JUNE 1, 2017 (almost) FOURTEEN months old

Chris and I celebrated our two year wedding anniversary last week and my best friend Kati got married. I was lucky enough to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, and the night was so fun and an absolute success. It was nostalgic being with my childhood best friends and their families, all dancing to I wanna put on, my my my my my boggie shoes, in-between spilled sips of beer and wine on the hot and crowded dance floor.

I loved seeing parents from my past but still present friendships, and telling them about my husband and baby boy. And when Kati and her husband danced together on the dance floor during the last song of the night, all encircled by family and friends watching them with that new hope in their eyes, I silently wished my best friend all the joy and good change the two of them could ever hope for.

Mr. Summers was so calm, clear and deliberate in his words during the Father of the Bride speech. And it got me thinking about Dad’s speech at my wedding. And our father/daughter dance together, to John Mayer’s Daughters, and how the three minutes of our waltz seemed to sum up all our past problems and discomforts and grudges and erase them.

Somewhere in our sorrow, him and I fell away from each other for a long time, filling our distance with fights and misunderstandings of each other’s lives. I tried so desperately to hold onto you, while he tried just as desperately to let go.

I resented him for moving on so quickly. I was mad if he would’t talk about you. I hated him for not asking about my plans, where I was going, when I’d be home–the things you would’ve been on my case about. And I couldn’t stand that he was so angry all the time.

When he danced with me that night, I was reminded for the first time since we lost you, that I was his little girl and he loved me and always would.

Hayley,

I hope that you and Chirs had a lot of fun in Maine on your honeymoon. I wanted to write you a letter that you could open when you got back with some of my feelings and emotions.

I wanted to tell you again how proud I was when I turned the corner and saw my beautiful and amazing daughter standing on the front sidewalk waiting for me. While I was walking you down through the yard and the song you chose was playing, I had a rush of memories from when you were a little girl flashing in my head. Like I said in my text message, it was a magical experience. Everything I had done as a parent was all for that one moment.

The entire wedding was perfect from start to finish. If it were half the amount of people it would not have been the same. If it was at a venue, it would not have been the same. It was meant to be what it was and where it was. It was your vision manifested.

While I was emotional at times, I was not sad. I know this sounds strange but I felt like there was a dome of happiness and love over us. I know your Mom’s energy was there running through everyone. She wants us to be happy and to love and that is the best way to respect what she gave us all.

When Pinja and Cole were announced into the tent together with the bridal party, that was an emotional moment. I thought about after the the tragedy we all faced and how hard it was, and that now I was able to beam with pride because it all worked out and the au pair I chose for help became your close friend. I was emotional walking Terri to her seat, thinking how profound she has been in my life and how she and Nana are so close or the fact that I may have self-destructed years ago if I didn’t have her love and support. 

When “Dreams” played right after the ceremony was over, I thought of you as a little girl on my lap listening to the Cranberries. Also how when we danced together to John Mayer, you looked up at me and said, “I feel like I’m floating.” 

So many people were happy, laughing and dancing and having a great time. A number of them said it was the most fun they ever had at a wedding. All of the vendors were wonderful, and Veronica asked how she could marry into our family.

It was all worth it.

Have fun creating your life with Chris now. It’s not easy but everything worth anything never is.

I love you,

Dad.

The day Chris and I got back from our honeymoon, I got that letter in a mailed envelope from Dad. It was the first thing I ever saw written with my new married name.

Both the wedding and the letter changed a lot between Dad and I. It unified that we felt the same way; we both loved one another, and our past relationship could finally be put behind. And the wedding validated to him, me and everyone else who was there, that you were still with us all. Like he said, you could feel it. 

Chris and I have been together for six years now, two of them married. That seems like a long time loving only one man. What do the people who make it to their fiftieth anniversary feel like?

Earlier today I read through the journal I kept from the fall of 2011, when he and I were in full swing of our dating.

October 23, 2011

The time that Chris and I have had so far, in this little space of a few months, has been wonderful. I can’t complain about one thing. I used to say he didn’t show enough emotion, but he does–the perfect amount of it. I think he just had to get warmed up to me. And I still haven’t gotten over attracted I am to him. He’s embarrassed he has a hairy chest, but guess what? I always liked a hairy man–it’s manly.

He’s made a few jokes/slight hints about being married and when I really imagine it, I can see him being the kind of man I want as a husband. Especially when I think of his Dad and mine and the kind of men they are.

Him and I went on a date last night to Burgatory and in the morning, cuddled after I slept through my alarm to take a yoga class. Then we met in the afternoon to see Tatum at cheerleading, and we sat with Dad, Terri, Grandma and Papap. On the drive home, I cried right before the Squirel Hill tunnel, singing to the song Sweet Disposition. I was so incredibly happy and the turning trees overtook me with beauty and promising change. I wondered how everything in my life could be so wonderful, because it really and truly is.

Coincidentally, the song I was singing in my car was Sweet Disposition, the song Dad walked me through the yard, or “down the aisle,” to. I’ve always gotten good goosebumps when I hear it.

I read journal entries like the one above and am able to be taken back to when we were “kids.”  I know you probably think, you still are kids, but we aren’t.

We are adults, with a house, a dog and a baby and a thriving life.

I’ve come to just expect this thriving life because every woman in our family, including you, has stayed at home with children and been married to a good, kind and successful man. That wonderful family dynamic is all I’ve known (which is a priviledge in itself), so the fact that I have it, doesn’t seem so unusual or special until I take the time to appreciate it all.

Like staying at home. I know I’ve told you many times already, but I love being with Everett all day. I honor it. And what a privilege to get to do so because of a husband who works so hard. A husband who has learned to keep his work and his family life separate, and loves us all with the softest parts of his big manly heart.

I am so lucky. I am so thankful. I am where I am supposed to be.

Life has been good and the days seem to be blending together. I have to check my calendar when writing the date because I can’t keep track. And recently, I haven’t been thinking about you much, like I’m so concentrated in Everett, I don’t even have time to miss you. He is into everything. I must say “no” two hundred times a day, and I know anyone whose ever had children knows exactly what I mean.

Little Everett is loving his fourteenth month of life. He’s happy and free and funny and oh so loved.

I always go into his room at night, right before he falls asleep. He lays on his belly while I rub his back and talk to him, thanking him for being a good boy that day and telling him how much I love him. While he lays there and listens, he looks up at me from the side of his face like I’m the best person ever–like I’m his entire world. And when I look back at him, I get sucked into an oblivion of loving my child and feel proud that he’s mine.

