[Content note for discussion of grief, death and loss]
Note: This post was hard to write and even harder to share. It is mostly intended as some personal processing but I figured others might benefit from reading about my story.
Three days ago was the 12 year anniversary of my mother’s death. She died when I was 14 years old. In three years I will have lived more of my life with her dead than I had with her alive. I don’t talk about her much. All of my friends know that my mother died when I was 14, but what is there to say really, when so much time has passed? Most of the friends I have now didn’t know me then and so they never even met her. How do we talk about grief that is so old that feeling this loss is as natural as breathing or sleeping or feeling the blood pump through my veins. It is something that is a part of me, like my pinky toe, I don’t actively think about it all the time but it is always there. It has become a part of my identity, I am 26, I am Indian, and I lost my mother when I was 14.
For a long time it felt like the most important thing about me.Initially it was a little difficult getting to know new people, I dreaded the moment when I would have to explain that my parents weren’t divorced, my mother was just dead. Their reactions always left me feeling empty. It wasn’t that I wanted sympathy or even empathy,the platitudes were often terrible and made me feel deeply uncomfortable. I just wanted someone to look at me and understand how monumentally life changing it was for a 14 year old girl. I remember clearly sitting on the grass berm outside our house after the funeral feeling shell shocked, overwhelmed and just surprised at how normal everything else was. It seemed ridiculous that the world was exactly the same when something so large had happened to me.
I don’t think I really felt anything for a full year after that. I was numb. I loved my mother deeply, although in the intervening years many people have claimed that I did not, and I was not emotionally equipped to deal with her death. We never really spoke about it in my family, we just sort of got on with things in a muddled sort of way, we were all raised to hold everything in. My school tried to help me, I was sent to the counselor’s office once a week for a while until she got tired of me sitting there saying nothing. I was angry at the school for thinking I needed help, that I wasn’t doing a good job of being fine (being anything less was not really an option) when I clearly was, while at the same time simply not having the words to describe just how huge and terrible everything was. Sometimes I felt like I was choking with unsaid words and un-shed tears. Perhaps that was the difficulty, I still couldn’t talk about her without crying and I didn’t want to cry in front of this warm stranger.
I think about my mother every day. Still. She was a person with an open heart and an endless capacity for love. It is hard to explain what it is like to grow up without a mother that you once loved. In the last 12 years I have: attended my first formal dance, finished high school, graduated university, gotten married, acquired my first real job, had my work celebrated, become disillusioned with my career and so much more. Every major event is bittersweet and every challenge is made a tiny bit more difficult because I cannot talk about it with my mother.
People who knew my mother when she was young tell me I look like her a lot. This is both a source of pleasure and pain. When I look in the mirror it is nice to be able to remember that there is a part of her left in me. At the same time it is a stark reminder of all the things I have lost. For me, grief has mutated and transformed but it has never ever gone away. I doubt it ever will.