Letters to Mom 012: The Pain of Success


Hey, mom.

I passed my test. I’m smiling as I type that even as tears burn my eyes.

I feel like I should have written to you first, now that I’m actually sitting here and doing it. I feel like you still should have been the first person I told.

I messaged a bunch of people on my phone instead as I sat in class, waiting for the rest of my classmates to finish.

None of the questions I missed were lethal, so in theory, none of my patients died. Hooray for not killing anyone, right? I know you would laugh and agree with me if we were talking. I guess I have to make due with the feeling of you smiling at me.

I need to let you know that it hurts.

Doing well on my test hurts, and at first I didn’t understand why.

It didn’t hurt while I was in class. It didn’t hurt while I was at my sports bar trying to study more. It was something that slowly built throughout the day. It was something I became aware of as I told people about doing well. I told them and they said congratulations, and that they were happy for me, and more and more it felt empty.

I felt empty.

I felt incomplete.

This thing, this accomplishment, felt unfinished.

It felt like I was extending my hand to touch something, reaching for something, and my fingertips would touch nothingness. Emptiness. There was a lack of something, a missing, when in the past there had been warmth and “something”.

A connection.

A completion.

I did well, and I told you, so it was 100% done. It was real. It was over.

Finishing the test and having it graded wasn’t really the end. Walking across the stage at graduation wasn’t the final act. Every accomplishment I ever achieved ended with telling you. It ended with a phone call, or a text message, or a hug, or a celebration trip to Moe’s.

I didn’t have that feeling of “done-ness” before I sat down to write to you. There wasn’t that sense of closure that I’m used to, and so passing my test felt undone.

I had “succeed” but it didn’t feel real.

I hadn’t told you so it wasn’t real.

I can’t call anymore. After almost a year I think I’m finally starting to find peace with that. I’m starting to understand that just because I can’t call doesn’t mean I can’t talk to you. It doesn’t mean I can’t tell you.

I can write, and even though it’s different, I think it will, and is, helping me.

I know you are proud of me. I know that you’re happy for me.

Thank you for making me who I am. You’re part of the reason I did so well. You’re part of the reason I went online and looked up information and studied as much as I did. You’re part of the reason I got a 92 when everyone else got the 80s and 40s.

You’re part of the reason I’m successful and without telling you thank you, without telling you “Look at what you helped me achieve” it feels incomplete because it wasn’t just me.

It’s never been “just me”.

It will never be “just me”.

Thank you.

At first, I was worried about the pain I felt. The pain of my success.

I sat alone at the park again and felt this feeling of incompletion and wondered if this was what every success would feel like from now on.

Is this what my first job is going to feel like? Is this what my first board test is going to feel like? Is this what the rest of every achievement is going to feel like?

What’s the point if it is? What’s the point in achieving if all I feel from it is pain in the end? Why be that much of a masochist to myself?

But sitting here, writing to you and telling you that I did it, that I did well, that all of the worry was worth it because it made me push myself and resulted in what I wanted, it makes it feel complete. It makes it feel real and worth it.

I did it, Mom. I did well on a test I was really worried about and because I did I’m so much more calm about my board test on Friday.

I guess it helps that while I was sitting outside, once again smoking, that I got a call from the hospital. It was about the patient transporter position that I applied for.

I had a really open, honest, and real conversation with the recruitment manager. We talked about what I want and what I’m hoping for. She was very honest about the other positions I’ve applied for and gave me numbers to work with.

She’s going to move my application forward so I can be set up for an interview.

I may have a part-time job soon, mom.

All of the applications I have sent in so far have been moved to “initial review” actually. I’m being considered. My contact at the hospital allowed me to use him as one of my manager references as well, so that’s even better. All of the jobs I’ve had count as customer service, so that’s an added boost that I can edit my resume with in the future. And part of the conversation was the lady admitting that once I’m in the hospital, especially as a transporter where I’ll get exposure to literally every area of the hospital, that it’s easy to move to other positions if I wanted to.

It’s like you’re looking over me and giving me those boosts I need when I start questioning why.

Why do it?