When he laughs, it’s so full and pure, like the most untainted form of joy, for he still only knows love, not a thing of hate or pain or loss. His laughing is my best medicine; those deep little buddha belly chuckles are contagious.

Chris taught him how to “pound it”, a little fist pump in the air. When you ask Everett to do it, his eyes light up and when he successfully contacts your fist, you would think he conquered learning how to fly. He’s so proud to make us proud.

I keep bringing it up to you a lot, and I’m sorry if I seem to be overthinking it, but I cannot stop thinking about a second pregnancy and when. 

I constantly question: when’s the best time? Should we spread kids out or get them “done” with? How old do I want to be when I get pregnant again? How old do I want to be when we have our last child? What kind of age gap do I want between Everett and the next baby? How far apart are Allison and I? How did Mom know she was ready for a second?

I bring up a second baby often in conversations, subconsciously hoping to find my answer through someone else’s experience or opinion, as if they have the ability to persuade me into pregnancy. But I know ultimately it’s no one’s decision besides mine.

I was a $200 deposit away from buying a puppy this past weekend. For an entire month, I’ve been convincing myself that another dog would be the answer to my boredom. I think I wanted to prove that I could take on more work and responsibility, just not in the form of a baby. That is obviously very stupid thinking.

So instead of a puppy purchase, we ordered a king mattress. Chris slyly worked his ways, successfully convincing me another animal was a bad idea for many reasons, and that a new bed was the more logical option. I know he’s right, but I hate when he is.

Cheers to that man for always keeping me upright and sane. Happy two years to us.

 

MAY 18, 2017

This morning, Everett woke up before Chris’ alarm for work, and when it came time for his first nap around 8:30, he wasn’t having any part of it. He didn’t cry when I laid him down, but for almost entire hour, made what sounded like bird calls and bounced up and down on the mattress with his stubby little legs propelling him upward, over and over. I could see him on the monitor.

He managed to get the lid off his bottle of water, soaking his sheets (luckily this time it wasn’t milk or juice). I tried covering the spot with a towel, but that obviously didn’t work, so I put the sheets in the dryer, and set out for a quick walk with him in his beloved backpack strapped to me. Just fifteen minutes outside was enough to make him tired.

So now he’s napping, after I doused lavender all over his dry sheets in the hapless hope of inducing him into some calm slumber. I think it may have worked.

I haven’t wanted to do anything lately. No yoga this week, and I canceled plans with a neighbor yesterday. I hate when I get like this, but if I allow myself to do just feel it out, it doesn’t last too long. It’s just my hormones.

Last week, I watched five movies over a four day period. One of them I watched three times. It was so good, I ordered the book it was based off of on Amazon, and just started reading it this morning.

Staying home is such a privilege. All the time is ours, and I’m so grateful to share that with my first born. I can plan my day around any way I’d like (well in-between Everett’s naps) and if I don’t want to do anything but watch movies, my chores and plans can wait or be cancelled.

I’m a lucky woman to live that kind of life, and I’m trying to be even more aware of that fact, more often.

I wrote a list in my journal a few days ago, for the little things I was thankful for so far in the day:

bacon and baked eggs

E trying a waffle with butter and syrup

grocery shopping

planting basil 

my new garden

feeding Bunny

catching up on e-mails and fb

strawberries

my new hoop earrings 

texting Sara

Clifford laying with me

watching E sip grapefruit juice 

his new toy from Nacny and Alan

Chris calling me while at work

Chris watering the garden before he left

hearing an acoustic version of “Dreams” by the Cranberries while driving 

watching E play with Bunny

a mini nap on my back in bed

I tried to really feel thankful as I wrote, and it put me in an awesome mood doing so. I felt elevated in some way and full of everything I needed.

Little good things kept happening all evening, like Nana stopping by surprise and a package I had been waiting for being delivered. And I know it was all because I took a few minutes to appreciate what I have…coincidences kept spiraling onward effortlessly.

I just get lost sometimes and caught up and forget that I need to take a moment, take a second, take a breath–and feel grateful down to my toes that my life is what it is. That I have the home, husband, child and even dog of my dreams.

Oh my life is changing everyday
In every possible way

And oh my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems,
Never quite as it seems

I want more, impossible to ignore
Impossible to ignore
And they’ll come true
Impossible not to do

Those are the lyrics to my favorite song on earth, Dreams. It reminds me of my childhood and Dad, playing the song on his guitar and singing with all the emotion he could possibly muster, while Allison and I sat on his lap in our pajamas, unaware of our messy weekend morning hair.

But my life is changing everyday, and most definitely in every possible way. And even though I have all the dreams I’ve ever wanted, I still want more…someday. I want our property, I want the house we vision. I want a huge garden and I want chickens and fresh eggs in the morning. I want another dog to be running around with Clifford. I want the natural smell of woods and grass and clean air to be what surrounds my family’s home and life. My children will play in the earth, digging worms and run about the paths of forest surrounding us. I’ll have a whole corner of the house’s landscape planted with your lilies, and explain to the kids how special they were to Mommy’s Mom.

That is my dream, along with writing this book to you. And all those things are indeed impossible to ignore, like a little rhythm in my head, constantly daydreaming the little details into life, like what kind of tile I’ll have in my powder room or what our chickens’ names will be or what my book cover will look like.

It feels healthy to have dreams and desires so big, and to understand that there is no reason none of that can be ours if we just believe in it. I know someone reading will think, well how much money would all that cost and gee that sounds nice, chickens and lilies? But as I’m learning to appreciate what I have now, the things that can feel so unobtainable at times–like being published or owning property–are slowly becoming more of a reality and less of a dream.

The day I journaled, after I put Everett to bed, I took the dog for a walk on a whim, just the two of us. And I ended up running into my neighbor Hilary, strolling around with her three year old and five week old little boy I had yet to meet. We walked together for so long that Chris later told me he came out looking for me, saw me, and ran away home before I caught a glimpse of him.

But when I saw her beautiful baby, I felt scared, like if I were to have a newborn right now, I wouldn’t know how to take care of it. Which is crazy because I got this far with Everett, but all of a sudden I was frantic. Why?

And coincidentally, my period is late and it never is. The app on my phone keeps reminding me that it’s due.

I joked with Chris this morning that I might be pregnant (of which I’m not) and of course, he lit up with a grin the size of China.

I am in such a good place in my life, Mom. I think that’s why the thought of any kind of change makes me uneasy. But what is life without change?

I’m excited for this summer and a walking baby, ready to explore the outdoors together. I’m so beyond in love with that little boy, and selfishly enjoying my time alone with him; there are no distractions or worries to qualm my Mothering.

