My dad and I had been at the hospital for a few hours when it started to rain. The doctors had just turned off all the machines and the IV was almost empty. Soon we would be able to go home. Holding my mom’s hand, I realized that I needed to do one more thing before we left: I lifted my hand over my mom’s eyes, and closed them.
My mom had stage IV gastrointestinal cancer for 15 months. When I told my classmates about my mom’s cancer, most of them knew what they felt like they should say. They told me to stay optimistic and hope for the best. Some would even tell me success stories about survivors that they knew.
I knew, however, that the only success my mom would have was maybe an extra month or two more to live. The doctors told me that the cancer would not go away and they could only hope to slow its spread to other organs.
After my mom died, most people who knew did not really know what to say, and I didn’t really expect them to know. Most college students have little personal experience with death, so how could I expect them to understand?
Many people expressed their condolences, while many others said nothing. When I mentioned my mom’s death to others, some understandably did not want to talk about it with me. Perhaps my mom’s death made them think about their own mortality or the possibility of their losing their loved ones.
People asked me what they could do for me, and I would have told them, but I didn’t know what anyone could do to make me feel better. The only thing I wanted was to call my mom’s number and have her pick up the phone. I wanted to have that feeling of knowing that she would be there whenever I came home, but nothing can bring the dead back.
Even my family couldn’t help me. My extended family told me to take care of my dad and most of them expected me to be fine. So, over the summer, I took up what had been my mom’s responsibilities, including such tasks as dealing with health insurance, utility bills, and medical appointments. My dad does not speak English well, so I gladly helped him, especially because I understood that he was going through a difficult time as well.
But he told others that he didn’t need me. My dad told others that I was not useful to him and he would rather have my mom back. He even told me that his suffering over my mom’s death was greater than mine.
I felt alone, so I dealt with my grief alone. My mom died a few weeks before finals and I already had a week of work to make-up when I came back to Georgetown. Most people had no time to help me and I had no time to grieve.
Eventually people stopped asking about my mom’s death and most people assume I am fine now or that I have ‘gotten over’ it, but no one ‘gets over’ death—they just learn how to deal with it better. I learned how to avoid mentioning my mom when people talk about parents and how to change the subject when people mentioned it. Most importantly, I learned how to tolerate others who complained about trivial things.
Now, every time I listen to people complain about not getting an internship or about having a lot of work, I want to tell them they should feel lucky their moms aren’t dead, but I know I can’t do that because I can’t expect people to understand something they have never experienced.
No matter how much I want to, I cannot bring my mother back. I can’t even ask for more support from my dad or expect others to understand my grief better, but I can’t allow my grief to stop me from living my life.
Dozens of people attended my mom’s funeral because even though she did not have much, she always shared what she had. The way she lived her life taught me that success is not the most important thing in the world. What matters most is having people you can share your success with around you.
My grief will always be a part of me, but it has also made me stronger. The pain of losing my mom and the feeling of loneliness I felt afterwards made me realize how precious life is and how important the other people in my life are. My grades, salary, or position are not the things that matter most to me in this world. The people around me are what matter most to me.
That was my mom’s last lesson.