Fourteen years ago I lost my best friend, my mother.  I immediately felt guilty for all the things I had not done.  I was sure I missed an “I love you” somewhere, sure she was mad at me for not visiting her in the hospital, sure I could have somehow been a better child.  I went through all the stages of grief at once.  I was angry with her for leaving me, but I was sure at times she wasn’t dead and that she’d come back to get me at any minute.  I kept a packed bag just in case we had to run.  I avoided all memories of her as sick or weak, and instead envisioned her as a secret agent forced to fake her own death.  When I wasn’t blaming myself I blamed my stepfather, who was on a different drug every week and stealing from her on a regular basis.  I tried to bargain with every deity I could think of.  I promised to be a better daughter.  I wanted to make sure I had done everything I could to make her come back.  I was sure that if she were alive my room had been bugged by whatever government entity had taken her from me.

I went through all the stages established by the Kubler-Ross model, and I acknowledged in my logical brain that they were all happening in my psyche.  I knew she was dead.  I knew she wasn’t coming back.  I knew it was silly, but I was a child.  I was a child who had made most of the decisions for her own mother’s funeral because no one else seemed capable.  I was a child who had not cried at that funeral, and refused to let anyone see me cry at all, because I didn’t want to seem fragile.  I didn’t want anyone to worry about me.

Some people simply believed I was not allowing myself to grieve, but children process things differently than adults do.  I had a lot of adjusting to do.  Not only had I lost my mother right before my thirteenth birthday, but I had lost my home, my spiritual guidance, and anything familiar in my life.  I moved in with my father and his parents, who did everything they could to make the transition smooth, but it was still a drastic change.  To top it all off I hit puberty that summer.  I had hit the time in my life when a girl needs her mother the most, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have one.

Children not only process things differently, but they develop their own way of coping with and understanding tragedy or loss.  I did what I had always done.  I made myself busy.  I dug myself into school and extracurricular activities.   I got a job.  I made it impossible to have any alone time in my head.  Unfortunately, my thoughts are a force to be reckoned with.  Eventually all the feelings and thoughts I was trying to avoid caught up with me.   It was the day I found out one of my best friends had killed himself.  A week later a friend of mine’s mother lost her battle with cancer.  A week after that I lost my mind in the midst of a computer malfunction that resulted in writing the same paper five times and having it rejected because I could not get it to print properly.

It is during these times when we develop the skills that will carry us through life in one piece.  After a full day of wandering around in a cloud, I cleared my head and began to put the pieces back together.  I started writing, something that has gotten me through every time I think I just can’t go any further.  I also pulled my friends around me, and even though the years have parted us they were my strongest asset at the time.  I taught myself to actually deal with loss instead of running from it with fantasies or aversion.  I learned to face my emotions head on, to embrace them, and to let them happen.

Sometimes I still have moments of survivor guilt.  My mother sacrificed her health and her very being for me.  She gave me everything she could, and I can only hope I was worth it.   I’m learning to accept that this life was her gift to me.  Who I am was her gift to me.  Her faith in me and her encouragement to believe in myself are things that will never die.  This year I’m having a rougher time than I have in the last several years.  There’s a lot of stress in my life, and there have been a lot of close calls and personal losses in the past year.  I have been planning a wedding, a time generally spent with excitement between a bride and her mother.  There have been times when I have simply wanted my mommy.  I know it won’t defeat me.  It might not make me the most pleasant person to be around for a few days, but I know the people who matter most to me won’t judge or mock me for it.  They know the storm will pass, and the old sunny Autumn will be back soon.

And I will be back….soon.