When I turned my phone back on, one voicemail and some messages were waiting for me.
(I had turned it off the prior evening, a rarity.)
The voicemail was from my boyfriend, calling to say goodnight even though I’d forewarned him that I was checking out for the evening. I seriously needed to be alone—let everything go silent.
It felt good to have no more f*cks to give. It was a change of pace, an exceptionally freeing and guiltless act of self-care.
One of my cousins sent a message of love and encouragement for the hard day ahead. Another message from my good friend, sending the same thoughts.
I sent them both a heart emoji because that’s all I had in me to do.
My aunt had texted me, saying, “Morning, Merry! Call me when you can.”
Since we don’t often talk, once I had woken up enough to think somewhat straight, I found her number in my contacts and dialed her. She didn’t answer, so I left a message.
She called back a few minutes later.
It was the first anniversary since my mother died. We cried, laughed, and shared some memories of her. We ranted about our annoyance with the cemetery, which throws away everything we bring to the grave once a week.
I usually stick with plastic dollar-store flowers. (Some of them are lovely.)
I’ve lost my fair share of loved ones over the years; I’m not a newbie at this. Yet my mom dying has been the most difficult death to accept and move forward from.
I’ve been as proactive as I could within the last year; I attended a grief group, found a new therapist who I like, and regularly saw my doctor. I wrote as often as I could. I spent time reading, learning, and exploring the topic of grief. I don’t like to stay stuck in life, and the more knowledge that I have, the better my chances are for personal growth.
Rekindling my relationship with the big guy in the sky has also been wonderful, like being thrown a life preserver in a stormy sea filled with sharks.
I’ve learned a few things about death, loss, and grief, but I’ll keep it simple:
1. Every emotion is valid.
When I got the call early that Monday morning a year ago, my first thought was that of pure relief. Relief that she was no longer suffering—finally at peace. It was also a feeling of relief for myself because I no longer had to witness how sick she was. One of the hardest things is watching someone you love in pain and not being able to do a damn thing about it.
Of course, I felt guilty for feeling that way, until I read about something called anticipatory grief. She’d been ill for so long that, deep down, I had already begun the process of grieving before she even died.
2. Let it out (or don’t).
Trying to act tough will only make matters worse. If you feel like ugly, snot-crying—do it. On the other hand, if you can’t cry and just feel numb, that’s alright as well. There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to grieving. Cliché, but true.
3. It’s a journey you walk alone (mostly).
Once the first week or two is over, people will go back to their lives, and you’ll be left alone to figure out how to move forward without your loved one. It’s a lonely path.
Not everyone wants to share their pain. I’m extremely emotional, so I’ve spent many nights alone in my room, talking to her.
Pay close attention to the people who reach out to you during this time, and if no one does, then reach out to them. (When you’re ready.)
4. The empty space.
There will always be a void when someone dies. But as much as that reality stinks, I wouldn’t want anyone else to fill in for my mom. That’s how much I continue to love her—and always will.
She had a wonderful sense of humor! I like to believe that some of it rubbed off on me.
I cherish the fact that I had her here with me for 43 years.
5. Signs are all around you (if you look).
My mom is still with me.
Those first few weeks after she passed away, I kept waiting for some profound thing to prove to me that she was alright. She’d told me to keep an eye out for her; in fact, it was one of the last things that she said to me before they wheeled her off for surgery.
It’ll be a certain song on the radio, a bird, a feather, perhaps even a dream that feels real. She kissed me on my cheek, and I could feel it when I awoke. I’ve even heard her soft voice!
My mom was almost my age in the above photograph that I took of her. We were on a family trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, back in 1989.
She had a zest for life, and that photo represents it perfectly—feet up on the dash, brilliant smile, holding a cigarette, a habit that she was never able to break.
She was my best friend, and my life will never be the same. I miss her so much, but I know that she’s close by. I know she’s watching over me.