Mom, you died on Thursday night, September 18, 1980. That night has been seared into my memory. I don’t recall much about you but I do know that you were beautiful, full of life, always smiling, cooking, cleaning, and caring for others. I don’t know if you died from a heart attack or an aneurysm – all I know is that you were too young to die at the age of 49.
I was only nine years old when you died – too young to be left motherless, too young to understand the implications of death. With the passage of time I have forgotten the sound of your voice, your laugh, and really don’t recall much from my short time with you.
All I do know is that your death was the single most traumatic experience of my life. You were my Mother, the one who nourished me, and loved me beyond measure – death took you and all of your nourishment and love away from me, too; you were no more.
Growing up sans mother had a profound effect on me. I didn’t have a lot of sibling support and Dad was ill-prepared to raise a pre-adolescent female with whom he had no connection with prior to your death. He was too mired in guilt, battling his own demons, and drowning himself in whiskey because of the gaping hole your death left in his heart.
Not having my basic physical or emotional needs met on a daily basis was an impediment on my development on various levels. Not having you around and having to deal with an alcoholic father made me grow up rather quickly. I spent a lot of time grieving you and put a lot of my energy into my schoolwork to help me forget about the hopeless situation I had found myself in. I didn’t have a lot of friends in school because I became very depressed after you died. Being nerdy, short, and wearing the same clothes day after day made the other kids think I was weird. I had been deemed ‘damaged goods’ by some of the parents at school because I was motherless — as if it had been my fault. My sensitive soul and quiet nature took all this so personally. Many times it was too much to bare.
Sophomore year of high school is when I profoundly changed. I became a huge risk taker, trying and doing things much sooner than my peers. After reading Darwin’s works I realized I had to become more adaptable in order to survive. I learned to read people quickly and immediately knew whom I could and could not trust.
I found my voice and started rebelling against everyone and everything.
My life has not been easy and I have made many mistakes but I have also many good decisions. Many people underestimated me because they thought the odds were against me but I managed to prove them wrong.
Your death made me strong.
Your death made me independent and somehow I developed grit.
Your death made me more compassionate and empathetic to the plight of others.
I see many things in the world which others don’t.
Your death made me realize that I should not take people for granted because they can be ripped out of your life without any notice; I make a concerted effort to tell those I love how much they mean to me every day.
Your death made me realize that ‘family’ is not about blood ties.
Most importantly, your death has made me a better mother. I have a beautiful, bright son now and I have taught him things I wish I had known before you had died. He knows how to cook, clean, do laundry and care for himself, just in case. But more importantly, he is kind, compassionate, and generous. Every time I look into his eyes I see you — you are still with me.
Life may throw me as many curves balls as it likes; at times I may struggle but I know I can handle it. Not a day has passed in 35 years without thoughts of you. But with the passage of time and dealing with many of life’s challenges, I have come to realize – your death has been a gift. Your death has made me a better person and the immense strength that I developed as a result has carried me through the worst of times and will continue to do so when many more are thrown my way.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.