He’s loving all the “real” food, like quesadillas and even pizza. He has the cutest waddle walk, and is strong and determined to get where he wants. He still likes throwing his toys (especially his books) out his sometimes slightly opened bedroom window, and loves playing a tug-of-war game with the dog over their now shared stuffed animals.

Everett is always waking up from his afternoon nap when Chris gets home from work, and Chris calls for him downstairs saying, “Snuggies! Snuggernaut!” and Everett grins, squinting his little eyes like he just can’t handle the excitement.

Chris plays with him every day, as soon as he walks in the door. He drops his book bag on the kitchen table, takes his shoes off in the middle of the room, and throws Everett and spins him and kisses him until they’re both out of breath from laughing. I constantly yell at Chris because his bag is on the table, his car keys aren’t hung up, etc–but the other day when I looked at the two of them playing, with the dog trying desperately to be included in their twosome forte, I thought, screw it. Be thankful for a man like this because not every Father comes home, unloads his work load, and plays with his kid. 

I don’t even think Dad played after work, or at least I don’t remember it. He had his time on the weekends with us kids, though, and like I said, every time I hear The Cranberries, I’m reminded at how fun he once could be, before the glitter in his life left.

Everett and I have been going to lunch here and there, and it’s nice to be able to feed him something off a menu, not having to remember his food and bottles. I don’t even carry a diaper bag anymore, just my purse with a diaper in it. It’s grand.

Chris is in a really good place at his “new” job, too. He has friends there now, and comes home with stories to share and a smile on his face, like he’s a little boy telling his Mother what he did in school that day. It’s so cute and I love it.

I feel like this is the best stage we’ve ever been in since Everett was born. Everything feels known, relaxed and easy. Chris and I have every night together, from 6/6:30 (Everett’s bedtime) until we go to bed. We watch movies and eat snacks and get to be us.

I am so thankful for where we are as a family, but even more thankful for what I know is yet to come. For more babies (whenever that might be), my own lily patch, this summer with Everett and whatever else we decide to dream up together, big or small.

And just as I’m closing this entry, I could’ve sworn I heard my song on a commercial, playing quietly on the unattended T.V. downstairs. I ran down the steps to listen and guess what? It was Dreams.

 

 

 

 

MAY 4, 2017 THIRTEEN months old

Everett is walking now! He hasn’t completely committed to two feet, but he’s been successfully taking steps and strides across the room. I’d say in a month, he’ll be running around the yard, chasing after Clifford.

Everyone keeps saying, “Good luck once he’s walking!” but I’m glad he’s so close. I honestly cannot carry him everywhere anymore. My back is riddled with knots from heaving around my cute twenty seven pound ball of chunk.

We’ve been playing outside on our porch a lot. Chris just painted the wood floor, and we purchased an outdoor table–I even bought a special candle for it that I still have yet to light. Maybe tonight we’ll eat dinner out there, call it a romantic date. We’re having pork and ceasar salad, tossed with Fodder’s dressing recipe. I love making it and thinking of your Dad, the two of you together, wherever you are now.

Now that Everett’s getting older–thirteen months as of two days ago–I’m having more and more fun with him. Every time he learns something new or makes a new face or tries a new sound, it’s exciting. I know and understand why Mothers get upset thinking of their babies growing up, but they’re supposed to evolve forward. For some reason, Everett growing just makes me proud, not sad. If he was my last, I think I’d feel differently, but the plan is that there will be several more children to follow…eventually.

I always used to say I wanted four kids. If someone asked me, I’d say “four,” without question or hesitation. And that was probably because you had four and I wanted to do everything just like you did.

But when Everett was a newborn, I remember complaining on the phone with Aunt Sara, saying I wasn’t cut out to stay at home with babies and kids. I felt like two children would be plenty, which felt frightening because my whole “plan” was being rocked off its center. I questioned who I was supposed to be, if not a Mother with no career outside of her home and beyond her children.

As I sit here a year later, I’m confident I want a lot of kids again. Everett’s “fun” stage is making it easier and easier to look forward to another pregnancy and baby. Grandma has told me before that you never liked the newborn phase–you enjoyed when you were able to talk and play with your kids. I always feel so much relief hearing that, like thank god I’m not the only one. But who knows, maybe the second time around will be different and I’ll adore the months of no sleep and being clueless.

Anyways. Yesterday, Everett and I spent the day out at Nana’s house. She took us to a local greenhouse and we picked out perennials. She bought me a lavender plant and another little one called a “creeping jenny.” I had to have it because of my middle name, and it’s now snuggled in the spring dirt outside my house, ready to creep, I guess.

We then went to Home Goods and shopped for crap we didn’t need, but I enjoyed browsing the store while Everett chilled in the cart, snacking on crackers and making eye contact with everyone who passed–he loves going places, observing and interacting.

When we returned home, Chris was already here and able to watch Everett while I went to yoga. I was so grateful to go–I hadn’t practiced for two weeks. I don’t know how or why I allowed that much time to come between me and my mat, but sometimes, life just happens.

When I walked into the studio, there were lily of the valley flowers on the desk, in a little dixie cup. I’ve been seeing them a lot lately, and of course, they make me think of you–they’re your flower.

Right now is the only time of the year that their little white bells are in bloom and they seem to be abundantly everywhere: a patch of them grow below a stop sign in my neighborhood; I found a wild bunch the other day on a walk, picking just one flower and taking it home with me; Nana gave me one from her garden with the roots still attached, in hopes that it will grow successfully in my yard; I passed a lady on the street today carrying some in a tiny bouquet.

I know they’re just a flower, but on my drive to yoga last night, I asked you if you’d be there in class with me…I asked for some kind of connection, some kind of awareness of your presence. Because sometimes, during the end in final relaxation, when we lay on our backs and both my mind and body are still, I feel you. I swear to god sometimes I even hear you, like this flowing voice coming through me, without hesitation or pause and you completely fill me up.

When I saw those lilies on the desk, I immediately “heard” you say, Now how much more obvious do I have to be? 

Someone reading this will think it’s all my mind tricking me into thinking I can feel you or that you’re “with” me, but it’s not. I’m not gullible. I’m not naive. I’m not entirely faithless. I know it was you.

I ration it this way: If my body could conceive and grow and birth a human, why is it so hard to believe that on some level, I can connect with your energy?

Before becoming a Mother, I had limits as to what I believed to be possible. If I thought I felt you in yoga after seventy five minutes of moving meditation, I would dismiss it and think, that’s just my brain trying desperately to believe you were real for a moment.

But my child is the perfect proof I’ve always needed to have a little more faith in the unknown–to have a little more trust in what I feel, rather than in what I read in books, in what other people tell me, or in what I’ve always been taught.

