Thirty one years ago today, after a long battle with a gene mutation that gave her multiple kinds of cancer, my Mom died. She was 52 years old. This photograph was taken on her 50th birthday. This year, I will turn 50. It has been a lifetime without her and I miss her every minute of every day.
I was 13 when my Mom first got sick and 18 when she died. It broke me. I shattered into pieces that burned to ash and caught on the wind. I was lost and had no idea how to grieve, how to come to terms with the loss of the person who was my world, my anchor. The fragile roots I had cultivated were torn from the earth, and with them, my heart and my sense of self, my strength and my will to feel alive. How could I be alive when she was dead?
I spent decades in a haze of booze and drugs and sex, doing anything I could to escape the feelings of loss, while at the same time, defining myself by that loss. I was the girl with the dead mother. The broken, fucked up, empty inside girl with the dead mother. I gave myself the excuse to stay drunk, to stay disconnected and buried. For years, nothing felt solid.
It sounds crazy, but over the past two years, I was finally able to write about my Mom, about the loss and the grief. I was finally able to grieve and start to heal in ways I have needed to for so long. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. I do. Every day. I always will. But, I can also feel grateful to have known her, if only for 18 years. She was a dynamic, strong and loving woman, and I am a better person for having her as my Mom.
For the first time in 31 years, I am sad, but don’t feel enveloped by sadness on this day. I feel like my Mom would be proud of me, not because I am some magnificent person, but because despite all the obstacles, I keep trying. I keep looking and seeing and exploring what it means to live with loss and joy and love and anger and fear and blindness and self-doubt and strength and laughter. I am ready to really feel the whole of my life, and for that she would be proud of me.
Knowing my Mom, being her daughter, is a gift that lives in my blood and in my heart. Everything she was, everything she gave me, I keep with me and give to everyone I meet. I miss her, so much. But now, I understand that in my gestures and my laugh, and the way I learned to love so fiercely, she will always be with me.