"I'm 15 and living with the loss of my mom. This is how I move forward."
Jessica was one of the first children to walk through Valerie's House doors, nearly two year ago, after the loss of her mother. Today, this brave teenager is giving strength to others her age who have lost a parent. In her own words, Jessica shared her story with the News-Press.
"Hi, I’m Jessica. I am 15. I go to Oasis High. My mom died."
This is how we start off every Valerie's House session. Straight to the point. Those four little sentences have a lot of meaning. It’s meant to explain why you're there, and connect you with the other teens in the group, so we all see right off that we are not alone.
Being able to say those words, “my mom died,” is also the first step in moving forward in our grief. To others who don’t understand what it’s like to have a parent or sibling die, those words can mean many other things. They can mean “oh, her mom died, that's why she’s crying.” Or “she doesn’t have a motherly figure to help her; that's why she looks sad and out of it.” Those four sentences have a lot of power, but they do not define me.
My mom did die. She had an unexpected stroke on Nov. 14, 2015, fell into a coma and became brain dead. I lost her, my mom and my best friend, 11 days later. She was only 43, and a loving wife to my father and a caring mother to my little brother and me. You can probably guess what came after that. Depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety. I immediately wondered how I could survive life without the one person who was always there for me. I was falling and had no one to catch me.
Still, something came over me when I was there in the hospital and I realized I wouldn’t be as alone as I felt. My mom wasn’t there to catch me, but maybe my aunt will. Or my dad. Or my grandma. Or maybe it will have to take 20 people to catch me. I had an overwhelming sense of comfort that I wouldn’t be alone and somehow, someone would always be there.
I can honestly say the only reason I’m here today, a little more than two years later, is because of my friends and family. Many of those friends I met at Valerie’s House, a grief support center for kids like me to go and be around others in the same situation. My Dad and my little brother, Nick, and I have been going to Valerie’s House since about two months after my mom died. We do lots of things there, hang out, talk about our special person if we want to, and how we are determined to be strong and make them proud of us. We go as a family so my dad gets help too, because he had been with my mom since they were about my age, and he never thought he would lose her either.
Valerie’s House gives kids a space to talk about their loved one who died. It’s always been pretty easy for me to talk about my mom for two reasons. One, I have no problem momentarily feeling sad if I’m helping someone feel less alone, and I know there are other teens in my grief group and elsewhere who benefit from me opening up. And two, I do not feel like I’m talking about someone who is truly “gone” because I know she isn’t. I know my mom is always here. I believe that someone who has passed will always be with you.
I’m not an extremely religious or spiritual person, but I know for a fact she's always with me. Whether I hear her in the back of my mind nagging me to do the dishes or I feel her near me when our favorite song comes on, she truly is with me. All the time.
My mom dying absolutely crushed me. But it taught me a few things. I was so dependent on my mom, and her being taken from me taught me to be my own person. I was nothing without her, so I had to grow up quickly and be something. Her passing also taught me to live in the now. Growing up, I was scared of everything. I cried in the line for Space Mountain when I was 10 because I was scared of the dark. I would throw tantrums if asked to try a sweet potato. But her dying showed me to not sweat the small stuff. If a ride looks fun, get on. If something looks good, than eat it. Try everything once because you never know, it might be your new favorite thing.
My name is Jessica. I am 15. I go to Oasis High. My mom died. But that doesn’t mean I’m sad. That does not mean I’m lost. That doesn’t define my emotions or who I am. I’m Jessica. I have a loving family. I love to cook. I’m happy.
No one will ever be able to fill the hole my mom left in my life. But with friends that understand me and caring adults who support me, they can stop that void from growing and consuming me. I want every parent to know out there reading this, that if they are raising a child who is grieving, that taking them to a place like Valerie’s House and finding others who can relate can really help.
There is hope. I promise.