It seems a little cliché to say that everything changed after I lost my mom, but there’s no better way to say it.
Absolutely everything changed. It happened during my sophomore year of college, during winter break. Cancer is never a great diagnosis, but things really seemed to get bad all at once. I remember back when I had hope that my mom would beat it. Instead, it took her away.
Even my friendships changed. People didn’t know what to say to me anymore. I was only days away from turning 20 at the time, and at that age, losing a parent is extremely rare. My friends almost seemed fearful of saying the wrong thing, so many of them said nothing at all.
I felt lonely, but I also cherished the time I had by myself. I didn’t have to entertain people or even talk about it. Instead, I could just sit on my uncomfortable dorm bed and decompress for hours between classes. Even my thought process changed up. Why is life even worth living if we’re just going to die at an unexpected time?
Mother’s Day was always a tough holiday after that. It’s so aggressively advertised on television that it’s hard not to reflect on the fact that I wouldn’t be celebrating it anymore for the immediate future. People told me to focus on other moms I admired, but it wasn’t the same. Even little things hit me. At the time, I had big aspirations of writing for Saturday Night Live. I thought ahead to how I’d feel to have that dream job and witness a Mother’s Day episode, where the cast famously brought out their moms and gave thanks on television. It was nothing more than a fantasy situation, but I still worried about how I’d deal.
The holiday also shed light on the fact that I never had the opportunity to even buy my mom a nice gift. Flowers, sure. But in the time she was alive, I was never able to financially get something that I thought she actually deserved. And my mom deserved the world.
In 2017, I had a daughter of my own. And while I at first thought that I’d finally be able to enjoy the day from the other perspective, feelings came flooding back. Being a mom made the whole thing so much crueler. I was always on the fence about parenting, but it’s true that my first glimpse of my daughter was love at first sight. I looked at her, and I knew I had a new mission in life.
“This is probably how my mom thought of me,” I thought to myself. Parenting had changed a lot since the ’80s when I was born, but that pure sense of love remained the same.
I look at my daughter and think about all of the things I look forward to. She’s got so many big milestones in her future, and I plan on being by her side by every one. My mom had that opportunity taken away from her. She didn’t see me graduate, or fall in love, or get married. She never got to meet her grandkids. My mom was such a natural around children, and it was downright cruel that life dealt her this hand.
While I try to find a way to honor her during Mother’s Day, I know it gets harder every year. Because every year is one more year where I’m different from the person I was back when I was nearing 20. She never got to really see me as an adult.
In a way, I think that impacts my relationship with my own daughter. In a way, I try to be “friend and mom” wrapped into one, so she really knows who I am. With my own mom, I learned more about her life through my dad in the years that followed. She and I never had the opportunity to sit down and talk about things that actually mattered.
In a way, Mother’s Day is also hard for me since I think mothers should be honored more than a weekend. For me, I think about my mom on a daily basis — whether it’s an old memory that pops into my head or I realize I’m accidentally emulating her old parenting style. It’s been 16 years, but she’s still on my mind, and I still go through periods of grief.
I’m the type of person to say “I love you” to family members during every call — especially my dad. And that’s partially because I’m fully aware that one accident or one bad doctor’s appointment may make it impossible to say those words again.
Those of us who’ve lost a beloved parent are in a “club,” more or less. None of us asked to be in it, and we’d all love the opportunity to revoke our membership, but we understand each other. It’s a pain that’s really hard for others to visualize or understand. And they should be happy that they don’t have to.
Throughout the years, we’ve given each other pats on the back for simply getting through the holiday. While there are so many smart, courageous, beautiful moms out there, every single social media post made that day is a big reminder that yours is no longer around.
Social media is also tough to deal with, since if you happen to mention your mother’s passing, the standard reply back is “I’m sorry.” And that’s hard to answer.
For me, I kind of awkwardly say something like, “Oh, it’s fine!” Even though it’s not been fine. And then I follow it up with, “It’s been 16 years!” Which is true, but I still replay my last night with her so often that it feels like just yesterday.
When you lose your mom, you don’t want to make people feel bad about celebrating theirs. But it’s tough, as Mother’s Day is a constant reminder of what things could have been like had her genetic makeup been slightly different.
Years ago, I tried to post an uplifting montage of moms, including my own. But that’s been hard to keep up with, since there aren’t many photos of my mom that I have access to. When she died, digital cameras were just starting to become popular. Each camera held about 20 photos before needing to be dumped. And those photos were on a floppy disc somewhere.
And while my parents did a pretty good job keeping up with physical photo albums when my sister and I were kids, they gave up on it when we became teenagers. They figured we had our own cameras and could keep our own albums, which was very true. However, back when I was 17, my 20 photos were normally saved for friends, crushes, and moments at school. We didn’t have a lot of good family photo opportunities.
So let that be a reminder. Bring a camera, and don’t be ashamed to snap photos of the people you love. Because that’s something I wish I could go back and change. And also the reason why I take so many selfies with my daughter.
If your mom has passed away, just know that parts of it get easier. The first year was the most numbing. Every event felt strange and distant. As a consolidated family, we didn’t know if we could survive Easter and Christmas without my mom. But when every holiday passes after a loss, you start realizing that while it may not be ideal, or the same, it’s still possible.
As of right now, all I can do this Mother’s Day is look at my daughter and think about how proud I am to be her mom. Her grandmother was an incredible lady, and I can’t wait to tell her all about her. Even if she’s not physically around, it’s up to me to make sure her memory never disappears.