by Laura

The day my mother died was the worst day I’ve ever known. But it ushered in what have since been my best years.

It feels wrong to say. That something so terrible could have such a positive effect. And I’d give it all up for her to have never been sick, to have not died at way too young an age.

But it’s the truth.

You see, ever since I was sixteen, I ebbed and flowed between various phases of grieving and anticipatory grief. My whole life was defined by sadness and worry and loss. By the needs of the people around me.

The slow, painful fading and death of the people around me.

When my father died, I spun out. I drank so as to not need to feel. When Nathan died, I wallowed and sank into a deep, all-consuming depression.

This, to me, and many others, is what we think it’s supposed to look like when someone you love dies.

But something different happened when I lost my mother.

All of a sudden, it was just me.

I was simultaneously the oldest and the youngest person in my family’s bloodline. There was no one to lean on. No one who I knew would always have my back. I was it. Just me. And it was terrifying, but also the most self-affirming thing that has ever happened to me in my life.

Because when it is just you, when you are the only person you can lean on, when you are the only person you can count on to have your back? Well, you’d damn well better make sure you have your back.

So I went to work doing something I hadn’t done for the entirety of my adult life: I started taking care of me.

I went to the doctor. I had my yearly physical. I told him everything that was going on in my life, and the litany of physical things that felt off. I underwent every test in the books only to find out that I was just really, really, really stressed out. But at least I found out.

I kept going to my bereavement group at the wonderful Gilda’s Club. And then eventually, when I felt I was ready, I stopped. Because I reached the point where I realized I no longer needed to fixate on this experience and needed to start courting new ones.

I started eating better. I lost 30 pounds (and counting).

I gained the confidence to go after a promotion, and found myself in a position at my job in which I was increasingly appreciated and valued, all because I told myself, “I’ll ask, what’s the worst that can happen?” I already knew the worst that could happen, and being told “no” by someone in HR was nowhere near it.

I started dating again, for the first time in years. I became less afraid or rejection, and even more importantly, less afraid of intimacy–a particularly daunting task when you come with more baggage than the average bear.

I cleaned out my mother’s house and with the help of my aunt and uncle, got it in good enough shape to sell it so that another family can build their lives within its walls. I got really good at throwing things away.

And now? I look better, I feel better, I am better that I have ever been at perhaps any point in my existence. And the people who really know me have noticed.

It’s not how I expected to feel after the death of my mother, but I am grateful for the experience. And I like to believe that even though she’s no longer around, she was here long enough to teach me, love me, and provide me with everything I needed to make it possible.