To those who have lost someone dear, Happy Celebration Day.
This has been something I’ve been wanting to write about for years but I wasn’t sure the right way to address it. I felt it wasn’t my story to tell to the world, that I owed my mom the curtesy to keep this information private. But as I’m growing and healing I’m realizing that as she can’t tell this story, it is my opportunity to. It has become my story as much, if not even more than hers. I hope this gives you a new perspective on how to heal.
September 11th, 2015. The day I lost my mom. I was eighteen at the time and a freshman at Tulane. It was just nearly three weeks into my transition into college life when I received the call. It was unexpected and thinking of this day will never get easier. Not ever.
I was first overcome with shock and disbelief. How could this have happened? How can it be true? Is this just a bad dream? Just the other day she was alive and well. I didn’t have a thought in the world that it could change. And why should I have? I grasped onto the thought of it being impossible to be true. About three hours later, I laid in my tiny dorm room bed, and a huge wave of depression rose over me. Luckily I was not alone. In those three short weeks since beginning college, I made amazing friends. Friends that I still have by my side years later. While I laid there in silent disbelief they packed my bag to prepare to fly home that night. Thinking back to this day puts a pit in my throat that makes it hard to breathe. But I remind myself that my present isn’t this moment. It’s a part of my past, a part of my life I don’t ever need to relive.
I got to the airport with my two closest friends and they stayed with me until I got to my gate. And if it couldn’t get any shittier, I was on crutches due to a drinking-related incident. (Freshman + not drinking a lot in high school = 17 stitches on my leg). So there I was in the airport being wheeled around to go home for my mother’s funeral. I felt defeated, helpless and empty. Being in such a crowded area also made me mad. Mad because there were so many people and not one of them would ever be my mom. It sunk in deeper.
No matter how many places I go, none of them will have my mom. It wasn’t fair.
I was already very independent but this made me grow up fast. When I wasn’t quietly crying to myself in my dorm room, I was pushing myself to go out and be social. I fell into crowds of friends I wouldn’t normally have found myself in. You know those kids who are into drugs, staying out late, and doing things I knew I shouldn’t be doing. But, it was refreshing to be around these people, it gave me life and helped me forget I was sad.
It took the detectives on her case a few months to verify her cause of death. We pretty much knew after the first week but were hoping deep down it wasn’t true, that there was another explanation.
When people who are just coming into my life learn my mom isn’t here anymore, the first thing they want to know is how she died. And it’s easy to get caught up in this. I’m guilty of it too. The better question to ask yourself (or your friend) is how they lived. So how she died: Suicide. One moment of her life where she was so desperately unhappy that she felt there was no way out. But how she lived? In those thousands upon millions of other moments? She was one of the most hardworking people I knew. She was always the light of bright energy in crowded rooms. She helped remind people to stay positive and live their best lives. She was creative and an amazing artist. She turned her passions into her work and started her own business to support me and my brother. She loved being outside, our family, and traveling. She was determined, self-motivated, inspiring, and a great role model. She taught me so much and made me into the person I am today. At the time she died, I’d think we were completely different people. As I’ve grown up I sometimes scare myself as to how similar I’ve become to her.
As time went on her absence felt less apparent. I set up a new life for myself at Tulane and rarely came home for the holidays. It was as if the old part of me didn’t exist and I was happy keeping it that way. I lost a ton of weight, made new friends, and created a home for myself in New Orleans. I did everything I could to leave the past in the past. And I thought this was a good thing. I was happy, healthier, and overall a totally transformed person since I began college. It was until recently that I realized how unhealthy this was. She was a huge part of my life and pushing it into the past and leaving a part of myself behind isn’t doing anyone any good. It’s important to acknowledge the past. And I’m not perfect but I’m slowly learning how to deal with it.
I’m glad I took a positive approach to dealing with a death so close to me. Not everyone around me had the same experience. But even with taking her death better than some, I knew I couldn’t keep living life pushing thoughts of my previous life deep into my subconscious. It’s a dangerous place.
This September will be a full four years. Four years of my twenty-two-year-old life spent without my mother. That’s a heavy number to dwell on so instead I don’t. I celebrate the day. I choose to celebrate the things in my life I’m thankful for, I celebrate what I had, and I celebrate the person I knew for 18 years because celebrating 18 is a lot better than crying about 4.
When asked about how my mom passed, I will always tell people the truth but its definitely awkward. For those reading this, I encourage you to ask other questions. Things that will help me think of who she was instead of how it ended, the least significant part of her life. I was on a date recently and when talking about family, it came up. He said he was sorry to hear that and instead of asking how it happened, he asked me what her name was. I couldn’t help but smile. It was REFRESHING to talk about who she was as a person instead of why she isn’t here.
I adapted this perspective into what could be harder days. The anniversary of her passing, her birthday, mother’s day, thanksgiving… the list goes on. However, they aren’t going to be days full of wishing what could be, it’s going to be days of being happy for what was and what is. You can wish me and those around you a Happy Celebration Day. Days like this usually entail being around the people who make me happy, indulging in her favorite wine (pinot noir), and making my day jam-packed with all my favorite things. I buy flowers, those pair of leggings I’ve been wanting, cook a thoughtful meal, and celebrate with those who mean something to me. It makes what could be a shitty day a happy one. Life is all about perspective. So go ahead and choose to call it a day a celebration.
Wishing a Happy Celebration day to all those in need of celebrating.