Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because dawn has come.
— Rabindranath Tagore
It's been four years since my mom died of cancer, and not a day goes by where she doesn't pop into my thoughts. I still remember the days she was sick. Seeing my strong and wonderful mother in such a vulnerable state was terrifying. I wanted to protect her; I wanted to save her. She stayed brave and beautiful through her last days, which was nothing less than I expected. After all, she was the strongest person I have ever known.
After she died, I remember going numb. I went through the routines of life, but I could not fully accept she was gone. It was like I was living, but my brain and heart were taking an emotional leave. To this day, I still don't know if I can truly say I have reached a state of acceptance that she is gone. However, I have realized that maybe this is OK. Maybe she doesn't ever truly need to be considered “gone.”
Grief has no timeline. We all experience loss in unique ways, and we cope differently when someone we love dies. While you may never feel completely healed, if it's any consolation, the empty spot you feel is there for a reason. It's the space in your heart that can be filled with love and memories of the person you lost.
If these few years have taught me anything, it's that although death cannot be fixed, love is stronger than death will ever be. We can choose to love people long after they are gone, and we can choose to keep them in our lives.
Here are seven comforting lessons I have learned about love and death from the loss of my mom:
1. Unconditional love is stronger than death.
In the words of Anaïs Nin, “You cannot save people. You can only love them.” From day one, my mom taught me what unconditional love is. She protected me from the beginning, and yet, once she was diagnosed with cancer, I could not protect her.
She was sick and vulnerable, and she was slowly on her way out of this world. Soon, she would depart us for somewhere else, and our family would be left behind. This strong and loving mom of mine was now in a hospital bed, still smiling at me despite her pain and fear.
Although I could not save her anymore, she had already saved me. She showed me what unconditional love is, and how love is all we ever truly need.
2. Death is just a farewell for now, not a goodbye forever.
When someone you love dies, your relationship with the person will never change. Your relationship will never die. It lives on forever in your heart, in your actions, in your thoughts, in your values and in your memories.
I am — and always will be — the daughter of the most kind, wonderful, inspirational mom I could have ever asked for. My mom taught me the valuable lesson that although death can end a life, death does not have the power to end a relationship.
Though she is not physically here with me, I am certain that, until I see her again, she is — and always will be — my beautiful, beautiful mom. In the words of Sirius Black, “The ones that love us never really leave us.”
3. Death is not an ending.
Sometimes our time on earth is cut too short. Our time in this world is precious, and when it ends sooner than we expect, we must have faith that something beautiful still lies ahead. This is not the end; it is solely the end of one chapter of many.
My greatest peace and hope came from my belief that the world had something more beautiful in store for my mom. She made her impact on this world, and it was time for her to be somewhere else where she could do the same. She was somewhere else where she could spread her magic in another way.
4. When someone we love dies, we have to keep living.
My mom taught me that even though she would not be physically here with me anymore, I had to keep living. My mom said to me, “Don't spend a lot of time mourning me. I had two beautiful, beautiful children, a great husband and a job I gave my all to. So please, be proud of me and not so sad.”
She told me she wanted me to do great things, to make my mark on this world. She wanted to leave knowing my dad, sister and I would still be happy, and that we would still continue to live.
So when someone we love dies, when we feel like our whole world is falling apart, we can't allow ourselves to die along with them. Our loved ones want us to continue to live our lives and make them proud. They want us to be happy, to be sad, but not sad forever.
This makes leaving the world a little bit easier for them, and it gives us hope that we still have a purpose here. So, keep trying to live life to the fullest, even when your heart is broken.
5. Be grateful for your relationship.
You can't stop people from dying, but you can love them while they are here. Death teaches us how love is the most sincere form of appreciation and gratitude in human existence.
When we love someone who is leaving us, we have to understand and appreciate how much of a gift it has been simply to love this person. And even when the tears or numbness hit you, even when you realize you cannot stop the cancer, or keep the person's heart beating longer, you must remember what a sincere privilege it has been to have this person in your life.
So, when someone you love with all of your heart is dying, just truly realize how grateful you are to have had this opportunity to love this person.
6. Stay with them until the very end.
Lie with them in their hospital bed and hold their hand. Stay there with them until the end. Hold their hand and never let go. Tell them goodbye, but only for now.
Even when they are inching further away, slowly more distant, you will still feel the deep understanding and love when you look directly into their eyes. And when you tell them you will love them forever and ever, and they squeeze your hand, you know the beauty of love.
7. Death is temporary, but love is infinite.
You will never, ever, ever be alone. Love really is forever, and our hearts have special pockets solely for those we love. We carry them everywhere we go. And this is where love is so truly powerful. This is where love overpowers death every single time.
I hope one day you reach some sort of peace with the death of your loved one, and that you can look back on their life with pride and happiness, rather than grief and despair.
But until then, I hope you can find some comfort and peace in your heart with the realization love will win the battle against death every single time.
Thank you, Mom. I love you, and I am honored to be your daughter.