Women, more specifically, mothers, have been the backbone of the world since it came into creation. While we don’t always get it right the first, second, or sometimes the hundredth time, we are resilient creatures who stop for nothing, and grow in spite of everything life throws at us.

As a young woman, I have experienced my fair share of lossfrom divorce, friendships, and death. However, the loss that has affected me the most in my development as a mother, and as a woman, were the losses of a couple of key women in my life, my own mom, and my mother-in-law.

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I have been searching for a motherly love for as long as I can remember. Being the only child of divorce at the young age of four, I have long struggled with feelings of abandonment. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t grow up destitute, or without parents. However, pain and struggle is all relative, and mine stemmed heavily from my mother expecting me to grow up when I was still in preschool. For the majority of my childhood, if you can call it that, I was treated much older than I was, often expected to take care of my siblings as well as constantly trying to please my narcissistic mother.

Things became more complicated in our relationship when I got pregnant at 16. It was very much like living in a movie with all of the drama and ridiculous plot twists that my mom threw my way.

A lawsuit, multiple physical and verbal altercations, and three weeks in an accelerated high school program later, I graduated and moved to Denver with my now-husband. Despite this, she continued to berate me from over 500 miles away, often threatening to call the police, as I was still a minor, and tell them I had been taken against my will, that I was defying her as my parent, etc. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that once I turned 18 and was a legal resident of Colorado, I cut off communication.

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Having gone through this abusive cycle of manipulation and guilt-trippingclassic narcissistic traitssince I was a young child has made me realize there are priorities and greater things in my life I need to be concerned with. One of the people who helped me realize not all mothers are that way was my mother-in-law. Mona was quite possibly the best thing to come out of all the years of hurt and betrayal I experienced with my own mom.

After watching my mother choose her husband over me multiple times, while also making me feel guilty for being closer with my dad, I had somewhat hardened my heart. Mona taught me we can’t judge people for the things they are going through and we need to stay in our own hula hoop, and find what makes us happy, not everyone else.

I am the child of an alcoholic, a co-dependent because of it, and I am constantly in gratitude to my mother-in-law for not only helping start me on the path to healing but also for never judging me on my journey.

She was the mother I needed, the grandmother my son needed, and often the lighthouse for me during any time of distress. So, I’m sure you can imagine that losing her was massively traumatic.

I lost Mona in May of 2015 when we were involved in a high-speed rollover accident on I-76 in Colorado. It was pouring that day and the car kept sliding, she suggested I pull over and that she would drive. Shortly after, my son woke up, and I went in the back with him so he wouldn’t cry. She told me to buckle my seatbelt and about 10 minutes later, we hydroplaned and flipped about six times going 80 mph. She ended up passing away from the injuries she sustained in the accident while I walked away with only a three centimeter cut on my pinky finger. I immediately blamed myself and assumed a lot of guilt over her deathall because I was scared to drive.

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I don’t know that I will ever truly recover from the trauma of that accident. I have come pretty far in my healing, but the hole she left in all of our lives is something you can’t fill back up. She taught me to never take life for granted, to not judge people for things we can’t understand, to hold love for everyone, especially those who are the hardest to love. With that knowledge I have tried to reconcile my relationship with my mother, only to be met with the same lines and guilt that I always have been.

The greatest gift I have taken from her loss was the ability to forgive those who have hurt me the most for my own sake.

Losing her the way we did was possibly the hardest thing I will ever experience in my life, and while it is really difficult, it also brought me clarity on a lot of things. Her death saved the relationship I have with my husband, it stopped me from taking small moments for granted with my now three sons, and it has allowed me to dive deeper into myself and find a deeper love and meaning for yoga and meditation.

So, yes, grief, especially the kind that comes with the loss of a mother figure be it through death or through the loss of a healthy relationship, can be all-consuming. But it can also be the driving factor to better yourself, to be stronger, healthier, more loving, and kinder to yourself, and your own kids.

Cassie Zahra

Cassandra Z. is a mid-20's travel bug, amateur author, wife, and stay-at-home-mother to her three wild boys. Her days are filled with chaos, cooking, cleaning, and lots of love.