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Coping with Grief During the Graduation Milestone

Cherie Godfrey
My mom, Cherie Godfrey, was an organ and tissue donor in 2014. Before she gained that title, she was an incredibly devoted mother. I remember her being fully present in every significant stage and milestone of my life—learning to read, middle school (in all of its horrid glory), cross country and track races, national honors society induction and high school graduation. When we weren’t physically together, we talked on the phone each day.
Every day is incredibly hard without my mom, who was once so prominent and supportive in my life. Milestones are a different kind of beast. I miss her on my birthday; I miss her on her own; I miss her on Mother’s Day. I miss her when big things happen in my life. And that’s just part of loss—coming to grips with an empty space that was once very much filled.
As I approach the most significant achievement of my life, graduating with a master’s degree, I anticipate an especially difficult day, filled with several different emotions. I’ve been through this before. It’s a happy day laced with sadness. What I’ve found that helps me on these hard days are:
  • Setting aside time for myself to think and reflect. I’m a huge processor. I like to think before I speak and I find fulfillment in spending time alone to fill up my energy supply. When I know a tough day is coming, like graduating without my mom, I know it’s best for me to spend time with myself. Time by myself could look like going to my favorite coffee shop alone, journaling, doing a short meditation or reading a book.
  • Surrounding myself with “my people”. The first people that come to mind are my incredible siblings. Not only do they fully-understand the loss I’ve experienced, but they also allow me to freely and openly talk about how I’m feeling. They supportively acknowledge how hard this day, and any day, could be.
  • Finally, knowing deep down how proud my mom would be if she had a seat at my ceremony.
I believe a big part of the grief journey is learning to know yourself deeply. Know what you need; know what fills you up; recognize what drains you and remember, with time, what will help you take care of yourself on days that are expectedly or unexpectedly difficult.
— Allison Musselman, donor daughter

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