I am (almost) glad that you died when I was thirteen years old. Last night John and I watched the movie "Everybody's Fine" where parenthood and life can go wrong and painful. Afterwards I went up to Libby's bedroom where she was finally asleep, and I lifted her up in to my arms, onto my lap and I held her and rocked her and cried into her soft, sweet neck. Then I did the same with Portia. Neither of them woke up, They slept the deep sleep of little girls and good living. I thought of you.
I thought of how you lived, both laughing and sad. How I could understand your drinking better now, you being a single mom back before it was normal. How lonely you must have been despite your friends and family nearby. They weren't at home with us every night. I think about different conversations you and I had, pulling them through the filter of my adulthood. You were the same age when you died as I am right now. You died without us having a last meaningful conversation. You left me rootless and lost despite having a good Dad to live with. At school I was afraid to be left alone in the bathroom, figuring my friends would rush out and leave while I was indisposed.
In spite of this, because of this, I learned to live my love out loud. I took risks. I spoke my mind. I had adventures like moving to Chicago to act instead of spending money and time in college learning about acting. I moved to Denver because I could and I was interested in a scary change. I wanted wilderness of my own with my dog Darby and a blue Honda Civic and a 1,000 mile drive.
I inherited some money from you and could move out of an unhealthy situation and into my very own apartment with your cloth napkins on the table. As I write I realize in flashes it is YOUR table, your tablecloth covered table and cloth napkins that I see just as much as Dad's when I set my table and yearn for family dinners. I can understand more of why good conversation over a meal makes me crazy and controlling. I cannot explain to my three and five year olds that any meal together could be our last before Something Else happens. I cannot both inform them and not scare them, so I swallow the fear and try not to yell when what I imagine and need in my head does not unfold at the dinner table. I try to enjoy the moments for what they are and not what I want them to be.
I have felt the loss of you so many times. I lost the woman in my life who should nurture me through what being woman, mother and wife really means. I've cobbled these life lessons together from other wonderful women in my life instead. I bask in the love from Monte, my mother in law. She loves me well, accepts me in my mess and I am not afraid to be honest with her about most of my struggles. I am grateful for her as my Mother-in-love and I know it is a rare relationship to have.
Sometimes I can speak of you like lines in a play. Other times just seeing a grown women shopping with her mom brings me to tears so fast I need to turn away. I buy myself things. I buy myself a gift from you instead of for you. I pamper myself on your behalf.
All of this reminds me to make memories for my girls. I feel a lot of pressure from myself to be memorably awesome just in case on top of being a mother who disciplines and teaches and guides my girls into strong women. I'm so busy teaching them about the world, life, how not to be greedy, to have good manners, to think of others and to ohmylawdstoptalking that I feel wiped out most days.
But I am also letting them eat Garrett's cheese popcorn in bed in our Chicago hotel. I surprise them with cake for breakfast on their birthdays. We go out for ice-cream in our pajamas. We go on adventures to the craft store and we paint paper plates and boxes and themselves. We cook and bake together making one heck of a mess.
I give my fear of Something Else to God. I beg Him to give us all long, healthy lives. I try to take peace in the lack of control I have. What I can do is love my daughters when they are in front of me. I can teach them through my example and my mistakes. I can love them.
Mom, I will always wonder what we would have been like now. I wonder how you would have lived the rest of your life if there had been more of it. Because you died, I have lived more vibrantly and part of me will always be grateful for your absence. I love you, I miss you, and thank you for your joy and laughter that lives in me. I live my love out loud because of you.