Too many years, just too damn many, and I haven’t been honest about this, but I think it took all this time to understand what I feel about the fact that you’re gone. I put on a brave face, I trudge along and do what is best, at least I try, but I’ve always felt this loss and right now it grips me intensely. I heard this song today called “Father” by Demi Lovato and it spoke to me; replace that with Mother and you get the idea…
That night changed everything about the way my life would go, in a single moment. “You lost your mom tonight”, my dad said, coming home early from his youngest son’s basketball game after he got a call, probably entirely unsure how to even process it, let alone tell his children that their mother is dead. Oh, even writing that now, tears immediately well up in my eyes and make it hard to see this screen, but I welcome the torrent now, I welcome the pain, so that maybe, for once, I can be honest. The truth is, I fucking hate that you left. I do. I hate it. You see because there was so much life left to live, so much more to do, so much more to give… but you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now, you’re just – gone. (People who haven’t known addiction the way my family has, the tragedy and the depth of that sorrow, well they might just paint me dramatic, after all, it has been 15 years. They might say things like, “that’s too bad, I’m sorry for your loss”, and still not understand how badly it tore us apart to say goodbye to our 39-year-old mother, unexpectedly; it was the worst day of my life, and if you know my history, especially with my mother, you’d know that is saying so much.)
It was a couple of days after Christmas, 2005, and all of the kids went to your apartment. I was beyond reluctant, but something pulled me there anyway, and so I went – and now I am so grateful I put my pride and my pain aside so that I could see you for what would be the last time, alive. You were quiet, unsteady, but gave us as much as you could, emotionally speaking. Each of your children got a special gift, and an envelope. What was inside should have been a clue, but I couldn’t see it – I couldn’t have known. Inside each were pictures from our childhood, each of your kids getting their own, as if you intentionally knew we’d want that, as if you somehow knew it would matter more later than it did in that moment. I watched as Israel, your baby Grandson, opened his expensive gift, I watched as you sat there, unable to look me in the eyes, smiling as much as you could, probably to hide the sorrow.
Before I left, I still so vividly recall (man, this sucks) standing in the doorway, and you looked over at me with pleading eyes, just wanting so much to feel my love though it was you who broke it apart. I was drawn in, and we shared our very last embrace. I hugged you, and I told you I loved you, and I meant it, and with everything that you did – shouldn’t that have been enough to make you change? We separated, and I left. 22 days later, you were gone.
Just… Why? Why does this happen? People beat addiction, people fight at their worst, in moments that seem so critical – life or death – and they still choose life, no matter how fucking scary, painful, horrible it is to fight. They fight. Your son fought, your son went through hell and back, just recently – he fought. And right now he is beating his demons, one by one, he is still fighting. Why couldn’t you?
I have four children, and I carry pain inside my heart they have no idea about. I suffer in silence, and yet still give them a great life. I build them up, as much as I can, I feed their spirits so that they know Mama loves them so much, even when I am so overwhelmed and frustrated with being a parent, I fight still – why couldn’t you? I have pain inside me, and I fight the same tendency towards addiction that you must have had, but the difference is, I fight it. I am mindful when I drink, though sometimes I still drink too much, but I know the reason I couldn’t ever let it get that bad, because I know how it feels to lose a mom, and I will be damned if I do that to my children – why couldn’t you see that, too?
I know addiction is a disease. I know it is physiological. I know it is mental. I know it is emotional. I know it is HELL. But, mom, so is living without you. What is worse? Leaving your five children, leaving this life, or fucking trying harder? Why couldn’t you?
Today, I wept. For things I won’t write here, for love, for loss, and a lot of this has directly to do with you. It was as if you knew somehow that things would end, and so you did your worst and passed the darkness onto me before you died. You stole something sacred from me that I can never get back, and you did it without ever understanding how it broke me. I live with that even now; I lived with it before you left. But once dad said those words, I felt the world break even worse than it already had; I knew in those first few seconds, for me, there was no going back. That is on you, not me, because I don’t think anything short of evil could have done it, and addiction makes the demons speak and puts you on a tiny shelf somewhere in the back. You succumbed to the darkness and it bled all over me, and then you just… left. What was I supposed to do? What was I supposed to think? How was I supposed to know how to go from there? So, I did the one thing I could do, and I vanished from the home I loved so much, from the love that completed me, from the life I was building. More than any other child you left behind, and not for the sake of being the victim, but that thing – that darkness that you gave me – it has not left me, and I wonder if you understood that before you went away… Sometimes, I really wonder if I am the reason you had nothing left to fight for, because you couldn’t take it back.
