A little while back, during one of her wonderfully vulnerable moments, my best childhood girlfriend asked me, “How do I deal with my Mom dying, Rae—how do I get ready?”
It was the most painfully real question anyone had ever asked me, and I’d never felt more honored in my life.
She asked me for a reason: when we were just thirteen, I was the one watching my mother die a little bit more each day. I was the one shopping for a black funeral dress on what should have been the first day of school my eighth-grade year.
I was the one left having to figure out how the HELL any girl is supposed to live without her mother.
She was asking me because she remembered. She witnessed it all. She knew—if anyone had an answer to her question—it was me. She trusted that whatever answer I gave would be authentic, worthy, and genuine. It’s beautiful to know that someone has that amount of confidence in your character—in your ability—in your heart.
This is what I told her:
I wish I had a manual for you, I really do. Nothing would be better than some clear-cut step-by-step directions for us to follow through the life-altering biggies. But unfortunately, if they exist, I don’t know them.
I will tell you the truth because no one told me. It ate away at me for years before I realized it was natural and forgave myself. It’s OK to wish for the agony that you are already experiencing to be over. It’s OK to desperately want to not be in this gross space between wait and dread. It’s OK to plan for the future without her. It’s not unusual to make plans when we’re facing the death of someone whose existence has been so crucial in our everyday lives. It’s OK to look forward to what life has in store for you “after”.
You need hope now more than ever. You need to believe that even though life will never be the same when she’s gone, there are still wonderful and beautiful times awaiting you. And then, you need try to leave it at that and be here now. Try your best to deal with whatever is front of you—moment by moment.
I believe my own grieving process began before the actual death occurred. I’m glad I didn’t fight it. I’m sure it was my minds natural way of assisting me through the trauma without completely losing my shit (key word here is COMPLETELY).
I honestly can’t say one was worse than the other (my life in waiting, or my life when it was over)—they were just uneven timeframes of different kinds of terrible. I don’t think I ever could have really prepared myself for either.
There’s no way for a daughter to “practice” losing her mother. At any age.
It’s what you don’t want to hear: “It just takes time”. Little by little, day by day. It takes sisters. Tears. Daddy. Screams. Friends. Children. Music. Words. Seeing the sun still daring to rise each morning without your permission, and finding the strength within yourself to follow its lead. It takes opening your mouth when you’re not OK. It’s about allowing the shitstorm swirling around in your guts and heart a way out.
You’ll make room for the better things coming. And they ARE coming.
It takes boldly blurting out questions like the one I’m answering now. It takes a whole lot of love and understanding from others. I can’t offer you simple instructions, or a quick way to end your pain, but I can promise you that I will always—ALWAYS—have an abundance of both love and understanding available to you. Through all of this, and anything else. Because that’s how we do life. And death. And everything in between. Together.
Please always reach out to me. And I’ll do the same (you know I will). We can’t save each other, but we can damn sure stick by each other’s sides while we’re saving ourselves. We’re wise enough and humble enough by now to know that we are never burdens, just best friends who need and love each other fiercely.
I love you so much. And you might not believe it, but you’re going to be OK.