When I find myself getting mysteriously emotional, it's usually around this time of year.
This week marks five years since my mom passed away. To say we were "close" is an understatement. So when she lost her unexpected battle with cancer, I was devastated.
I wouldn't say it ever gets easy. But I do notice that I've made some semblance of peace with it.
Now I can think past the sad memories and smile about the happy ones. I'm actually sharing and talking about it instead of bottling up my grief.
These days, my sister and I can joke about "what would mommy do?" in a certain situation. (It's usually some form of blurting out exactly what's on her mind and not taking people's shit. #thanksmom)
She loved a good car-ride dance party. She was a SJW before that was a thing. Oh, and she was a master at bypassing any return policy. One time she returned something to Best Buy with a receipt from Circuit City. Tall skinny middle school Sara was so embarrassed at the time. But that was a baller move.
Being a therapist, I thought I could handle it on my own when she died.
I mean, I'm sure I could have. People overcome all kinds of adversity without "professional help." Communities are resilient.
Of course, I understood the value of therapy and frequently encouraged people to go. But I didn't learn what that really meant until I was forced into that situation personally. Go figure.
Losing a parent changes who you are; I often tell people it's like joining a shitty club that no one wants to be a part of.
After she died, I didn't know what the rest of my life had in store for me. A lot of it was a blur in the beginning. As I reflect on the past five years, I've remembered some things and forgotten others; I've grown; I've surprised myself in a lot of ways.
Here are 100 things that happened after my mom died. If you've lost someone you're close to, you might recognize some of these.
- Immediately, you understand on a primordial level that she's gone. One minute she's still there, and the next minute, the world is empty.
- You get pissed off. At yourself. At the world. At your family and friends. You fight with the people closest to you. Especially the ones who are trying to help.
- You get a strange feeling the first time you drive by the hospital exit on the freeway and keep going. I guess that feeling is relief. But like, saddest kind of relief that doesn't even feel good.
- You cry. A lot. Without warning. You leave some cooling masks in the fridge to help with puffy eyes, but you never take them out.
- You lose your appetite and hide in your room.
- You order comfort food and don't eat it.
- You try to force yourself to get over it. You insist you can do this on your own.
- You go to work, hoping to distract yourself.
- Uhhh, you take some time off from work.
- You avoid all pictures, videos, memories of her. Seeing her image hurts. Especially the one time you can't help but watch these old home movies that someone brought over. There's nowhere to hide, but you leave the room anyway.
- You feel disconnected from the world around you. How is everyone just going along with life? You don't remember getting yourself places. You try to go on with life because what the hell else are you going to do? You find yourself at an event and it feels like you're watching it on TV.
- People tell you the first 6 months are the hardest.
- You realize how unprepared you are, and how unprepared you could possibly be.
- You wake up hoping it isn't true.
- You become forgetful about basic tasks. Driving directions, where you put things, when bills are due.
- You get in a minor car accident because you can't get your life together.
- Things that once seemed so important now feel trivial. And all those small things now feel like the most important.
- People casually ask about her and you can't bring yourself to break the news.
- Any TV show or movie with a funeral scene, a cancer scene, or just a mom character makes you cry.
- I mean, if you're lucky you cry. Otherwise you just shut down, feel numb, or stay irritable.
- You try to avoid crying because you feel like if you start, how could you possibly cry it all out?
- Her room still smells like her and you just lay on her bed and wish you could talk to her for 5 minutes.
- You clean out her closet, bedroom, and car and find little items that you didn't realize she kept.
- Mother's Day comes around and you hide from the world.
- You decide that it would be too painful to have kids without your mom around.
- You find a gift that you gave her and crumble.
- You find your photo in her wallet.
- You watch all of Sex and the City. Twice. And the movies.
- You go to therapy. Your therapist is a like a cool mom with a cool haircut and she's really nice.
- You remember the other people in your life who have gone through this, and regret the trite things you said to them before you knew what it felt like.
- You feel for everyone else who goes through this from now on.
- People tell you the first year is the hardest.
- You don't give a fuck about the breast cancer walk.
- You appreciate the people who acknowledge your loss in any way, big or small.
- Your friend Nikita will bring over a pot of food and sit in your gross apartment with you while you have nothing to say.
- A problem that you can't solve arises. You go to your usual sources of advice and just talk a lot of shit, wondering why this thing is still bothering you. You get really heartbroken when you realize that it's because there's only one person you wish you could talk to.
- The first time you start to feel a tiny bit better, you hope that it sticks. It doesn't. (This happens countless times.)
- You keep breaking down crying at random times. You learn to let it happen instead of trying to hold it in, which your therapist tells you will only make it last longer.
- You question your faith, whatever it was to begin with.
- You pull away from your family. You feel guilty for doing this, because now you're terrified of losing them. But it's also too painful to be around them without her.
- Oh, by the way, your extended family goes fucking nuts.
