My Story

I entered an essay contest during my last year of high school which required the student to write about a rite of passage in their life in a thousand words or less. My first draft was over 1600 words, but with the help of my gracious English teacher, Ms. Duckett, I was able to get it down to 999. My hard work paid off because I heard in a few months that I was a finalist. We went to the awards ceremony and I came in fourth place out of over 800 entrants across Ontario, Canada. I have a very low self-esteem, but it was the first time in my life I was actually proud of myself. It combined my greatest two loves in the world: writing and my mother.

In time, I will post an "updated" version of my own story because there is much more to be said than a mere thousand words about her death.

The One Missing Element:
How I Grew Up Without Her

    My memory box is a small, seven by seven inch silver tin that my grandmother brought home from Scotland one year and gave to me. Every time I open the box the same familiar smell haunts my nostrils and weakens my tear glands; it is a musty but pretty odour so compelling and consuming. Inside lie a few of my motherís crocheted doilies, old credit cards, gold hoop earrings, and modelling pictures taken by my father. Nestled between a quilt patch lies the single picture of her and my father together and a gum wrapper I found hiding inside one of her purses. There are also endless pieces of paper with my scribbled thoughts, poetry and prose about her. I take the memory box out carefully from my shelf whenever I feel I need to be reminded of what I do have left of her.

    My mother died on November 14, 1986, just a month after her twenty-ninth birthday. That day, my father found my mother in the bedroom, lying peacefully, her eyes closed. I didnít understand, being two years old, that it would be the last time I would see my mother. Her death has been a constant burden on my life, even more so now because I am seventeen years old and beginning to realize what I have lost and what my life will be like without her. As a child, I convinced myself that I knew ďMommy had just gone away for a while and would be back soon.Ē I sometimes pity myself for being so young and unable to remember the way her smile lit up an entire room, the way she held me and looked at me adoringly, the way she smelled or laughed. As a preteen I found myself wondering what it would be like to have girl talks, go shopping, and receive advice on boys. Now, I am missing her more than ever and sometimes the pain takes over my entire being and drowns me in sorrow. Hearing other girls talk about their wonderful mothers makes me uncomfortable; these times I long for my motherís companionship most. My motherís death has been like a rite of passage, teaching me the true meaning of loss, courage, and independence.

    My motherís death has taught me the genuine meaning of loss and coping. Loss is inevitable in life, but the death of my mother really taught me that sometimes even the most important elements in oneís life can be taken away; they can be taken away so unexpectedly and far too soon. Loss forces a person to go through a process: avoidance, grieving and longing, looking in from the outside, adjustment and acceptance, experience and insight, and finally post-healing. Recently I have been thinking not only about my own loss in childhood and early womanhood but also my motherís loss of motherhood and womanhood: my mother was only twenty-nine years old and only two years into motherhood. Loss is one of lifeís most powerful elements, and although it is inevitable, it is something I am told can be worked through as a process.

    I was forced to gain courage after my mother died. I was about six years old when I began to understand what death was and that my mother was never coming back. I began to isolate myself from my peers because I felt lost and insecure. I rarely socialized with other children, but I soon learned that I could not continue this behaviour, and I had to learn what courage was the hard way. I had to learn to deal with nightmares about my mother, terrifying visions, and an overall discomfort with death. Accepting her death was the hardest thing I ever had to do: ďMy mother is dead, she is never coming back, and I have to be strong and continue on with my life.Ē I have also learned courage through my writing; I have been writing since I was six years old, and scrawling down thoughts or poetry about her has helped immensely.

    In addition to loss and courage, my motherís death has also taught me about independence. I like to think of independence as a stage that occurs after courage: After I got back on my feet, I realized I had to look out for myself, not drown myself in self-pity and find other outlets to fulfil, not replace, a mother-daughter relationship. I am very thankful for the somehow-learned ability to observe, analyse and apply. I read article after book about being a girl, dealing with my body, sexuality and emotions, and I set aside my pride to go to Zellers to buy my first bra. I wished so desperately that my mother was there to take me shopping and have long talks, and now I wish she could attend my graduation and perhaps wedding. However, my three aunts have helped me along the way, guiding me as much as they could, and my grandmother taught me how to cook and sew. I have been able to prove to myself that death is no doubt emotionally consuming, but time will heal and things do get easier. Although I have gained some of the knowledge I know she would have passed on to me, I still like to think she secretly guides me.

    This rite of passage in my life helped teach me the significance of loss, courage, and independence, but it has also helped shape who I am today and given me a different perspective on life. It is a painful process, yes, but there are stages. No one ever ďgets overĒ death but rather tries to make it more bearable to live with; it is oneís own choice to process death religiously, spiritually, ritualistically, or through a network of support systems. Sometimes my motherís death comes to haunt me like a silent ghost up in a musty attic, but most of the time I sift through my memory box and hope she is happy wherever she is now.

©2001-2004 A.E. Cox

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