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When Someone You Love Dies, Your World Goes With Them
Reflection on my mom's death and how it distorted my sense of time and space
There are an infinite number of things to pay attention to. It would be overwhelming to be so focused on all. So, our brain keeps track of a few things based on values, personality traits, and goals and ignores the rest.
The people you love are part of the elements always present in the map you use to navigate the world. This doesn't sound ground-breaking, but it isn't trivial at all.
This selectiveness is why losing someone you love is so difficult. It isn't just that the person is no longer there—when they die, the world you have lived in also disappears. I expect my mom to be in a specific space and time. I expect her to be beside my dad, receive my messages, and listen to my experiences. But she's no longer in that time or space, nor am I.
There is a difference between knowing someone passed away and feeling it. Some days, I feel normal because I interact in spaces where I now grasp my mom won't be in. For example, I no longer expect to see my mom in her room. But, on other days, I feel anguish after interacting with an event I had linked to my mom but can't immediately recall. A few days after my mom passed away, I was chatting with a friend and was telling them of a plan I'd do with my dad. But, instead of writing, dad, or "papá" in Spanish, I wrote "papás," parents, in Spanish. On a mental level, I understand my mom is no longer here. But my unconscious still doesn't. Its map is outdated.
I didn't understand my mom would die from the beginning. After learning about her diagnosis, I decided not to move to Lisbon. Still, I didn't move to Cartagena, where she was. I instead moved to Bogotá because it was a city more aligned with my interests but was an hour away from home. As the months passed and her diagnosis became terminal, I returned home. I didn't fully understand she would die, but part of me told me it'd be better to remain close.
It wasn't until February 2023 that I understood she would die. I flew to México for work. I left my mom in "good" conditions—she didn't feel continuous pain, could walk, and left the house. But that changed. She stayed a few days in the emergency room, where she would be every week from that point forward. Her sickness hadn't changed, but how she manifested it did, and that's when I realized she'd die. Cancer was no longer quietly taking it away from us but declaring it.
My days changed from that moment. I began experiencing stress, anxiety, and memory loss. I would sleep at 3 AM, wake up at 8 AM to listen to my mom agonizing out of pain and take a client call at 9 AM. I continued this routine for a while, but my bowels tried to make me stop. It inflamed to the point of causing me back and chest pain so intense that I didn't sleep for ten days and stayed in the emergency room once. Nurses put me on four drugs through an intravenous line and gave me a chair. It was next to my mom, who arrived the day before.
My mom spent her last days at our house on palliative treatment. She didn't feel pain during this time, so I didn't feel pain either. It's not that I didn't feel pain because I hoped she would get better after not seeing her agonize. Unlike during the first months, I grasped and felt she would die. It was more that I now cared more about seeing her rest than about keeping her in my time and space.
On the night of February 16th, I felt my mom would leave us while we were sleeping. I studied palliative care at college, researched human behavior, and examined the literature on trauma. So, I understood how crucial it was for the dying person and those around them not to feel regret. I told my sister to lock the door and tell her last words to my mom to save her from that regret. As the night passed, I wondered if I should do the same. I was afraid of regretting not telling her my last words. I left my room several times and asked myself if I should go for it each time. But I went to sleep instead.
My mom died the next day at around 7 AM.
I've been mostly at peace with that. Not because I'm hiding how I feel or believe only weak people show their emotions. To me, that sort of labeling is born out of ignorance with the crucial role of being in touch with one's emotions in living a fulfilling life.
I have been at peace because I don't regret anything. I loved my mom as much as possible while she was alive—when it mattered.
Although I wish it weren't the case, I'm ready to navigate a space and time I don't know anything about. One where my mom is no longer there in the way I'd want her to be. But one where she'll unconsciously guide me toward what's best for me.
Microcosm is the only newsletter researching literature, science, and spirituality to understand nuanced human behaviors that science alone can't explain.