Eighteen Years and Counting

Dear Mom,

Today marks a pivotal moment in our relationship. Eighteen years ago, my life changed forever when I held your hand for the very last time. At just 18, I had no idea what would come next. Up until that moment, I had been busy planning my senior prom, anticipating high school graduation, fighting with my loser boyfriend and dreaming about my first day of college—all with your help.

Suddenly it all seemed so insignificant. Nothing really mattered without you by my side. Looking back, I’m still unsure of how I navigated through life those first few months without you. Each time faced with a decision, I sought your advice only to be met with unanswered prayers. But somehow, despite making poor choices at best, I seemed to keep bouncing back. I kept stumbling around, constantly moving forward.

Along the way, I longed for your confidence. Nothing ever seemed to phase you in life mom. I’ll never forget when my best friend dropped her pants in front of you. Most mothers would have been aghast. You didn’t miss a beat. “Show me something I haven’t seen,” you laughed.

I miss those moments. For months now, I’ve been dreading this day. It marks a time when I’ve lived longer without you. As the years go by, my memories of us start to fade. I find myself thumbing through pages of high school journals and photo albums trying to fill in the blanks time has erased.  As I look at the pivotal milestones I’ve passed over, I’m finding myself more familiar without your presence. A new normal I guess.

I wish you were here today to see my new normal. On paper, it is pretty amazing. I’ve checked a lot of things off the list that we used to talk about growing up. I graduated from college. I followed our dream of becoming a published writer, mom. Sure, I haven’t penned the next great American novel but I’m writing and sharing my stories with people. Despite numerous heartbreaks and kissing some serious frogs, I found an amazing man who loves me for me. I’m a new mom and you’re a grandma. I have a job I love. Awesome friends. I still find time to hike in the woods, read books and garden. I didn’t inherit your talent for canning cucumbers but I can make a mean flat jack just like you.

If you scratch a little deeper, you’d find I face battles similar to you mom. I hate my weight. I refuse to settle. I live life on my terms, even if people look down at it. Complacency scares me. I help others, even if it means hurting myself. I am stubborn. At times downright mean. But that meanness is often a defense mechanism to survive. Like you mom, I’m a survivor.

Eighteen years ago my life changed forever as I watched you take your last breath. For an instant, I thought time would stop. But it kept moving. And with it, so did I. You gave me no choice but to move on without you by my side. For years I was angry. Disappointed you weren’t here to share my life and answer my questions. Angry that alcoholism broke our family until at some point I had to learn to forgive.

This past year has been a game changer partly because as a new mom I’ve discovered something. You may not be here physically, but I cannot deny you are a part of me. You’re stubborn spirit and endless desire to plow ahead even with the cards stacked against you, now defines me.

In a few weeks I’m supposed to lace up my shoes and run a half-marathon. It will be my fourth race. As always, I’m nowhere near ready. It’d be easy for me to quit. But I’m a stubborn Fin who refuses to give up. I keep training in hopes that I’ll be ready come race day. Even if it means I come in dead last. I owe that to you mom. This race is just one of countless examples of you pushing to be better—to try harder—to continue to show up and play the game on my terms, not because that’s what people expect but because it is what I want to do for me.

I still miss you mom. I still wish more than anything you were here by my side. I wish I could have one more day with you, one more conversation, even share just one more moment with you. I wish that every single day. But I have also found comfort in that every milestone, failure or achievement I experience it is a piece of you shining through and reminding me of where I came from and what really matters in life. And for that, I’ll always love you.

Your baby girl

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