I look at Everett and still cannot comprehend that he was once never here. I cannot understand how he started as a little wiggly tadpole in my stomach, who grew to full baby size and then came out and literally through me, into this world. I have no words for it, but he’s simply my evidence of an unexplained miracle. Sure there’s science behind conception and birth but come on, really–how does that all happen and evolve and come to be?

So I know you and I can reach each other. And it’s usually only in yoga, only after Dominique’s class. She was my original teacher, the one I learned the bulk of my practice from. And I just called her on the phone now–she’s the one who put those lilies on the studio’s desk, picked fresh from her front yard.

I wrote the following entry in my journal a few months ago, but was “afraid” to share it with you because I thought I sounded crazy. But I’m not afraid anymore, and I don’t think I was crazy.

March 13, 2017

I went to Dominique’s class last night. At the end, I laid on my back with my arms draped up and over my head, physically exhausted. My eyes were closed, my mind was off, my entire body was limp and there wasn’t an ounce of energy left inside of me.

I was all love and nothing negative or sad could puncture the balloon of bliss I was in. It was incredible. And I started remembering myself as a little girl, sitting on the coffee table at the old house while watching The Lion King. Mom was sweeping the white carpet, the extra cord wrapped around her forearm. 

In the movie, Simba had just found his Dad after the stampede, and as I lifted my legs for Mom to run the sweeper under, I looked up at her, trying to imagine what would ever happen to me if she died, like Simba’s Dad had. Somehow in that one small moment as a six year old child, I knew I’d lose her one day. I just knew, and didn’t question it.

And I felt all this all over again in real time, as I laid there in that yoga room. I was feeling that knowing, but this time it felt good–it felt understood. Everything came full circle.

I found a new kind of peace, full of a welcoming acceptance towards Mom’s death. It no longer felt like me or Dad or the kids were cheated by her loss. It no longer felt like she was cheated. It just felt like she was all through me, without an ounce of separation, and I realized that “losing” Mom was just a part of our lives being intertwined together. I still chose her to be my Mother, even though she’d have to “leave” me someday. And I’d still choose her over and over again.

Somehow, on some level, I’ve always known Mom would physically leave and I know this because of the way I felt in that class. 

May this entry be my reminder the next time I ever doubt why she left or where she is.

I know I sound strange. And I can’t put everything into perfectly explained words for it all to make sense, but whatever happened to me in that yoga class was incredible. I know in my heart that it was real. If I’m crazy, so be it–at least I feel closer to you than ever in my life…at least I feel like I finally somewhat understand your death.

I’m sure there are some people who read my words and think I haven’t healed or moved on since you died. Because even after all this time, I still talk about your death so much and about missing you, and wondering where you are. Maybe a few people even worry if I’m doing “okay.” And I get it, I understand their possible concern.

But since Everett came into my life, I’ve managed to miss you and need you in an entire different capacity, for entire different reasons than before becoming a Mother. What kind of daughter would I be if I just accepted your death one way and one way only, never to think or ponder or question or strive to find more answers that continually bring peace to my heart? I may never stop all the wondering, all the searching for you. But I don’t care, because I’ve learned so much along the way, not only about you, but myself.

Losing you has shaped me into a relatively spiritual being. Losing you has proven my faith in the unknown. Losing you has given me some sort of magic to hold on to–a constant awareness of your boundless presence.

Yoga has helped me find you again in some way, but it’s only in those moments of calm and surrendering and letting everything just be that you come through to me. So I’d like to get myself in that state as much as possible–it’s where amazing things happen. And since I know I can’t make it to the studio every night, maybe starting a little meditation practice of my own, along with a new morning affirmation prayer, is a start.

It will be hard to hold myself accountable, but I think I deserve ten or fifteen minutes at some point in the day, to sit, breathe, create intentions and be thankful for all the beauty in my life. And maybe…just maybe, feel you there with me, too.

 

April 27, 2017

Sometimes I can’t believe I haven’t seen you for over eight years. EIGHT years, Mom.

What would you think of me now? I’m different…obviously. Even just from my physical appearance. I’m more relaxed since you last saw me–in the way my hair looks, how I dress, how I act and talk.

What would you think of the way I Mother my son? Would you correct me when I did something a certain way that wasn’t “yours?” Would you love and adore being a grandmother?

Do you approve of my husband? You never met him. That, almost above all else, breaks my heart the most, you know. Chris would have loved you. You would’ve loved Chris.

He would have thought your dumb jokes and the way you teased and laughed were hysterical. He would’ve compared the two of us–the things we say, our facial expressions, saying to me, you and your mom are so alike. 

Honestly though–can I tell you something? Eight years is a long time–yes, but in the one year since I’ve become a Mother, I have never felt more close to you as ever in my life; even from when you were still alive.

I think of you constantly. And it’s not usually in a sad way–it’s in the my mother is here, kind of way. I swear you are with my always. It’s not like you’re my angel staring down on me from heaven, either–because what I feel is much more than that; it’s that you’re here. 

I don’t know what better word to use, but here.

When I think of your face and your hair and your lipsticks and the way you smelled after you applied suntan lotion–my heart aches. It makes me mourn to see you in person.

Your physicality is what’s completely gone, and it always will be. That’s a hard pill to swallow; never again will I see that face I knew and loved so well.

But what’s not gone is your soul…your spirit…your energy…your life-force–whatever anyone wants to call it. I prefer energy for some reason. It’s all the same thing, though. Energy is what we were before we came into our bodies, and it’s what we are when we leave them. It’s what you are now.

And your energy, Mom, can be everywhere–all at once. You can be with all your kids. You can be with all your family. You can be intertwined and weaved through everything, existing in nothing but love.

So that’s where I find you: in the love I have in my life right now. I find you in the love and appreciation I have for my husband. I find you in the bond between Everett and I. I find you when I see my siblings. I find you when Dad and I say something kind to each other.

I find your energy–your spirit–in all the positive things in my life.

Because in your current form, you don’t know negativity. You don’t know the absence of love. You don’t know disease. You don’t know hatred. You don’t know not believing in the magic of our world, because you are experiencing its wonders, all the time.

That’s what I believe.

And I also believe that you would like who I’ve become. You would think I was a good Mother. You would think I married a solid man. And of course you’d love being a grandmother–who would I be kidding to ever doubt that, just because I can’t see you hold Everett? You were the queen of babies and children.

You know me much more now than you ever did or ever would’ve, had you never “left.”

This is a truth I feel in my heart, as pure as anything.

