I had just returned from winter break. This wasn’t what I had planned for my junior year. Soon I was supposed to start ACT prep. The winter formal would be coming up at the end of the month, and I needed to decide if I wanted to attend. One minute I was worrying about my IB Psych paper, the next I was planning a funeral. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that my mother was actually going to die, although she had been diagnosed with cancer when I was in eighth grade. She seemed so strong mentally about her illness, but I think it caused me to overlook her physical condition. Your life can change in the blink of an eye, but your reaction is crucial to the outcome.
11th Grade Life Crisis
I was my mother’s only child, and we lived alone, so our relationship was very close. I considered her to be my best friend. We were part of a packaged deal. I wasn’t just Cara; I was Cara of Dawn and Cara. I knew how to be a daughter, but the idea of being my own person after her death was confusing. I thought my intelligence had died with her. Maybe I wasn’t that smart after all. The intensity of the grief I experienced affected me when completing the simplest of assignments. I was scared of how my future would turn out. Junior year is arguably already the hardest year of high school without experiencing the death of a parent. Questions about college and my day-to-day life lingered in my thoughts. Although it started out rough, the last eleven months have turned out to be my greatest learning experience.
Listen, But Decide for Yourself
Listen to the advice everybody has to tell you. Most likely they genuinely want to help you. Listening is not the same as acting on that advice. When I decided I wanted to take my classes online for the rest of the school year, I was met with much resistance. I was told I wasn’t taking enough time to think it through and that I was isolating myself. In reality, I knew taking IB and honors classes while struggling with grief was not going to work. I knew moving in with my father for the first time was going to be an adjustment, and I wanted enough quality time to build a relationship with him. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that colleges might not view taking standard level classes during junior year favorably, but I decided my mental health was going to be a priority. Ultimately, make the decisions that you know are best for you.
Finding Your Priorities
If you asked somebody to describe me, I’m sure one of the words they would include is serious. I have always been a serious person, but before my mother passed away, I was serious about the wrong things. Since I was in middle school, I made attending college my number one goal. I spent obscene amounts of time talking about college and my grades. The thought of turning in an assignment late gave me the chills.
Now, in no way am I saying you shouldn’t take your education seriously, but you should remember it is not a life or death situation. The world will not burst into flames because you turn your English paper in a day late. My education is very important to me, but I also realize the importance of the quality of my relationships. I am serious about making time for my friends and family. Before the passing of my mother, I rarely spent time with my friends outside of school. I am now try to find time for them on a regular basis, even if it’s short due to our busy schedules. My friends have become my family, and I know they are a big part of why I have been able to experience happiness again.
To Each His (or Her) Own
It is okay to cry hysterically when you feel overwhelmed. It is okay to feel like laughing until your stomach aches. It is okay to lay in your room with the lights off while watching soap operas. It is okay to want to be surrounded by your loved ones. Do not let anybody else tell you how to grieve. I think the first couple months are like a roller coaster; it is quite the bumpy ride. As time goes on, you become aware of what triggers your emotions. You are still on a ride, but it becomes more predictable. For a while I struggled with finally feeling cheerful again. When people asked me how I was, I felt a little guilty responding “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!” It’s true; I do have a lot to be happy about. Of course I miss my mother, but that doesn’t mean I have to put my life on hold. I still have my life to live, and I intend to live it to the fullest.
The one year anniversary of her passing will be this upcoming January. So much has changed in the past year, but I have no complaints. I don’t deny that it has been hard, but at the same time there is so much for which to be grateful. I may have lost my mother, but I gained a level of strength and independence I never imagined I would possess.