another human being. And what an effective way to spread peace to the world.
One of my favorite quotes is, “grief does not change you…it reveals you.” (John Green, A Fault in Our Stars). You’ll hit your highest highs when you break through the veil of grief and see your resilience, strength and hope for the future again. You will also have moments so heartbreaking you don’t know how you will live.
While our reactions to our deepest pain can show us what we have to work on within ourselves, these moments do not define us. Judgement of ourselves at our lowest is not only hurtful and pointless but short-sighted. Let’s not forget our strength, resilience, hope, compassion and growth. No matter who you are, you have exhibited these qualities. You’re here. You’re dealing. You’re amazing. Let’s accept ourselves in these tough times for what we are: deserving of acceptance and love no matter what.
My mom taught me that you can count your true friends by who is standing beside you when you really need them. After she died, I was disappointed by some people who made it clear they were only capable of being in my life during good times. While I have come to a better acceptance of who they are, I have begun to choose my tribe more carefully. I’m better able to recognize who those people may be, and appreciate the friends who stood with me and continue to be there for me.
I now value traits like depth, ability to listen, intelligence, presence and mindfulness much more than I used to. I have learned that clicking with someone is lovely, but a true friend needs to be more. My mom always tried to teach me this, and because of her death I now understand.
I know that finding the goodness in grief can feel like a betrayal to the person you love and lost. I understand that, especially right after a loved one’s death, finding anything positive feels impossible. My mom wanted me to have a rich, fulfilling, happy life even if she wasn’t in it.
The grief we feel is hard enough, don’t you think? Why not search for the positives and honor the memories of the most beautiful, loving souls we know by becoming the best and happiest versions of ourselves and learning from their deaths.
Author: Amanda Black
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Toby Israel