I Lost My Mom 5 Years Ago. Today, I'm Still Grieving.
"The day it happened, I felt like I would never recover. A part of me broke solidly in two."
There isn't a linear way to grieve; it comes and goes, in and out, almost like a static radio. There are split seconds of clarity, but most times when I try to understand my emotions, they disappear and I'm left with the realization all over again that she's gone. My mother passed away five years ago, which feels surreal to say. The day it happened, I felt like I would never recover. A part of me broke solidly in two.
My mom was sick for many years before finally passing away from a complication in her lungs due to a stem cell transplant. Regardless, I was not prepared. In a state of shock for the first year, it was like I was vibrating, buzzing around so fast I couldn’t slow down long enough to feel something. I initially felt the need to keep my grief inside and go on as if I’d had the most amazing childhood, that she was the best mom ever. In reality, there were aspects of our relationship and my upbringing that were complicated.
To realize I'll never fully understand who she was has been the most remedial part of this journey. All I can do is trust the moments I had with her that were pure and good. When the more complex memories rush in, I know that’s okay too. Now, when I miss her, I sit with my emotions. They can last a few moments or the entire day, but I’m grateful for any time I get to feel connected to her.
The writer, Sara Larson, and her son;
Photo: Neil Francis Dawson
The day my mom passed, I missed the chance to speak with her one last time. I was able to see her on FaceTime and say goodbye, but she was unconscious. I told her everything and nothing at all, as if that last conversation would sum up our lifetime together. In reality, it was simply a moment that happened to be her last. It’s taken me almost five years to accept this and not see it as a failure. But now, with some time, I can recognize she knew I was there in spirit. She could hear my voice in those last moments.
My mom never wanted to talk about death. She always believed she would beat whatever illness she had and come see me in NYC as soon as she could. She never made it here. She never saw my apartment, my work, the city that I love. But she is here in spirit. She loved to bake and was an incredible artist—traits that I see so vividly in my own daughter. I tell her all the time how her grandma loved so many of the same things she does and excels at.
The most difficult part is the years passing by without her. Life is happening all around, and she's not here to experience it with me. I had my second child without my mom, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I no longer had the luxury of picking up the phone to ask a silly question. Instead, it pushed me to find solace in other women in my life, though nothing is quite as special as a mom.
Larson's daughter (left), son (middle), and herself (right);
Photo: Neil Francis Dawson
I’ve had several friends, old and new, lose a parent. When this comes up in conversation, the connection with each one is electric. We’re like a secret society bonded by pain, love, and light. This glimmer of connection has been the most saving part of my journey—to know I’m not alone.
Grief is forever. Loss never goes away, but you can grow with your grief. Treat it as a friend versus running from it or finding ways to numb it. Embrace it as best you can when possible. This small shift has helped me in a monumental way. The heartache comes and goes, but it also reminds us we are human, immortal.
Though our relationship wasn’t clear or easy, I loved my mom in the purest way I could. And she loved me. I had this idea that at five years, I should be “healed” and able to gently stow this away as a chapter in my life. In reality, I am only just reaching a place where I feel strong enough to process my grief. I ran from it for so long and am now learning to live with it—the messy, complicated parts of it all.