What I Learned After Losing A Parent At A Young Age

I hate when people complain about their parents.
03/11/2017 12:28 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2017
My mother and I (left), my mother’s glamour shot(right)
Family Photo
My mother and I (left), my mother’s glamour shot(right)

One day, someone asked me whether I was a mommy’s girl or a daddy’s girl. I said daddy’s girl. They said “oh no I’m a mommy’s girl at heart. I could never imagine losing my mother. I wouldn’t know what to do if she were to pass away”.

She didn’t know my mother had passed away at that time almost 12 years ago. At first I wasn’t going to tell her. The pride in her voice that she was a mommy’s girl resonated so loud to me. If I was to tell her mine passed away when I was at the tender age of 14, I felt it would dampen her appropriation of reality. But I told her anyway. She immediately said sorry to hear that. Until this very day, we never had a conversation about my mother or anything about being a mommy’s girl or daddy’s girl.

The reason why I said daddy’s girl wasn’t because I didn’t have a close relationship with my mother. My mother and I were actually close. My closeness to each parent was different. As my family marks the 17th year my mother passed away August 14th, the reason why I said daddy’s girl reverberates so loudly for me today. I have now known my father longer than my mother. And during that time through our trials and tribulations we’ve gotten closer. The way she said ‘mommy’s girl’ made me feel ashamed that I couldn’t say it. But her saying she’s a mommy’s girl reminded me what I learned about losing my mother at a young age and the person I’ve become today.

My mother was 41 years young when she passed away due to complications from Lupus. She was one of the most resilient person(s) I knew. Honestly, I haven’t met a person quite like her. My mother never wanted people to feel sorry for her. As she made friends she often didn’t tell them she had Lupus. My brother and I didn’t know she had Lupus until her last days on earth. My mother didn’t want us to worry. She just wanted to live and that she did to the fullest.

My mother had attended Howard University and finished at Monmouth University graduating with a degree in Business Administration : Accounting. She would go on to be an Accountant for the Federal government until she had to retire because the complications from Lupus began to get worse. She was devastated because my mother loved to work and loved the people she worked with; but she knew her health was more important.

I can remember about two years after her being home from work she went to go get glamour pictures made. It was single pictures of herself and she had them all framed. The bigger ones she put around the house and the smaller ones she gave to myself, my brother, and sat one on the living room table. I remember when she came in my room and gave me the picture. I said to her “why is the picture only of yourself?”. She said so I can always have something to remember her by. I thought it was so strange. But I didn’t question her anymore. I heard her go to my brother’s room and overheard her tell him a similar thing. About six months later should would suffer a massive stroke and six months after that died from those complications by having a heart attack at home.

My mother knew she was going to transition and she was preparing us. She prepared us first with the Christian foundation that she instilled in us. We always knew that no matter what, to always pray and to look to God. I also knew she was preparing specifically me, the oldest. When I was about 9 years old a classmate of mine mother had passed away. I remember my mother coming to talk to me about it and said sometimes God has a bigger plan and calls us to come home. I remember very vividly saying to my mother I wouldn’t have to worry about that ever happening because you’ll be here forever. But she knew there wasn’t always a forever.

The way I could describe my childhood was pure innocence. I would look at other peers’ parents or situations and say that would never happen to me. That was ultimately what I was saying when my classmate’s mother had passed away; that it would never happen to me. I say innocence because I just wanted to remain a child and never have to worry about those things. But at 14 years old, two weeks before I was to start my sophomore year of high school, I was now faced with that reality. For the rest of my life, I would learn what it’s like to lose a parent at a young age.

Very few could relate to me

I became very reserved and quiet after the death of my mother. I didn’t notice it then, but now as an adult, I look back on my experience and realized her death took a toll on me. The reason being was because there were very few people that understood what I was going through. On the first day of school, very few people knew my mother had passed away. Many saw the changes in me and I felt like an outcast because of it.  