Before I go–

Tatum just called me about our plans–her and Cole have been coming over on Thursday nights, and I absolutely love it. But she had one “request”–that if we sit around and talk, we do it outside because her legs are really pale and they need some sun.

I cracked up because she’s actually being serious, and because she’s so still your daughter. Your presence obviously remains in Tatum, even though she only knew you for four years.

See? Eight years, four years, a hundred years–you are with us, always.

 

April 19, 2017

A close family friend of the Pearlman’s lost her mother last week–she lived to be ninety years old. What a celebration of life, and she didn’t suffer when she left this world.

I was looking at her obituary online, and on an impulse, searched for yours.

NORRIS JENIFER ANN (SOPHER)
Age 39 of Murrysville died peacefully at her home surrounded by her loving family on Thursday, August 14, 2008 after a courageous battle with cancer. She was born April 10, 1969 in Pittsburgh a daughter of Cynthia (Jenny) Sopher of North Hills and the late Joseph Sopher. Jenifer is survived by her beloved husband of 17 years Jason Norris, four children Hayley, Allison, Cole and Tatum Norris; devoted sister Jessica Davis and her husband Todd of Lancaster County, VA, grandfather Joseph Sopher of Pittsburgh, aunts and uncles Jim Sopher and his wife Marcia, Terry Sopher and his wife Kathy, Bill Jenny and his wife Joanne, Sue Channer and her husband Brian, Ryan Norris and his wife Katie, Sara Kamerer and her husband Jared and Adam Norris; father and mother in-law Wayne and Jackie Norris, Grandmother in-law Algie Norris. Also survived by several nieces, nephews and cousins. Preceded in death by maternal grandparents Carl and Dorothy Jenny, paternal grandmother Virginia Sopher and grandfather in-law J.M. “Buster” Norris. Friends will be received Sunday from 2-9 p.m. at the WOLFE-von GEIS FUNERAL HOME, INC where services will be held Monday at 10:00 a.m. 

How. How?

I’ve had a heavy bugging feeling lately, as if there’s a brick just sitting in the pit of my stomach, weighing everything down. This usually happens around my menstrual cycle–I know I’ve told you all about my hormone shifts before, but they just feel so real. 

I never used to get this “bugging” feeling before you died. I never really knew what that weighted feeling in my gut felt like, until that August 14th night.

I’ll always remember laying with you, in your bed with Allison right beside me and Dad kneeling beside you. Your eyes were closed and your breathing was slowing with every breath; you tried so hard, for so long to just keep breathing until finally, your body stopped and you were no longer in it.

We sobbed. Papap looked like he had just witnessed the biggest tragedy of his life. I’ve never seen him emotional, and the way his face looked is imprinted in my mind, still.

I don’t remember what Dad did. I don’t remember what me or Allison did. I don’t remember who else was in your bedroom when it happened. I don’t remember leaving your side, but know at one point, I did.

The next thing I remember is being downstairs in the family room, talking with Grandma and Allison. There were paramedics walking through the kitchen and up the stairs with a stretcher. I said aloud, I feel like all of my insides have been scooped out. And to some degree, I swear to god that feeling has never left.

Most days I forget it’s there. Most days I feel used to that one tiny thing in the back of my mind that always feels like it’s just missing. And when I say your name or tell a story about you out loud, it disappears for a few seconds.

But on days like these, it’s the only thing I can think about; the weight is so heavy, and it anchors me down in the feeling of your absolute absence. It feels so shitty.

Grief is a terrible thing.

It comes, it goes. It hides, it seeks. It goes up, it goes down. It leaves, it returns. It weakens, it strengthens. It destroys, it teaches.

Once you’ve gone down to the depths of it, you’re forever changed. And you must overcome it, in your own way and in your own time, or else it will destroy–not teach.

I know that I have “overcome” your death. What I don’t know is, will the random days of random crying, (like in the middle of brushing my teeth) because I miss you ever leave?

Because that’s what happened this morning. I was in front of the bathroom sink and mirror, scrubbing away at my teeth, and when I leaned over to spit out toothpaste, I thought of you and lost control. I just started to cry and kept crying, hunched over and helpless.

I put Everett down for his nap, and came to sit on my computer, where I found your obituary and then everything spiraled, bringing me here to write to you.

I know that it’s healthy to feel this way sometimes. This isn’t like in the years before, when I would get stuck in this feeling. I know that today will pass, and I’ll be fine tomorrow or even this afternoon when Everett and I go out and do our errands.

I’m just extra sensitive right now. And my body remembers what it feels like to grieve you–it will never forget. So when I’m weak or on an extra rainy day, the grief creeps inward, into that one spot in my gut, reminding me of what I went through, what I overcame, and where I am now.

 

 

APRIL 15, 2017

The other day Everett and I were playing in his little room before bedtime; it’s his favorite place in the house, complete with toys and a window he loves to look out of. He’ll stand on his highest tippy toes, saying “whassat?” (what’s that), when he gets tall enough to see the blooming trees outside.

There was this small moment–it only lasted a few seconds–when Everett and I looked at one another, and I couldn’t believe how old he was. It all of a sudden hit me.

I thought of the six month old baby I’d put in the stroller every day in the summer for walks, dressing him in a simple three button onesie. I thought about the mother I was then, still so marveled in the newness of motherhood. I’d push his stroller with a pride I had never felt before, feeling so accomplished to finally have my baby.

And as he continued to play, I started to cry.

I cried because he’s not that baby anymore. I cried because I’m not that mother anymore.

The butterflies feel like they’ve fluttered away. Is this normal, Mom? Or am I just a cold person now?  Should I still feel giddy to be pushing a stroller or to have Everett in the grocery cart?

I don’t know.

I feel used to being a Mom now. And I don’t mean that I take it for granted. I don’t mean that I don’t love Everett any less. I don’t mean that I’m not happy being a mother. The thrills aren’t completely gone–I still light up when strangers comment on his curly hair or sweet disposition. I still get giddy when he tries to share his cracker with me (it’s SO cute). But something just feels different.

What I mean is that I’m comfortable now–I’m used to loving Everett.

And this sudden shift in my thinking has happened recently, I guess since he turned one years old.

When Chris and I first started dating, there was all that magic and newness and learning about one another. And then our relationship hit the stage where you could fart in the same bed or sit in silence in the car without any awkwardness. Even though some of the beginning sparks were gone, we had established something much more real and concrete.

When Everett was first born, I was so absolutely overwhelmed with love. It was exhilarating to love in such a way, and I can compare it to when Chris and I were in that “honeymoon” stage while dating.

