I like myself more since my mom died.

It wasn’t my plan to, but I have learned that plans can have very little impact on the course a life sometimes takes.

My plan was to help my mom fully recover from the cancer she was surviving. I would watch her grow old, and I would benefit from the wisdom she gained along the way. She would watch me raise my daughters. I would watch her change from the woman who put my brother and me first in her life, to a woman who got to pursue the dreams she had put on hold to pursue the dream of motherhood.

Those were my plans.

Instead, my mom became very unexpectedly ill with a flu that wrecked her body in nearly every way imaginable. She fought tirelessly to recover in an ICU — for almost four months — until one day her body had done all it could do. I stood at the foot of her hospital bed as her heart beat for the last time. Those final minutes of her life felt like they lasted for hours. The plans I had made crashed down around me as I came to terms with the fact that my time with my mom was ending. All the fighting she had done to get better, the sleepless nights in the hospital for my family and me, the arguing with doctors, the hope for her recovery — all of it was ending in those moments. I stood there helplessly as the woman I adored most slipped away from me. She had just turned 54.

In the three years since that day, I have trudged my way through grieving in the way most people warned me I would. The grief comes in waves. There are good days and bad days. The pain gets easier to deal with. The pain never truly goes away.

What I didn’t expect was to like myself more now than I did when my mom was alive. That is in no way a reflection of her as a mother. She was wonderful at it. But my mom was my lens on the world. I adored her, and I valued her opinion and her insight far above anyone else’s, sometimes even my own. That can lend itself to feelings of utter helplessness when the person who was your compass dies. And in my case it absolutely did.

To say I was disoriented after my mother’s death would be a huge understatement. We spent time together nearly every day. We talked and texted all the time. She was my comfort and my safe place through anything that ever shook me. No one knew me better, and now she was gone.

I had to make the decision to be alright. Yes for my children, and for my husband. But mostly for myself. I chose to deal with my grief honestly and openly, no matter what that unearthed — and it has certainly unearthed things I never expected. I chose to learn from what I had seen my mom endure, and the anguish it had caused me in the process. I would talk openly about the ugliness. I would trust my instincts — entirely — for the first time in my life. No more lens other than the one I was looking through with my own eyes.

And it turns out that I really like the lens I look through. I value the empathy I have gained through the pain I have felt. My trust in my own decisions is unshakable. I am more fearless than before. It is easier to forgive, and harder to become angry. I try things that used to scare me. I am better than I was.

But I know that growth came from living one of my worst fears. I know that if my mom was still here, I may not have grown to be the person I am now. And I hate that.

But I am grateful for the lessons I have learned. The growth has made me feel like I have managed to do something worthwhile with this pain. It makes me want to keep growing. I have come to no longer need my mother’s insight. I want it more than anything,and I miss it terribly, but I don’t need it. I feel like she would be very proud of that fact.

Hannah Angstadt-Gunning

Hannah is a former full-time working turned stay-at-home/homeschooling mom. She is a contributing writer and co-editor for Columbia SC Mom’s Blog. You can also find her at her blog, Palindromic Musings, where she writes about living with and navigating through grief, and on Twitter.  She is passionate about writing, painting, social justice, wine, and raising strong women. Hannah lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and two young daughters, and is an alumni of the University of South Carolina and devoted Gamecock fan.