Why did you decide to share your story?
I think it’s just a helpful thing to talk about. Particularly with someone who is pretty much going through the same thing. It’s just nice to talk about and share the story I guess. I don’t consider myself much of a caregiver - aside from when my mom was in the hospital, that was the only time that I felt any semblance of that. But even outside of that I don’t feel like one. I do find myself kinda, being more vigilant of my dad and making sure that we eat consistently and well enough. Basically trying to prevent what happened to my mom from happening again, hopefully.
I know you lost your mom quite recently, was that your first time experiencing that kind of sudden loss and grief?
When I was in high school my dog Newt ran into the woods behind my house and was killed by the dogs on the property. That was the first sudden death I’d ever experienced and I was not okay for a very long time. About a month later I lost my only grandma, my only grandparent in general - so those were my first experiences with grief. And then yeah my mom is the other one, those are the big ones.
How do you find COVID and this...almost global grieving that's happening, has impacted you?
I mean I’m a creative person so... it’s always something that I find myself doing any way but [I’m] using drawing and writing as a means of coping and processing everything that happened. Especially with COVID right now, there’s not much to get excited about. Those are things that I try to do everyday or as often as I can and those are things that make me happy and I feel inspired when I do them.
With my mom, we didn’t know she was sick - it was very sudden. But at the same time I watched her slowly deteriorate before she went into the hospital. So it was a lot at once. Yeah, it’s not a good time to have trauma around hospitals and unexpected illness and death and all of that. I was very emotionally shut down before the COVID stuff and I find myself a little more emotional than I have been in recent months. I’m normally someone who’s very in touch with my emotions - I’m not afraid to cry and stuff. But ever since my mom died my brain has built a wall between me and my emotions. I find that they’re seeping through a little more since COVID. Whereas before if I shed a single tear I was like, “okay, that’s enough feeling for the next five months.”
Time seems to be moving both slowly and quickly while we all endure this pandemic. How do you think that has impacted your path from that place of loss to mourning and now existing in this type of limbo?
It hasn’t been super linear. I was drawing when we got the call about my mom losing her pulse so it was hard for me to draw for a while. My hands were very shaky after my mom died and they still are. I don’t know if it’s from, what I think is PTSD or something else. I designed her funeral card and I wanted to do more drawing with it but I couldn’t - I had to settle for simple designs because they were too shaky. So it took me a while to feel okay about drawing again.
Right now the biggest challenge is… processing all of the trauma with my mom on top of the world’s trauma of this global pandemic which is very pertinent to what I experienced. As if it’s not scary enough on its own, I have this heightened fear...like anyone who experienced death before COVID started. I think we’re all viewing it through a different lens than a lot of people.
It must be so challenging to have something you love to do be so heavily impacted by that one phone call.
At this point do you feel like you've taken anything specific away from the experiences?
My mom and I are very similar - I feel like after seeing everything she went through and her last moments, I feel like I have more empathy for her than I did before. It’s weird because this is morbid, but when we were with her in her final moments, she was awake and aware and knew who we were and was able to nod but was gasping for air. She saw me crying and took my hand and said, “it’s alright,” and I just thought, that’s what being a parent means.
I wish more people understood that the healing process needs to happen on my own time and in my own way. Because I think that people tend to have a really cookie cutter idea of how someone should deal with grief if they’ve not experienced it. [I hear] “you should do this,” “you should do that,” “you should get back to normal,” “you should go to therapy,” “get a routine”. It’s not easy, anyone that’s had to recover from anything knows it’s not a linear process. I wish that people understood it more because it’s starting to get to the point for me where I say “okay, stop,” because you’re not helping. You almost have to tell people to stay in their lanes sometimes because they’re not coming at it from experience. It sounds bad because I don’t want to deflect. I know there are things I need to do, but I’m just not ready and I’m trying to be okay with that.
Who has been your biggest support?
I would say my friends and my family. My friends were really great. One of them showed up the morning after my mom died. She pulled up before work and she brought us some soup that she made. It was very unexpected but very sweet.
I’m a words of affirmation person. Basically if anyone offers anything to me to let me know they’re thinking of me - like a gift or card or text - that kind of thing helps a lot. A lot of my friends did that kind of thing. [...] My mom’s best friend from New Jersey, she helped us immensely. We had a proper funeral in Kentucky and then a celebration of life in New Jersey. So she’s the one that made sure we had the venue and tons of food and supplies and that was very nice - we couldn’t have done that without her. I don’t know, just little things.
How did your relationship with your family change as a result of everything?
My relationship with my sibling is a bit different right now. We’re very close but I know I’m harboring some resentment toward them because we had different experiences with what happened. We just went through different things with it. They weren’t here when my mom lost her pulse. They weren’t here when she died.
She got the procedure and things were looking up, she seemed to be doing really well and so they booked their ticket home because they just needed to get home and I also think my mom wanted them to go too. She felt bad they were there for so long. They landed, still taxi-ing to the gate, when I called to tell them she died.
There were also a lot of issues with the way their family handled the situation. They didn’t handle it, they weren’t a part of anything. Didn’t call my mom while she was in the hospital. They had to work during the memorial. We didn’t hear from them or get a text so that was hard.
There’s no good way to address it without starting some type of tension. It wasn’t a fun conversation. So there’s a bit of distance with us right now. I don’t know how they feel about it but I know this is what I need right now. We still talk every so often and we still text. I think that mostly is just coming from the fact that I’m still processing this fresh trauma. They got to go home to a house with everyone in it whereas I’m living in what feels like a graveyard.
Thanks for opening up about your experiences and sharing so much with our community. It's very brave of you to talk so much about these experiences while still being in the process of moving through so much pain.