“I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.” Cheryl Strayed
So this is for you mom.
That day when you were in your dressing room, and you took too long to come out, it comes to me all the time. I came in and you were crying. It was the moment the curtain was pulled back. You looked right at me and said “what if I have to leave you?” I can’t imagine the pain you felt, deep enough to be that transparent with me, the one you protected at all costs. I don’t know how you got through it. I guess you just didn’t have a choice. It scared the shit out of me when you said that. We all had a solemn, unspoken pact to speak only of victory. The five of us propped ourselves up with the idea that with all our combined intelligence, tenacity and love we would emerge from the five month cancer storm triumphant. Until we didn’t.
I wonder all the time what you would think of me now. What kind of mom you would think I am, what kind of friend, daughter, sister, wife. I’m great at some I believe, others are a lot harder and I wish you were here to coach me. Its almost half my life now that I’ve been winging it. But that’s no excuse is it? You taught me everything I needed to know in 22 years. I long for the AP courses though, the style points, the finesse shots.
The older I get the more I think about how you felt, instead of just my own shattering deficit. If I were you, I would have so little life left to live. I know that is morbid, but that’s the way you think in my shoes. I don’t have an image of you as a gray-haired old lady, though of course you would never have let it come to that (“In our family, Amy, we don’t get older we get blonder.”) And so I think about what I can do in your stead. What dreams I can fulfill for you, because you weren’t afforded the time. It helps me strive to be more, and do more with my time. You always said to me, “Don’t be like me honey, have a big career and accomplish everything you can imagine.” But what feels most comforting is to be as much like you as I can, accomplish those things I saw you excel at every day. It is through mothering as much like you as I can that I feel good about myself. And it always feels like a tribute to you to be the kind of friend you taught me to be. “Give easily, Amy. Love unconditionally. Help whenever you are presented with an opportunity to.”
I write about you a lot, and I am sure it brings people down. They can’t divorce the sadness of your untimely passing from what I am really trying to do. They (mostly) only know of you in the past tense so how could I possibly convey to a reader how very alive you were? Words can’t encompass your infectious laugh, your over-the-top glamour, or your innate sense of fun, or what it was like to be raised by someone so excellent at being a mom. Despite how big those qualities were, they are all eclipsed to those who never met you by the crushing sadness of December 14.
You are with me constantly, somewhere up there in the ether. Those who have lost someone they truly loved understand what I mean. There are so many people who adored you that still, twenty years later, can’t talk about you without crying. Most people won’t mention you to me, which makes me very sad because I cling to each morsel like a missing piece of a puzzle I can never finish. Each shared recollection brings a little more light, one more memory to add to my scrapbook, to tell my boys when they ask me all about you. I am in that way an archaeologist, searching through the dust to find more of you. I understand why they are so sad, and why it’s so hard, but I can’t contain myself. Each summer in Sweden Cecilia and I have a good cry trying to talk about you. She’s probably the one person who really does, and I love her even more for it. We were your little girls, more sisters than cousins and you always treated us like that. You and I were a team, the lone duo of femininity amidst a lot of testosterone. You would laugh if you saw me now, surrounded by these crazy, lovable boys in every direction. And how you would spoil them all, including Matt. You spoiled every person you cared about, it was your defining trait. Just knowing you was luxury, you pampered and bestowed as easily as breathing air.
This missive has been building in me, as it does annually around this time. The sadness needs to come out, its needs air. It makes me feel tight and sick when I keep it in any longer. It starts as a slow boil but now I’ve hit 212 degrees and it has to be written down. See when you died I split into two. One side was filled with memories, the other died with you. Because life could never, would never be the same again. And it hasn’t. The happy moments remind me how the one person I long for most, want to share them with most, isn’t here. I know you see them, but you deserved to live them.
Missing you comes in waves, of course. I’m good enough at grief to know that much. I’m drowning a little bit right now mom. We had a lot left to do. I’ll do my best to do it for us.