Grieving at a Young Age

In the last nine months, I’ve had the privilege of hearing from several people who have lost loved ones. I know it sounds strange to put it that way but after starting MamaQuest.org and Trauma2art.com, I became an available listener. Because I shared my experience of grief, people feel safe to tell me their story.

Hearing these stories is both cathartic for them and comforting for me. I quickly realized everyone’s experience is unique, but we all share a common problem: how do we cope? We also share a bond for seeking to understand what we are going through.

Being young, we’re not experienced with grief. Even in circumstances where we see it coming, it’s hard to prepare for something so heavy. It’s hard to deal with all of the emotions that come along with such a situation. It’s even harder to know the right way to handle it.

My deflection of choice was conformity. In May of 2007, I was graduating from American University with a cum laude on my diploma and a job waiting for me at an established publisher in town. If that sounds cool, it’s less cool in practice but it is the societal standard and presumption of what you’re supposed to do.

Before my mom passed away, I was a little wild. I went out five nights a week and let my developing frontal lobe rule. After she passed, I took her words, “You can’t stop living because I do,” very seriously. I became a much more conscientious student. I opted for an internship, leaving my fledgling career as part health-food store cashier part yoga instructor behind.

Then I pushed my friends away. In my last year of school, my roommate and I were studying one night and I said something that offended her. She was upset. I didn’t notice so she stopped talking to me. I was devastated because I thought we were such good friends.

Normally, I would have talked it out with her but I wasn’t feeling capable of a constructive conversation at that time. So I let it fester. Eventually, she moved out so my boyfriend and I moved in together. I had the package: the diploma, the steady boyfriend and the job.

My graduation ceremony fell on Mother’s Day. I was an anxious mess. I wanted everything to be perfect so, of course, everything went wrong. My hair color turned out heinous. The restaurants I picked fell flat. The directions I gave led to unprecedented traffic. And the party my brother threw started with me sitting on the bathroom floor crying because my hair, outfit and venue were “all wrong.”

More likely, I was crying because my mother wasn’t there. I missed her and I didn’t know how best to handle it.

It was subconscious, but I somehow completely avoided dealing with the loss of my mother for almost three years. The word advice can have a bad connotation so I won’t give advice, but here are my suggestions:

Accept that you’ll make mistakes. Commit to figuring out how to cope. Love and respect the people who love you. Be patient and over time you’ll gain clarity. Bottling up your feelings isn’t right or wrong, but when your feelings start to emerge, it’s inevitable that they will need to be dealt with.

Lauren Muscarella 2011

Lauren Muscarella

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Lauren started the blog Mama Quest (http://mamaquest.org) in May 2010 to share stories of her journey through loss after losing her mother in 2006 at age 20. The blog also serves as an outlet to pass on wisdom she received from her mother, who died of breast cancer at 52. After an overwhelmingly positive response to the blog, she launched Trauma to Art (http://trauma2art.com), a movement to support and facilitate creative expression from those who have experienced loss. Now Lauren works to build the Trauma to Art community while writing a book of creative arts therapy activities for confronting grief as well as preserving the memory of lost loved ones. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys volunteering, traveling, wine tasting, and learning to speak French.

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  • Tambre Leighn/coaching by tambre says:

    Lauren, what a beautiful post and I absolutely can relate to what feels like misdirected grief moments…those moments when we’re crying about something like hair color that didn’t come out quite right and really it is about our much deeper loss.
    I remember becoming angry with my late husband one time about wet towels…finally he asked me what was really going on. I realized I was afraid he was going to die from the cancer. It was the only time I spoke this fear to him. It so wasn’t about the towels…but it gave us a chance to hold each other and acknowledge the horrible thing that was happening to us both. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Lauren Muscarella says:

    Tambre, Thank you so much for sharing your story here. Now I really work to educate people about the grief process by telling them about my own experiences. I wish I had known others who had dealt with grief well. I only knew people who had let their loss excuse their self-destructive behavior. If you have a chance, take a look at my site http://trauma2art.com. It’s a movement I started to facilitate and support creative expression from those who have experienced loss.

    Nice to meet you,
    Lauren

  • Vanessa says:

    Lauren thank you for this posting. I am very very new to this grieving process. My boyfriend , who was my future husband/father of our future children passed away very unexpectedly on February 3, 2011. I am still in the shocked/stunned/can’t believe this is really real phase of grieving, but the anger is just under the surface and when it makes its way out it will be very all encompassing. Little things set me off on two hour crying jags. I had to return to work yesterday, after only a week and a half off to deal with his funeral and pulling myself together enough to return to the “real world”. My first day back was hard, but for some reason today was the worst day since when this all happened. Total panic attacks to the point where I had to be sedated and miss yet another day of work, which may well have cost me my job. I have yet to figure out how to do this, to be a 31 year old widow (we werent married but thats all semantics) who just buried her 36 year old other half. Coming across this website has helped me out in ways that my family and friends cant. I have become a member of this new exclusive club that nobody wants to be a member of and people I knew before his death have no idea how to talk to me now. Reading stories on this site give me some comfort knowing that I am really not alone.

  • Lauren Muscarella says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, Vanessa, and for sharing your story. I sent you an email with some site recommendations. Email me anytime. Much love, Lauren

  • Hailey says:

    Thank you for posting this,it helps me not feel so crazy in dealing with my moms death.I found her last month in our home,she passed very very unexpectedly.I don’t understand anything and i’ve noticed im not hanging out with my friends or going a lot of places.Im fine one minute and the next im in tears.Im graduating high school in a month and i just wish i could have her with me and when i think about how she can’t my greif turns to anger.I keep waiting for it to get better and it won’t.I try to discuss things with my dad and he listens but its to hard for him to really talk about some things.Do you know of any groups that talk about loss?

    sincerly,Hailey

  • Lauren Muscarella says:

    Hi Hailey,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I sent you an email. I’d be happy to help you find a grief group. Feel free to reach out to me at any time.

    Much love,
    Lauren