"I Am Not Here to Sugarcoat the Feeling of Losing a Loved One"
Written By: Isabella P.
I woke up in a cold sweat, sobbing and paralyzed by fear. I ran downstairs to check if my mom was awake and there she was, sat at the computer, doing some late night reading. I have never loved her so much as I did in that moment. “Phew, it was just a dream,” I thought to myself desperately. I was nine years old. I had dreamt my mom was dying, and there was nothing I could do to save her. Why in God’s name would I be dreaming about my mother dying? In what world does a nine year old have reoccuring dreams about losing the most important person in her life? I was so angry at my subconscious for putting me through such emotional distress, especially for something I had never had to deal with in real life, and for something I thought I wasn’t ever going to have to deal with until I was much older.
I thought oh-so wrong. My mother unexpectedly passed away two months before my 19th birthday, two days after Christmas. Ugh. Have you ever felt numbness? It seems paradoxical to feel numbness, but I swear I felt every inch of it crawling through my veins for weeks. And that was just the beginning.
“Nothing in life can prepare you to lose a parent who raised you & loved you & was there for you...”
Nothing in life can prepare you to lose a parent who raised you and loved you and was there for you unequivocally. Not even the fucked up dreams I was having when I was nine years old. Not even the death of my friend’s parents when I was in high school. Not even 9/11 as a six year old New Yorker who knew people in the community who lost husbands and fathers. I wish I could say otherwise, but you are never fully prepared to lose someone until you lose someone. And even then, you are not prepared. How could you be? Losing someone is like having a part of you ripped out forever. You’ll lie awake at night thinking of all the “what-if’s,” and all of the “could’ve been’s” until you drive yourself mad.
Clearly, I am not here to sugarcoat the feeling of losing a loved one. It’s one of the hardest experiences imaginable. There is so much loneliness, sadness, blame, confusion, and anger that comes with that territory. It’s crying yourself to sleep, pushing people away, drinking too much, becoming emotionally unavailable, detaching from the world, not doing your homework, half-assing it at work, not eating healthy, not eating at all. It’s crippling anxiety, severe depression, and not asking for help. It’s not getting enough sleep, or getting too much. It’s questioning everything or being so numb that you stop caring about anything. The death of a loved one is brutal and cruel and it will beat you down and kick your ass until you have no fight left.
But, guess what? It doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be drinking too much, being emotionally unavailable, detaching from the world, etc. It can be so much more than that. It should be so much more than that. Do you know how long it’s taken me to realize this?
The world expects us to struggle, and to suffer, and to crumble. And, sometimes we do. Sometimes our rooms get so messy we can’t even see the floor because we’re too depressed to clean it. Sometimes we avoid certain people for weeks because we are just not in the mood. Sometimes we’re reckless and self-destructive because we just want to feel anything at all. And that is LIFE. That is normal. That is okay. But at the very least, we are allowed to move on after our losses. We are allowed to be happy. We are allowed to imagine a future where our suffering doesn’t drown out the good stuff. We owe it to the ones we’ve lost, to the ones still in our lives, to the ones who will be in our future lives, but mostly to ourselves.
And that’s been tough for me. My coping mechanism has been to just put on a tough face and act like everything is okay, even when internally I feel quite the opposite. I act brave because I don’t want others to think I need help. I put on a tough face because I don’t want people to think I’m sad, or at a loss. I’ve turned off my ability to feel sadness about my mother because it’s how I’ve managed the pain. And now, I sometimes find myself going days or weeks without thinking about my mom, and when I do, I don’t feel anything. “Why am I not crying when I think about her?” “Why do I brush it off to others like it’s no big deal?” “Is this healing or am I just fucked up?”
Turns out, distancing yourself from pain is not a healer. It’s a temporary fix. I know this because I’ve lived it. By not acknowledging the pain, I haven’t been allowing myself to move forward in the way I deserve, in the way all of us who have faced loss deserve. I’ve been burying the pain and the sadness until it breaks me, just to start that vicious cycle all over again. I’ve come to realize that the only way to truly turn that pain into something positive is to allow myself to be vulnerable and to just feel. Fuck putting on a brave face! Cry it out, friends, because there is healing power in vulnerability. There is strength in sadness. There is honor in asking for help.
So, here’s my message to you:
Don’t be afraid to feel the hurt. Go through it, unapologetically. Have a sob. Clench your fists. Be mad at the world. Open up. Be vulnerable. Talk about it. Your ability to feel deeply and intensely can be your strongest armor. Your ability to recognize your needs and ask for help is a sign of self-awareness and self-love.
Vulnerability is not and never will be a sign of weakness. It is an archaic belief that showing emotion is a lack of strength. How incredible it is that as human beings, we have the ability to feel pain and sadness, because that means we also have the ability to feel happiness and joy, and most of all, to love. The greatest gift on earth is our ability to feel emotions, and to bottle them up, to shut ourselves off from the world, and to numb our pain is doing ourselves a great disservice.
Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being able to clean your room because you’re depressed. Forgive yourself for avoiding people because you’re not in the mood to talk. Forgive yourself for all the things you do that make you feel like shit, but that you just can’t help. The power that lies in self-compassion is immeasurable, as it is the single greatest thing we can ever do for ourselves.
So, yeah, losing a loved one is hard. Actually, losing a loved one fucking sucks. It is, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever been through. But by embracing my pain, and asking for help, I have discovered so much strength. I now love harder and care deeper. I am wiser and more intune with the world. I have developed much more compassion for myself and for others. It isn’t always easy, though. There will forever be days that the pain is unbearable. But it’s meant to be felt. Don’t bury it. Don’t push it away. Pain in life is inevitable, but make no mistake- pain is power. Pain allows you to feel all of the emotions, and it empowers you to understand yourself in ways you never knew. So don’t wait days, months, or years to process your pain. You owe it to yourself to start now.