It's Never Easy: 5 Things I Learned About Loss 5 Years Later

by Elissa Furlong

I find it interesting that we don't have to train our minds to remember certain days like they were yesterday.

Good or bad, there are days easily recollected without any prior, conscious effort. We don't have to try to remember certain things as clearly as we do, and this can be both a blessing and a curse.

Memories are imprinted in our minds in the form of days on which we took 100 happy photographs, or of those we wish we could forget 100 times over.

I know for a fact that I'll always remember the day in sixth grade that my parents sat me and my sisters down and told us my mom had been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.

I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I also, as would be expected, remember the day she passed away five years later with a clarity that I don't think will be blurred with any amount of time.

More than five years after that day, I can't help but think about what I've learned about loss and how it has affected me as an individual. Though this article will discuss my own personal experience, my hope is that other people who have gone through loss will be able to relate.

My intention for writing this article isn't to be super depressing; although, fair warning, it is pretty depressing. Rather, I hope to discuss what I know about loss.

I am all too aware of the irony in the fact that something so obvious still sometimes calls for a reminder: You are never alone in your experiences or grieving.

Here are five things I know about loss, five years later:

1. Everyone Grieves And Deals With Loss Differently

The first thing I wanted to discuss is the fact that everyone grieves and deals with loss differently (which you don't have to have experienced significant loss to know).

For this reason, the points following this one are not meant to serve as all-inclusive comments on what those who have experienced loss have probably learned and experienced.

I have experienced first-hand that people grieve differently. I am definitely an introvert about my emotions (which might be hard to believe since I've decided to write such a personal article, but it's true). Other members of my family, however, are much more open about their emotions.

They would talk very openly about everything, while I would keep my thoughts and emotions bottled up and wait until I was alone in my room to cry until my eyelashes fell out -- not a good look.

Grief also hits people at different times. It seems as if grief hit my dad the hardest during the first year; whereas, I cried more in the first month of the second year than I had the entire first. Even though my family members and I grieved and dealt with loss differently, it definitely helped to be around the people we loved.

2. You Experience Emotions More Intensely Than You Ever Had Before

I'm sure most people who have experienced loss can attest to this, and it probably seems pretty obvious. That said, I truly feel you can't really understand what it's like to lose an immediate family member until you do because the emotions are that intense.

I had never experienced the sort of sadness I did when my mom passed away. The thing about this type of sadness is that it can be brought on by something you would expect, like on her birthday or upon seeing someone with cancer. It can hit you like the first gust of wind you feel while walking -- totally unexpected.

The sadness has yet to subside, and I don't think it ever really will. But, on a less depressing note, you also start to love that person even more (if that's possible). You cherish certain memories and miss that person so much, your love for him or her becomes that much stronger.

3. You Change As A Person

Right after my mom died, and still sometimes today, I felt/feel overwhelmed with guilt. For a vast majority of the five years she was sick, it never really occurred to me that cancer might actually take her life, which I know sounds pretty ridiculous.

It might have been due to my age, the fact that she did so well with treatment for a long time, the fact that I couldn't fathom her not being around or a combination of them all. But, I never thought my mom would pass away before I was even halfway through high school.

For that reason, I just sort of thought of her as my (super strong) mom, not my sick mom. Since the day she passed away, I have agonized over whether or not she knew how much I loved her. I am so afraid that I didn't say it enough.

If there's one thing to learn from loss, it's that you never know how long you will have with people, so never take them for granted.

The guilt I have felt while grieving has made me feel sort of vulnerable and insecure, and those feelings are exacerbated by the fact that I lost such a strong support system. Certain things that seem trivial can cut me that much deeper because I can't just call my mom and talk about everything and anything.

In that way, I feel like loss has changed me as a person. I don't remember feeling as insecure as I do now; my mom provided me with a certain confidence that I wasn't even aware of until I lost it. All of those depressing things said, the weird thing about becoming a more vulnerable feeling person is that you simultaneously become stronger.

There is a lot to be said about the strength and resilience you can gain and display after experiencing significant loss. I feel less confident in social and other situations, but all in all, I know I am a stronger person, mostly because I will forever have my mom's example of how to endure hardship.

4. You Think A Lot About Religion And Beliefs

I have never been a particularly religious person, but losing someone very close to you can definitely make you think a lot about whether or not life after death is a thing (unless you hold strong convictions leaning one way or the other already).

I've gone through phases in which I've basically felt like an atheist, like my mom is only alive in my memories, and then I've experienced certain things that make me think she might actually be watching over me.

I have no idea whether or not life after death is a thing, but I truly feel that thinking about and loving a person so much keeps him or her alive in a way, regardless of your religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

5. I'm Not Sure If It Will Ever Get Easier

Shortly after my mom died, my dad's secretary, whose own mother passed away when she was 6, wrote me a letter which explained that the hole in your heart that you experience after loss never really goes away, but it does get easier.

The truth is, I'm not sure if it will ever get easier. My mom was an amazing woman who helped take care of her little sister when she had leukemia, graduated at the top of her high school class and went on to be a successful lawyer with an infectious laugh and a heart of gold.

She put up an extremely brave and tough fight for five years, because she wanted so badly to be around for me and my sisters. The day she lost her battle will always be the sort of memory I wish 100 times over I could forget.

The thing that gives me strength, and I hope this is the case for others who have experienced loss, is the fact that all our loved ones would want for us to make as many new memories as possible -- memories of the days on which we take 100 happy photographs.