My mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when I was a little kid. At the time, I was too young to understand what her diagnosis really meant, beyond the fact that she wouldn’t be able to chaperone my field trips in the future.
It allowed us to keep functioning as close to normally as possible
As her illness got worse, I took on more household responsibilities. Clearing the driveway of snow, doing the grocery shopping, and picking up dry cleaning seemed burdensome at fourteen years old. But the burden was largely outweighed by my mom teaching me to drive so that I could complete all of the tasks. I took pride in these adult responsibilities and privileges. It felt like an expression of her trust—and it allowed us to keep functioning as close to normally as possible.
I developed strategies to cope with my mother’s illness that I’ve drawn on ever since. Her diagnosis was always public and she received support from the school and neighborhood communities, showing me the importance of close friendships. Going forward, I put community first, seeking a strong support network beyond my immediate family.
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It was these friendships that kept me strong when my mother died in 2012. It was an awful time, but at least I never felt alone. So many people reached out to me daily, it felt like an outpouring of love. It made me realize that despite losing maternal love, I was buoyed by the love of friends.
Journaling also helped me cope with the grief. Putting pen to paper was at once a way of keeping memories and creating a narrative of remembrance and love, rather than finality and death. Writing about the sad stuff helped me to stop dwelling on it. Now when I re-read the entries from the time around my mother’s death, I am surprised that the overall tone is hopeful even in the midst of terrible events. I have my friends’ love to credit for that.
The heart regrows a little slower, but it does
When my father passed away suddenly in 2016, I realized I needed to call on my friends again for help. Though I’m not Jewish, I threw a sort of Shiva for him. Dozens of people came and spent an afternoon with me. Again, my friends’ love and support got me through it.
Of course, there was a lot of darkness after my parents’ deaths. As trite as it may sound, with time, things got lighter. A friend shared a metaphor that I found really helpful: “Right now, every day grows darker by a minute. But in three weeks it stops. The earth passes its long arc around the sun and each day will grow lighter by exactly one minute. The heart regrows a little slower, but it does.” And he was right—it has.