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“The worst part is not mourning the loss of what you did have, but mourning the loss of what you were supposed to have.”

By Katy Dawson

Two years ago, I was standing there staring at a statue of two dolphins and reading an informational placard about the only other mammals that participate in sexual pleasure when I got a phone call. It was my brother, and I was flustered to see his name on the screen, calling me at 1 p.m. on a Saturday. We didn’t talk frequently and if we did, it was usually on a weekday, outside of work hours. I picked up the phone, heard the way he said my name, and instinctively started walking through the crowd toward the Museum of Sex exit sign. 

I remember every single thing from that morning with perfect clarity, but my recollection of everything after this moment is inconsistent.

I have a flash of him saying there was an accident. Mom and her husband, Scott, were hit by a car; they're at the hospital. When I asked if they were okay, I think I already knew the answer. “Mom...didn’t make it.” I hear a primal scream and a guttural sob, but I think they came from me. Then black.

There’s a flash of someone asking if I’m okay in the stairwell. I screamed at them, “How could I be? My mom’s dead!” I think I am on the floor, my roommate holding my hand. Then black.

I’m standing outside, staring up at the flurries of snow on 6th Avenue. In the background, I hear snippets of my roommate calling for help, telling my boyfriend to meet us at our apartment. Then black.

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I’m in a cab telling my dad I don’t know what is going on and asking how I am going to survive. Then black.

That day, my brain protected me from experiencing great emotional pain all at once, the same way it does with physical injuries. My brain turned off my senses. The problem for me was after that moment, it was really hard to get them to turn back on.

For a long time, I didn’t understand my severe depression following my mother’s death. I thought it was just a “grief” phase. While attempting to go about my daily life, I felt the need to turn to every person I passed in the grocery store and ask them what they were doing. Don’t they know the whole world has changed? My entire present and future would be different from the past 25 years and I didn’t know how to cope with that. I started doing everything I could to avoid thinking. I laid in bed for 20 hours a day binge watching TV shows, not leaving my apartment for days, and didn’t think there was anything strange about that.

I refused to turn my senses back on because every time I tried, I had to rewrite what my life was going to be.

I think the hardest thing to explain to someone about loss is that the worst part is not mourning the loss of what you did have, but mourning the loss of what you were supposed to have. I refused to turn my senses back on because every time I tried, I had to rewrite what my life was going to be. I thought so much more about the memories I had imagined that hadn’t yet happened than memories that did happen. The summer BBQ we were meant to have by her pool in a few months. The restaurants I was going to take her to when she visited New York. Wedding dress shopping and getting ready before the ceremony. Holding my first child and handing them to my mom, asking her a million questions about what I am supposed to do next. My brain had to rewrite a whole future without her in it.

Even though it will look different than I had planned, my mom will still be there every step of the way, influencing my new future.

I’m only two years into my journey of grief. I still have a long way to go, but I have begun to experience the pain—letting it in so I can start finding small pockets of joy in the new life that I will create. Even though it will look different than I had planned, my mom will still be there every step of the way, influencing my new future. I will hold onto the memories that we had and enjoy the new memories we can create.

Grief & Loss Building resilience Finding joy Loss of parent Overcoming permanence Depression
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