Today I am 40 years, 7 months and 2 weeks old. At some point in time during this day I will surpass the age my mother was when she died. She had breast cancer while carrying me and died when I was six months old. She left behind, my Dad, my exactly 15.5 years older than me ( yep, she died right around his 16th birthday) brother and me. My dad was older, as in, is this your grand-daughter older. He went on to have his last kid at age 48, but this isn’t a story about my family.
When I had my daughter I started thinking about Mom more. Dad died while I was pregnant and I had this difficult infant to stay up many nights with. I would lie or sit there, nursing her and smelling her sweet, momentarily quiet head and wonder what my Mom was thinking all those years ago. I thought about all the hopes and dreams I have for MiniMe and prayed I would live past her 6th month. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my health, but I think I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop on my death as soon as I comprehended what, your Mom died at age 40, meant. My whole life, death, has been my darkest emotional trigger. It took years and years before I wasn’t freaking out that The Husband was dead on the road somewhere when he was more than 15-20 minutes late and hadn’t called. It started as mild worry and would creep toward borderline panic attack. If I love you then you leaving me is heartbreaking; leaving me via death, biggest fear ever. Of course I lived just fine past MiniMe’s 6th month. A few years ago I started creeping closer to 40. I can’t remember exactly how long it had been in the back of my mind, but I can tell you as late as summer of 2010 ago I STILL had the irrational fear that I was going to somehow magically die young (soon) like my Mother did. That was the summer I took the plunge and looked up the death date, did the math and landed on today. I remember thinking how far away it seemed at the time. This was probably June or July and at that time just getting through one week and on to the next seemed often insurmountable on all fronts. But the weeks were not insurmountable, they did pass right by, one after the other until it was almost time.
As the months passed it became very clear to the crazy bitch inside of me, since nothing is wrong with me, that I had a high probability of living past my Mom’s age. I have always lived in a bit of little girl dread of the day. It has affected me in every way imaginable, it has shaped me, given me the foundation with which I built myself upon. This day, has always been at the core of my being, and the closer I got to it, the closer I got to me.
Yes, I can tell you sitting at 40, that it absolutely IS too young to die. I can tell you that I don’t feel old, or that it is ” all downhill from here” . I do feel like this may be the pinnacle of my life so far, surely I won’t be wasting it by heading back to where I came. I have to tell you, in all honesty that 40 feels pretty damn good. I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m a grown woman, a woman who recognizes and loves the crazy parts of the little girl inside of me for who she is. Finally, after 40 years of being, I learned how to just BE, and accept my inner private self as is. If I land on something I can’t accept, I either need to seek to change it or find a way to accept it. I suppose there are pieces inside all of us somewhere on that journey. I was just cursed/blessed to reach my mid-life crisis and stumble, sometimes badly, through it. Looking back I know that I had to take that journey, in exactly that same way, fuck-ups and all, to land right here where I am in this moment. I am a woman who has learned that we are ALL fucked up in our own beautiful flawed ways. A woman who has learned that all Mothers/partners/friends make bad decisions. It’s not what kind of mistakes you make; what matters is how you handle yourself when you choose to, or not to, own them.
As the calendar ticked down to the final week, and some other key events took place in my life, I started to notice a shift in my thinking. I am going to be living way past 40 years, 7 months and 2 weeks. What am I going to do with it? What should I do with myself? I am being given time my Mother never had. I am being afforded the opportunity to shed the shell of the hold her death has had on me, and step out into a whole new period of my life. A whole new period where I finally love myself and have the hind sight and wisdom that a disaster-ed couple of years of almost divorce, reconciliation, and forgiving yourself and the boy who ripped out your heart can give you. I can’t really explain how this feels except to say it is freeing, and exhilarating, kind of scary and definitely bad ass. As for what I’ll do with it… It’s quite full of dreams, plans and goals.
Welcome to the rest of my life, you are more than welcome to bring your Big Girl or Big Boy Panties (can’t find them? I’ll help you ) and join me. It should continue to be an amazing adventure, complete with beautiful disasters. I promise to buckle in, breathe, and enjoy the ride while doing my best to consciously ,fearlessly be myself.
When I was a baby, my Mom died. She didn’t make it to the age of 41 and she didn’t make it a year as my Mother. She left behind my Father, my exactly 15.5 years older than me brother and me. I’ve written the story of how she chose to take some experimetnal drugs while carrying me and fighting breast cancer, how I was expected to be born an absolute vegetative mess, how I was considered the miracle baby in my family. I was given my paternal grandmother’s name for my first name and my mother middle name (and the name she went by) as my middle name. I grew up hearing story after story of how strong personality wise my grandmother was. But I didn’t really get to hear all that much about my Mother.
