May 2005 changed my life. My mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer, which is basically a life sentence. But at the age of 13, I was completely blindsided by this fact. Everyone tried to act like everything was alright, which I can understand now is how people cope with sadness.
Throughout the next 7 months, I watched my mom die in front of me–we had a hospital bed set up in our house, and she would only spend some days of the week at the hospital. I tried my best to pretend everything was okay–because everyone around me was acting that way–but how can anything be okay when my whole life was turned upside down? Days I would spend with my mom talking about school or going shopping or baking cookies were now spent cleaning up her urine stained sheets, helping her get into her walker or wheelchair to walk around, or usually watching her sleep for most of the day.
I had a lot of shame telling anyone around me that my mom was sick–mostly because my family did not even talk about the fact that she was sick. I was embarrassed to have people over at my house seeing my mom in that condition, but I tried my best to not let it change my life. Around this time, I noticed my depression and anger becoming worse and worse, but I felt too selfish making it about myself. My mental health was disintegrating as my mom was dying, but I tried my best to be strong for her–whatever the hell that means.
I knew Christmas in 2005 would be weird without my mom being around–she was an avid Christmas fan and loved decorating. I still did my best to decorate the house for her, even though her health was badly deteriorating that December and we were not sure if she would even be able to see the Christmas decorations. As a 13 year old, I was mostly upset about how different Christmas would be–it was my second favorite holiday (besides Halloween, of course) to spend with my mom. Throughout all of her treatments and sickness, I refused to go see her in the hospital for whatever reason, and I became angrier and angrier when my dad tried to force me to go see her, especially around the holidays. I didn’t want the gloom of the hospital to ruin my holidays–I was already depressed and angry as it was.
But something in me changed on Christmas Eve in 2005. I had decided that I did finally want to go see my mom on Christmas morning, after having not seen her for about 2 months. My dad kept telling me that my mom was begging to see me, so I decided it would be nice to see her.
On December 25, 2005 as we were getting ready to leave for the hospital, my dad received a call. He got off the phone and was extremely quiet until he broke down and started crying. He could barely hold himself up. I had never seen my dad this upset before in my life. It took him at least a minute to finally say, “She’s gone.” I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to believe it. I had been so selfish and refused to see my mom and I didn’t even get to say goodbye to her.
After getting through the funeral and the initial shock, my dad expected us to go right back to school. There was no open grieving or sadness allowed in my house after my mom’s death.
You would think I would be kind of used to not having a mom at this point since my mom was extremely sick, but it didn’t get easier. I had to grow up fast and even became the motherly figure for my brother. My dad immersed himself into work again right away after spending most of the year being my mom’s caretaker. I tried to ignore my mental health issues, but they got worse and worse. It didn’t help that I was dealing with normal teenage woes on top of silently mourning the loss of my favorite person.
Flash forward to December 25, 2015. It was difficult for me to reemerge myself into these emotions, but I think it is important to look at my own progress.
I somehow made it through high school and got myself through college, which I am proud of. I also started graduate school, and I will be the first one in my school to receive my Master’s degree.
I had a lot of normal ups and downs throughout the last 10 years–I did terrible in school; I did well in school; I had terrible relationships and friendships; I have had great relationships and friendships; I have dealt with my grief in unhealthy ways; I am on the path to learning how to cope better.
It took me 10 years to really want to face my emotions about my mom. I still have days where I cry about her, but those are becoming lesser and lesser over the years. I decided to start group therapy and individual therapy this year to cope with my mom’s loss as well as cater to my mental health issues.
I have been diagnosed with extreme anxiety, chronic depression, and borderline personality disorder. All of this sounds scary and shameful to admit, but I am trying to be more open about who I am now and where I came from. I never would have imagined 10 years ago that I would be more open with my friends about my emotions or even post anything on social media about it. I am making progress by leaps and bounds, but I still have far to go.
There are a few reasons why I wanted to write this post. 1) Writing has always been a great coping method for me. I am an avid journal writer. 2) I have done generic Google searches of coping with the loss of a parent around the holidays, and I have not had much luck with finding anything relevant to my issues.
Everyone wants to tell you that it gets better eventually and the person you love is always watching over you and is proud of you. While I like the sentiment and appreciate people’s kind words, I am sick of hearing it after 10 years.
Growing up at the age of 13 because your mom is dying in front of you sucks. There is no eloquent way to put that. I wish I could have had my mom around through all the major landmarks in my life so far. I miss being able to hear her great advice and infectious laugh. These are all just memories now–it still stings to know my life will never and has never been the same again.
There are no right ways to cope or mourn. I could never sit here and give anyone advice on how to overcome something this traumatic, but I want to let people know that it IS possible to move on–even though I have never completely moved on. I have just learned a new normal for myself. It took a few years, but I have given myself the best of a life that I could possibly have from this terrible situation. My mom is always in the back of my mind with everything I do.
The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who has been mourning for 5 minutes or 5 years is to do what is right for you. Do not feel pressure to talk about how you’re feeling, but also do not feel guilty if you want to openly talk about the trauma you have faced. Do not be discouraged when you read articles about dealing with a loss and you see a numbered list of how to cope with your issues–maybe these might be relevant to some people, but they are not relevant to all.
The holidays will always be a difficult time for me. It took me until this year to really even want to celebrate Christmas, but even now, I do not celebrate Christmas the way I used to when my mom was around. It is okay to not want to pretend to be happy and celebrate holidays that just make you depressed. I still do not really like celebrating Christmas, but I am trying more and more to appreciate it again. I do not feel bad anymore for not being happy around the holidays. If you feel pressured to do this by friends and family, then honestly, they are pretty shitty people for not understanding your comfort zones. Don’t let others’ ignorance deter your right to cope the way you want to.