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Sep 12 2015
by Tally DeLong

Moving Forward After My Mother's Death

By Tally DeLong - Sep 12 2015

I never thought I’d see the day where I’d published a personal piece on the web, potentially for the viewing of a large audience. As an introvert who suffers from crippling anxiety, self-disclosure doesn’t come naturally to me. But after some close thought recently, I figured there are those of you out there, perhaps fellow incoming college freshman, who, for one reason or another, would benefit from hearing some of my story.

My mother began forgetting things in about November of 2013. It began with the minutia. Trivial details in conversation. For instance, she’d refer to me by my brother’s name, or mix up the name of a street or restaurant. The things that didn’t particularly matter. So, initially, I made nothing of her errors. It was anything if not characteristic of her to be silly and forgetful. But, as time went on, these blunders began to increase both in frequency and in severity, and my mother grew progressively and noticeably foggy. As a nearly-always anxious individual, I began to fear for her health, but found I lacked the courage to formally address my concerns. Choosing not to think about something like this, I thought, would prevent it from becoming real or legitimized. Unfortunately, however, there came a point several months later, where my mother’s condition, and real, obvious malady, could no longer be ignored.

I clearly recollect the stormy Thursday evening when my life, and those of my entire family, were dramatically changed. After finding my mother hunched over a chair in our kitchen, and making a subsequent trip to the ER, doctors conducted a CT scan, which revealed a massive growth in her brain, about the size of a soft ball. It had been located in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s epicenter for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. The pressure it had created against her skull in the two years it had been growing prior to discovery had explained her bizarre behavior over the last few months. I was dumbfounded upon hearing the news. My mother had been the healthiest person I had ever known, and was, in my opinion, probably the least likely candidate for a brain tumor. But, as I held her hand in the pre-op room, I knew that my mother having a life threatening medical condition was a reality I needed to reconcile with.

We would learn later, after a plethora of tests and extensive lab work, that the culprit we were dealing with, was glioblastoma, a rare but aggressive form of brain cancer. Those affected by it have among the most grim of cancer prognoses, with less than 5% surviving longer than two years. My mother’s tumor specifically was at stage four, the latest and least curable stage of a malignant growth. We knew almost immediately that, despite our best wishes, it would be more or less a death sentence. I began grappling internally with the fact that I was likely going to lose my mother within two years time. Not only that, I was going to lose my best friend, my biggest supporter and my bravest advocate. How was I to just sit back and watch the woman who raised me decay and eventually die? At that time, the idea of it happening seemed utterly inconceivable and I felt helpless, to say the least.

I grew despondent. I began seeing a psychiatrist and relying on prescribed anti-depressants just to make it through the day. I cut off next to all communications with my friends and stopped put forth any effort into my extracurriculars and schoolwork. Of course, consequently, my grades plummeted, and I transformed from a straight-A student into one struggling to keep their place at an elite prep school. My teachers didn’t get it, and neither did my friends. I was miserable, and the feeling was only exacerbated by others’s sympathy, as family upon family and friend after friend brought us home cooked meals, gifts and flowers. I remained cynical; they had no idea what it was like…to watch your own mother who was once so vibrantly present in your life, fade away into a shell of her former self.

As expected, my mother lost her battle with cancer some eighteen months after her diagnosis, and living in the aftermath of a parent’s death felt impossible, to say the very least. I fell further into my depressive state for a while, feeling sorry for myself as well as deeply and painfully alone. But, with time, I grew stronger. I began to enjoy life again for the first time in over a year, finding solace in new academic interests (computer science, women’s studies, gender politics, and gothic literature, to name a few), exceptional teachers and, of course, my friends. I began going out again, getting food or bubble tea (an obsession of mine) with others or cautiously venturing out to the occasional party. I took pride in studying for my numerous AP exams, excited at the prospect of scoring high and earning college credit. I even completed a lengthy, essay filled application to be one of the select leaders for my school’s senior retreat, with writing an emotional fifteen minute long speech being among the entailed duties for the position, which I would eventually secure. Life was pleasant and I finally felt, well… normal.

I guess I had forgotten about the college admissions process, having filled out my applications in what felt like a sort of comatose state, but this didn't stop the admissions status emails from flooding in, upon the arrival of the spring. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in to my top two schools, and the rejection was only made worse by the large volumes of my fellow classmates gaining acceptance to the likes of Stanford and the Ivy League. But, I wasn’t without luck myself. By some miracle I got in to the University of Southern California, a distinguished institution in an ideal location, and a perfect fit for me.

A part of me remains resentful at myself, for letting my grades slip all of those months ago, and allowing myself to fall short in so many area of my life. I wonder how my future would have played out, had my mother not fallen ill, and had I not been so sensitive to the deep tragedy of her death. What would I have done instead, on the days I was too depressed to leave my home? What would life have been like, not having to rely on medication to maintain my emotional health? How would my grades have improved without these heavy burdens? Who knows, maybe I too would be attending a top ten school this fall. Maybe things would have been different…been better.

Though those thoughts are stirring, and even troubling to me as I write this article, I know now, in this moment, that I can never look back. I am excited to begin this new chapter of my life, to go to an amazing college and to forgive myself for these shortcomings. I’m made stronger by the hardships of my past, and this fortitude will serve me well in the long run, as the impending stresses of adult life begin to present themselves. I know now what it means to suffer, but also what it means to triumph through the sheer power of will and perseverance. Furthermore, and most importantly, I can use my acquired knowledge and experience to help others, who perhaps are facing their own personal traumas, having known what it was like to feel so alone. There is so much to be said about reaching out to those who are depressed or burdened, and need someone to talk to.

All of this said, in conclusion, I truly see this coming semester as a blank slate, on which I can create a colorful, new identity, and a bright, beautiful future, and hope, truly, that you can as well, no matter what aspects of your past or present may cause you pain. Time heals, and so does change.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Tally DeLong - University of Southern California

Tally DeLong is a freshman at the University of Southern California (FIGHT ON!) double majoring in economics and computer science. She has a deep love for all things literary, feline and chocolate-coated and hopes to one day own her very own pet pygmy marmoset (Google it).

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