On Grief

Winda A. Pratiwi
6 min readFeb 14, 2021




deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.

When I turned 16, I was diagnosed with a breast tumor and spent a month and a half researching the condition before mustering up the courage to inform my parents about it. The tumor could be either harmful or benign and we would only know for sure after a biopsy was taken. I underwent surgery to remove the tumor, which was thankfully a benign one. The incision was not painful as I was sedated during the entire procedure, but my previous bout of typhoid fever was more painful.

The story I shared earlier was a simplified version of what I went through. The whole process of facing the possibility of a worst-case scenario was emotionally draining. I had to visit my oncologist’s office once a week and miss school, surrounded by many elderly people who were also dealing with cancer or malignant tumors. At times, the older individuals would try to be friendly and ask me questions like,

“You’re too young to end up here. What’s your diagnosis?”

“Tumor. Benign one, I hope.” my 16-year-old self smiled at them, not because I want to, but because I feel bad to ask about their diagnosis, too. Sitting in a doctor’s office where people die so often was one of the first signs in my earlier teenage life when I realized that my life would be a tough one, as it always did, and still does.

After a few days of the surgery, I was allowed to come home. I was never terrified as much as that moment when I read the lab report on my tumor sample — it was benign. I’m not gonna die, I thought to myself. Never did I know that my journey with the oncologist’s office didn’t end here. It was far from over.

…and no, the next story isn’t about me.

My mother was one of the most humorous individuals I have ever known. She grew up in a small village and was a fan of disco music. After having my brother and me, she devoted the rest of her time to raising us. Like many parents in their 40s, she believed that she was immune to illnesses and was scared of visiting doctors, so she never underwent any check-ups. However, eventually she had to.

My mother called me while she was in her hometown to inform me that she was finally going to have her first check-up in years, along with some of her siblings and her mother. She was shocked to learn that her lungs showed signs of fluid buildup. However, upon further examination, the fluid was actually a symptom of a larger underlying issue and not a problem in itself.

My mother was diagnosed with stage 4a ovarian cancer, which occurs when the cancer has spread to the tissues lining the lungs. This is often detected when the cancer cells cause fluid to accumulate between the tissue sheets. I was in a meeting after a college class when I received the phone call about my mother’s diagnosis. I left the room, went to the bathroom, and cried for several minutes. I then grabbed my belongings and went home because I felt the need to be with my mother. No one in my family had experienced the weekly visits to the oncologist’s office, where we had to wait with other patients who either had benign tumors or had already undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy. No one knew the feelings of anxiety, frustration, and depression that came along with the process.

From that moment on, I realized that I needed to be strong for my mother. I had to persuade her to undergo surgery for ovarian cancer, which involves multiple procedures. I also had to make sure she took her medications consistently, all while balancing work and college.

After her surgery, the doctor started to give the family of the patient numbers. Survival statistics. Six months with chemo, God knows what will happen with none. About 15% of > 1-year survival rate, too.

If you were my mom, what would you do if you know you will only live for six months?

My mother became silent for a few days and food lost its flavor for her. She no longer found music appealing. She attempted to try alternative medicines and various supplements, and even underwent chemotherapy, but ultimately accepted that her time was limited and chose to face it with grace.

During the nights when I was with her, she would still tease me about my eyelash extensions, and despite this, I was always annoyed. At times, she would request that I massage her back with her favorite Bath and Body Works lotion, and we would talk about various things.

“Will you miss me?”

“I am sorry that I won’t be able to see you graduate and have kids. That’s all I ever wanted in life. Will you forgive me for not being there?”

“Why is my favorite food doesn’t taste good anymore?”

“Does cancer really have no cure? Is it hopeless? Am I that hopeless?”

As a young 18-year-old, trying to manage all of my obligations was an overwhelming challenge. It was a difficult time for all members of my family. My mother’s plans to wear matching kebayas with me when I graduated from college were shattered before they could come to fruition, leaving us with a heavy heart.

On September 6, 2018, she passed away. Despite living longer than expected, her death was the result of cancer cachexia, a form of malnutrition caused by her surgery and short chemotherapy treatment. She once weighed between 65 to 70 kilograms, but at the time of her death, she had declined to under 40 kilograms. It was a difficult journey for her and for the entire family, but in the end, she left peacefully. The nurse was asked to turn on the lights so she could pray Fajr, and she said goodbye to her husband and son before laying down to sleep, never to wake again.

Memories of my mother linger on, tinged with bittersweet fondness. When I savor a bowl of Bakmi GM, I am reminded of her love for dumplings, so many that she’d always order an abundance of them. Every visit to Pondok Indah Mall, where my parents used to go on dates, brings back memories of her laughter and stories, now familiar to all who knew her. In the bustling streets of Blok M, I sense her presence, ghostly and eternal, in every corner and meatball stall that she adored. Every cinema, every doting mother, every shopping mall, I see glimpses of her spirit, steadfast and full of life. And as I speak of her, I cherish the moments of humor we shared, a lighthearted tradition in our memories of her.

The process of letting go will always be a part of me, and it is a constant reminder that my mother is no longer here to physically witness all the milestones in my life. Despite this, I still find solace in speaking with her in my thoughts at night, sharing my struggles and difficulties with adulthood. It’s a bittersweet feeling, as I am filled with sadness and longing for her presence, but also comforted by the memories we shared.

We miss you. Every day.