I never imagined that learning to cope with the death of my mother would be so transformative. After she died of cancer, I had two options: die with her or create a new normal. I fought with everything in me to avoid the former and establishing the latter, and let’s just say it has been a journey. One of the hardest parts of rebuilding after a loss is realizing you have to fight for peace to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Sometimes when we experience loss our first line of defense is to build an emotional wall. It’s as if we decide to not allow people to get close for fear of experiencing pain again. We pay for this wall with lack of intimacy, and for this very expensive price we get the false sense of security that comes with emotionally distancing ourselves from people. We say to ourselves, ‘You stay over there and I’m going to stay back here. I can’t allow you to get close. If you get close and I lose you, I will hurt … again.’  I am no stranger to the allure of residing on the unhealthy side of that wall. It’s a place where emotional distance from people turns into physical distance, pain turns to self-pity, self-pity turns to solitude and days turn into weeks. It’s easy to find yourself there and difficult to escape.

I’m aware of how easily grief can turn into depression. Recognizing this doesn’t make me exempt. I still have days when I wake up and just sit in my bed because all I want to do is call my mother and tell her I’m scared. From how to make crab cakes to career advice, my mother was my go-to. When those terrifying yet exciting opportunities are presented, I want nothing more than to hear my mother remind me to “start before  you’re ready.”

You never know what your individual grieving process will entail. Nobody emails you a blueprint. Things that trigger me may not affect others or vice versa. Mother’s Day isn’t necessarily an emotional trigger for me. Hell, my mother is dead every day. Over these past two years, I’m repeatedly asked about coping with grief on Mother’s Day, and to be honest, the first one was a blur. She died right before the holiday, so it’s hard to recall. I spent the second Mother’s Day with my aunt. Even while grieving the loss of her sister, she is still my rock. She loves me like a daughter, and I allow myself to feel every ounce of it. We both still have the courage to love.

Our relationship isn’t the only factor that keeps me from living on the other side of that wall. It’s the practice of gratitude that saves me. When it’s hard to get out of bed, I remind myself of the depth of the relationship I had with my mother. I reflect on how blessed I was to have had her for so long. My mother would do anything to ensure my happiness. Not everyone can say that. I’m grateful for that. When I’m reflecting on our relationship, the pain is replaced with peace.

Practicing gratitude is a daily decision that I’ve learned to apply universally. I practice gratitude by reflecting on how blessed I am. I have an amazing child, a fiance who makes me laugh even when I don’t want to and friends who hold me while I do the ugly cry. Reflecting on this helps me to appreciate the love I have instead of being fearful of losing it.

When I’m reflecting on our relationship, the pain is replaced with peace.

―As told to Shanita Hubbard