But Everett’s love is different from what I share with my husband. I can’t really explain how, but I know that you and every other mother out there understands the difference.

I choose to love Chris. I choose to love him after our little arguments, I choose to love him when he makes me frustrated or continually leaves cups all over the house, with an inch of milk left in them. And by choosing him over and over, I am constantly reaffirming my commitment to him–the commitment I made at our wedding, under your willow tree and in front of our families.

I don’t choose to love Everett. My love just is, and it feels like the most natural thing in the entire universe.

But with the thrill and newness of my first baby’s first year over, am I normal to feel comfortable and established in the way that I love him? Should there always be those butterflies or is it okay for the routine of our every days to blend it all together? Will I feel all those same beginning delights with the next pregnancy?

Again, I don’t know. These are things I wish I could ask you.

I’ll leave you with this, a quote I saw and saved when Everett was just a newborn.

I say to you my child, I will explain as much of life as I can, but you must remember that there is a part of life for which you are the explanation.”

Everett is still the answer for multiple parts of my life, if not just about everything. So I know that even though my love is shifting and changing and rearranging into a more realistic and steady phase, how I feel for my baby has not diminished, and it never will.

 

 

 

APRIL 11, 2017

Yesterday, you would’ve been forty eight years old.

I was driving into my driveway, coming home from Trader Joe’s, when I thought of you–how you’d look today, how you’d act, and what our family would do to celebrate your special birthday. My eyes welled up with tears, but before I could really sink into that feeling of missing you, my car was parked, and it was time to unload the groceries.

So instead of going to a birthday dinner or some kind of gathering, to remember you, Chris, Everett and I went to the cemetery. We sat on the grass, right above your plot, and watched the ducks in the pond straight out ahead. Everett snacked on his dinner; it was kind of like a weird picnic. But it was so beautiful outside. The temperature was in the low 70’s, and the grass and sky were vibrant in their colors.

It is the one place in this world where I can just sit and…forget about it all.

I couldn’t believe how close Everett felt to you. I know it’s just your body down under that spot of earth, but still. When I saw him sway his feet in the grass, feeling the texture of it on his toes, I thought of my favorite book, Leaves of Grass and the part where Whitman writes:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again, look for me under your boot soles.

I read that book in college and kept it on my nightstand for years. Those lines always spoke to me: you are now a part of that grass–you are now a part of everything, all knowing and everywhere at once.

But on a day like yesterday, I could’ve used you in one place at one time, and that would be here with your family.

After the three of us sat for awhile, we went to feed the swans under the gazebo. Oddly enough, you and Nana used to take me there when I was a little girl. I can honestly remember throwing white Wonder bread into the water and watching the swans swim in circles, fighting to get a piece.

How beautifully and utterly unaware that small girl must’ve been, of what that place would represent in her adult years.

The one swan kept trying to bite Chris’ feet and we had a good laugh. I know he was trying to lighten the mood for me, and I appreciated his efforts–repeatedly sticking his tennis shoes out so the swan would snap at it, saying, “Look Pum!”

Everett hasn’t been feeling too good, so once he had enough, we left.

As I opened the car door, I looked back down the hill at your spot by the willow tree and pond and said I love you Mom. I hope you heard me.

 

 

 

 

APRIL 2, 2017 ONE years old

Well, my baby turned one years old.

Chris and I woke up at 7:30 (Everett slept in!) and the sun was sneaking into our room through the curtains–everything looked so beautiful in the morning light. I stretched out under the covers, looked at my husband and said, “Hug me,” in my cutest voice. It’s the one Chris loves. And we cuddled for a few moments, until he said, “It’s snuggy boo’s birthday! Come on!”

We went into Everett’s room, the video camera in Chris’s hand, and switched on the lights, saying happy birthday baby boy! in somewhat of a unison. Everett had a confused look on his face, but once his eyes adjusted to the light, he stood up holding his blanket, smiling ear to ear–his Mama and Dada were there to see him, and he couldn’t have been happier.

After breakfast, we opened his presents from last night’s party. I don’t know if I told you anything about what we were doing for it, but Rich and Judy had the family over their house, catered by a local gyro place we like to frequent.

The food was excellent, the company was comfortable and Everett was the center of all the love and attention he could stand.

How wonderful it is to know your child is so loved, by so many people.

He got a tee pee from Dad and Terri. Grandma and Papap and Uncle Jared and Aunt Sara got him a zoo pass for the year. Saus and Wes got him a play lawn mower that blows bubbles–he can cut the grass this summer with Chris (how cute).

From Chris’ side of the family he got some cool new toys and a few outfits. Nana and Aunt Jessica provided him a mini shopping spree at Old Navy a few weeks ago, too–so the little dude is set!

He has been taking steps. The most he’s done is four. You would think he was walking on water for how proud he gets–it is the cutest thing ever, watching him try and then succeed, looking up at me like, Mama did you see that!? 

I melt. The first time he tried to walk to me, I balled. I couldn’t help it. I was so proud.

I let him play in his room now, alone–well, with Clifford, too. The dog just sits there and watches Everett, wishing he could eat all those fun stuffed animals and cardboard baby books. I can’t even tell you how many toys have been lost to the dog.

But when I shower, if I peek outside the curtain, I can see right into his room while he’s playing. I put a gate on the door to close off his little play space, and do my thing from twenty feet away. It’s fantastic. I mean, it doesn’t last too long, but just enough time to allow me that enjoyment in the mornings. When I get that “alone” time, I think this will be impossible when a second baby comes along, making me certain I’m not ready yet for another one.

Speaking of–I had a dream last night that Chris and I were at this huge outdoor party. I don’t know what people were doing there, but we were outside this big house, on the grass, with lots and lots of people. Like an outdoor concert or something. And somehow I ended up holding this little boy, about two years old.

Apparently no one wanted him and I said I would adopt him?

Hours later in this dream (which was realistically really just two seconds) I was calling for you, saying, “Mom…Mom…Mom..has anyone seen my mother?” Like the little bird in that book I read to Everett, who leaves his nest too early.

And I could feel that bit of frantic panic, not knowing where you were. You were still alive in the dream, but the party was just too big, and I couldn’t find you.

I wanted to tell you that I wasn’t ready to take this little boy–that I still wanted it to be just Everett and I. But I felt guilty not taking him because no one would.

A hippy couple somehow came along and said they’d love to take the boy, and I felt relief–both in the dream and for real as I slept. Like, thank god—not yet, not yet. 

That dream is weird for two reasons.

One: the whole thing about not wanting another kid just yet and the guilt I felt. I know that dream was telling me something, almost confirming that my “plan” to wait for the second baby is a good one–that I’m not doing anything wrong because I’m not ready. Sometimes I feel that way, and I don’t know why.

