Letting Go of Grief

I found letters from my mom twenty years after she died, which allowed me to focus on what I had, not what I had lost

We know we aren’t going to live forever. We know time is precious and fleeting. If there’s anything this past year has taught us, it’s this.

But it wasn’t until my mom passed away, and I found myself living in the world without her, that I fully understood what loss meant. What it felt like.

Being in the world without my mom has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. At times, the pain and grief have felt almost too difficult to bear. When she died, I didn’t know how to navigate being in the world without her. And I sure didn’t want to.

A few weeks after I had my first baby, when I was twenty-eight years old, my mom passed away from cancer. This unfair twist of fate left me feeling a mixture of emotions: I was completely devastated having lost my mom, but I was elated having just become a mom.

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through and how you’re coping with everything,” my friends would say to me.

The truth was, I wasn’t coping very well. I put on a happy face and tried to convince the world (and myself) that I was fine, but I was the farthest thing from being okay. My heart was broken. Grief followed me around like my shadow.

But life went on. I focused on my career and my family and was eventually blessed with another daughter.

As my daughters grew, the reminders of the loss of my mom were constant. I would see my friends with their mothers, and I would long for my mom. Celebrations and big family gatherings were another reminder of what my mom was missing. What we were missing. With each passing year, I felt cheated that she wasn’t here to share life with us, to watch my daughters blow out birthday candles and grow up.

Many times over the past years, I’ve longed to talk to my mom, to get her advice about so many things, and to ask her questions a daughter would want to ask only her mother. While I tried to keep the pain and sadness from seeping into my life, it was always there, right under the surface, waiting to bubble up at any moment.

Until I discovered a bag of letters.

Twenty years after my mom’s death, I remembered I had a bag of over one hundred letters stuffed in the back of a drawer in my den. The letters were mostly written by my mom, starting when I first went to camp at nine years old until I graduated from college.

One evening, weeks after discovering the bag, I finally gave myself permission to sit down and read the letters.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

Reading the letters felt like I was having a conversation with my mom. I could hear her voice and feel her personality, and I got a dose of her incredible wisdom. It was as if she were whispering in my ear, “It’s time to let go of the pain and sadness you’ve been carrying around for so long. It’s time to make peace with my death.”

I sat on the couch and sobbed.

Reading the letters helped me get to know my mom a little better. I got a glimpse into what her life was like when she was raising her kids, and it was an incredible gift. For over twenty years, I’ve missed talking with my mom, but reading these letters felt like we were having a conversation. Here’s one of my favorite quotes, written in a letter to me from 1990:

“Life has a way of working out. Life has a way of giving us the strength to meet the challenges before us. No one can predict what will be. The key is taking each day as it comes and making it work for you. Allow life’s magic to unfold.”

I remembered how positive my mom was and how much she valued life. I realized my mom would never have wanted her death to get in the way of enjoying every moment of my precious life. I finally gave myself permission to accept her death, to let go of the sadness, and to focus on what I had, not what I had lost.

I still miss my mom. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her or wish she was here with us. At the same time, I know the best way for me to honor her is to make the most of the time I have.

I do my best to teach my daughters about my mom and to share the lessons she taught me. I talk about her often and share stories and wisdom with them, connecting the past with the present.

I know my mom is smiling down on us. I can feel her presence, hear her whisper in my ear, and I’m thankful that the love we share is always there.

Dara Kurtz, after being diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago at the age of forty-two, left her twenty-year career as a financial advisor to focus on writing, speaking, and podcasting. Today her personal blog Crazy Perfect Life reaches over 200,000 followers. Dara is the author of three books, including her most recent I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Wisdom on Life, Loss, and Love. Dara has been on over 30 podcast, radio, and TV shows. Her goal is to use her life experiences to help people strengthen their relationships and create more happiness and joy in their everyday lives.

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