Suddenly, as the lights crackled and exploded in front of me, I didn’t feel like crying anymore. It was the first time in months that I felt this release, the first time I felt the relief in both my shoulders and my mind. It was the first moment that I didn’t feel like I was standing on the delicate edge of a nervous breakdown or like I would start crying at any moment. It was the first moment that I didn’t feel like I had to do absolutely everything in my power to hold it all together, to prevent myself from breaking down.
I looked at my best friend standing next to me in the moonlight, and I could see the sheer joy reflected in her eyes as she took in the beauty erupting in front of her. And for the first time, I felt myself smile. It was a genuine smile, not a forced grin, and it was not a smile that was intentionally plastered across my face. I felt my heart beating a little harder and felt my face turn warm, and I knew I was glowing.
I put my arm around my friend and tried to soak it all in, trying not to second guess my happiness. I tried to let my happiness be, without convincing myself that I should be unhappy. I stood there, letting the beauty sink in. The lights. The colors. The scent of the pine trees surrounding us. My friend’s arm around me. I took a deep breath and felt my body soften. I felt my muscles relax. I felt my lungs open up to new, fresh air. I had been waiting so long for this very moment. This moment of freedom that I had been craving for months. This moment that I thought would never come.
This has been my summer of loss, my summer of sadness. It was my summer of immense heartbreak. It was by far the most trying summer I had ever experienced. My heart broke when my mom died. My whole world fell apart. My rock was gone, my stability. My person. And I was left unstable and shocked, like a deer in the headlights.
Yet, being the perfectionist that I have always been, since she died, I have tried my hardest to hold it all together. I have tried to be “strong.” I put effort into my makeup every morning, making sure the wings of my eye liner match up just so. I have showed up to work with a smile each day and made small chit chat with my coworkers. And when one of my friends was completely heartbroken after she and her boyfriend broke up, I did my best to comfort her. I did my best to be there for her, even when she didn’t know how to be there for me. Even when she saw her break up tragedy as more tragic than my tragedy. I still supported her. I told many people that I was “fine” and that I was “okay” and even “good.” And the scary thing is, I think they believed me. No one second guessed my sweet smiles or fake laughter. Everyone told me that things would get better in time, but I didn’t believe them. They didn’t know. They didn’t know I was drowning, that I was barely staying afloat.
With my mom’s death, I had learned the hard way that life is ephemeral and that it is delicate and exceedingly fragile. I learned that in one second, we could be torn from someone we expected to have with us for years to come. I learned that in one moment, everything could change, and nothing would feel right again for a very long time.
I experienced numbness that accompanied my sadness and grief. I learned how to tune out my surroundings, how to go through my life with no feelings, as feeling nothing was much easier than feeling pain. I learned that hiding my feelings got me further than telling people how broken I really was. I learned to cry in the dark rather than talking to people in the light. I learned to change the subject whenever my best friend asked me how I was really doing. I shut out my dad and my brother. I was alone, and I was lonely. I learned how bleak life can be when your person is gone. And I truly believed I would never feel joy again. I believed that I would never ever be okay. How could I be okay after something so tragic? How could I heal after having my heart broken by the world?
But in this moment, in this beautiful, powerful moment, I was lost in the fireworks bursting through the night sky. I could finally feel tingles on my skin, goosebumps and shivers of joy. I felt like me again, a feeling that I thought was lost the night my mom died.
And looking into the fireworks, I could feel something change within me. I had thought that I could no longer be happy without my mom here. I thought that being happy would mean that I didn’t love her enough. That I was okay without her. And the thought of that terrified me. I vowed to never be happy again. And deep down, I thought that even if I wanted to be happy, it would never be possible. Out of respect for my mom, I believed that missing her would always overshadow happiness. But with the warmth of my best friend beside me and the lights traipsing through the night sky in front of me, I realized I was all wrong.
I realized that feeling happy actually was the most pure way I could express my love for my mom. Because I finally understood that this is what she would have wanted for me. My mom would have wanted me to live and to feel alive. She would have wanted me to be joyful, to live the best life I could. She wouldn’t have wanted me to wallow forever or to be too afraid to love out of fear of loss. She wouldn’t have wanted me to shut out the world and numb myself to life. She would have wanted me to continue to live for the both of us. And more than anything, my mom would have wanted me to be okay.
And in this moment, with the colorful explosions bursting into the dark sky before our eyes, with my mother’s blessing shining down on me through the stars, I knew that I was going to be okay.