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Learning to live and cope with loss

by Fiona Maynard March 22, 2016
Learning to live and cope with loss

Losing a parent can make us mature faster, like our favourite disney characters

Disney characters rarely have mothers and they’re forced to grow up much faster without them. I lost my mother when I was 13 and now I feel 10 years older than I should be.

Fiona Maynard at a young age, with her mother. Photo courtesy of Fiona Maynard.

Fiona Maynard at a young age, with her mother. Photo courtesy of Fiona Maynard.

Like most kids, I grew up watching all of the magical Disney movies like  The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Cinderella, and Bambi. I never realized the trend when I was younger, but the absence of mother figures in these children’s movies jumps out at me now. Why would Walt Disney, the admired innovator of children’s films, create such tragedies and refrain from adding such important roles in the lives of his main characters?

In a revealing interview with Glamour in 2014, long-time Disney producer Don Hahn explained Disney’s reasoning behind his need to eliminate or exclude mothers altogether. Hahn said “it’s much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents,” which is the more obvious justification for a movie that’s usually 90 minutes long. However he goes on to recall how Walt Disney tragically lost his mother. At 28-years-old, Disney bought a home for his mother and the furnace in the house leaked which ended up causing her death at the age of 70. “He never would talk about it,” Hahn said in the interview. Although Disney felt personally responsible for his mother’s death, he kept his head held high and continued producing movies, touching hearts, and making history.

I sympathize with Disney. When something devastating happens to you, you have two choices: pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue with life the same way you would have before, or fall into an endless downward spiral towards darkness and let your heartbreak get the best of you. Sometimes people aren’t strong enough to pick themselves back up, but luckily something in me was.

My mother Kerri had breast cancer for about three months. I firmly believed she would conquer it because it was her second battle with the same cancer. But one day my mom and her boyfriend Carl picked me up from school. I hopped into the backseat of the car and started ranting about pointless things that happened during my day. I noticed the snug Harley Davidson bandana on my mom’s head, an accessory I still have, when she turned around and said “I shaved my head” with a comforting smile on her face. At that moment, the cancer became real.

Over time, cancer sucked the life out of my mother’s body but her smile never left her face.

If there’s one thing that I’ve inherited from my mom it’s her optimism and fierce determination to succeed. People who know my story always look at me with such disbelief at how I’ve managed to steer myself in the right direction while staying so positive over the years.

Times were tough. After my mom died, I immediately took on her role and cared for my sister Lily and my brother Tristan, who at the time were one and two years old. It was like a Cinderella story. I was left with two new siblings and I was living with my stepfather, who I had trouble getting along with.

Computer time and MSN messaging with my friends turned into long nights preparing baths, changing diapers and reading Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. I wouldn’t change it for the world but I grew up too fast.

While my stepfather worked the night shift at FedEx, I was alone with my thoughts and became accustomed to my new life as, well, a teenage parent. I didn’t have time for a social life—I was just constantly busy and overwhelmed with the endless grind. I slipped on my mother’s shoes and just started running.

Nothing makes you feel more like your parent than when you realize you’re doing exactly what they used to do. Tristan was one year older than Lily, and during his terrible twos, he took advantage of his power and made her cry a lot. One night I couldn’t handle the tormenting so I grabbed him by the arm and started yelling at him to stop. He raised his hands up towards his ears and my heart dropped. It brought me back to the same scene 10 years prior, when I covered my ears because my mom’s yelling was too loud to handle. In an instant I went from being totally frustrated and fed up to chillingly nostalgic.

It’s moments like this that made me more in-tune with how I should carry myself in the world. I learned by failing and from those around me.

Graphi by Florence Yee.

Graphi by Florence Yee.

When Bambi’s mother is suddenly shot by a hunter, Bambi doesn’t realize it and he continues running into the woods until he turns around and realizes he’s on his own. He meets new friends who guide him and teach him valuable life lessons. That was me—a lost soul looking for guidance from everyone around me.

I was lucky that I had close friends and a drive to keep moving. Like Walt Disney, I stuck my nose back into whatever I was doing before the heartbreak and in my case it was books. I spent the next four years of high school studying tirelessly, then I went to college and now I’m in university. The dedication I put into school was initially a distraction from my pain, but as I kept pursuing it, I encountered challenges that kept me on my toes and made me a stronger person.

Throughout the years, I have been relentless in the pursuit of a greater existence because I have always feared that the most tragic point in my life would consume me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Disney and the tendency to eliminate mother roles from his movies, it’s that losing someone can cause a pain so excruciating and unexplainable that the only remedy is to avoid the subject altogether. The most important thing to remember though is to keep moving forward. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll find yourself along the way.

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