“Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul. But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here.” ~Mariska Hargitay
At 6:07 pm on July 18, 2020, I was sitting on the couch with my boyfriend. It was a Saturday night, and I had canceled plans with my friends because I had a migraine. I had eaten dinner already, and I was in my pajamas, watching TV. My phone rang—my dad. “I’ll call him back later,” I said, flipping the phone over on the couch and returning my attention to the television.
Three minutes later, I received a text from my dad to my sister and me.
“Girls, I do not want to alarm you, but I am at the emergency room in Asheville. Your mother and I were riding our bikes, and she was hit by a car. An ambulance came very quickly, and they have her right now. I am doing some paperwork at the front desk, so I don’t know her condition. I will keep you posted. Love.”
I read it to my boyfriend, concerned. I worried she had broken an arm or perhaps even a leg. My mother had never broken a bone before. I answered my father’s Facetime. I could see the hospital waiting room behind him. Crowded. I looked back at his face. My stomach tied itself into knots, and my migraine pounded.
“God almighty, shit.” My dad’s refrain.
I looked at my sister’s face. I stared at her, a tiny square on my phone. As my dad described what had happened, my eyes bore into my twin’s, as if I could make everything okay if I just looked at her hard enough.
My dad told the story, occasionally stopping to speak to doctors or the hospital chaplain, Jim, who remained close by. That was the first sign to me that something was very wrong. All those people in the waiting room, and the chaplain was only speaking to Dad.
I’ve heard this story thousands of times by now. I know every detail by heart. So I’ll tell it in my words, not his.
Around 3:32 pm, Jane and John Beach left their cabin in Saluda, North Carolina, with their mountain bikes hitched to the back of their twenty-one-year-old Toyota Four Runner. They drove to Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, where they planned to go on a bike ride before stopping by their favorite brewery for dinner.
At 5:21 pm, Jane and John were finishing their ride. They took a right on Brevard Road. John went first. And Jane followed.
At 5:22 pm, twenty-five-year-old Hannah was driving down the road. If Jane had turned right seconds later, at 5:23 pm, Hannah would have sped right past. Instead, Jane was hit from behind by Hannah’s tan Buik Sentry.
John heard the impact, skidded to halt, and threw his bike across the road. Sprinting to his wife, who was now lying in the street. Her bike was destroyed. Her helmet split in two. At the same moment, Hannah, with blood on her hood and a cracked windshield, drove away as quickly as she came.
At Mission Hospital, Jane was intubated and treated with attention and care. At 7:18 pm, I learned over FaceTime that my mother had died. My father was crying.
“God almighty, shit.”
He continued to repeat.
That day, the moment my mom died, I joined a community of hundreds of thousands of others who were grieving. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably part of my community, or maybe you love someone who is.
During the months after my mother’s death, I would lie in bed at night and think about everyone I was connected to, everyone else who was lying in bed, unable to sleep because they were thinking of someone they loved and lost.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about grief through articles, books, podcasts, and speaking to other people who were going through similar experiences. I wanted to understand grief because I wanted to know how to recover from it. But what I learned along the way is that grief is not something you heal from. When you lose someone, you carry that around with you forever, and it becomes a part of you.
Grief can actually mold itself into something beautiful that reminds you of your strength and your capacity to love and be loved so fiercely that it hurts.
Dumbledore said it best when he said, “To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
If we can learn how to live in harmony with grief, it can teach us so much and help us grow. Here are four powerful lessons I’ve learned from my grief.
Lesson 1: Love yourself harder.
After my mom died, I was a mess. Not only was I in physical pain, but I felt as if all of the mental health struggles I’ve wrestled with for most of my life (anxiety and hypochondria, to name a few) were bubbling back up to the surface and threatening a takeover.
Grieving can bring up old wounds and make other emotions seem unbelievable overwhelming. That’s why self-love and self-compassion are essential to ease the suffering that comes with grief.
Self-compassion isn’t an easy thing to learn, but a good way to begin is by making a list of things that comfort you and making time for those things. Put in an effort toward just showing yourself some love.
Grief taught me the importance of nurturing myself. I like to take baths, curl up with a good book, and take long walks. I’ve found that these moments of stillness and calm help me get through the moments of chaos and sadness and fear and frustration.
Lesson 2: Fully feel your emotions.
Grief often stimulates an overwhelming range of different emotions. People who are grieving feel their emotions very strongly, whether it’s sadness, joy, fear, or relief. Even a year and a half after my mom’s death, my emotions still hit me like bricks, and sometimes I really don’t see them coming.
It’s natural to try and avoid the more uncomfortable emotions, like anxiety or fear, but that just makes them stronger. Instead, try sitting with your emotion. Fully feel it, and allow it to exist without any avoidance.
Mindfulness, or grounding yourself in the present moment, can really help when you find yourself pushing an emotion away because it’s too painful. Try sitting quietly in an empty room. Imagine your emotion sitting beside you. Remember, you are not your emotion. It doesn’t have to control you. You don’t have to push it away out of fear.
Another thing that’s important to remember is this: it’s okay to feel things. It’s okay to feel sad or angry or frustrated. Don’t push away any feelings because you think they’re “wrong” or “not helpful.” When you’ve gone through the trauma of losing someone, all feelings are valid. Let emotions live freely and recognize that you’re going to have good days and bad days.
Lesson 3: Rituals and reminders can be therapeutic.
When my mom died, I struggled to think of her without feeling pain. I hid everything that reminded me of her and took down all of my photos. Remembering her felt like staring directly at the sun. But eventually, I started to take comfort in reminders. I wanted to talk about her and see her face.
Now, I wear her wedding ring every day and think of her often when I look at it. I drink earl grey tea and remember the days we used to spend sipping hot drinks in the Barnes and Noble coffee shop. I wear her favorite sweatshirt and think about the day she got it when she wasn’t much older than I am now, and she was pregnant with me and my sister.
Staying connected with your loved ones after they’re gone can be tremendously comforting. There are many rituals that can help you accomplish that feeling. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:
- Read their favorite book
- Sit in a spot they loved in the house
- Talk to their childhood best friend and ask to hear stories about them
- Look at old photos
- Listen to the music they loved
- Plant a tree or flowers in their memory
- Donate to a charity your loved one supported
Lesson 4: Find people who understand you.
Talking to other women who have lost their moms in their twenties has been an essential part of my healing process. I’ve met so many strong women who have overcome loss and trauma and used their grief to become better versions of themselves.
One of my most meaningful connections formed through an organization called The Dinner Party. A few weeks after my mom died, I signed up without thinking that I would really get anything out of it. A few weeks later, I got an email saying that I had a new “buddy”—a girl only a few years older than me who had lost her mom in a biking accident just one month before I lost mine. A year and a half later, we still facetime regularly and are a big part of each other’s lives.
Talking to someone who shares such a huge life experience with you is a relief, and it feels great to be able to express your full range of emotions to someone who understands because they are feeling all of those things too. From how to support our newly single dads to how to bring up your dead mom to a new friend, we’ve talked through so many things that are meaningful and important to me. We’re close friends, and she has been a great joy to come out of this difficult tragedy.
Losing my mom has undoubtedly been the most difficult experience of my life, but I’ve learned to love my grief throughout my journey. It has made me stronger and more compassionate, and I know myself and my purpose better now than I ever would have without my grief. I would trade it all to have my mom back, but I know she would be proud of me if she were here right now.