I wish that I could ask you, why. Why you suffered so much. Why you didn’t get help. Why you relied on me for those two years before you died, to pick you up when you fell, to make sure you had the things you needed – to be there, a friend, when god damn it, I should have just been your daughter – you should have been picking ME up when I fell, but it was the other way around. You were supposed to be helping me plan the rest of my life, you were supposed to be making sure my younger siblings got to school on time and did their homework, you were supposed to be stronger than this. Why weren’t you?
The empathy I feel for you now is overwhelming, and even though it seems that I am angry most of all (which I am), I still understand that there are elements to this you just had no control over. I know addiction takes over, I know it is a beast that is cruel, unapologetic, and desires only to take you down, sometimes before you even know what hit you, but mom, why just let it win? Had you no understanding what you would do to us if you left? Had you no care? Was it an accident, or was it all just too much? I struggle with demons, big ones, namely they all came from you – but I couldn’t just let them win. I cannot just let them win, no matter how many times I feel so overwhelmed heaven seems like a pretty great alternative to this continued fight; I’d never get to that place where it even becomes a choice, because I know what is worth living for. Their names are Layla, Jemma, Delaney, and Bear. You had Brandan, Brian, Christina, Amanda, and Bucky… Why wasn’t that enough?
Why were YOU not enough? Did you not see the value in who you were? Did you not see the radiant, contagious laughter, the wit and charm, the intellect and thoughtfulness, the love you showed us when we were children – did you not understand what I saw when I looked at you, when I was growing up? I learned about Jesus and God from you, I learned how to cook from you, I learned how to sing from you, I learned how to be creative from you, I learned how to laugh from you… Mom, did you just not get it? How much it would break us, how much it still hurts all of us? To be without the person who brought us into this world, to be without our mother? Sometimes I wonder if you just didn’t care enough to even try, but I guess that is the anger talking…
Today, I wept… and still it comes out of me right now – I am surprised I’ve made any sense at all because I can barely see the computer before me, but I think this is good. These words are good. I kind of hope nobody reads this but I’ll share it anyway, because at least I am being honest. People, I think, I think people like to pretend life doesn’t suck this much, that they’ll never be subjected to such turmoil, or perhaps they’ve been fortunate enough not to experience the cruelty of this kind of darkness, but I sometimes get worried people will take my words wrong and I’ll have to defend why I feel this way. I hope that doesn’t happen here, if anyone does read this, because I think it is important now more than anything to be honest. For myself, to process the depth of this loss, to process even still, fifteen years later, how badly it hurts to know I can never ask you these questions while I’m living. I can never understand it, what was in your head, and that is just something I have to live with. I hate it sometimes.
The other day, I looked in the mirror and I saw a bit of you in my face, and it was the most bittersweet, frustrating thing to see myself but see you, too. I cursed it, honestly, because I didn’t want to resemble someone who hurt me so badly, but I thought about that reaction in the hours that followed as I silently mulled it over. I caught myself feeling sad, more than anything, because looking like you at all means I sometimes almost see you, but I know it is just … Me. The daughter you left behind, still trying to do this life, still trying to learn how to be a mother – still unable to answer the Doctor when they ask me about family history of breast cancer when I find a lump, because you’re gone, and you were so young when you died there is no way to know if the lump is a genetic predisposition to cancer. I can’t call and ask, I can’t call and cry when I need advice, I can’t go home to Washington and visit my mom, I can’t see you become an old woman…. All these things still haunt me, still find ways to remind me that I am a motherless daughter, that I have four children whose Grandma’s name they cannot remember sometimes because you’re just a person I mention that they’ve never met. Pictures don’t say I love you, and the only video I have of you is from that former life that you stole, so why would I revisit that without it ripping me apart – so I can’t even hear your voice if I wanted to, because the memory is just too painful when I hit “play”.
