One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is my daughter-in-law, Hazelle! She’s a beautiful woman. Hazelle is an only child who lives with her two best friends: her husband, Luke and her pooch, Joey. She was raised in the Philippines and moved to Canada in her early teens. She graduated with a Psychology major and a humanities minor from SFU. She loves puppies, babies, fries, coffee, hand moisturizers, lip gloss, Sharpies, and all sorts of school supplies. I would like to share this story she wrote of how she dealt with losing her mother.
by Hazelle Schenk
My mom passed away when I was in my third year of university. She missed my college graduation, my wedding, and she’s going to miss the births of my children. This is one of the most painful realities of being the one left behind. You can’t make any new memories with the people you love. From now on, they’re going to miss every birthday, every anniversary, every Christmas morning.
Most people say it gets easier with time. In some sense, that’s true. Life goes on; new memories are made, new relationships blossom. But there will always, always be a hole in your heart. I used to think that this hole had damaged me in many ways. After my mom passed away, I struggled with my own identity. For a long time, I defined myself by the absence of my mother. I justified my emotions, my decisions –even my sour behavior—by the fact that I was a wounded and damaged person, weathered by the storms of life. (I know… dramatic, right?)
Grieving the loss of a loved one is a life-long process. Sometimes, you’ll be able to genuinely smile through painful moments and you’d feel like you’re kicking butt at this “grieving thing”. But sometimes, you’ll fall flat on your face weeping like a child at a graveside, completely lost in grief. There’s no perfect way to grieve. You have to find a one that works for you. In my own journey after my mom’s death, I’ve come to learn a few things:
1. Be kind to yourself. This is one of the most important things I had to learn. Shortly after my mom passed, I felt as if I needed to live my life in constant mourning, as if it was inappropriate to laugh and heartily enjoy a moment. Yes it’s going to be hard, and it’s okay to be sad. But it’s also more than okay to be happy. Find music that you enjoy and get lost in the lyrics. Go buy that puppy you’ve always wanted (that worked for me). Keep a tub of your favorite ice cream in the freezer handy. Take the bus (or hop on a plane!) and go on a sporadic little adventure.
2. Take care of your heart. Acknowledge the fact that your heart is missing a piece, but don’t neglect the fact that your heart has grown larger and stronger. I know that a loved one’s death hurts your heart – both emotionally and physically. Find an outlet for you to express the emotions you’re trying hard to bottle within. Start a blog, write letters, book a coffee date or a round of golf with a close friend. If you want to talk with someone anonymously, you may request a mentor here. Even though you’ve lived through moments of excruciating pain, know that you are not a permanently damaged person.
3. Celebrate memories – both old and new! You may not be able to create new memories with your loved one, but you can create new memories of them. This is something I learned years down the line. When it dawned on me that I cannot make new memories, I felt paralyzed. I felt as if something that was so uniquely mine was prematurely stolen away from me. However, just because I can’t make new memories with my mom doesn’t mean I can’t make new memories of her. This year on her death anniversary, my husband and I took the afternoon off work. We went back to the hospital where my mom spent her last days. We went to a few of her favorite places, and celebrated a few of her favorite activities. My husband never got the chance to meet my mom, so creating new memories of her paved a way for my husband and I to celebrate her in our own way.
4. You are not the odd one out. Reach out to others like you. For a long time, I felt set apart from the people around me. I felt as if I did not deserve the joy that others experience because my life is so lacking. This cannot be further from the truth! You were created for a full and abundant life! One of the biggest breakthroughs for me was a book that my friend shared with me called Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman. It opened my eyes to the innumerable number of people around the world who are experiencing the same struggles as I am. Reading and learning about other people’s experiences did not mute my own struggles; it helped me realize that I’m not the odd one out. It helped me remember that as I grieve the loss of my mother, my dad is at the same time grieving the loss of his wife, my grandparents the loss of their daughter, etc. I may feel odd and incomplete, but I don’t have to feel alone.
5. Think eternally. This is a big one. I’m not sure if you believe in God, in prayer, or in heaven. But I do – and it has made all the difference in my life. I rest assured that through Jesus I can see my mom again in heaven one day. I was praying through my mom’s final moments, asking God to open His arms to her. I believe that we were created for a really awesome relationship with God. But because of our selfishness, sin and death entered the picture. The good news is that Jesus conquered it all and through Him we can all be united with God and live eternally with him and one another in paradise. Having this eternal perspective helps me remember that while life on earth is temporary and fleeting, the best is yet to come! (If you’re wondering who Jesus is, read this).
If you’re reading this article, then I am guessing that you’ve either lost a loved one or recently encountered someone who has. Being the “one left behind” is certainly one of the most poignant experiences of life. It’s excruciatingly painful, but also sacredly beautiful. I pray that you find a way to celebrate today!
Recommended: If you’re helping a friend or loved one deal with grief, you might want to read this.
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Grief is a difficult road, so be sure not to journey through it alone. If you have any more questions about life, death, or anything else in between, we have a team of online mentors who would love to engage in conversation with you. Request a mentor (it’s private, and it’s free!)