There’s nothing quite like waking up and thinking, “Today, I’ve lived another year of my life without my mom.” There’s a moment of drowsy unawareness until your throat closes and heart seemingly contracts into the deepest cavity of your chest. To add to this, on the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death, I wanted to do something in her memory. I coordinated with the principal of my grade school to give a presentation to my 7th grade class on the basics of breast cancer. I was already terrified and upset by the weight of the day, and I woke up thinking, “why in the world did I think I needed this anxiety on a day like today?” In the words of the modern day sage Eminem, “palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.”
What I didn’t realize as I woke up was how fortunate I was to be in an environment where I felt comfortable enough to talk about my mom and her death surrounded by family, friends, and the familiar. Five years later, as I think about what it means to have lived six years of my life without my mom, I’m just a few weeks into my first semester of an out-of-state college and surrounded by new people and unfamiliar places. The thoughts running through my head today are very different from those five years ago. Instead of sorrow and grief and anxiety, I’m feeling surprisingly…normal. Why aren’t I feeling more? Shouldn’t I be especially nostalgic, since I’m away from home?
Today, I went to class, spent too much money on lunch, ran into an friend from grade school, and studied in the library. I listened to the same music I’ve been listening to for the past few weeks, and I very audibly groaned when my Introduction to Islam professor assigned another thirty page reading. As the day went on, though, I noticed myself becoming more withdrawn, spending more time with my headphones on, and ready for a very long nap. It wasn’t until an old friend texted saying they were thinking about me and my family that I realized that none of my new friends knew the significance of the day.
The anniversary of a parent’s death can be scary and confusing, especially as the years pass and the way you feel about their death changes. Over the past few years, I often found myself asking questions like, “should I be feeling more intense feelings? Will my family and friends think poorly of me for not “feeling enough?” Is it wrong of me to not feel sad all day? Am I grieving wrongly?”
As cheesy as it sounds, these questions and conflicting emotions are what is meant when someone says, “everyone grieves differently.” I know people who, like me, function normally throughout most of the day. I know people who take the day off school or work on the anniversary of the day their parent died. I know people who forget about the day entirely. There is no “right” or “better” way to commemorate the anniversary. The important thing is to communicate with family and friends; do you want to talk about your parent, or would you rather observe the day in silent reverence?
To commemorate the six-year anniversary of Mom’s death, I told my closest friends a bit about who she was and what she means to me. The same questions ran through my head until I finished talking: will they think judge me for not appearing more emotional? Will they think I’m looking for attention by being so open and honest with them? By the end of our conversation, though, I knew I was going to be okay. It was a relief to finally share Mom with them.
The grieving process is neither straightforward nor simple. As someone who processes her emotions by externalizing and explaining, I dealt with Mom’s death date anniversary by talking about it. The formality and sensitivity of my presentation on the one-year anniversary is the opposite of what I needed on the six-year anniversary; a personal and honest time to tell my friends about her.