This complexity still astounds me, and even so, I fight with everything I have to let this go from me into the world, even knowing my vulnerability might be of use to someone else, because most people are uncomfortable with uncomfortable truth, but this is my reality, this is what I live with. I’ve spent many years trying to build you up in my mind, trying to remember the “good things” because it was helpful to try and overshadow the bad, but sometimes I lose resolve to be that positive, and the weight of this pain is too heavy to ignore, but I think that has to be okay. I believe I have to, I am ready now, to be honest, and to say the things that might make even my own family angry at me – because we’ve all dealt with this so differently. Still, I am grateful that I have these cursed words, because at least I can get it out.
My chest hurts. It hurts in a way that I think my family understands, but then I mention your name and the room goes silent, as if it’s a topic we just can’t discuss. As if we all didn’t lose the same mom, the mother of his children, the Grandma our kids will never meet… So forgive me, family, if my words make you uncomfortable, but maybe I’m saying something you wish you could. It might be different because our experiences were so, but it might be the same – because loss is loss, no matter how we paint it.
I don’t just spend my days in a melancholy, I am not sad all the time, but I gave myself license today to feel this, and I believe I need to. Recently I’ve been faced with the past coming back to me, and it has been an exercise in healing I never expected, but also a necessary part of my growth – painful as it continues to be. I am grateful because at least I get a second chance for a part of my life I never expected to be able to heal, and redemption thus far has been very bittersweet and I am so grateful that the love never left me, because at least love drives me now – not the pain of why it changed in the first place. I never got the chance to change it with you, and so now, even when it tears me apart to face what I wanted and not have it, every day, at least I can be free to make the future better than the past, because I have that option. Something you don’t have, something you took from me, something that was taken from you with your last breathe. I won’t waste it now, and I am hopeful healing continues, because we both needed this. Maybe you were the whisper that made it possible in hearts that spent years too long hardened and separate; even the pain of working through this now is better than the absence of living without it and so I am hopeful once again, at least on my good days, that love wins in the end.
The end, what a concept, because it is never over until it just – is.
I hope my end is many years down the line, I hope I get to grow old and be there for meeting my Grandchildren, for my daughters and my son to grow up with their mother, and for me – to stop the cycle of sadness, addiction, and death that was passed down from you, your mother, her mother – generations of women who left too soon.
I won’t stop fighting, even on days like today when I wept so hard, I couldn’t breathe, and yearned for things I can never get back – things you know, things you began in me that I will finish, because I am so much stronger than you were, I have to be now, I don’t have a choice. Because I won’t do to them what you did, I won’t let the darkness win.
I loved you, I love you still, Mother. Mom. Mama. . . I am so sorry this was the life that was planned for you, and that you are gone. I am sorry for the darkness you knew, that I couldn’t take it away.
I will love you until the end, because I know love is bigger than this pain, though for years I wasn’t so sure about that. Now, though, now I’m older – and I’ve lived so much fucking life, and it all began the day you died – this part, this forging through the fire. This learning to be a woman without you. . . I did that, I became stronger, and you showed my why that matters more than anything else.
Goodbye, goodbye, I hope heaven doesn’t let you look back on me right now, because this is not the version of me you’d be proud of, well, no – maybe it is, because I’ve written this entire thing while tears sting my eyes, while my hands are shaking. . . That is strength, that is a woman who won’t just roll over and die. That is what you would have wanted for me, right? To be stronger than you.
I am, and my story is so far from over. I wish yours had continued, so you could have gotten to the good part. So much more than being a super young mom trying to raise five children without your mom, ever-frustrated that “this” was the life you chose to raise us, so much more than the darkness and the demons, so much more than a bottle of Vodka on a nightstand, so much more than feeling like you just had nothing left to live for. I am so much more than that, even on my worst days, though it doesn’t always feel so. To be honest, sometimes I get afraid, that I’d end up like that, like you, but then I stand up straight, I wipe my tears away, and I go on for another day. I learned to do that because you didn’t. And I guess that’s something to be thankful for out of all of this.
Guess I should just stop writing now, there is really nothing more to say.