After 4 o’clock my grief is officially a high school freshman. 13 years of my life has come and gone, each year measured by the amount of time it’s been since my mom died.
I’m writing this for the third time, this time from one of my favorite coffee shops in the city, following a canceled coffee date. I decided to give myself a couple of hours with an empty doc I could fill with words.
Some are phrases that survived the first and second versions of this essay, most were born from realizing that January 10th, the days before and the days after will never be easy for me. Each year I try to find the differences. I look for the one thing that made this January 10th easier than the last, but I’m still searching.
If I did have to find a common denominator between where I’m physically sitting right now and where I’ve been emotionally in the last year, it’s that I’ve learned to give myself permission to sit.
After you lose someone people seem to think you exist in extremes — you’re either incredibly sad or not sad at all. I’ve stopped believing this. I can be happy and still miss my mom.
I can be my mother’s daughter and still be a daughter without a mom.
The year after my mom’s death I spent more time sitting on my living room couch than in my 5th grade classroom. My grandmother was older and grieving the loss of a child she was never supposed to bury. My uncle was trying his best with a 10-year-old little girl who seemed to shrink every morning at the prospect of having to face the outside world.
I would listen but wouldn’t really talk. This is how I ended up outside of my 5th grade classroom listening to a teacher (who probably had the best intentions in mind) tell my uncle (who was smack in the middle of his first parent-teacher conference) that my family had to stop coddling me.
That year I learned to carry my grief in the inside pocket of a backpack — a place where only I would know it was there.
Over 13 years, I’ve become intimately familiar with, “your mom would be so proud of you.” For most of that time I worked really hard to bury the phrase that would always follow in my mind — “You *should* be here. Physically be here.”
Then this last year I kind of just stopped. I cut my 5th grade self some slack and admitted that this is hard and feels unfair.
Too Damn Young taught me how to give that backpack a metaphorical middle finger. It/everyone on here has taught me that I have a right to be sad when I want to be sad and to feel cheated out of experiences with my mom.
I have a right to say that I’ve learned from my loss, in the same way that I have a right to say that I shouldn’t have to hide it or cushion it for the next person.
I shouldn’t have to sugarcoat the downs because no one asks me to do that with my ups.
Missing my mom isn’t optional depending on the situation I’m in, it’s just something that is. I missed her when Too Damn Young hit 200k views and when I broke it off with a guy she probably would’ve liked.
More than the thing I spend most of my waking hours on, Too Damn Young has been my lifesaver. It’s helped me when my anxiety’s been paralyzing, when I’ve needed a safe hiding place from the rest of the world and it gets me when I say that I measure time in years since she’s been gone.
The truth is that for me moments will probably always be categorized by how significant of a milestone they are and on a spectrum of how much I missed her while they happened.
But in cutting myself some slack, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I can still be me and spot silver linings from a mile away, while acknowledging that I’ve been dealt a hard hand. My friends can tell you that I always tell them that their struggle is subjective…you can’t measure everyone’s sad with the same ruler. In any given moment, whatever they’re living through is the hardest thing they’re going through. There’s value in acknowledging that.
You can empathize and have perspective, while still bitching about how unfair something is. At least, that’s what I’ve started to learn.
So, for me, the year leading up to 13 was about giving myself permission to explore what being a daughter without a mom means to me.
Crap. That reads like a really sad sentence, but trust me when I say that it hasn’t played out as a really sad year.
All things considered, it’s actually been a really great one. There’s a freedom that came as soon as I stopped the tug of war between “my mom’s daughter” and “motherless daughter” realities.
It gave me the space to figure out who I am when I exist in the overlap of both realities.
I can thank the vulnerability that resulted from this decision for realizing that I have to learn to reach out and ask people to hold my hand in scary situations. I may not have my mom’s hand to hold but I luckily/thankfully do have others who are quietly waiting until I have the guts to reach out.
I can thank how human accepting that part of me made me feel for a lot of the friendships I developed this year…Holly, Lily, Steph, Han, Miranda, Q, Mileva. I wouldn’t be able to sit across from my friends and tell them where I feel like I come up short or how some days are harder than others, if I ignored the crappy part about not having a mom.
Because here’s a secret — admitting that some situations hold the power to bring you to your knees makes it easier to walk around with your walls down.
The thought of my grief as this 13-year-old trying to find its place in a new school feels exactly like where I am in dealing with my mom’s death.
The world is familiar and everything around me is still physically the same, but the circumstances feel different.
I’ve thrown myself headfirst into a stage in my life my mom never knew me in. I’m a 23-year-old entrepreneur in New York City, who found home in an online community, gets paid to translate thoughts into witty tweets and has coffee dates with guys who need to not be uncomfortable talking about grief on the first date in order to keep up.
I’m no longer the 10-year-old girl who walked long hallways, past a nurse’s station and into a sterile room that played center stage in the last chapter I wrote with my mom. That girl, she’s at the core of who I am, but we’re living in different worlds now.
So, here I sit with a hot chocolate and looking ahead at year 13.
Chances are I’ll miss my mom as much this year as I did last. But, I’ve also always taken the number 13 as a sign from my mom that I’m exactly where I need to be, so maybe, it’ll be the kind of year that lets me know I’m doing my twenties justice…