Coping with loss: a young person’s perspective

Four years ago today my mother died of cancer. 

I was 19 years old and I had just returned home from my first year of college. Up until that point I was so happy. That year I had made new friends, had great experiences in and out of the classroom and I was generally enjoying life.

Then one night not long after I returned, my dad sat me and my brother down. You could tell from his solemn, worn-out eyes that he knew it was time to tell us what he had recently learned about my mother’s condition.

“The doctors say mom has about two months to live.”

She died less than one month later.

When he told me I was speechless. I knew my mom had cancer — she’d battled with it nine years. The shocking part was how soon it had turned for the worst. Not two months before that, everything seemed to be fine. I spoke to my mother frequently when I was at school and I never had any reason to believe anything was out of the ordinary.

It wasn’t until that June night in 2010 when the reality of the situation finally set in. I wouldn’t say I was naive because I knew the cancer would eventually take her from me. I just never thought it would be so soon.

I guess until that point I had lived in blissful ignorance. My mom was never the type of person to complain about her situation or tell my brother, sister and I what she was really going through on a day-to-day basis. In the nine years she battled the disease, I never heard her ask “why me?” 

For her last month on Earth, things got worse on a daily basis. She could no longer feed herself. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t even use the bathroom on her own. She lay bed-ridden in our living room, holding onto what little life she had left.

I helped take care of her. I would sometimes have to empty out her bed pan or change the adult-sized diaper she eventually had to use when things got really bad. And guess what? My mom THANKED me for doing these things. She could barely speak, yet she managed to whisper a ‘thank you’ to me for helping take care of her. This is a woman who had taken care of me for 19 years of my life, doing everything in her power to make sure I was the happiest person I could be. But that’s just the kind of person she was --- selfless, humble, generous, a beautiful person both inside and out.

She died in the most peaceful way I could have imagined --- surrounded by her family in her own home. We all said our goodbyes that night, telling her how much we loved her and how much we’d miss her. It’s almost as if she waited to finally let go until we all had a chance to wish her one last farewell. 

I’m sharing this story not for anyone to feel sorry for me. That’s the last thing my mom wanted and that’s the last thing I want. I’m writing because I want you to know you’re not alone in your grief.

There is no doubt that all of you reading right now have dealt with the loss of a loved one in your life, or will experience what it’s like somewhere down the road. 

Even though I was so young at the time, I feel that it’s never easy to let go of someone you love no matter what age you are.

Since her passing, not a day goes by where I don’t think of her. It’s gotten easier to handle over time, but even four years later I still find myself randomly bursting out into tears when I think about her. 

I can vividly recall several occasions where, as a bagger at Kroger, I would see little kids interacting with their moms in the checkout line. It took everything in my power to hold back the tears.

I have realized over the years that part of my problem was I suppressed my grief too much. To this day, there are times when she pops into my mind and I say to myself, “I can’t think about this right now. I don’t want to be sad. I can’t be sad because I have too many other things to focus on.”

What a selfish thing to say. And I’ve done it constantly. I realize now that it’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to think about all the good times I had with my mom and how much her undying, unconditional love meant to me and what it continues to mean. 

The last thing anyone should do when experiencing a loss is to suppress those memories. It not only hurts you mentally, it hinders you from truly accepting the reality of the situation.

My advice is to talk about it. Find that one person -- whether it be a close relative, friend or anyone who you can feel most comfortable talking about it with and just let it all out. When dealing with my mom’s death, I’ve never felt better than those moments where I break down and cry with my dad, letting all my emotions come to the forefront. 

I think you’ll find that those people who you can openly share your grief with will offer you more love and support than you ever imagined. Even though I will never be able to replace my mom’s love, I realized how much love I still have in my life. Her death made me realize how much people truly cared about me and my family and that they would do anything in their power to help in whatever way they could. 

I’ve found there is a fine line between being constantly sad and constantly suppressing your grief. The key is to find a balance between the two. Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t let it control your life. I realize that everyone grieves in their own way, but in order to move on with life, you must be able to accept your loss without forgetting how much that person meant to you. 

I keep a framed picture of my mom and I on my dresser so that every morning I see it when I get ready for work. And every morning I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have had such an amazing mother, regardless of how quickly she was taken from me. I remind myself that she had an incredibly fulfilling life, and that I am honored to call her my mom. 

—John Bush

Staff Writer