There is an image of a woman who has been so deeply etched into my being, she can be found in my own features and mannerisms. She is the root of my essence and has shaped the core of who I am. She is so much a part of me that despite not setting eyes on her for three years, I can see her in everything.
She is my mother.
Last Wednesday marked three years since she passed away. This post has been started, edited, deleted and re-started so. many. times. Despite having so much to say about the woman who molded me into the person I am, I couldn’t make it past three sentences. Three years later I am still overcome by thoughts of her and struggling to find the words. Loss is a strange thing.
A little bit of background
There have been a few times on this blog when I’ve mentioned experiencing a particularly tough year. Now, there were lots of things at play that year; I was working all the time, planning a wedding and fought an election, but the core hardship of that year began in June 2013 when my mother received news that would permanently change all of our lives – she had glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. It was a particularly cruel twist of fate, as her mind was one of her most treasured possessions. In the year that followed we experienced the whole gamut of dealing with cancer: brain surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, doctors appointments, hospitalizations and countless medications to help with seizures and brain swelling.
But, what truly made it so difficult was watching the brilliant, vibrant woman we all loved so fiercely, slowly slip away from us in every way. It was, and still is, completely heartbreaking. The hardest moment of my life came on an all too sunny afternoon, sitting alone in her hospice room while she slept, existing somewhere between life and death. We knew the end was near, but she was still firmly holding on. With birds outside of her window celebrating the perfect summer day, and knowing she would endlessly try to fight for us, I gave her permission to let go. The following week, I accidentally turned off my phone one night (something I hadn’t done in months) and slept through the night for the first time in weeks. That was the night she finally let go – just nine days before my birthday.
But there were also moments of beauty in that year: when we realized my mother wouldn’t be able to physically make it to our wedding, we got married in the living room of my childhood home so she could participate. We celebrated her last mother’s day on an idyllic Sunday, FaceTiming with my sister who was celebrating her first mother’s day. And I will never forget the incredible social worker who brought a piece of sod to lay at the end of my mother’s bed after she cried about never being able to feel the grass beneath her feet again.
While it’s inevitable for the hardships of that last year to come flooding back around this anniversary, they do not define my mother’s life. She wrote a truly incredible story in her 52 years, with each new plot developing and shaping a remarkable woman. She was an army brat, a punk rocker (the Ramones and The Clash were required listening in our house), a lover of languages (becoming fully fluent in Spanish), a student (she put herself through college, university and teacher’s college while raising three kids) and a teacher – to name a few.
When I think about her now a very specific picture forms in my mind; it’s one that I think perfectly captures her spirit. After moving out, anytime I came home I was greeted by her shuffling her feet across the floor in excitement, arms spread wide with a smile plastered across her face as she yelled “principessa!”, a nickname that started when I was 10 after a viewing of “La Vita e Bella” (no, we’re not Italian😂). But that’s how she was – enthusiastic and ready to embrace life fully. Nickname aside, this greeting wasn’t just reserved for me or my siblings. She embraced friends, our significant others, family members, and sometimes even strangers with this fierce love and excitement – my mother was truly larger than life.
Her presence has continued over the past three years, sometimes in strange or surprising ways. During our honeymoon, which took place a few short weeks after the funeral, we came across a street vendor along the Seine selling vintage posters – the one prominently on display was from the ’80s promoting a U2 concert, her absolute favourite band. And just a few weeks ago while in Spain I came across a beautiful tower that someone had spray painted “Punk is Alive” on and could almost hear her laughing.
There are moments when my heart still breaks at the loss of one of absolute favourite people in the world – the other day I woke up after dreaming I’d called her and thought, in my weary haze, “man I need to call mum” before I fully woke up. Losing a parent is hard – I will never feel like I had enough time with her. But, as cliche as it may sound, I will always be grateful for years we did have together and the bond we shared. As time moves on I’ve been able to move a little further from the tragedy of all, and celebrate her life with new perspective and fond memories – as an adult, as a woman and as her principessa.