A Sudden Shadow - The Death of My Mother and How My World Changed

What was a pivotal moment in your life? Many people say that an important moment for them was when they learned something that impacted them in a positive manner, or a time when they were around someone they loved. However, the most crucial event in my life was the death of my mother. Her death continues to haunt me and it still makes me feel empty inside.

I was, as many people would say, 'a normal child'. I didn't have any diseases to worry about and I was a good student. Even so, as time has gone by I have felt the need to justify my existence. I have felt, and still feel, a sense of unworthiness and self-doubt. 

I find myself constantly looking for my mother's love in somebody else. It’s hard, but I learned that you should always value what you have, because it might not be there when you wake up. I’ve been trying to say that I’m okay, that I’m independent, that I don’t need anybody's love and attention. I don't know if this wound in my heart will ever heal, nor do I know if I will ever find the love that will substitute my mother's. Nonetheless, I will narrate to you what happened to me when the world came down upon me.

November 3rd, 1995 was a bright and sunny day. As usual, I woke up at 7am to go to the Catholic school I attended in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Once I arrived to school, I greeted my friends and got ready to go to my math class. I can't remember what the topic was that day, but I do remember feeling anxious and shaky. I remember writing on a piece of paper and not being able to make sense of what I was writing about. I couldn't concentrate and kept ripping pages out of my notebook. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. It was my aunt. She approached the teacher and mumbled in her ear. I was waiting impatiently to know what was going on. Finally, my aunt called my name and asked me to come with her. I was so happy to leave class!

Then again, something was not right.

“Why are you so quiet?” I asked my aunt. “You look like you’re going to cry.”

"I have a migraine and need some rest." She sounded tired.

“Why did you come and get me in school? What does your migraine have to do with me?” I kept asking.

"I work there, it doesn't make sense for me to go home and then come pick you up later. It's better to just take you home now," she lovingly replied.

She took me back to her house and ordered some fried chicken with French fries, which we only ate on special occasions. Then she asked me, "Do you want me to take you to see your mother?"

I hadn't seen my mom in months. Even though I felt weird, I was feeling so lucky that day because I thought, wow I'm getting out of school early and on top of that, I'm going to see my mom.

Everything was wonderful until we arrived at my mother's tiny room. She lived in the poorest part of town and could only afford a tiny studio apartment with no bathroom or refrigerator. There were a lot of people gathered around my mother's twin sized bed. All I could think was that my mother must be doing something special for these people because she never had so many people in one place.

Nevertheless, I asked for permission to approach my mom. When I took a closer look at her, I noticed her lifelessness. She was just lying there, on her bed with her eyes closed and her skin pale. I touched her foot to see if she would wake up to greet me, but she was cold and still. I suddenly realized that the woman who was once full of life was now just an empty glass. The woman who would sing to me and tell me stories about how I was her treasure was suddenly gone.

There I was, ten years old, frozen in time and unable to move. I never knew that she was sick. My mother was just thirty years old when she died.

Some men put my mom's body in a coffin and took her to a big playground in the neighborhood. Maybe that was her funeral, I'm not sure. People went along, praying for her soul. I felt like a zombie; people talked to me, asked me how I was feeling, but I kept walking with my head down.

I remember my mom's body being driven to the cemetery. My grandmother arrived from Spain and went there directly. I wasn’t able to cry. I saw everyone around me crying and I just couldn't bring myself to display any emotion. Any stranger would have thought that I lacked empathy. It started to rain and I was still too involved in my pain. I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of me.

Now, twenty years later, I am still suffering from my mother's death. I need so much love in my life in order to feel normal again. I saw psychologists, but even they couldn’t help me face the reality that I don't have a mother figure anymore. I think that mothers are really important in a person's life. I felt like a tomboy growing up because I moved in with my father, who didn’t show me any emotion. I wasn’t able to be a lady because he was afraid that I would be sexually active too young, so he only felt comfortable with me wearing jeans and baggy t-shirts.

I used to tell myself that moving on with my life would make me happier. Instead, I’ve found that the loss of a loved one creates a permanent scar in your heart, and the only thing you can do to heal is give as much love as you can to others who are suffering. I can’t bring back my mom, and I still cry when I think about her death. I can only do my best to make sure that I make choices out of love, not fear.

Share your story. How have you dealt with grief?

With Love, Dania