Two weeks before my adventure and I’m relentlessly on the verge of tears. I tell myself that I’m okay, that she’s been gone for a while now. But then, why is there still so much pain?
I lost my mother just over a year ago, and trying to pick up the pieces has been a lot harder than I expected. I was a fool for thinking there was some formulaic way to cope with loss. I mean, that year I had so many losses: the love of my life, my home and my job. I know I’m a strong woman and I’ve handled all of life’s petty obstacles in stride. I took care of my physically and mentally sick, and at times, abusive mother for most of my life, and my experiences have allowed me to develop my thick skin that I wear proudly. I’ve always had a tendency to take the bad in my life and make the most of it, grow from it. But this loss was different; I had lost a part of me that day.
My mother was ill for many years, but her passing on December 30th, 2012 was unwelcome and unannounced. I was at work on a Sunday afternoon when I received a phone call from a nurse at the hospital: “Your mother is in critical condition, you need to get to the hospital right away.” I went to her as quickly as I could, finding her hooked up to a machine, grasping at the final moments of her life. Within a few hours, I had her last rights read to her and we said our final goodbyes. She died in my arms.
The next day was New Year’s Eve, signaling the end of what was probably the worst year of my life. I was so numb that nothing seemed real. It was an uncanny feeling, like a nightmare during a light sleep. My reality had become a thick haze I couldn’t see through. When midnight rolled around, I was relieved that that 2012 was over, and it was the clock tolling a new year that I had an epiphany. My mother was so proud of her Finnish heritage, but she never got the chance to visit Finland. I reached for my brother as we welcomed the New Year, accepting the loss we shared. I enveloped him in a tight embrace and said into his shoulder, “we are going to Finland, and we’re taking her with us.”
It was with this emotional proclamation of wanderlust and loss that my brother’s obsession with the possibility of a Finnish experience grew. He was the catalyst for the trip: months of planning, saving, and fighting made it possible.
This trip has me underwater, I have anxiety and pressure to feel some sort of catharsis, some “life changing experience” that’ll allow me to move on. My mother was an exceptional hindrance on my life while she was alive, but I can’t help but feel like she’s still affecting me a year and a half since she’s been gone.
Many of my friends are moving on and becoming adults and having these pivotal life changing events, like graduating or getting engaged or having babies. And I’m here, stuck in stand-still, just trying to cope with my losses. So, what’s my solution? What do I need to do to move on? When will I move on? Will I ever move on?
While I have so many unanswered questions, I guess only time will tell. I hope this trip will help give me some perspective.
To everyone that thinks traveling is all fun and games, glamour and glitz, sorry to burst your bubble. It’s not; at least not always. It’s hours of walking, getting lost, and rushing about to see as many things as you can in a single day. There’s no time for relaxation – it’s straight to business. If you’re only there for a couple days, you’ve got to make the most of it!
We first flew into Helsinki with a connecting flight to Rovaniemi, which is in the Arctic Circle. Going there in June was not the best time to visit. Tourists normally flock to the destination, as it’s supposedly the town famous for being the home of Santa Claus, but it was the off-peak season for tourists in June (probably something to do with the unrelenting gloominess and cold weather). Rovaniemi is also so north that it’s bathed in 24 hour daylight, which is not something I was a fan of, but the town was lovely, and maybe I’d visit it again someday.
Rovaniemi was where we decided to scatter my mother’s ashes. There was a national park and conservation area that we chose to hike. We trekked for an hour or two through whiplashing weather and hordes of mosquitoes until at last we stumbled upon the perfect spot. It was a grassy marshland, with a view of majestic mountains and serene water. Birds chirped, and the sun peeked its way out of the clouds. I picked a small bouquet of northern wild flowers for her and carved “R.I.P.” into a dead tree. It was such a peaceful place, and I knew my mother would have loved it.
I had placed so much weight on the act of scattering my mother’s ashes, hoping that it would fill the void she left, that she would set me free. But I still felt sad. I had put too much pressure on myself to feel better after doing it, and I didn’t. I felt alone and I realized that I needed to figure out another way to cope.
From Rovaniemi, we flew back to Helsinki for a few days. As the days rolled along, I couldn’t help but feel ostracized from my Finnish heritage. The people were shy and came off as unfriendly, the cuisine is not something they are famous for (mostly fish and pastries), and the weather was terrible! That said, Finland was an adventure, and I believe that exploring your heritage is an experience everyone should attempt. I never realized how proud I was of my Canadian culture until I went to Finland. The culture shock was overwhelming, and I think processing it took some time. I’m still processing it.
Flying to London from Helsinki was a relief. “I’ve done the deed,”I would repeat to myself, “now onto the fun part.”But feelings of sadness would still come over me from time to time. I was so emotionally exhausted by the whole experience that I don’t think I was able to process anything until I finally made it back to Canada. It’s important to remember to take some time to reflect on your experiences in hindsight in order to fully comprehend emotions and thoughts. My initial feelings about Finland changed right as I left there. The disconnect I felt culturally left me perforated. Growing up my mother would speak so highly of Finland, and how proud she was to be Finnish. We would make traditional delicacies during the holidays, learn random quotes and popular proverbs. I started to see the cultural ties that she shared with that place, despite being of Canadian citizenship. Although I felt geographical disconnect, I felt more connected to her and somewhat formed a deeper understanding of her as a person, something I am truly grateful for.
Coming onto the two-year anniversary of my mother’s death, I’ve reflected on my trip and how it’s changed me. As many emotional blockades and petty travel issues as there were, I’m so grateful I went. I learned so much about the relationships I have and hold in my life, and how I can only make them better by demanding that they be better. I eventually got outside of my head; my depression, my anxiety and the many walls I built up around me are not as strong as they once were. I’m slowly remembering how to live and love again. I’ve burst the protective bubble I had swathed myself in, and I’ve decided that I am going to put myself out there. I’m taking risks and falling in love with life again. I’m taking control of my life, deciding my dreams are not insignificant and I can honestly say amidst the many ups and downs, my new-found experiences have truly helped shape this year into being one of the best ever.
A quote that really touched me throughout this process is the one I share below. I think it’s very fitting for any type of loss, and inspires me every day. Life does go on, and things do get better.
“The reality is you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor should you want to.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross