I dreaded February 28th like I used to dread the dentist when I was nine years old. I felt all these uncomfortable emotions on the days leading up to what people ordinarily call “the longest month of the year.” My dad felt them, too. He felt sadder than usual for 27 days. I felt angry, more susceptible to lashing out at someone for something stupid because truth be told, I felt like I was in some sort of parallel universe because there’s no way that my mom had been missing from my life for one entire year.
The morning of that one year anniversary of her death was a little grim: my father and I exchanging glances and heavy sighs, acknowledging that we made it an entire year; me saying how quickly this year flew by and him, saying just the opposite. We traded stories about my mom; stories we used to hate that we now can’t live without. I read her diary, glazing over four entries that started out about how scared she was to die without seeing her only daughter happy. Entries that started out with sadness about her Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis. Entries that started out angry and turned peaceful, entries that started out peaceful and then turned to anger. I rushed by the six pages of my mother’s eulogy, not wanting to read it only to come across my dad’s entries on his first birthday without her talking about how lonely he is; seeing it in black and white about how much he truly misses her.
We made it a point that day to do something fun. We went shopping, blowing money we didn’t have on clothes we didn’t need. We ate favorite foods, and watched movies. We didn’t talk about her that much, only to discover that one year after losing your mom, you don’t really have to. It’s not that you’re not sad anymore, because trust me when I say you can – and will – continue to cry from missing her at a single mention of her name. But, one year after her death, you make an agreement with the world. You make this pact. You decide for yourself that you want to approach the way you thought about her death differently.
I don’t look at my mom’s passing as bad anymore because it’s what freed her from a life of pain and misery. I miss her, but I don’t wish she was still here for my own selfishness of not being done with her being my mom yet. I look at the last years of my mom’s life and think about all the tests and surgeries and fear she encounter on a daily basis. I think about her losing the ability to see, to drive, to walk. I think about her losing her independence – a very trait my mom couldn’t live without. I think about the sadness she felt inside her heart when she realized she couldn’t live life the way she wanted to anymore. My mom will still be around for my wedding and for when I become a mother of my own. She’ll still parent me and guide me because her words, her teachings live on through me. And those same words and lessons will live on through my children and so on and so on.
One year after you lose your mom, you’ll really begin to take that first step into making peace with what happened. There is a difference between being sad that she’s not here and sad because you miss her. I wanted her to be free, to be in a better place which I have every belief in the world she is. One year after your mother dies, you’ll want to start breathing again. You’ll want to pick up and go on adventures, start something new, redefine yourself as not someone who is only recognized as being “motherless” but to be someone who has courage, who has strength, who has been through hell and returned even stronger, even wiser.
One year after you lose your mom, you’ll feel happy again, if only for the first time in a very, very long time.