All of the books tell you not to write your college essay about losing a loved one.
“insert quote from literally any book about college essays here”
These books urged me to write about an experience that changed me, something that made me unique, but not if that meant talking about a loss. I was encouraged to stray away from the ” woe is me” kind of attitude that is often tacked onto the essays written about the death of a loved one.
After hours of research, I decided to disregard this advice and chose to write about the exact thing they advised against — the death of my mother.
How was I supposed to portray who I was without mentioning one of the most influential aspects of my young life? I was 17 at the time and for 6.5 years (and the majority of what I remember growing up) all I knew was hospital visits, radiation offices, doctors appointments, and physical therapy trips. How could I not talk about the worst parts — visits to a nursing home which turned into a funeral home and then a cemetery — and how they all changed me?
That is far too long of a time period, with far too serious and solemn events, to not have a significant influence on my life. In writing about my mother I wasn’t trying to pull the ” dead mother card” (like Phoebe from Friends frequently pulls nearly every episode), I was just telling a story of me, and my mother was a huge part of that.
Herein lies a huge hurdle that all individuals who have lost a loved one faces. How can we possibly let people know who we are without mentioning how impactful the death of that person was?
At one point, you’re asked the present and future tense of these questions:
- Where does your mom live?
- What does she do?
- When will I get to meet her?”
I’m often left fumbling for a “good” answer. Something that won’t be a conversation ender. A phrase that can help me avoid the, “oh, I’m so sorry” and the expected “thank you” response.
The fact of the matter is, we skirt a fine line between adequately expressing ourselves and being known as the “one who lost someone.”
The problem with the latter is that it’s on us to remember that no matter how defining the loss of a loved one is, we a) are not alone and b) aren’t the only ones who are aching and c) this isn’t where we begin and end.
Yes, it’s a heavy burden to carry. Yes, the pressure molds new versions of who we are. Yes, figuring out who to tell and how much to say when the right time is will always be difficult. But, it’s not impossible. It’s not limiting. If anything, it opens lines of communication and acceptance (with those who count).
Talking helps. Finding times and places to talk about my mom whether it be in past or present tense, makes it easier. With my friends I talk about my mom just like they talk about theirs, they don’t get weirded out when I mention her and don’t freeze up like some people do when I bring up my (dead) mother.
That’s exactly where the line is though — the dead mother thing. There is a difference between talking about my mom and talking about my mom who died.
The majority of the time it is a balancing act between grieving the loss of my mom and emphasizing she was an actual person. I’m aware of the toll it places on everyone around me.
However, we do not need permission to grieve or acknowledge the loss and life of a loved one.
My mother is a part of who I am and when I talk of her, when I use her as a way to express who I am in 500 words or less, I am not using her death as an excuse, a crutch or to pull on the heart strings of the college admissions committees. I am using her as an extension of who I am and as the first step for others to get to know who I am.
If you need help writing about your loss for your college essay, email us – firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “College Essay”