I don’t know all that much about my Mom as a person. She, MiniMe and I share a middle name. I know facts about her family life and history, a little bit about the things she loved to do. I have some of her things. But no matter how many times I’d try to discuss her with my Dad, it must of been too painful or contain too much emotion because I never got very far. I felt my whole childhood like I was some kind of emotionally driven stranger in a house full of people who didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t express or feel or talk about things. I often felt shut down and frustrated. I’d get little bit of information about her, but she was my Mother and I hated my Step Mother and I was always desperate for more. I never went to her grave until I called a family freind and begged him to tell me where she was buried so I could go see it. I was a young adult. I wanted to have some connection, some way to put my finger on something and say this was her, this is you, you are in fact bound together even in absence. It wasn’t until I was graduating from college and my my Mom’s one living sister came and declared that I was “just” like my Mother that I started to feel like there was a connection between us beyond my name and the fact I’d been made to take piano lessons for years because she was a great pianist and piano teacher. I was put in piano lessons about age 6 because she was a well respected local Piano teacher when she was living. There was a huge 8.5′ concert grand piano in my house growing up, and later in my first house. It was hers. My piano teacher, Afffie had known my Mom and taught with her in the state Piano Teachers Association. My Mom had at one time been the president. A typical kid, I didn’t enjoy the practicing as much as I could of, but I played until I was in High School and won the recital contest at the High School level ( I always wondered if I was given preferential treatment at those because they were run and judged by ladies and men who knew “who I was”. High School was the highest division, if you won a division you had to compete the next year in the division above yours, and at the time I was a freshman. There was no division above mine and I was a teenager who was done with lessons and practice so I quit. I haven’t really played since and i can’t read music anymore either. I sold the grand old piano when MiniMe was a toddler because it ate up an entire room in my home and even though it was a great statement piece and a perfect place to keep the wrapped Christmas presents, I couldn’t justify an entire room housing a relic I never used and was unlikely to revisit. The piano was probably metaphorically as big as the hole in my heart for her absence, but it was time to move on, as an adult and a mother, from hanging on to impractical things just for the sake of sentimentality. But I have always yearned for her, always missed her presence in my life and always wished she could of lived and been thre to Mother me. In my mind, anything would of been better than what I had.
Once I got pregnant with MiniMe I felt another connection to her. I was 31 when MiniMe was born and I started paying very very close attention to what I was sharing with my baby in those first six months while simultaneously trying not to lose my shit over “was I going to somehow die in her first 6 months and abandon her”. I wrote monthly email updates to all of our family and friends about how she and we were progressing. As we neared the 6 month mark I started to get specific. I am a details girl, in case you haven’t already figured that out, and I wanted to know exactly how old I was when she died. I wanted to mark and take note of the day. So I did the math and the result brought me to massive tears. Here is the excerpt from that month’s writing.
As I was walking in the RFTC with my long list of “In Memory Of” names on my back, I began to reflect on being a Mother to my Daughter for the last 6 months. My Mother died when I was six months old. And prior to having MiniMe I used to think what an incredibly short amount of time that was. I also wondered exactly when in my life she died. I checked and I was exactly 6 months and 10 days old when my mother died. Now that I am on the other side of the equation I can tell you that 6 months and 10 days is really quite a long time. I know how much my daughter loves me right now. I know my Mother must have felt the same love coming from me. So even though I can’t remember what it felt like to be held or snuggled or kissed by her, I am certain we shared the same special moments that MiniMeand I share now. I feel blessed to be alive and able to mother my child for much longer. I will be celebrating this special event with my Daughter on Mothers Day, when Haley will be exactly 6 months and 10 days old.
MiniMe was a c-section baby. Her delivery date was chosen because I was carrying about 3 weeks bigger than I should of been and they were afraid she wasn’t going to make it out. I went in for an appointment on my due date with zero dilation and zero effacing. I think we should go ahead and take her they told me. Do you want to do it tonight or Monday? I chose later that night and gave up one last date night and a nice dinner we had reservations for. I often felt like that was a stupid move in those first few months of her life. I wished for that one last dinner with The Husband. As her Mother I was sacred, lost, often angry and frustrated on the inside. I sat nursing her night after night wondering what it was like for my Mom. Holding a baby she knows she isn’t going to see grow up. Wondering why she never bothered to write me even one single letter or note or anything else that might help me know she loved me.
And then to have my first Mother’s Day land exactly on the mark in time when I was losing my Mom as a baby. It felt like the letter I’d been searching for my whole life.
On next Tuesday October 18, 2011 I will be standing on the mark in time of my Mom’s exact age at death. She lived 40 years, 7 months and 14 days. More to come about that on Tuesday.