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Orphan

I recently became an orphan for the second time in my life.

My mom passed away nearly two months ago, my father in 2014, and my first set of parents were lost to me for reasons I have no memory of. Compared to most my age, they are gone far too early.

It’s strange to lose that thread; that intimate connection to your early life. Even though I didn’t come to them until I was about three, they were all I’d ever known.

While I should’ve anticipated the losses, they were unexpected. I learned a long time ago to always brace for the unknown, but I had forgotten, lulled by a false sense of security that she was never going to die. And when she did, I wasn’t ready.

(But seriously, how can you ever be truly ready to lose someone you love? No matter how plagued with health issues or illness, can you ever come to terms with letting go? I don’t think so.)

So I’ve had the unsavory task of going through her house and belongings. Deciding what to keep and what to give away, what to sell, what to discard has left me feeling dirty. Even though there’s no other choice it feels invasive and wrong to go through every space of someone else’s entire life.

Although I didn’t find anything earth-shattering or life-changing, I did find a lot of photos of people I didn’t recognize and knick-knacks I didn’t know the story behind. I found stripes to my dad’s navy uniform and their wedding rings that had gone unworn for many years (I’m wearing them now) and other small treasures long-forgotten, but remembered from my childhood.

I was shocked to find so many of her precious memories haphazardly left behind in tattered old cardboard boxes without any rhyme or reason. There were faded, worn, photo albums but many pictures lay In boxes without labels, tags, left unloved and untouched for many years.

As much as I would like to say that I was surprised, that was who she was. Preserving memories and protecting the past was not in her DNA. It was one of the things that frustrated me about her the most. As much as I loved her, our relationship was complicated and often messy. The cardboard boxes full of haphazard memories upset me more than I expected.

I realize that relationships between mothers and daughters are often sloppy and complicated. Especially in recent years, we often struggled to find a common ground and our stubbornness often got in the way.

So as most writers do, I put our relationship on paper. I write about that strange relationship between mothers and daughters because that’s all I’ve ever known. There have been many good memories, as well as many sad ones. The bad ones inspire stories and in those stories I’ve been able to exorcise Demons and quiet nightmares. Like me, my characters face mothers who didn’t always preserve and protect their past.

I never realized it until I became a mother, a fierce protector of my own children, that I needed to purge the anger and resentment that I had toward the mother who buried her previous memories in damp, unkept cardboard boxes.

Complicated and messay.

But I did love her very much and always will, the good memories, also weaving their way through my stories. Her memory always with me. As much as I’ve learned about what not to do, there were things she was great at that I need to do better. She taught me that none of us are perfect.

So, I will continue to sift through her belongings, sort though pictures of people I don’t recognize and blindly give away things that may or may not have been important to her. And as I do so, the only thing I will hold onto is the knowledge that no matter what, she loved me.

And no matter what, perfect or imperfect, I still loved her.

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Seven Weeks

It’s been seven weeks since I last saw you.

Seven weeks since they told me there was no hope and you would be gone and I didn’t believe it.

It just didn’t seem possible.

It couldn’t be real.

But it was.

And before I was ready, you were gone.

It’s been seven weeks since I held your hand and listened to your last breaths. You couldn’t even open your eyes and see me. You couldn’t talk, you could barely breathe, and I don’t even know if you knew I was there.

But I was.

We were all there. The ones you loved the most who loved you in return.

Waiting.

Holding our breath.

Crying.

Hoping.

Wishing there could be a miracle … but there wasn’t. Not this time. The miracles had already been spent and you were living on borrowed time until suddenly you weren’t.

You were supposed to live until you were one hundred. You were stubborn and resilient and you’d been through so much worse.

This wasn’t the time. Not this time.

But then it was.

The last time I talked to you, you apologized for being a pain in the butt and I told you that you weren’t. I told you I loved you and you did the same and I thought the next time I would see you again, I would be driving you home.

But you’d never go home again. You’d never see your house, or pet your dog, or sit in your chair, or put your puzzles together.

It was over without warning.

I never got to say goodbye. I didn’t get to look at you and tell you how much you meant to me. I hadn’t done that in so long. Our relationship had gotten messy over the years as mothers and daughters often do. But I still loved you because you were the only mother I ever knew, and you saved me.

I remembered the time years before when I cried because I didn’t know what I would do without you. Then I hardened my heart because I thought I would have to.

Then you asked for so much more than I could give and I grew tired, and angry and finally, sad. But there was always love.

It’s been seven weeks and it hasn’t been the same without you and I know that it never will be again.

But you’ll always live in that space in my heart where only a mother belongs, because that’s where there is always love.