Growing up with grief


Steen Nichols

This picture is the one that comes to mind when I think of my mom.

My mom died before I got to know her. I don’t remember her hugs, her voice or her smell. I’m angry because my mom died before she got to know me, and I’m a pretty damn, cool person. I’m angry because I graduate in six months, and she won’t be there to watch it happen. I’m going to walk across that stage and get my diploma, but she won’t be crying in the stands, waiting to hug me after the commencement finishes. I’m angry because it feels like everyone else gets to experience a mother’s love, and I was robbed.

December marks 12 years since my mom died from stage IV breast cancer.

This is the hardest anniversary of her death I’ve faced so far because senior year has been the craziest year of my life, and I wish I had her here to talk to. I want to tell her about my trip to DC, about applying to colleges, about covering a freaking murder trial for journalism! I mean, she was in journalism, too. She’d give me such great advice and be my biggest supporter in this endeavor.

I don’t remember much about my mom. I know her nickname was Min and her favorite color was blue. The actual memories I have of my mom are virtually non-existent. Instead, I rely on pictures that my dad took over the years to remember her face. The loss of my mother introduced me to an emotion that most people don’t have to grapple with until they’re older than me: grief.

Dealing with loss doesn’t make you immune to happiness.”

Grief is defined as “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.” It’s even divided into stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, in that order. But, as someone who has struggled with grief for a majority of my life, I don’t believe that grief is so linear. I think the definition should be incredibly loose, because like most things in life, everyone experiences grief differently.
For me, I couldn’t even tie my shoes when my mom died. I was unable to comprehend the loss I was facing. At the time, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to feel angry about my mom’s death. I didn’t quite understand the concept of time. I knew death was forever, but I didn’t realize that forever was, well, forever.

Grief is a feeling of emptiness that one carries with them. Grief isn’t constant, but it’s constantly cruel. It’s this hole in your heart, aching to be filled but never being whole again. You can have good times; dealing with loss doesn’t make you immune to happiness. But, that doesn’t mean your grief has left you. In fact, it’s like a ninja. It waits until you’re vulnerable, and it sneaks up on you when you least expect it. For over 12 years now, I’ve wondered what was the last thing I said to my mom. The fact that I can’t remember breaks my heart.

I have one picture I look at a lot. It’s of my mom and me– she’s wearing an orange shirt, and I’m in my pajamas sitting on her lap. I don’t have a memory of the night that this picture was taken, but when I have to recall my mom, this is where my mind goes to.
Nowadays, everyone is so focused on taking the perfect picture for Instagram that they forget the moment. Rather than trying to get the most social media likes, try to preserve the memory of the people you’re with.