Because it’s worth it. Because I did it and I’m moving forward in the direction I want and that phone call is proof that I’m actually moving forward.

I really do wonder if you didn’t have something to do with me getting that phone call when I did. It came today, now, while I was feeling lost. It didn’t come yesterday when I was mostly ok. It didn’t come tomorrow. It came today. Now. When I needed it.

I don’t know if it really was you or just happenstance, and I honestly don’t care how the universe works or doesn’t work. I want to think that it was you and that this is your way of celebrating with me.

We can’t go out to Moe’s together, but we can move forward together because you’re one of the reasons I’m able to move forward.

Success is painful right now. It might always be painful. A bittersweet feeling. I think it’s going to be something else I have to adjust to.

I don’t feel I have achieved much as far as career milestones since you died.

I’ve made it through a lot of really hard times. I’ve tackled a lot of really hard things. I’ve “done” stuff, and have “achieved” but this success, this achievement, is different. This is something new to adjust to.

This is a new sensation that I have to experience, process, analyze, and ultimately accept.

I think a big part of accepting success is finding a new ritual to signify the completion of my goals.

My ritual used to be calling you. Telling you. Sharing with you.

I can’t do that the way I used to anymore.

I can, however, write to you. I can still tell you. I can still share with you the feelings of relief, confidence, gratitude, and pride.

I can still communicate all of it, just through a different medium. I can still reach out and touch that warm intangible thing that was always there in the past because it’s still there.

I can still reach out and touch you. I can still feel you. I can allow myself to know and accept that you’re still with me and that you really will love me for forever and for always and that not even death will keep us apart.

Death CAN’T keep us apart.

I won’t let it, and maybe writing that for the Internet to read makes me sound mentally unstable but fuck it, I’m going to write it because this is my letter to you, not to the Internet.

I love you, mom. Thank you, so much, for being here for me still. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for being my mom.

You taught me that the pain of failure isn’t bad. It’s a learning experience. It helps make me better.

I guess I never thought there would ever be a point where there would be pain in success, but now there is, and this pain, too, is a learning experience.

All of these experiences I’ve had, the ones while you were in the hospital and the ones I’ve had since you died, they aren’t experiences I ever expected or wanted to go through. If the choice were “learn these things or have your mom” I would always choose to have you.

But it wasn’t a choice. At least, it wasn’t MY choice.

This is my life, and in my life I have to learn these lessons.

I understand now that success can and will be painful. But that’s ok. Pain isn’t inherently bad.

Today is still a good day even though my grief is doing its thing. I don’t know what to call it. “Flaring up” sounds overly dramatic and reminiscent of high school. It makes me feel like I’m over reacting.

My grief is at the forefront of my mind at the moment, though. It’s filling my chest and it’s hard to see people walking down the sidewalk, driving in their cars, talking on their phones, while this overwhelming hurt is inside me.

How can the rest of the world keep going while I feel all of this in this single moment? How is the rest of the world not sharing in my pain? How can they not know what this feels like and function and breathe as if everything is normal when it’s not?

Compassion means to co-suffer.

How is the world not co-suffering with me when this is the only thing my mind can focus on, the only thing my whole being can feel?

I still don’t understand it. Not fully. Grief and grieving. There was a wave of it in my chest earlier, but now, sitting here, tears drying on my cheeks, I feel calmer and as if the biggest part of the wave has passed. It’s not gripping me anymore. It’s not threatening to consume me anymore.

It’s there, my grief. I can feel it. I know it’s still in me and that it always will be, but it’s calmer in this moment and a lot of that has to do with writing to you.

I’m about to go to the dojo to train. I had thought about skipping, something I promised myself I wouldn’t do, but right now it seems easier to go.

I want to go.

It’s not another overwhelming thing where I question “What’s the point?”

The point is because it’s worth.

The point is I train because you died.

I’m still not completely sure what the sentence means to me, but I know it’s the truth and I know it’s a new cornerstone to who I am.

I’m me because you lived. I’m me because you died.

I’m your daughter and that’s why I do the things I do. That’s why I feel the way I feel. That’s why I want the things I want.

Thank you, mom. Thank you for still being with me.

I love you. For forever and for always.


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