Emily Articulated: 10 years

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

Ten years ago today, my mom died, with just a few quick months between her cancer diagnosis and hurried departure. As a 19-year-old, I remember how large my grief felt, filling up every inch of my world view, and coloring my perspective with the fragility of promised tomorrows.

As years passed and 19 turned to 20 and then 21, my grief evolved and shifted, but was ever-present, like a badge of emotions tailor-made for my circumstances. At the time, I was surrounded mostly by peers who couldn’t relate to my loss, so this particular familiarity with grief felt uniquely mine — mine to navigate, mine to care for and mine from which to derive identity. 

Emily Erickson.

But, as these anniversaries stretch further and further away from the day she passed, and with a decade whittling away the sharp edges of my grief into a rounder feeling of nostalgia, I’ve been able to recognize the innate humanness of my loss.

Every person, at some point in their lives, will experience profound loss and the world-bending sensation of a forever goodbye. 

So today, at a time when finding connection is more complicated than ever, and when feelings of division and fear about our collective futures linger inside every interaction, I know what my mom would want me to reflect upon. As a champion of empathy and believer in the power of positivity, my mom would encourage me to hold on to the little pieces of shared humanity, like the loss and grief I carried for her, and use those pieces to draw a through-line between myself and everyone around me.

A stir of wonder at a sky suddenly filled with the orange and pink and red of twilight, and the gentle recognition of trees fading into silhouettes, is something most people experience.  

And many of the same feelings are felt when people stare into a shoreline of crashing waves, accessing the deepest parts of themselves as they follow each crest’s journey from the depths to the sand and back again. It’s that same sort of sensation as trying to focus on a single flame in a pit of dancing fire, when the heated blurriness prompts all background noise to dissolve into individual thoughts and memories.

Similarly, don’t most people shiver with nervousness in the hours before starting something they care about, checking their watches in a silent will for time to both speed up and also to slow down? It’s like the warmth of a heartfelt conversation with an old friend, with the simultaneous stretching and bending of time being something we can all admit to feeling.

Who doesn’t feel a squirm of vulnerability before admitting their failures or describing the ways in which they came up short? And isn’t the relief of forgiveness — and the way it feels like shedding the weight of all that you could have done differently — something to which we all can relate? 

These shared feelings, like loss and love and wonder and joy, are the elements that connect us to one another. By holding up a mirror to other people’s experiences, we can often find the simplest versions of ourselves in that reflection. 

With 10 years having passed from that hospital room goodbye, and all the human moments that have transpired across a decade, my perspective is still colored, but not with the sharpness or pain of grief. Today, my worldview is tinted with an ever-present awareness of the preciousness of our days and the growing importance of finding ways to connect with the people around me.

So, as you head into the week ahead, with all of the political upheaval that’s sure to ensue, I hope you also find time to watch a sunset-painted sky and to lose yourself in waves crashing endlessly against the sandy shore. Be well.

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