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 and, 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

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Lauren Muscarella

Lauren started the blog Mama Quest 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 the 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, 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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