I won’t pretend it’s been easy losing my mom. I have uttered, “It’s not fair. I need her,” countless times. But I would have said the same if I lost her when she was 100 years old too.
I’m not the first person to lose their mom, their best friend, or someone they love with every fiber of their being. I will not be the last. I am not special with regard to the fact that I just endured my mom’s passing, wake, and funeral services. I am not a professional at loss, grief, or coping. I actually kind of suck at all the above. Or maybe not entirely like I thought I did. I’m going to make a bold affirmation here: I am really proud of myself for how I have handled my mom’s sickness and death.
I’ve spent a good chunk of the last 21 months since my mom’s diagnosis trying to figure out which is harder: knowing you’re losing someone or losing them abruptly without warning. Knowing how much time they have left or being obliviously and blissfully unaware. I’ve gone back and forth with the pros and cons too many times to count.
On one hand, you get to say what you need to say and help your loved one check some items off of their bucket list, while carrying the burden of knowing they only have limited time left each day. In November 2012, we thought my mom would have one year to live after her surgery because the average life expectancy of patients diagnosed with glioblastoma is 12 months. She obviously did better than that, but it didn’t change the fact that I had a countdown going in my head of how much time I had left to spend with her. This April, we were told my mom only had weeks to a couple months max left, and I spent every day worrying even more than before it would be that day. Quite honestly, at some point I actually hoped it would just be over already. Not because I ever wanted to lose my mom, but because I hated her being scared and knowing her end was near, a nightmare looming over her days. I have cried more days than I haven’t, I have had far too many panic attacks that became asthma attacks, and I still wailed at the funeral home even though I thought I was prepared for her passing.
On the other hand, you go blissfully unaware through your days and all of a sudden, the person you love just isn’t there anymore. You fear they were terrified, you worry they were in pain, you regret the things you said or didn’t say, you ruminate over the things you did together or didn’t get a chance to, and one day you just have to get used to life without them. Like a bandage being ripped off of a wound you didn’t really know you had before. (I must post the disclaimer that I have never lost someone in such a manner, so I don’t actually know how it feels. I think I’d crumble, feel regret, and cry either way though.)
Anyway, after weighing the pros and cons, I think the answer is that both options suck equally for the people left behind. Either way you will lose someone that meant the world to you and you will have to live without them. No matter what, you will grieve. You will cry. You will wish you had more time. You will wonder if you said the right things, did enough, and showed your love enough. You’ll probably deny the truth, get angry, bargain, get depressed, and come to acceptance just like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said you would.
Expected or unexpected, their deaths will one day come, as will yours. So why not just keep that truth in mind and start living whatever time you have left fully. If you love someone, tell them, tell them how wonderful or beautiful or hilarious they are, tell them how you don’t know what you would do without them. Show your love, give your time, and make every second count starting now. Be a better friend, partner, parent, child, and person, and don’t wait for a terminal diagnosis to start doing so.
That way, expected or unexpected, when their time comes, you will have no regrets. You will still cry over their loss, but you will also be able to smile at their memory, sleep with a clear conscience, and know you did your best. A short life may not be an incomplete one and a long life may not be a full one. Quality and quantity are not the same. But we’re all the same. We all have expiration dates, and some of us know them, while some of us don’t. Yet, we’re made of the same stuff and the same baggage. We all go through trauma and fear and crap. And none of us are special in that regard.
So let’s hold each other tight and enjoy however long we get together. Go give the closest person to you a hug. And if there’s nobody in the room, call a friend and tell them how much they mean to you. Before it’s too late.