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.