Tomorrow, I will wake up and be 43—and will have to accept the hard reality that I have already walked this Earth longer than my late mother, who passed at 42 years young.
Losing her at the tender age of 15 was painstakingly difficult. What has been far more challenging has been my journey toward accepting the fact that she made the irrevocable choice to take her own life by suicide.
The morning of July 5, 1993 began like any other day. My mother left for work as usual. Four hours later, I was startled by the sound of two police officers rapping on our front door. My initial thought was that they would ask me to turn down my stereo system, until I noticed my inconsolable grandparents walking up the drive. Between sobs, my grandfather whispered these painful words I will remember as long as I live, “Your mother is dead. She jumped from the 8th St. bridge.” During her lunch hour, she had abandoned her vehicle and plummeted to her death. There was no correspondence to be found, no logical explanation of why she would have left behind three daughters aged 15, 11, and 7, along with a host of friends, co-workers, and neighbors who adored her.
The years that have followed that night contain confusion, anger, and sadness too deep to explore in a single piece of writing. A motherless daughter just expects that certain milestones will be impossibly difficult—such as her wedding day, or her first stages of motherhood. Or, that dreaded Sunday every May, when her Facebook feed turns into a stream of family photos with children expressing gratitude for the unconditional love they’ve received from their best friend—their mom.
Then, there are those other days when grief sneaks up on her when least expected. Like turning the corner in a coffee shop, only to catch a glimpse of a mother and daughter sharing an intimate discussion. Or, watching a middle-aged woman help her elderly mother navigate through the waiting room of a doctor’s office with a walker. Or, in my case, the afternoon during which my 12-year-old son finally asked me grown-up questions about his grandmother’s death.
One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was explain to my son that sometimes a person’s heartache is so powerful that it trumps all of life’s joys. And, to make him believe there is no way I would ever choose to follow in her footsteps, leaving him and his sister behind. If my mother was really, truly that unhappy with life, then I am glad she found peace. But, where does that leave us—the living? I’ve had more than 25 years to think it over. Lately, I choose joy. I have the responsibility to find twice the delights in my own life, in order to make up for the lack of her presence.
What has immensely helped my healing has been finding the love of a wonderful man whom I have been with for the last 20 years. Although my mother never had the privilege of meeting him, I have no doubt that she would have been so pleased. God blessed us with two children of our own. What I am most proud of in my life is the relationship I have built with each of them, in spite of my own broken family from childhood. The biggest gift my mother has given me is appreciation for my own life, my own good health, and my relationships—things I will never, ever take for granted.
My mother’s presence during my early years has surely influenced who I have become, and her absence continues to influence who I am today—a woman who has leveraged her misfortune into becoming a strong, confident, and successful woman. Knowing my mother, and tragically losing her at such a young age, has molded me into the person I have become. I would choose it all over again if it meant I would end up where I am today; I have everything I need.
My own daughter, who will very soon be double digits, regularly does a certain bedtime routine. When I tuck her beneath the covers, she pats my butt twice, then tries to pull me into bed with her to snuggle (in an attempt to stall going to sleep). Some nights, I deny her request, thinking of all the tasks I need to complete before crawling under the covers myself. Lately, and more often, I find myself accepting her wish, seeing it for what it really is: a precious, fleeting gift. Tonight, I choose to snuggle her a little extra, for her late grandmother who is missing it all. I look out the window into the star-shining night toward the heavens, and I whisper, “Thanks, Mom.”