A letter to my mom, 20 years later

A letter to my mom, 20 years later

Dear Mom,

This isn’t a regular day, but I don’t need an anniversary to remind me of how irrevocably my life changed 20 years ago. For years, I could barely function on this anniversary, although I don’t know why it’s called an anniversary. I’d rather not remember that day, and 20 years have certainly helped it fade. The truth is I wasn’t there. I was on the way back, but I felt it even before I knew it, like some seismic shift in my foundation. But you were not alone.

You were never alone. People loved you; your laugh, your wit, your brave honesty. People still love you, and I think of you every day. You are my anchor. You are my constant. You are still the opinion that matters most. For every decision I’ve had to make or obstacle that’s been in my way, your voice is the one I heard inside my head.

I am lucky for this. It’s strange maybe to say lucky. What’s lucky about me, the girl whose family died? Then I think of all the love, grace and drive you gave me, much more than most get in a 100 years. So, yes, I was lucky.

Even though you prepared me well for life and its many disappoints, I have made many mistakes. I’ve fallen into black holes that consumed me for years. I’ve not always done the right thing the first or second time. I know you forgive me. I know you understand why I’ve veered off course. I did the best I could without you. Because that’s the reality of these 20 years, learning to live without you.

I never stopped writing. Without it, I don’t know where all the fear and anger and pain would have gone. It helped me save some of the memories and face the truth. No one likes uncomfortable truths, but because you always faced your truth, it helped me find mine.

And after the horrors of the last 20 years and burning down all the tragedy to ash, I’ve arrived at some kind of happy. Happiness, I’ve learned, is something that nips at our hearts in moments. And I’ve had beautiful moments, the only thing missing was you. I’ve made a life for myself, probably not the one you imagined for me. But it’s a good life with the kind of people that don’t treat me like I’m damaged, rather they see my imperfections as evidence of a good and humble character. This life includes an amazing husband, who I think you’d love because of his sweet, calming soul. Your only objection may be that he’s a Cowboys fan.

I do wonder though if you’d be disappointed that I’m not a mom. It just wasn’t in the cards for me. That wasn’t my path. It still hurts sometimes, but I look at the love and devotion I give to my animals. And it’s simply enough for me.

A million horrible and wonderful things have happened in the last 20 years, and for every one of them, you were the first person I wanted to tell. In a way I still do because I’m always talking to you. It’s the greatest language I know.

Your time as my mom helped me survive the life I’ve been living without you. It has given me a unique yet haunting perspective. It has pushed me to know very precisely how I want to leave this world; knowing I shared my stories, I worked hard, I loved fiercely and I took every adventure.

I do still think about what that parallel world would have been; the one where you live; the one where we get to be friends. Because you always told me, “I’m your mother, not your friend.”  I would have loved to have been your friend. All those moments that never happened. I won’t get over that; it can’t be mended. Glad to have finally learned that some scabs never heal, and some holes never get filled.

But I am honored to have been your daughter. It was one of the greatest parts of my life. Even though it wasn’t for long enough, and I would’ve learned so much more from you about life. I’d still choose you over and over again even though I know you’ll leave too soon.

So although this world hasn’t had you for 20 years, I know I never lost you, I carry you in my heart. That’s a place you can never leave.

Love,
Beth

What I Learned from Loss

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From the What I Learned Series

People like to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I understand why they say it. It’s meant as a comfort. It reaffirms we can’t always control what happens to us. Because we can’t control it! Sometimes I can see the truth in those words; other times not so much.

Maybe everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Maybe an alternative way to digest the things that happen is that really bad things happen to really good people every day; it’s what happens next that matters. What will you do with your loss?

You can learn from loss and adversity; after all it builds character (another one of those helpful things people say). For better or worse, loss has shaped me. It has woven its way into my DNA.  Did it change me? Yes. Did it destroy me? No.

Even though I’ve probably had more than my fair share of loss, I understand that loss is relative to one’s own experience. But in the end no matter how great or how small your loss may be, you have two choices: bloom out from it or succumb to it. Yes, there is a choice. It may not seem like it most days. But you did get a choice.  You can’t change it. You do, however, get a chance to decide what happens next.

Loss never leaves you. My mom died almost 20 years ago. I’ve now lived more of my life without her and most of the rest of my immediate family. So in these 20 long years, time should have done a lot of healing (yet another helpful adage). Time is something that keeps firmly marching ahead, moving you further away from those losses. Yet I’m not sure if time heals because  it feels like it just happened most days. So for me, my loss is still part of my thoughts, my skin, my breath. I’m just not ever going to get over the loss of my mom. I used to think I needed to “get over it,” whatever that means. I thought I was dragging my loss and heartache around like some badge of honor. Believing in order for the person and their loss to mean something, it had to be held onto.

Yet when you carry it around, you don’t forget. And maybe it’s good not to forget. I make a conscious effort to not forget my mom’s face, voice or smell. I see her picture every day so that’s the easiest. Her smell I can mimic with her favorite perfume. The voice is the hardest. I’m losing it. I try to imagine in my head the words she said to me so often. I want to recall without effort just how she said my name or the way she laughed.

So maybe time doesn’t heal. But I like to keep the conversation alive. I want to still talk about those I’ve lost. That’s not true for everyone. Sometimes I think it’s easier for some to just forget who they lost ever existed. That’s what people do to survive. That’s just not how I chose to handle loss.

Loss will trick you; trick you into thinking you’re alone and that life will never be good again or normal. It will trick you into blaming yourself. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty just for being alive. It also tricks you into thinking it’s best to not get attached because you know what it’s like to lose. Nothing penetrated my heart for a long time. It just made me lose more: time, relationships, opportunities.

Loss made me angry. Angry at the situation, the lost person, myself. It was intense in the beginning; it still lingers. The anger flares up the most during the important times in life because I can’t share it with those gone. They have missed my triumphs and failures. Everybody has that longing to be number one to somebody and to have someone always on your side.  That was my mom for me. When I lost her and a million times since, I was mad that I’d never be that important to anyone ever again.

I’ve felt anger at myself as well. Either because I couldn’t move forward or was moving too fast. Should I be enjoying life? When was it okay to be happy again? Survivor’s guilt is real. I’ve asked myself many times, why am I still here?

Grief doesn’t have a timetable. I’m not sure if it ever really ends. You don’t wake up one day and are cured from your loss. I’ve learned it doesn’t have to disappear. Loss created a big hole in my heart. It can’t be filled.  I know I’ve tried. I don’t feel the need to close the hole anymore. It’s a part of me. It’s influenced my choices, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.  Grief, in a way, is like the personification of the bond you had with that person.

But I won’t wallow in loss. The world is full of grievers. Tragic things happen all the time. Loss still wraps its arms around you, but if you let it be your focus, you will lose so much more. It’s just one part of me. Not my first or last thought every day; just somewhere in between. In my loss, I eventually found a better person. I never gave up on and will never give up on trying every day to be better.

Loss cannot be undone. Sooner or later, it will visit us all. I’m not unique. What I do want to do is share my story. To tell everyone that life rarely turns out as expected, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great.