What I’ve Learned About Grief, As A 20-Something Who Lost A Parent

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Ben Blennerhassett / Unsplash

I used to write because I loved it. But now I only write as a way to consolidate my grief. I’ve given myself a pretty decent window of time for me to be able to grapple with the fact that my mother died from Stage IV Breast Cancer. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do while grieving. I’ve cried. I’ve cursed God. I’ve hated my mother, my father, my brother who lives five miles up the road and never visits. I’ve gone through therapy, yet working in the healthcare field where I’m surrounded by bald heads and weak eyes, I’ve learned that maybe I haven’t really acknowledged my grief as much as I’ve simply tried to satisfy it.

Life in the past year has taught me that nothing in my waking hours will ever go back to being the same. I haven’t been happy since the morning of February 28th, 2017, before receiving that phone call that made my fiancé and I drive 80 mph back home only to watch our car die and become stranded on the side of the highway. I learned my mom died in that car and I had nothing in the way of rescue until a police officer came, scooped me up in the front seat and told me she had lost both of her parents with a five-month span and she could understand my heartbreak. She dropped me off at my house, which seemed cold and empty and my parents’ next-door neighbor bolted out and grabbed me in her arms and hurried me inside as her husband, the chief of police, covered my mom’s beautiful porcelain face under a sheet. Then, my dad walked in the house, utterly shattered after watching his mate of 40-years close her eyes right in front of him.

I cry a lot in my waking hours. Sometimes the crying gets so bad that I have to step away from my post at work and arch my back against the shitty, 1970’s style wallpaper in the bathroom talking to my mom, asking her to give me the strength to plaster the fakest of smiles on my face because it’s 9:00 a.m. and I have seven more hours to get through.

The honest truth I’ll share with all of you is that I’m actually terrified to wake up happy again. Waking up happy, on that day, somehow translated into the most fucked up day of my young, 20-something life. I correlate happiness with immediately believing that tragedy is right around the corner.

Since her death, I’ve wasted a lot of days due to that fear. I’ll acknowledge that I still need help with it because grief isn’t something we ever can endure alone.

Sometimes I wonder if my feelings are normal. I think back to when I was 17 and my grandmother died on hospice and I try really hard to remember how my mom handled her grief. I remember she yelled at me a couple of times when I was a snarky 17-year old and said something along the lines of “it didn’t matter.” I remember her being upset and screaming in the hallway when the hospice nurse came in and told her that she passed. I remember my grandmother’s funeral, and how somewhere in between a room full of sadness, there was a spark of happiness knowing how fortunate we were to have even known her.

I don’t remember the longevity of the grief though. I don’t remember if she felt this sick, toxic poison rattling inside her stomach that I do every time I think about that morning or my father’s expression. I don’t know if it gets easier to deal with grief the older you get because death becomes the norm. You’re supposed to lose your parent when you’re 51-years-old. You’re supposed to have taken family pictures with both your parents on the morning of your wedding. You’re supposed to have your mom with you in the delivery room and annoy the shit out of you every moment after because she’s an experienced mom and you have no idea what you’re doing. I will never get any of that and I’m really broken about that fact. I’m miserable in a lot of ways because I feel like I was short changed somehow. It’s not the life I anticipated at just 27-years-old.

Do I believe life will get better? I do. I trust that there’s proof in the pudding that you will laugh again after death. You will have moments of inspiration and enjoyment. I’m working on not feeling scared if I want to enjoy life around me. It’s this psychological hang-up that I have no choice but to work on because at the end of the day, bad things in our life will always happen and it’s not worth wasting a single second of the happiness you ought to be reveling in. TC mark

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