For those who did know of mother’s passing, their parents were still here. They couldn’t relate me.

Our conversations were awkward. I hated my time in high school because of it. I breezed through, graduated with honors and tried to move on, with a new environment.

Once I got in my mid-20s, I found more people that could relate to me but at that point they were just losing their parents. I had already lost my mother 13 years prior.

I didn’t grieve intensely when she first passed away but I did later

When my mother first passed away I did not grieve intensely. I didn’t immediately understand why but I do know I was still very upset of her passing. I learned later that everyone processes their emotions differently. The only explanation I had was immediately after the death of my mother I felt I had to step up in a big way, especially for my younger brother. It wasn’t until I was an adult and things calmed down more within my family dynamics that it hit me that my mother was no longer here.

It is now as an adult as I watch my friends and peers get married, have babies, graduate from college where their mother is always there, that my grief sometimes intensifies. My mother is now a grandmother and she will never experience that physically. I can admit sometimes when I think about it, I hurt bad internally. But one thing that my family instilled in me at a young age was the foundation of having faith and believing in God. I know God’s plan for my mother was bigger there than here on earth. I no longer think selfishly.

I hate when people complain about their parents

One time I witnessed someone on social media saying really negative things about their mother. I didn’t know their situation, but it enraged me. Here you are talking about the things you and your mother can’t agree on and there are many people like me who have lost their parent(s) at a young age. I always tell people to appreciate your loved ones now while you have the pleasure of having them. No argument is worth losing that relationship and situations can be mended.

I learned who’s real

The death of my mother allowed me to learn very quickly who’s real. The ability to be there for someone in their time of need is something I respect and admire greatly in a person. It was the support of my few friends and family that showed me the importance of loyalty. Unfortunately, many can’t handle that type of tragedy and will walk away from you. But I was appreciative of the friends and family who were there for me to help me during the process.

Holidays are never the same

After the death of my grandmother (my mother’s mother), who was the glue that held my family together, holidays were never the same. But once my mother had passed away, that overall emotion was experienced on another level. My mother died in August and the holidays were not shortly after that. My family had decided to have Christmas at our home.

I know my family meant well to provide comfort but it proved to be a hard time for us. Reality had set in that our mother and for my father, his wife, was no longer here. Thereafter, holiday’s have never been the same.

There are people who haven’t experienced it and won’t get it. And that’s okay.

At first I was upset at that person who said “oh no I’m a mommy’s girl. I don’t know what I would do without her”. I used to hold grudges against the people I thought should have been there for me but weren’t. I used to have a lot of bitterness in my heart. Over time, I had a clearer understanding they can’t comprehend what it is to lose a parent at a young age and that’s okay. I would never wish my experience on anyone however, I can honestly say my experience has made me into the strong woman I am today.

My family bonds became stronger

Before the death of my mother, I was always a daddy’s girl but after her death our bond became stronger. Naturally I gravitated to my father more as a child because he always introduced me to interesting technology things and he taught me A LOT about race and life. My mother taught me to never take anything from anyone. My bonds to each were different.

My brother and I all suffered greatly because of the death of our mother and for my dad, his wife/best friend. Because of it, it made our family bond stronger through the trials and tribulations that we faced afterwards. Knowing my parent’s story has given me a greater appreciation of love and life, and I wholeheartedly appreciate the man my father is. I wouldn’t trade my father or my brother for anyone in the world.

Lastly, I learned to live life

Looking back on how my mother lived until her death gave me a greater appreciation on life now. Within her 41 years on earth, she did more than people that have lived 40 plus years more than her.

I know my mother would never want my brother and I to be sad but to live our lives. If my mother was alive today, I can hear her telling me “Chenelle, you need to live more”.

And she’s correct. I have since took the bitterness out of my heart. I learned my mother is not coming back, and I’m okay with that. She taught me no matter the circumstances, time is always going to go by. It’s all about how you manage that time.

I learned it’s best to live while time keeps going. My mother certainly did.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.

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