Two: not being able to find you was troubling. The lost panic in my body felt so terrible and so desperate. I was scared.

And sometimes I still feel scared about where you are. Sometimes I want to ask people, hey, do you know where Jenifer Norris went? She was that beautiful blonde with four kids–yea, that one–the one who died of breast cancer at age thirty-nine. 

But I know that no one knows. Everyone has theories, everyone has beliefs. No one truly knows. And that is frustrating as shit. Sorry for the language, but it is.

There are days when I feel where you are. And I believe in these beautiful books and words I read, feeling connected and peaceful about your constant presence.

There are days when I think all of it is a bunch of nonsense, and that you really are just gone, unable to help me, unable to know Everett, unable to reach me and the rest of your kids.

There are more days that I know you’re with me, though, versus the ones that I feel sad and lonely and utterly helpless without you. And that’s a good thing.

I really missed you at Everett’s party.

That’s when I remember you your happiest–during the holidays, family get togethers, and for birthday parties. When our family was all under one roof, you glowed.

I feel that same family happiness now, too. Chris always teases me before a family event like, “Pum are you so excited!” in his high pitched cheesy voice. He knows I get the jitters when I’m going to Nana’s for a party or over to Grandma’s for a day visit.

I just love my family beyond anything else in this world. And when I looked around yesterday at the party, I saw Everett…I saw my family, and thought, I am finally contributing to these family birthdays now–we are all in the same room because of MY baby. That felt good and wholesome and filling to realize.

It made me feel proud.

Everyone keeps asking me, “Can you believe you have a one year old?” and I say, yes…I can. I don’t mean it in a negative way–a year just does feel like it’s passed. So much has happened, so much has been accomplished, so much has been learned, so much has been proven and changed.

I’m satisfied and proud of what the past twelve months have brought me and my family. I look at Everett when he does something new and can’t believe I’ve raised a human whose learning to walk. I’ve kept that little boy fed and clean and loved and safe and everything else for an entire year. As dumb as it sounds, I’m proud of Chris and I too, for getting this far with so much success. I think we are great parents and we make an even better team together.

You were such a proud Mom, too.

I keep this note in a little keepsake box in my nightstand:

Hayley,

I know you think it’s silly for me to

congratulate you for making cheer squad

since we all knew they’d be crazy not to

take you. However, I am so proud of how

amazing you are at cheerleading. What a

great feeling for a mother to not have to

worry about her daughter because she is

so good at everything she tries.

I couldn’t be prouder of you for all you are

and all I know you will become.

The proudest mom ever,

Mom xoxo

You always made me feel like I could do anything. You made me learn how to be independent. You made me feel capable and strong and want to aspire to be just how you were.

You were an amazing mother, Mom. I honestly don’t know if I ever told you that. If you were here now, I’d sit down and thank you for everything.

I’d thank you for being so fierce and fun and funny–so honest and comfortable in your skin. I’d thank you for believing in me and never letting me go easy. I’d thank you for all the times you made me feel special, whether it was because I made cheer squad or you said my hair looked pretty. I’d thank you for taking care of me when I was a baby, for giving me a happy childhood, for setting boundaries when I was a teenager, and for teaching me how to be a woman, wife and mother.

Do you really know how much I love you?

 

MARCH 17, 2017

When I have a little girl, I want to decorate her room in mermaids.

Random. I know. But I was scrolling through sheets on Target’s website and stumbled upon a mermaid set. How cute to have a little Maine themed room, with seagulls and seashells and blue paint with white clouds pouted on the walls. I can picture it all perfectly.

When I think of having another baby, I think of the fall and being fully ready. I think of our trip up to Maine in October, and picture me, Chris and Everett, as our little three human unit, for the last time. Well not the last time because it takes time to make a baby–but you know what I mean.

That trip is going to be special. I’ve been putting yoga money aside each month in an envelope with “Maine” written on it.

Before Everett went to bed just now, we laid in his crib together (Chris always tells me not to do this because there is like a fifty pound weight limit, but I just can’t help it). He guzzled his night time bottle as I whispered into his ear, thank you for choosing me as your Mommy. 

Everett loves going down for a nap or bedtime. As soon as he’s in his crib, he wants that bottle. He gets so excited for it, kicking his legs and batting his arms with a big cheesy smile and those gnarly crooked top teeth of his. They’re so cute–everything about him is. I look at his blonde curls and just burst into love oblivion, each and every time. 

Oh, he says Mama now! It’s more like ma ma ma ma ma, but it’s a start. He muttered it at breakfast a few weeks ago and then later that day, while in the E.l.f makeup section at Target, he looked right up at me from that red shopping cart and said, “ma ma”. I just about fell over. I’ll never forget it–it’ll be one of those imprinting moments that last forever.

Like the moment I said my wedding vows under your willow tree, with the sun and May leaves above Chris and I. Or the moment I looked at the positive pregnancy test, so excited that my insides tightened up to the size of a bouncy ball. Or the moment I saw Dad, years ago, sitting on the couch, with his hands over his head and listening to your wedding song, For Your Precious Love. You only had a few more days to live, and it was like he was savoring something, trying to remember it forever.

Moments are our memories. And the memories I have with you are in my mind or written down on paper, safe and permanent.

Hayley-

Memories are the wonderful gift we are given when we lose someone we love. I hope you write down everything you remember about your Mom and the times you had with her. Time allows us to forget things that we never think we will. So take a minute here or there to jot it all down. You will enjoy it for the rest of your life.

I love you much,

Aunt Jessi xoxo 10-8-08

Aunt Jessi wrote that in a book called “I Remember You: A Grief Journal” and gave it to me a few months after you died.

I filled it with random short ramblings, all recalling stories and fights and situations and conversations that you and I shared.

Here are a few:

I was a little girl, maybe four or five years old and was laying in Mom’s king size water bed at the old house. It was still morning, her hair was still messy. I asked to put my legs “in the oven”, which meant in between her legs because they’d always be warm. And I played with her long blond hair, holding up the strands and pretending they were long neck dinosaurs from the Land Before Time movie.

Driving in the Hummer at the beach, just Mom and I. It was the last vacation we took before she died. She was sick, but in the positive wave of her chemo and treatment. We thought it was over–at least us kids did. I looked over at her driving and could tell how happy she was. She kept teasing, talking about all the things we were going to buy at the outlets. Mom sang her song, “gonna have fun fun fun ’til Daddy takes the checkbook away”, in the tune of the Beach Boys.

