Zee Wolters

Zee Wolters’ mother, Gillian, died in 2014 after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. Zee was 31 at the time and was the first person in her peer group to experience parental loss. Her grief caused her significant physical pain (e.g., migraines, joint pain), which led her to discover a passion for weightlifting.

Zee: My mom.

It was really hard because I'd been married for a few years. I had just got accepted into graduate school. So I was working full time, going to be a student full time, and now add caretaking full time to that. So, it was very challenging to balance everything and to deal with that at a young age.

Since we knew that this was stage 4, that she wasn't going to survive from this, everything that I did, I weighed it against, "Am I going to regret this later?" So if I don't go over to my mom's house tonight and have dinner with her, is this something I'll regret? You don't realize how much of a strain that is at the time.

After she died, on the one hand, there's a relief. That "Oh wait, I don't have to think like that anymore". But now how do I make my decisions?

I did have some, some good friends that, that did help out, that I'm very grateful for, but there wasn't anyone around my age grieving for the loss of a parent, so it was a fairly lonely feeling.

My mom was a really great cook. One of the benefits of a long, prolonged illness is that, you know, you can kinda be like, okay, this is something I wanna learn from my mom. I felt that there were a lot of conversations that we had around food. The other thing was that there is a Middle Eastern grocery store near her house. I rarely went to that store. She would always go, and she would always ask if I wanted anything, and she would pick it up for me. And so the first time I had to go and do that without her around, was really emotional. And I had kind of gone through the aisles, and I sort of picked up other stuff, and I was slowly feeling emotional. But it was kind of when I went to the, the butcher section, that I just lost it. And I just left the whole cart there, and, um, just had to leave the store.

I think in the sort of first couple years, um, of my grief, I didn't, I didn't see a whole lot of changes ... and I think that was one of the things that causes stress because people say, "oh okay, you know, like, you should be over it" you know after so much time, then it lessens. And it really felt like for the first 2 almost 3 years that okay nothing's changing, like it feels like I'm still angry, I'm still upset, I'm still crying in the shower. I'm crying when I go ... every time I go to the grocery store... And part of that is feeling like your personality has totally changed this is like okay it, it's not getting better. And, and that was kind of a lot of stress as well.

I think after about 3 years I felt like I okay, I need to change things up and do things differently and to at least try things, and some of the things didn't work. Some of the things did work. And now I'm at the place, where I'm like, okay, well, this works for me right now. And I'm guessing that that will continually change. And, and that was kind of hard. 'Cause I felt like, okay, I have to have a specific tradition that I do every single year on each of these days. Like, this is what I do on her birthday. This is what I do on the anniversary of her death. And then the next year would come and I'd be like, I don't feel like doing that. And then it was stressful 'cause I was like, but this is what I'm supposed to do. Like, this is what I said I was going to do last year, so I should be doing it again. So I think becoming comfortable with the fact that things change and that that’s OK.

Zee Wolters, dressed in a black tank top for lifting weights, stretches her shoulders.
Photo shot from behind of Zee Wolters doing a pull up.
Close up of Zee Wolters, concentrating on a lat pulldown machine.

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