Two months before my 19th birthday, my mom was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST). At the time, I had no idea what the next year and a half would be like, but our family remained hopeful. The love I felt, and still feel, for my mother was so deep that maintaining hope was the only thing I could do.
Our family went through a difficult journey watching as our strong, beautiful mom and wife went through the ugliest, most difficult battle you can imagine. In April 2008, my mom lost the battle.
I have always been a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. But when my mom got sick and passed away, I didn't think I could ever see the reason for the horrific journey our family went through, or the pain that we all experienced. I thought maybe one day I would figure out the reason and have an "aha!" moment that explained why things happened the way they did, but that moment never came.
But as the seven year anniversary of my mom's passing approaches (along with my upcoming wedding in June), I have been holding space for my mom, thinking about her time with us on earth, the journey all of us then endured during her battle, and the grieving process that followed.
Grieving happens in cycles, so my pain emerges acutely now and again, still. But I can now look back on the journey and understand many new things about what this grief has taught me about love, strength, courage, and other essential virtues and life lessons. I have been able to see that without this experience, I would not be the same woman I am today.
Here are 25 essential lessons that I gleaned from my and my family's journey:
1. My mother is the strongest person I know. Just because she's no longer here doesn't mean I don't continue to honor her.
2. Even at a young age, it's possible to feel great responsibility and a capacity for independence.
3. Being a caregiver is both rewarding and tremendously challenging.
4. It's crucial to stare tough emotions right in the face, and to sit with the discomfort no matter how hard it can be.
5. It's OK to be vulnerable — and it's OK for others to see you in vulnerable situations. That doesn't make you weak.
6. Asking for help is actually sign of strength.
7. Self-care isn't just "nice," it's necessary.
8. Don't delay talking about important feelings. Talk in the moment — it's a healthy part of processing difficult situations and emotions.
9. All families have problems, but grieving together made me feel the depth of my feelings of love and connection for my family members.
10. No moment with a loved one should be taken for granted.
11. Sweating the small stuff is not the way I want to spend my energy
12. The present moment is the most important moment.
13. I am a motherless daughter. It's painful, but it's the truth.
14. Surprising people come out of the woodwork to support you with genuine love.
15. It's possible to focus on the good not the bad: I think of all the amazing times I had with my mom, rather than the times that I didn't get to share with her.
16. Emotional openness is a powerful part of healing.
17. Others have been down similar roads and we all have our own story.
18. The mother-daughter bond is unbreakable. I want to remember my mom, not be in denial of my loss.
19. Communicating with others is something that should always be done with sensitivity and mindfulness.
20. Grieving is not predictable; it goes in cycles.
21. No two people have the same coping style.
22. I will probably always have days where I want my "mommy."
23. It's OK to "have my moments," even after seven years.
24. My children will grow up feeling loved and supported; I've learned a great deal about the art of parenting from my mom and dad.
25. I am strong and resilient.
Whether or not you are dealing with the loss of a parent, I hope these lessons will resonate with you on your journey of living life more consciously, and with a greater appreciation of the love that is all around us.