When she came home from her first hospital stay, Mom wanted pot roast nachos from Atrias. We all watched the Steeler game down in the basement, and I laid my head in her lap while she played with my hair. I felt safe for the first time since the diagnosis nightmare started. I was so thankful to have her back home.

We were in the old house, right between the kitchen and dining room. Dad was fixing or moving the refrigerator. Mom and Dad both sneezed and in her uppy, surprised voice said, “Oh my gosh Gaston! Can you believe it? We sneezed at the same time!” She always said goofy stuff like that, in that voice of hers–so much excitement, so much enthusiasm.

Every time I ever walked into her bathroom for something, she’d usually be in front of her mirror getting ready, sometimes naked and always with a white towel wrapped around her head. Both the bathroom and linen closet doors would slam together when I walked in, exposing her either dancing happily or looking super pissed that yet another child was bothering her. 

Her and I went shopping and ended our trip because we were fighting so bad. Our last store was Bed Bath and Beyond. When we got home, I was hanging up my new earrings and she came up to my room and asked, “Do you even love me?” Mom asked it seriously, with tears in her eyes. We hugged and cried. I was such a rotten teenager.

In fourth grade when I was having “friend troubles”, I was laying in her bed, not wanting to go to school–Mom and Dad were meeting with my counselor, Ms. Wurzel. She was getting ready in her bathroom and when she came out to check on me in the bedroom, she had on a dark green snakeskin shirt that I’ll never forget her often wearing, usually with leather pants.

I could go on and on. I love reading these. To someone else they will seem like gibberish but those little stories are what I have left of you and our time here together.

Mom, I think for the first time, I am truly finding peace in where you are from me–I don’t feel so utterly separated anymore.

I just haven’t found peace in where you are from Everett–I’m simply unable to understand why he’ll never be in your arms.

I guess you’re always holding him though. Not physically, but he will always be carried by you, always supported and always guided.

You’re in every look I give him. You’re in every kiss he receives. You’re a physical part of him, and he’ll grow up knowing that “Mommy’s Mommy” is around and within, both inside and out.

You will be the magic wonder that helps him understand so many things in this world.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” -Roald Dahl 

Everett will believe in that magic–he will believe in you. All my kids will.

 

MARCH 7, 2017 ELEVEN months old

I came across this entry in an old journal, written almost exactly seven years ago:

3.2.10

Mom. Mom. Mom.

I can’t explain what it feels like to miss her. I forget what life actually felt like before she was diagnosed. After I heard the word cancer, my “person” was changed forever. There’s a terrible indescribable feeling that’s been permanently put inside me—will it ever go away?

I can still remember what I was wearing when we found out the news: a purple American Eagle t-shirt with gray cotton cropped Bermuda shorts. How terrible that night was. 

As I laid on my floor and cried and cried until there were no more tears, I tried to imagine what my life would be like without my Mom—and I mentally couldn’t. I mean, how could I? I’d never known a moment without her. 

I’ve just been thinking about her a lot. I think it’s because I’ve been home from college more often than usual. Yoga certification is almost over, but I’ve driven up every weekend the past month for our training and have been spending the nights in my old room. 

What am I going to do when I’m older and find someone I think I’ll marry? Who will I seek approval from? What about when I get pregnant? Mom would be the epitome of who I’d want to talk about “mommy business” with. And we’d go to lunch together and shop for baby clothes. 

My kids will never know their mom’s Mom. How can that be something anyone should ever have to experience? I just don’t know how I’ll get through all of those things without her. Granted, they’ll be spread out, but all my life there will be times when I crave—literally crave—to have her with me.

She’ll take care of me, though. I know she will, and that’s not just me reassuring myself for comfort. Ever since she died I’ve been aware of something different and I know somehow it’s her. 

I remember waking up in my bed at home, the morning after she died in her bedroom with all of us beside her. I had put a picture of her and I on my pillow before I fell asleep and when I opened my eyes, there was sun in my room and her face in that picture was the first thing I saw. Something came over me—some sense of peace or calm or reassurance—I can’t put it into words without sounding cheesy. But it was new, and it was real and it hasn’t left me since. 

It’s sad for me to read, thinking about being eighteen years old, a freshman in college, laying alone on my home bed and writing in my journal.

If I had to go back in time and relive the first few years after you died, I would never be able to handle it again. That phase of my life felt like an entire lifetime. Time always moved so slow. My friends were still innocent and ignorant of the loss I was feeling—in some way, I felt forever separated and different from them. How could they ever understand?

I didn’t walk around miserable or depressed. But I felt so ruined.

A part of me was waiting for you to just show up again and say it was all a dream or it was only temporary.

The following years at cheer camp I’d always look for your bright blonde hair and listen for your high heels walking across the high school gym floor. You’d have a purse hooked around your forearm, holding Tatum’s hand.

I knew you wouldn’t really walk in, but I was devastated each and every time you didn’t show. I’d see everyone else’s parents and just couldn’t understand. Why me? Why my mother? Why is my family going through this?

I felt so alone. I didn’t know where to find you. I didn’t know what was happening with Dad. I didn’t know what would happen to Tatum who was only one month shy of her fifth birthday when you died. I didn’t know what would happen to any of us, including myself.

How do I survive? How do I find happiness again? 

And it all weighed me down so heavy. I was the girl whose mom died for the next eight years. Or at least, that’s how I identified myself.

I wanted people to know for some reason—I brought up the fact that you were gone whenever I could. It made me feel like what I was living was actually real. It became my story.

I can remember on my first date in college–it was with my crush from Criminal Justice class, Danny, and we were walking back to campus from the movie theater. Our families came up in conversation and I said, “My mother died about a year ago. She got sick with cancer.”

I had practically just met him, but I wanted him to know what was then, the biggest part of me.

But since becoming a mother myself, I don’t feel the need for anyone to know. If you came up in conversation I would openly talk about it—of course—but that’s usually not the case.

Through my teenage years, having kids without you here was what scared me the most–not college or marriage or anything else. It was always babies. When I wrote my kids will never know their mom’s Mom—the question truly haunted me.

But I’m facing that fear.

Now, instead of bringing up the my mother died when I was seventeen story, I talk about being a mom. I’ll say, my son, my husband, my home, etc. It is what identifies me right now.

And I don’t mean that it’s all I am, but no longer am I the girl without her mother. I’m Everett’s mother.

I think that’s my favorite word in the Universe: mother. It’s so beautiful. It makes me think of my baby, of love and sacrifice and connection and safety and teaching and learning and magic and mystery and faith and perseverance and grit and the perfect balance of tough and soft.

It makes me think of you, and everything you were and still are.