In August 2018, I said goodbye to my mom in Paris.
It was fifteen minutes ’til midnight, and I was walking with my fiancé down by the Seine to find the “perfect spot” to lay my mom to rest. For as long as I can remember, Paris was her favorite place in the entire world, and she knew that she wanted to be there forever. So for her one year anniversary, my fiancé and I flew to Paris to fulfill her wish: to have her ashes be spread along the Seine.
As we were walking on the rocky pavement by the water, I suddenly looked up and saw the Eiffel Tower; it was bold and strong just like my mom—this had to be the spot. At midnight, the tower was going to sparkle, and it was going to shine a light on the most painful year I’ve ever experienced. But it was also going to shine a light on my mom’s beautiful life, and it was going to shine a light on my future without her.
When the tower lit up, I held my breath and let my mom fly. She slipped through my fingers and held on underneath my nails. Even though she didn’t want to say goodbye, the wind reassured her that she would be fine and took her away into the river.
Ever since that moment, I knew that the second year without my mom was going to be different; that my life was going to be different. Not only did I have to let go of the idea of my mom physically being there, but I had to let go of what I knew was normal, and instead, enter a world where I have to finally accept that she’s no longer able to answer my calls or tell me that everything is going to be okay. The only thing that is left is this love that I have for her that now has to lay dormant in the pit of my stomach. Now, this love is a craving I can no longer satisfy; an itch I can’t scratch. Where does it go? What do I do with it? I don’t want it to go to waste.
The only thing that is left is this love that I have for her that now has to lay dormant in the pit of my stomach. Now, this love is a craving I can no longer satisfy; an itch I can’t scratch. Where does it go? What do I do with it? I don’t want it to go to waste.
But when we got back from Paris, I slowly began to learn how to move on without my grief protecting me. For the first year after my mom passed away, my grief was the shield that led me through battle. I was wounded and bruised, but it reminded me of the love that was there. Grief was the thing that became familiar and allowed me to navigate life by using crutches.
But even though my heart and mind still feel the pain of what I’ve lost, my external world doesn’t reflect it. People who once asked how I was doing, now talk to me like everything is normal. The check-ins no longer exist, and the world I once knew has bled into the background.
I sometimes wish there was a scar or tattoo across my face that could ignite a conversation. With something as physically permanent as this, people are more inclined to question the meaning or situation of the transformation because it’s visible and evident. But how are people supposed to inquire about the insensible? How do you bring something up when you know it can make people uncomfortable to talk about? I know that they still care and don’t want to see me suffer, but it can be hard to move on when I’m constantly feeling the pain. They say the second year after losing someone is the hardest, but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be.
But then something clicked. While watching the infamous Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert said a sequence of words that will forever change my view of grief: “If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”
Instead of worrying about the lack of connection I was experiencing with the external world, I realized I needed to look inward and examine the internal cosmos that I was creating for myself and the relationship I have with my mom.
For the past couple of years, I have been viewing grief as an ending. But her life hasn’t ended. My mom went on a new quest to find her next one. She’s on a journey to reconnect with the old and establish with the new. She’s at peace. And she has brought everything she’s learned, that we have learned together on this Earth, with her.
Grief will always be a part of my life. Like breathing, it has attached itself to the molecules that create air.
Grief will always be a part of my life. Like breathing, it has attached itself to the molecules that create air. But instead of viewing the air as being polluted, trying to filter it as much as possible, I’ve learned (and am still learning) that it’s actually an additive that has given me sight into the fact that she was put here on this Earth to show me what love is like. And I’m reminded of that every single day.
I’m reminded of my mom in the minute moments of life. I think of her when I randomly see a woman who resembles her, when I find myself mimicking her mannerisms, or when I simply watch a movie that triggers an unconscious stream of emotions. I’m continuing her legacy because her legacy is now mine. To be alive is to be human, and to die is a privilege. It means that your life was a gift. It was a gift to know her; it was a gift to be by her side, to view her pain, and to distract her when her body became overwhelming. I will always be her daughter, her friend, and her confidant. And she will always be my mom.
I’ll be honest, though: It’s confusing to return to a state of normalcy while you’re in the middle of coping with grief. It feels like you’re trying to get to the other side of a labyrinth without the use of a map.
It’s confusing to return to a state of normalcy while you’re in the middle of coping with grief. It feels like you’re trying to get to the other side of a labyrinth without the use of a map.
But that’s the thing about grief that a lot of people don’t talk about: There’s no way for you to exit from the other side of it. While the labyrinth might be covered in thorns and filled with creatures, the paths eventually become less dense and scary, and that’s the point. Yes, these bruises and scars will be a part of you forever, but they will also make you more empathetic, more understanding, and more kind. It’s a party favor you didn’t ask for, but it’s the one you’re going to get.
Now that this second year is coming to a close, I’ve learned that grief is a journey, not an ending. The sad moments might dissipate over time, and the love and loss I feel for my mom will never go away. And even though we may not be able to talk on the phone or have a future together on this Earth, at least we’ll always have Paris.
Raven Ishak is a writer by day and Netflix binge-watcher by night. She loves a tasty matcha, isn’t afraid to befriend a puppy at a party, and will ask you where you got that dress with pockets.
BY Raven Ishak - August 28, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.