This past year has been a battle for me mentally and emotionally. Some may know, some may not, but my birthday was January 13th. I turned twenty-eight this year. To most, that’s not a significant milestone. To me, it was the milestone.
My mother passed away when she was twenty-seven. I was eight. And now, twenty years later, I’ve struggled to comprehend the surreal reality that I’m older than my mom ever lived to be. My daughter just turned nine on February 8th. I turned twenty-eight on January 13th with a heavy heart as I looked my then eight-year-old in the eyes.
I couldn’t imagine. My heart ached just thinking about being ripped from her when she still had a lifetime of moments, of memories to make, ahead of her. She’s so young. Tears welled as I strolled down memory lane, of the times in my life when I missed my mother. When you don’t have someone for so long, you don’t realize what you’re missing out on until a pivotal moment arrives, until you witness others in the same moment sharing it joyfully. The ice cream binge after your first heartbreak, educational successes, prom dress shopping, wedding dress shopping, your first pregnancy, the delivery of that little bundle. Those are merely the high points; there are many low in between. All of my surgeries, the times I was sick, those bad days when all I longed for was a maternal caress… I didn’t have her for those. And looking at my daughter, I never want her to know the pain of not having me.
But I haven’t been able to protect her from loss at the same tender age I was. Her grandmother, a woman my daughter loves passionately with all of her little being, has taken her on the same cancerous roller coaster, a replica of the one I took with my mom. I see the pain, the worry in my daughter’s eyes when she watches her grandmother skip meals, when she finds her curled up in bed or on the sofa with tension twisting her features. I witness the white of fear piercing her big brown eyes every time her grandmother comes home with a new bandage, every time her hair starts to fall out again, every time she can’t be with her because she’s at the doctor or in the hospital yet again.
There are days that I feel like a
failure because I wanted my children to never know the pain of my childhood, of being alone, feeling as though you’re missing out on so much because you don’t have a mother or father, yet they’re still facing those missed moments; they’re still facing gut-wrenching loss, and that’s difficult to accept.
Timing is everything, right? I can’t help but get lost in the timing of it all sometimes, the way our lives, despite my efforts, mirror each others so much. The enormous emotional pressure of that breaks me sometimes and makes me wish for one of those motherly hugs so many take for granted. Hugging my daughter as she cries, asking if her grandmother is going to die, rips me apart from the inside out, and has me wishing it all was different.
In some ways I’ve been blessed. I’m older than my mom every lived to be. I lived to see my daughter turn nine and got to hug her after. Even when she was alive, my mother was too sick, too weak to ever give me the hugs I give my daughter; the AIDS and cancer ravaged her body, stealing her strength over the years, robbing us both of those moments. I have the strength, the ability, to do what my mother couldn’t, didn’t, do for me, but that doesn’t erase the pain. There are days, years, that I’m hyper-aware of a loss from so long ago. And there are days, years, that I wished I could do it all again rather than have my daughter know a fraction of it.
Life is fleeting, so precious, but sometimes it takes a pivotal moment for us to remember that. Sometimes we have to lose in order to gain. I lost a mother, a father, and all of the moments I wished they were there, but it gave me unique insight, an understanding of my daughter’s pain, and has allowed me to be what I never had for her. And there are times where you have to be grateful for the pain, for the fact that you can experience it at all.
Many of my characters have experienced pain. That’s not a coincidence. As I share this with you now, know that my characters have been sharing fractions of my pain for years; not in an attempt to drag you down, to exhaust you emotional, but, rather, to repeat the message I longed to hear and know as a child: you are not alone. Every high and every low has been felt by someone else before.
The same way I can’t protect my daughter from the pain of life, I can’t protect you. But I can assure you the way I do her that everything will be okay, that you are not alone, that the hurt in your heart will never cease, but, with time, love, joy and laughter will override it. The quicker you embrace the positives, the faster they can drown out the negatives. And one day, when you look back, all you will see are the positives. You’ll recognize the strength it took to pull through, you’ll acknowledge the appreciation, the unnerving awareness, you have that others lack; you’ll embrace the change that time made in you and you’ll be grateful for it.
I tell my children I love them every time I see them, every time I talk to them when they’re away. I hug them, even my autistic son who prefers space to comfort, every chance I get. I appreciate every single day past eight years I get with them as if it is one of life’s greatest blessings. Because it is. Because I’m twenty-eight years old, and I’m older than my mother ever lived to be. And, looking back, I’m starting to see the positive in that.