I remember the first phone call I made after my mom died.
I remember my cousins coming over and asking me if I had told Kylie — their daughter and my best friend in the whole world. I thought they had told her already, but they wanted her to hear it from me.
I wanted her to hear it from me.
At this point, I had not cried yet. I was still sitting in numbness and shock. Kylie’s mom handed me the phone with Kylie on the other end and my hands were shaking as I grabbed it. I don’t remember everything I said, but I do remember crying as soon as the words, “my mom died,” left my mouth. Then it hit me that this was only the first of many phone calls I would have to make that day.
This was only the first of many conversations to come surrounding my mother’s death.
The next phone call I made wasn’t any easier. I texted my best friend, Becca, who was on vacation in North Carolina at the time. When she finally called me back, I walked into my garage and told her what happened.
I remember repeating that I was okay. I remember telling her not to worry about me. I remember telling her that I wanted her to enjoy her vacation. I didn’t want to hinder her trip because of my loss.
I was so worried that talking to other people about my loss would make them upset, so I didn’t talk about it at all. When other people wanted to talk to me about it, I tried to change the subject. Looking back, I can see how this was only making it harder for me to process everything that was going on.
So, the question became, “How do I approach a conversation about my loss?” I won’t pretend like I have all the answers, but over the past two years I have become more comfortable talking about it. I have become more comfortable with approaching others about it. These conversations have helped me grieve.
The first, and probably most important thing I learned is that talking about my loss doesn’t have to be sad. At my mother’s wake one of her friends approached my sister and I, and said, “I hope that one day soon you can think about your mom and smile. That is what she would want.” At the time, it felt like there were years between me and the possibility of smiling when thinking of my mother. But, then I started talking about her more.
Each conversation helped me realize that I could talk about my mom and smile.
Getting to that point wasn’t easy for me though. The only thing that came easy was the guilt that came with being happy while grieving because the assumption by all (even yourself sometimes) is that you’re supposed to be sad. Especially when thinking of the person you lost. However, you can’t forget that there are happy memories too.
A grief counselor asked me what my happiest memory with my mom was and with that question I was granted a sense of permission to share that I didn’t even know I needed. It was the first time I ever really felt like I could talk about her and feel happy.
Sure, there’s still sadness when I think about those times because I know I don’t have any good future memories to make.
I’ll always miss my mom. I will always feel sadness, but that doesn’t mean I am a bad person for being happy about the good times we did share while she was still here.
I was so worried that my sadness would make other people sad that I fell back on not talking about her at all. It was only once I started sharing happier memories that I realized that I could still share my loss and grieve with the support of others without it being necessarily sad.
Another thing to keep in mind while approaching people about your loss is to remember that they don’t have all the answers. I think I expected too much from my friends after my mom died. I expected them to check in on me, to want to talk about my mom. I just expected more and when they didn’t meet my expectations, I felt like they were ignoring me.
I remember bringing this up during one of my counseling sessions and the counselor pointed out that my friends, and most of my family, have not had to deal with a loss of this magnitude. They may not know how to react, what to say to me or what I needed from them, especially because I wasn’t communicating with them.
As I started talking to my friends without expectations, I learned that it’s okay to talk to someone who doesn’t have all the answers. Just having someone listen can help you far beyond what you may have originally thought.
Talking about your loss can feel awkward and scary. In an effort to not upset or pressure anyone, you may be keeping it in, but you don’t have to. Conversation by conversation, you start learning that not every conversation about your loved one has to be a sad one. You also learn that people are different, which means their reactions and how they show support may be different to.
There are people who I feel like I can talk to all day about my loss and there are people who I still haven’t really talked to at all about it. That’s okay.
Those who truly care about you will show you support either with words or simply by listening. If they aren’t approaching you about your loss that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to talking about it, sometimes it just means that you have to start those tough conversations. Starting these conversations is hard, but it also has the payoff that you could potentially feel even a bit better at the end of them.