03/18/2015 10:49 am ET Updated May 18, 2015

A Daughter's Grief

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I was walking hurriedly to the train station in the dense dark of a bitter December night when I received the call. It was 4:32 a.m.. I remember my father's voice. Trembling, but feigning strength, he said in German, "Sie ist verstorben. Wir mussen jezt stark sein," meaning, "She has died. We must be strong now."

Dear Reader, my heart stopped. I felt as though I had fallen suddenly through a sheet of ice into dark arctic waters and that my eyes, half-open and searching frantically for light above the depths, could find in each saccade only darkness and shadows.

I was standing at a set of traffic lights by a petrol station. The road empty, I paced up and down; my movements brisk and uncontrolled. Utter disbelief and calm acceptance followed swiftly in equal measure, each state pirouetting into the other as if both were principals in some grand and tragic ballet.

My mother died. NO. NO. NO. It's not true. It CAN'T be true.

My mind raced and questioned furiously as it tried without success to make sense of it all. It is cruel that logic, like a false friend, remains markedly absent in times of distress. With terrifying speed, my mind hid nothing from me. I thought about all the things I would miss from the small to the large. The way she laughed and lit up a room; the way we spoke long into the night; the gap between her teeth; the way she would always hold a book really close and peer over her glasses to see; those silver Sketchers she always wore, come rain or shine; our Rummy championship; that unfinished story about the boy with the automatic door obsession and oh my goodness, she won't see me get married and any children I may have will not know her! At least not now. This is too much, really, this is too much.

I waited by the traffic lights for my father to collect me and take me to the hospital as my bewildered mind had entertained the erroneous thought that trains ran at this hour. I stood in the cold and dark and prayed that I might have strength and fortitude of mind. My father pulled up in the car and I got in. A stunned silence filled the air as shock rendered us both voiceless.

Within 10 minutes, we had arrived at the hospital. Shaking, I got out of the car. At once, my mind seemed to disconnect from my body and, like a rider unable to control her startled horse, I lost the reigns and my legs fell from under me. I stumbled to one side, feeling the oppressive weight of stark reality bearing down upon my weakened frame. Trembling, I got up and willed myself forward. We climbed the stairs, three steps at a time, before reaching the Intensive Care Unit. My father mumbled something to a nearby nurse and she opened the doors. I think I heard the nurse ask me if I was sure I wanted to go in, but I didn't reply. 

I pulled back the curtain and I saw my mother's body lying motionless on the hospital bed. An explosion of grief tore through me like a gas fire and with such ferocity that I thought I might die too. In fact, for a moment, I hoped I would. I threw myself upon her and began to wail. A searing pain ripped through my body and surged towards my heart, which burned within my chest. Then, I stood back and just stared. Was this the result of some absurd delusion? A hideous nightmare? Perhaps a practical joke in the poorest taste? Surely, this wasn't real. Sure enough, it was.

In the days that followed, shock held me in its grip. The sense of loss gnawed away at my tortured soul like a harrowing wind. My savior was my faith and also friends and family who gathered round like brothers and sisters born for when there is distress. I found comfort in the Bible's promise that all those asleep in death will be brought back to life.

It's been two years now and I have finally realized something. In this life, we have but two choices: We can either keep running from what pains us or we can stop and stare into the eyes of the beast and say, "ENOUGH!" I knew I had to confront my grief so that it did not gain mastery over me. That's why I felt compelled to make a short film about my mum and how I felt about her. So I poured my soul into this film; all of my pain and all of my sadness. I transferred the pain into an art form, something tangible and real. And although my heart still aches with sorrow, it has helped my memories endure. I smile a bit more. And I remember. I remember the person she was. I remember her laughter and her smile. I remember her kindness and self-sacrifice. I remember her iron will, her steely determination and her quiet dignity despite illness. I also remember that she was a warrior and a brave lioness in raising her cub. And although this lion heart has fallen in the dust, her cub has now grown into a lioness of her own right and must honor her.

I am deeply thankful for the time we had together. I am grateful to have had such a mother and I am privileged to have known her. And now, from this dark winter of my grief, I can see spring coming. I long for the day when we are united again, but until that day, I will keep her alive in my memory. She is in my heart, always.