14 years ago, on February 24, 1998 at about 8:00 in the morning I was sitting next to my mother’s body, begging something bigger and more powerful than me to bring her back to life. I held her and hugged her and hoped and prayed and did everything I could possibly think of to keep her with me. The events of the 24 hours prior played out in my brain repeatedly and I found myself crying out of sadness and despair and guilt for not telling her that I loved her before I went to sleep the night before. No one responded to my wishes and she didn’t wake up. My mum was taken to the hospital and about an hour later my grandmother got the call to say that she was gone.
On February 25, 1998, I went to school. I was in the 8th grade and I went to the office when I arrived to give them a note and inform them that I had been absent on the day prior because my mother had died. While I was sitting in my first period class, I was called down to the principal’s office during homeroom and he asked me what I was doing at school. I told him that I didn’t know where else to be. I didn’t want to be at home, because we were staying with friends and I felt out of place. I didn’t want to be making arrangements for my mother’s funeral and I didn’t want to be left alone anywhere with my thoughts. School gave me a distraction and a great support system. I had a wonderful guidance counsellor, a fabulous homeroom teacher and a great group of friends. I knew where I needed to be, and if it was okay with him, I intended to stay.
It’s been 14 years since my mum died, and I’ve spent the last 5,110 days trying to figure this whole thing out. I am the person I am because my mum took her own life 2 months before my 14th birthday. And somehow, most of the time I manage to be pretty okay.
I think when something tragic happens to a person, you can go one of two ways: you can wallow in it or you can rise above it. I’ve always been one to rise above. In the years that followed my mum’s death, I went to counselling, talked openly about what had happened and in some ways distanced myself from other family members who were stuck in their grief, sadness and blame. I miss her every day and feel sad for all the experiences we won’t share, but I haven’t let it hold me back from the life I have wanted to live. Her death inspired me to live life to its fullest potential and in the last 14 years I’ve done everything in my ability to do just that.
I work really hard to keep that spirit alive in me, but every year come February I watch that strength start to crumble. As the day approaches that sadness builds up and I never really know how it’s going to manifest itself within me. I’ve been coping with my mother’s death for a longer period of time than I got to enjoy her life and I’ve realized that it doesn’t ever get easier. I’ve spent a lot of this week trying to keep my shit together so I could go on with my regular life, but have found myself locked in bathroom stalls sobbing or crying myself to sleep more than once. It’s exhausting. And hard. But I know I’ll get past this too.
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she'd want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”
~ David Harkins
Today will be tough, but I know that tomorrow I will wake up and I will be finished with February 24th for another year. I have plans in the next 24 hours to see some of my very favourite people and I’m going to allow myself to feel whatever it is that I feel. It’s likely that I will cry, but I’ll probably smile too, because I know that that’s what she would have wanted to see.