Picture this: I’m in London, and all of Europe is at my fingertips. I take the Tube to my journalism internship every day and often go to the pub with friends. Sounds amazing, right?
But on this July night, I’m sitting on my bed in my flat, wiping my snot with a gray nightgown because it can help drown out the sounds of my crying.
I’m sobbing in London. “How silly is this?” I ask myself. “You came all the way to London to cry?”
This past semester, I had been riddled with internal conflicts and anxiety that sent me on a spiral, ruining relationships and hurting myself. I thought by going to London I would hide from the pain I’d been feeling and it would all go away.
Going to London didn’t help me hide the pain — it made it greater. But it did help me finally figure out what had been going on.
I’ve always been a high-achieving person and a problem solver, so I couldn’t live with the constant anxiety anymore, and I needed to find the cause.
It wasn’t until I found a column by Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks that basically described every single one of my feelings.
The column, “Losing a mother early shapes a woman’s emotional terrain for life,” finally gave me the beginnings to answer all the questions I’d had for myself.
Banks wrote about finding a book by Hope Edelman called “Motherless Daughters.” I immediately purchased the book and started reading on my lunch breaks at my internship.
Edelman wrote it after pinpointing her extreme emotional pain during her 20s, according to the book. She researched the effects of losing a mother at a young age. She found there was only one time this pain had been discussed: in a column in the 1980s.
“Meet you in the lobby in ten minutes — I have long brown hair, am on the short side, have on a red coat, and my mother died when I was nineteen,” Edelman wrote.
The only difference in my story from this statement is that my mom, Eileen, died when I was 15 years old, after a long battle with colon cancer. She beat it once and had my miracle of a sister named Anna, against all possibilities. But she was later re-diagnosed and took her last breaths in a hospital room in July 2012.
My dad is amazing — he’s raised me and my three siblings, trying his best to fill both parental roles. I’m so thankful for everything he’s done, but I’ll always miss my mom.
It’s hard to summarize the incredible woman she was and the profound ways she touched others’ lives. She was witty, thoughtful, prayerful and wore a “Genius” tag on her keys — to describe my beautiful mom in just a few ways.
I thought the trauma and pain of constantly waking up at night to creep into her room to check if she was breathing had made me stronger. I thought I hit all of the five stages of grief, doubling up with my regular teen angst.
It took traveling more than 3,000 miles away to finally realize why I’d been hurting. I always knew losing my mom would leave me a bit disadvantaged, but never did I know that I had been facing developmental issues.
The developmental tasks of learning to live with ambiguity, developing a personal value system and managing emotions are just a few of the places that can be “disrupted or halted by mother loss” during adolescence, Edelman wrote.
These were all things I’d been struggling with. I had been looking for women role models who could fill my mom’s shoes but was too scared to ask for help. And who would ever be worthy, anyway?
The biggest thing I learned was that sticking grief into five stages is damaging.
“I’ve found there are really only two stages of grief that matter to most mourners: the one in which you feel really, really bad, followed by the one in which you feel better,” Edelman writes. “Expecting grief to run a quick, predictable course leads us to…making us think of grief as something that, with proper treatment, can and should be ‘fixed.’”
I thought I had fully grieved her loss. I stopped thinking about her almost entirely for the past few years. I told myself I’d done all the crying I needed to do.
But in London, I finally let myself feel the pain of losing my mother five years later. Now, I will let myself feel it whenever I need to, and I’ll be taking applications for who can try on her shoes. And I will continue to work every day to make my mom proud.