Ashley, 25, Burlington
And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
My mother died on October 9, 2010. Sometimes I forget the day, which sounds horrible, but it is because that moment could not be bound by the triviality of days. What I remember from that day, what is sketched in my heart and my mind and my being, is seeing my mom as she gasped so fiercely at each breath. I remember her last smile, her last chuckle. Even as I saw her hands begin to curve into her body as death laid claim to her draining life, I had hoped she would rebound. For the three years leading up to my moms’ death, as she battled with leimyosarcoma, I tried to hold on to each moment with her. Tried to take mental snapshots, record her voice in my memory, fit a lifetime of memories into whatever time fate had accorded us. As I watched her life slip away, I wanted more, more, more. I wanted more laughs, more hugs, more mother’s love, more hope. I wanted more of her life and I was not ready. I needed her and I loved her and I wanted to keep loving her. To see that love grow through our memories, and arguments and friendship. I was not ready.
I have never been the same.
I don’t remember much about the time after she died. As an only child I had to deal with a lot of logistical stuff, which left little room to grieve. I couldn’t sulk or lock myself into a room. I had to handle insurance companies, and funeral plans and family arrangements and mortgages. I had to keep moving and moving and moving. I had to go back to work. I had to keep moving and moving. When my mom died, a huge part of me died. I lost my home, my roots. And yes, I know those things are somewhat permanent, that I will always have them. But I lost them too. It is only now, almost two years later that I am realizing how I have changed and how I must change.
I have a hard time remembering the exact date because it feels like it was yesterday. Each day that ends gets wrapped up into one whole “thing” known as the life without my mother. It’s like the days since she has died have been placed on hold, while the jilt of her absence settles into my soul and actually becomes real. I resist it, I push back. I convince myself that she is just somewhere else. No, I haven’t seen her in a while, but I can see her if I want. She is just waiting.
But sometimes it hits me and it is deep and painful. I instantly cry and I feel the holes in my heart, the depth of my grief, the fullness of her absence. I wish she was here.
Many of my peers look at me and tell me that they think I have done so well with this whole thing, like it was a choice. I know that I am changing, that I am not the same, that my life was wrapped up in her life and I am redefining how I move through this world. How I fill the void that was my mother’s boundless love? How I replace the symphony of her laugh at my many stories? How I go on without her here. It is very hard. It is never easy. I now move forward with life because I have to. I move forward to keep from stopping, to keep from being in that space where I would suffocate with the truth of her death.
I am a girl who has lost her mother in such a cruel and painful way. Who believed in hope, oh so vainly, and was left with nothing to show for it. Who had a home and lost it. Who had someone and someplace where her fourth grade report card was cherished, her cheerleading trophies were displayed and now pays to have them sit in a dank storage unit in the middle of Florida. I am this girl now and I think, for me, that has been the way of moving with this grief towards some sort of peace.
I have seen the worst thing that could happen in my life and I survived. The world has done its worst to me and now I want to enjoy it. I know that life is short and fleeting and I choose to be authentic and to live fully and to respect the lost years of my mother and claim them as my own. To live in her honor. I know she saw me as such a strong and beautiful woman and I live in that way. Her life was not in vain, I will not sink, I will be strong, I will make her proud. I am this girl now.
Greif did not change me. Greif made me become. Become something I never thought I could be, but something that was inside of me all along. If you knew me before, you might know the change. Like a sliver of a cool ocean breeze on a hot summer day, a sliver of grief permeates my existence. Sad is okay, grief is okay, happy is ok. This is the process that life has brought me too and I choose to go through it, to find my footing again and learn how to move through this world without my mom and her love. It will never be easy.
I have chosen to look at this grief as mom’s final gift to me. Her final promise. Her love. She gave me the resources and the strength to get through it, and she knew that I would. She knew that I would never be the same, but she had been raising me to be that girl all along. She had been giving me the love and lessons and challenges that pushed me deeper and deeper into my self.
There are moments when I truly need her and I will see her in my dream, or hear her advice echoing in my ear. I’ll see some lingering sign of her presence. I realize that hope is still worth it, because her life is still here, her love is still pulsing through my life. That’s when I realize how strong she was and how strong I am because of her.
That’s what the storm is all about.