Death of a Loved One: The Year of Firsts

This winter, my very close friend lost her mom. She and her siblings were very close to their mother and so the loss of her mother was significant. I knew the feeling of losing a parent. Going through the death of a parent is a difficult process, but I also knew that it wasn’t over.

This year my very dear friend lost her mom. She was devastated. I know this feeling. The death of a parent is a difficult process, it unfolds over time. When we lose someone we love, it feels like time stops. But it doesn’t. Life still continues around us. We spoke about this, my friend and I, in the days after her mom’s death.

Slowly, a distance grows between you and the person you’ve just lost. The moment of their last breath becomes a marker, measuring the distance in the space that is left by their passing. There are 365 days to endure. This is The Year of Firsts.

I went through The Year of Lasts without knowing it, but when it came to The Year of Firsts, I was painfully aware of every moment.

When we lose someone we love, the road stretching out in front of us is an uncharted path without them, to the places and events we have never been on our own. Whatever you may anticipate might not be the case at all. Walking down the road might seem normal enough and then suddenly the smallest thing triggers a cascade of tears.

There were days after my mother’s death when I didn’t think I would make it through.

Every event that happens after a loved one dies is noted: birthdays, holidays, family vacations, friendly get-togethers, traditions big and small. The loss of a mother can be difficult on Mother’s Day. These are all anticipated in that first year of grief and often dreaded. Holidays that I had previously enjoyed were suddenly filled with extra sadness, serving as a bittersweet reminder. Even if you didn’t do anything special for those “Hallmark Holidays,” Mother’s Day or Father’s Day can be a reminder that your parent is gone. Social media can be rough when everyone is posting pictures of sisters and brothers for National Siblings Day and you are surviving the first year without your own.

For some people, it is easier after the death of a parent to move away from the tradition, to find new ways to celebrate a holiday. Yet for others, sticking with old traditions becomes a comforting way to honor their memory. Nothing you do to cope is wrong. It is all about finding your “new normal.” For me, it wasn’t so much the big events that kicked me in the heart, but the small ones, like the first Sunday morning I didn’t get a phone call to ask for help with a crossword puzzle.

Planning ahead can be helpful. Knowing the milestone is coming and knowing how you want to spend it won’t take away the sadness, but it might be the airbag that cushions you from the impact. The harder days are the ones you don’t expect. Another friend, going through her Year of Firsts after losing her mom, said she froze for a moment when she saw the first strawberries of the season and realized her mother wouldn’t be making jam. Not that year or ever again.

Life goes on, and the pages fall from the calendar like tears. The Year of Firsts. Life will never be the same, but life does go on. The good news is, it is only First once. When the anniversary of the last breath comes around, you have completed the most painful part of your journey. Grief is still a companion, but now you have 365 days of winter, spring, summer, fall and all the annual events that go with them, that say you are here, and you can go on.

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