The image of mamá hugging the coffin of her beloved brother Papaito was seared in my mind. I was only 10 years old and couldn’t really understand the depths of that loss for her, still, I have never forgotten that moment. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the year I learned about grief…
Although I had experienced death before, I now know that I hadn’t faced a devastating loss like when mamá died. That’s how at the age of 35 I learned about grief for the first time in my life. It started creeping up on me even before that fatal morning. I had been mourning what my subconscious knew as inevitable but that my consciousness wanted to deny: mamá’s days on earth were coming to an end.
The year 2012 was a bittersweet year. I had just gotten a new job a few months before the year began, our move to North Carolina was approaching and we were excited. When I think back, I realize how something broke in me that year. How completely happy I was, how naive I was, how blissfully ignorant I was then. There is a before and after I learned about grief.
Losing mamá taught me about excruciating pain and endless love. It made me feel fragile, vulnerable, guilty at times, but also it solidified my commitment to mother my children in a loving way. It showed me how strong I can be, even when my heart is broken. It gave me purpose while leaving a void that I don’t think I could ever fill.
5 Lessons I Learned About Grief
Grieving is not linear. Although crying is a normal reaction to loss, when I was faced with mamá’s death, I couldn’t cry as I thought I would. Those who know me know that I’m very sensitive and cry easily. However, there is not one way to grieve and not being able to react in a certain way is part of it.
The guilty business of living. After we came back from Santo Domingo from mamá’s funeral, I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to stop time. I felt guilty to continue life as normal. Nothing was right, it didn’t feel right to go on with just living my life. As it inevitably happens, I did continue with doing things, traveling, laughing, and it felt wrong. The year I learned about grief, I learned that the biggest challenge after losing someone is having the courage to continue on, to defy your heart and your brain, and accepting the gift of life, even when nothing makes sense.
Things become more than that. A big part of grieving is that the smallest things remind you of the loss. A piece of clothing, a mug, an accessory. I kept a few things that belonged to mamá when she died, a pair of earrings was among those. I wore them several times, but one day I lost one. I cried and cried. I shed more tears for that earring than I had shed for anything in a long time.
Memories bring healing. Thinking about mamá was at times -and still is- a painful reminder that she is no longer here. However, remembering her life, her love and the little things we experienced together is also healing. It is, in my opinion, the only way I can go on with that void. Remembering her is the way to have her present, even if not physically.
Grief is humbling. Learning to be vulnerable is something I have had to work on, something I’m still learning about. But even when we don’t want to, grieving let us vulnerable in ways we could never imagine. Feeling so helpless is truly humbling, it teaches us about how little we have control of, and how important is to really let others see us, the raw, devastated, and weak parts of us.
The year 2012 was a launch board into adulthood, a sampling of how beautiful, exciting and excruciating life can be. What I learned about grief is that, ultimately, grieving is a lifelong journey, and losing the people closest to your heart although painful, is also a part that reminds us of how precious and valuable this life is.
What have you learned about grief?