Words by Derek Salo
Death is a strange thing. One minute the most important person in your life is there, standing next to you, joking around with you, and the next they are gone, forever. It was Saturday July 21 last summer that we were packing up my apartment into the moving truck. That next morning I woke up to a phone call telling me that my mom had gone into the hospital early that morning from severe stomach pain where they discovered that she had cancer. It was later that Sunday night that I unknowingly hugged my mom and said, "I love you" for the last time. She passed away that next morning at 7:15.
It's been just over a year since my mother passed away from colon cancer and I still vividly remember every detail of that weekend. I remember that horrible feeling in my stomach the moment I found out that she had cancer, the moment we arrived and ran into the hospital, the way she hugged and kissed me for the last time, and the emptiness I felt that Monday morning as I sat there in the waiting room in shock, looking around watching the pain literally pour out of everyone, and seeing my mothers body lay there lifeless as they took off her wedding ring. These are the memories that haunt me day after day. It's the small things that I miss the most about my mom. The fact that my kids will never have Grandma Salo. Hearing my niece talk about my mom. The excitement I had to call her (sometimes 8 or 9 times) every day and share what I was going to do today. The support she never ceased to give me no matter what trial I faced. The coming home every couple weeks and walking in the door. There she was always standing with arms wide open saying "There's my sweetie." The proud look in her eye every time any of her kids accomplished anything. Laughing about Dave Chappelle skits together. Or just the simple talks we would have. None of this can ever be replaced but I know for a fact that she is with me at all times. Walking with me through everything, in my heart.
I've been told this past year that the normal grieving period is one year. It's big because you've gone through every day once without that person. As the one year anniversary approached I began to build it up in my mind as this huge day. Well, that day finally came, and then it passed, and then the next day I woke up and felt exactly the same. You don't see it until you lose somebody close to you but its funny how even the closest people to you begin to forget about everything. As the days pass it gets talked about less and less but there still isn't an hour that goes by that I don't think about and miss my mom. I cannot count the amount of times in the past year that I would have done anything to have somewhere to turn, somewhere to get away, someone to relate to.
I remember it was about six months after my mom passed away that I met Bryan. I was so thankful because he was the first person outside of my family who didn't sugarcoat anything. The first thing he said to me was, "You know what, it sucks doesn't it?" You have no idea how refreshing it was to hear this. As we got to know each other he told me about this vision he had to work with people who have gone through similar things. I remember just thinking to myself how amazing it would be to have something like this. Somewhere I could turn. Somewhere I could just go and hang out. Someone I could go talk to who would be real with me. The hardest thing about the grieving process is finding hope in things and getting excited about things. This would give me something that I could look forward to that would give me hope. After he told me this I couldn't get it off my mind and it was that next week that I realized that this is what I wanted to do with my life, use my own experiences to help people through the grieving process. To let people know that there is hope and that there is people who are going to be there for them. To give people a place to get away.
Over the next couple months I began to meet people every week who had similar experiences. It was eye opening seeing people who were hurting and struggling with the same things that I was. It has become clear to me that this vision must be carried out and that all of this must happen. We as humans don't have a choice, we're all going to deal with death at some point. It's the moment that you experience it that your going to have to ask yourself, "Where am I going to turn?"
Derek and his Mother at Graduation.