Losing my mama in my twenties left me with such a feeling of melancholy that I never imagined was possible. I experienced the most painful of heartbreaks, faced a turbulent home life and was forced to confront a future without my greatest love. In spite of all of this, this tragedy taught me a valuable truth about life that is rarely acknowledged by humans, let alone young adults: the realisation of how precarious life is and how suddenly it can be taken away from us.
Whilst many of my peers have worked tirelessly in financially rewarding jobs that suffocated them or remained in relationships that left them feeling unfulfilled, I have gradually learnt to live with only one goal in life: to be happy. I have redefined success so that it is no longer made up of the dream house, the perfect family or the prestigious career. There is so much more to life and we should never be afraid to chase our own happiness, even if it directly challenges everything we have been taught to believe.
Twenties – the best years of your life?
In a recent survey conducted by YouGuv, 2000 men and women over the age of twenty through to seventy were asked when they think the best years of their life were. The results showed that the majority (30%) of these participants all indicated that their twenties were their ”best years so far”. If I had a penny for every time someone told me to make the most out of my twenties, let’s just say that I wouldn’t be scrounging around for coins behind the sofa. How realistic is this belief that one’s twenties, filled with opportunity, hedonism and an absence of responsibility, truly are the best years of one’s life?
Many of us will look back on our twenties fondly. We’ll remember finally escaping from parental clutches, spending our hard earned cash frivolously, staying out late with no-one to answer to and rolling into work with a two day hangover. Of course there were the usual gripes of breakups, work politics and steep London rents, but they were inevitably a small price to pay for freedom.
Against this social construct, there exists a sizeable number of individuals who will not remember their twenties as ”glory days”, but as a time of unimaginable suffering, instability and loneliness. For these individuals, they will always look back on these years as the period that they faced extreme financial hardship, a life changing illness (physical or mental) and/or the premature death of a loved one. At at an age when there is so much expectation to independently map out one’s live and make something of oneself, these individuals faced trauma so great that it threw their life completely out of balance, permanently altered the way that they saw the world and may even have put them on a completely different path.
I will always remember my twenties as a time when I lost the greatest presence in my life, my mother and the catastrophic impact that it had on my sense of security, self-worth and purpose. Whilst my friends were exuberant about the future: making plans to move into flats in London, applying for their dream jobs and generally building a future for themselves, my life was at a standstill and I felt little to no hope for or enthusiasm in what lay beyond.
Consumed by grief for everything I had lost and the sudden departure of the future I had always envisaged, I aimlessly drifted through life, with little enthusiasm in the plans I made or the paths I took. Whilst from the outside I was moving forward, inside I left wholeheartedly left behind.
This is what is feels like to be in your twenties, with the expectation that you have everything to live for and everything open to you, but not having the mental strength or the will to grasp it with both hands.
It is amazing how life can pass you by and before you know it, you are over half way through your twenties and you’ve forgotten what it means to be alive.
Learning to redefine success
Our society creates a very overwhelming and largely unattainable definition of success. As a young adult, we feel continuous pressure to complete all four pillars of success: a handsome partner, a rewarding career, the dream home and an enviable life. Instead of being grateful for what we do have, we spend our days lusting over the seemingly perfect lives of others.
Losing a loved one in your twenties forces you to reevaluate your goals and refine your definition of success. Everything you previously strived for takes an immediate back seat to your own wellbeing and happiness. Grieving involves the coming to terms with the realisation that life can come to an end in the blink of an eye and all the money in the world, the dream house and the handsome husband won’t shield you from the inevitable.
When I look back on the last eleven years since losing my mother, I am proud of what I have achieved and the decisions I have made, but not in the way you may think. On the surface I have a lovely home, husband and a satisfying life, but this isn’t how I define ‘success’.
To me, success is: having the courage to leave a financial rewarding legal career because it made me miserable, confronting and healing from the suppressed trauma I felt from seeing my mum die from cancer, learning to make decisions not based on prestige or other people’s definitions of success, but on whether they make me happy and most importantly learning to treasure all that I have and not dwell on all that I am missing.