Just a little over a year ago my mother passed away. I grew up witnessing my mother fight a chronic, painful disease called Sickle Cell Anemia, but about four years ago she was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension. Although the doctors all expressed the gravity of such a diagnosis and how short it would cut my mother’s life, her death still came as somewhat of a surprise to me. The problem is, I had grown up watching my mother battle sickness. She would enter the hospital and come home again…. go in, come home, go in, come home. But she would always come home, eventually. Her sickness became a normal part of life for me and my sisters. Even when my older sister passed from complications from her own battle with Sickle Cell, I never pictured the same fate for my mother.
In her twenties, my mother was told she would only live until she was 32 but I was born when she was 33. Birthday after birthday we would watch my mother get a little more worn, but still live… a walking, talking, FIGHTING miracle. When I was told about her Pulmonary Hypertension diagnosis and how many years the doctors predicted she would live, I didn’t believe them. And for some time, neither did my mother. “I am fine,” she would tell me, “I don’t feel like I’m dying!”. And for some time that mindset worked for all of us. She was wonder woman; she wasn’t dying.
She was strong.
In the final year of my mother’s life, the reality of her health failing her spirit became obvious, to her and to me, but no one, mostly me, wanted to believe that her absence from this earth could be so near. I kept my hope alive, naively possibly, but more in blatant denial of the truth. It wasn’t until that final hospital trip when my mother looked at me, her eyes filled with a defeated sorrow I had never before seen them reflect before, and said, “I’m dying” that the truth finally sank in. This wouldn’t be another one of her near-death success stories. My mother wouldn’t return home; she would be gone the next night.
In the year after my mother’s death life has felt like an emotional roller coaster. I sometimes vacillate between feeling really mentally strong and feeling broken and incomplete. I was (and still am) working through the loss of my mother when Juan, my boyfriend of 6 years, proposed to me on our six-year anniversary. I knew this big event in my life wouldn’t exist without a shadow, but I didn’t foresee just how vast her absence would feel.
On my good days, I’d brainstorm ways to include her in our ceremony and to honor her spirit. And on my worst days, I’d want to cancel the entire thing, run away and do it alone because I feared the day could never be what I’d want it to be without my mother there.
How could I enter my “new life” without the woman who had pushed me to survive there? How could I stand before Juan and promise him my heart when so much of me still felt so broken? How could this ever be the happiest day of my life without my mother there? I wrestled with these emotions throughout the planning of our wedding, mostly in explosive ways after things that caused me anxiety happened.
My father is complaining about the costs associated with travel for a wedding?!
CANCEL THE WHOLE THING! I DON’T NEED ANYONE THERE
My friends can’t afford to come?!
CANCEL THE WHOLE THING! I DON’T WANT ANYONE TO BE THERE
Unforeseen financial troubles?
CANCEL IT ALL! WE’LL ELOPE! THE DAY WILL NEVER BE PERFECT ANYWAYS!
It wasn’t pretty; it was hard, and I took others on this roller coaster with me. Any time I’d feel any perceived resistance from anyone we’d chosen to invite, I’d instantly feel the anger in my chest swell, the pain, the hurt – it would all bubble to the surface. My mom, I’d think to myself, she’d give anything to see this. She wanted to be a part of this day. This day could never be what I’d want it to be. It was all impossible without her there. And for some time, I let that become my truth.
It wasn’t until I was confronted with yet another unforeseen obstacle followed by a semi melt down that I was realized what I was doing to myself and everyone around me. I was letting grief control my life. I was living in what could have been, what I had stubbornly decided should have been. I was living in an idea of perfection, an idea that could no longer be lived up to, one that was impossible. I was living in the guilt of being happy despite my grief and I was ruining one of the happiest times of my life. Yes, this day would be missing someone huge in my life. And yes, that is sad. And yes, oh yes, how I wish she could have been there to see the happiness on our faces but sitting in those feelings of lack was not going to change anything. Getting angry at the world wouldn’t bring my mother back or remove the sadness of her loss I felt from my heart.
Big, important days always make the absence of a loved one feel greater. It was not an easy journey for me to let go of what I wanted to happen at our wedding. I so badly wanted my mother there to walk me down the aisle, to hear the words Juan and I wrote to one another, to thank her for raising me to be a strong woman who knows what she deserves in a relationship despite my father’s absence. And I don’t have any special tools, tips or tricks to navigate these emotions. All I can say is I finally found solace and gratitude in all the things the day would be.
- I would be marrying my best friend in one of our favorite places
- I would be marrying into a family that feels like my own
- I would be standing next to my sister and my best friend as we exchanged our vows
- & I would be surrounded by the people we love
I had to find the good in what I still had. I had to do this for me and for my mother. She would have wanted this time of my life to be happy.
A lot of overcoming grief is letting go of the world as it was and embracing all that it is in this moment. There is no going back and as difficult as it is to accept that sometimes, life doesn’t really allow for other options. I’m still working through it all, but I can say even at my lower points, I am proud of how I’ve managed to get through thus far. There was a time when the weight of every mistake I made during a time of heightened emotions laid so heavily on me, but I’m proud to say those times have passed. Life will continue to happen. Might as well enjoy the ride.
Sending love & light to you wherever you are.
Miss you always, Mama