- You start to panic about losing other people in your life.
- You panic when you get your own cancer screenings.
- The doctor accidentally pulls your mom's record up instead of yours and calls you by her name. You tersely correct them and quietly cry during your exam. It's awesome.
- You try to watch her favorite movie and NOPE.
- You have dreams about her and wake up feeling soothed. Dreams about shopping for clothes and accessories together at the mall.
- You overhear people taking their parents for granted and want to scream at them. But then you remember you did the same.
- People tell you the first 2 years are the hardest.
- You start to be able to say "my mom died" out loud.
- Memories of her fade and you desperately rack your brain trying to keep details in your mind.
- You try to make her recipes and can hear the instructions in your head. The same ones that annoyed you when you were 17.
- You experience milestones and feel sad that she isn't here to celebrate with you.
- You divide your life into "before" and "after" her death.
- Every time you lose something, or otherwise get upset, you're like 10x madder than you normally would be.
- Holidays suck. Until you start making new traditions for yourself.
- New people move in to your old house.
- You find pictures of yourself from before she died and see a different person.
- You check through your phone hoping to find an old voicemail from her.
- You log into her email account (she gave you her password so you could write to her friends, and her password is really cute). You sob over the Macy's sale announcements that she would have clicked on.
- You read and re-read old emails that she sent you.
- You already know what she would say in situations and sometimes hear it in your head.
- Every day becomes an exercise in "self-care." AKA, just trying to make yourself feel better. None of them really seem to work.
- You regret that you didn't go over for dinner that one time.
- You pull out the wedding veil that she made you and can't believe how happy you were not that long ago.
- Your friends message you on mother's day, or her birthday, or the day she passed away. You appreciate these messages even more than you let on.
- You wonder what she would think of your new apartment.
- You memorize the last thing she said to you.
- You feel like your family is blasted apart, and different from whatever it was before. You try for a while to keep things the way they were, and then start relating in a new way.
- You keep waiting to feel better. You start to have more good days in a row.
- One day you realize you can talk about it without falling apart.
- You visit her gravesite hoping for closure but don't really feel any connection to it.
- You find the watch you got her for mother's day and you wear it every day now. When you look at it you see her.
- You gain weight.
- You compete in a regional dance competition and have a Little Miss Sunshine moment.
- You read some "my mom died" memoirs hoping to find some healing.
- You invite your girlfriends over and watch "Wild" and awkwardly hold back tears when the mom dies. Why was this a good idea?
- You go to the movies and laugh.
- People will tell you stories of her that you never knew about and you'll eat them up because you've gone through all the ones you already know numerous times.
- Your husband has a layover in Vegas on his way back from a work trip and you fly out to meet him for one night and you get do whatever you want because he's trying to cheer you up. It works for a little bit.
- An old family photo pops up in your facebook memories and you're like, "whoa we look so happy there."
- A bunch of celebrities die and you hop on the public mourning train because it's a collective loss and you subconsciously hope this makes your grief more socially acceptable and maybe everyone else's tears will kind of camouflage your own.
- You go on a girls trip to Palm Springs, find healing and have fun. Yes, that happens in real life not just in the movies.
- You feel sad because if you're such a mess, you can only imagine how this must have affected the rest of your family.
- People tell you the first five years are the hardest.
- People stop bringing it up but you think about it every day.
- You start seeing her as a real person and can see her weaknesses instead of just the idealized version of her.
- You start your own business.
- You get older and uncover more life lessons that she already taught you without you even realizing it at the time.
- You can laugh and remember her fondly. You can even make jokes.
- You see pictures of yourself and think damn I look like my mom.
- OK so maybe you're not a parent yourself but you know other parents and you're like holy crap I can't believe she did all that for me.
- The first time you realize you don't know "what she would say if she were here" is really hard.
- You make friends who never met your mom. You know what she would think of them.
- You think of how proud she would be of you.
- You see that you have some of her same habits, like reading signs out loud while driving, and asking obvious questions during movies.
- You wonder how your life would be different if she were still around.
- You sometimes imagine her watching over you.
- You describe her to people who didn't know her.
- You go back to old places where you have memories together and they look so different now.
- You appreciate the times that she pushed you to do better, and the times that she didn't.
If you're going through a hard time, you won't believe that it's going to get better. But it will, I promise. Even when the worst thing you can think of happens.
Getting help makes a big difference in how long that hard time lasts, and how much it will affect you. Therapy was a big help for me. But it can be anything for you. Talk to someone who has been there, write, create art, dance, sing all the Sad Sam Smith Songs. Just don't pull away and binge watch TV to escape like I did. Or actually, do that for as long as you want. But then get some help.
I think that's what my mom would have said. And she's always right.
Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals and couples of all genders and orientations in Long Beach, Seal Beach, and surrounding areas. If you're struggling with your mental and emotional health, call (562) 704-4736 for your free consultation, or fill out the form below.