20 Years Ago

“Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven…”

– Eric Clapton –

In the winter of 1998, I sat with my mom and stepsister in a theater in Mesa, AZ to watch Stepmom.

Do you remember that movie?

Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon are the main characters. Julia played the stepmom and Susan played the mom diagnosed with lymphoma, which is discovered to be terminal. 

I personalized this movie. I mean completely. I was a hot mess during the movie, and it continued to affect me for days afterwards.

SPOILER ALERT: In case you haven’t seen the movie, the mom does pass away. No miracles occurred. There wasn’t a happy ending. It was devastating.

“It’s just a movie,” I told myself. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling of complete sorrow.

Just a mere weeks later, my mom and stepdad came home from a follow-up dental appointment. They somberly told me they needed to talk to me.

I couldn’t fathom what would cause such an ominous atmosphere, but of course, I joined them in the living room.

“Honey…I have cancer,” my mom whispered with tears swelling in her eyes.

It took me at least a minute to process what I had heard. In my adolescent mind, I blamed myself for watching that damn movie. It had cursed my mom. It cursed me. That movie put that idea in my head and NOW, it’s coming to fruition. The rationale of a 15-year-old is, um, a bit self-absorbed and ridiculous. Admittedly, it didn’t get any better in the following months.

My mom endured an intense 7 months of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and even splitting from her husband. Who knew a selfish, chauvinist pig doesn’t become less of one when the person he’s supposed to love the most becomes terminally ill?

And yes, I’m being sarcastic. Sarcasm is strong in this one.

Anyway, back to the narrative.

I was a month away from turning 16 when the impossible happened. Well, the impossible in my youthful mind.

SPOILER ALERT: My mom died.

Just like the movie.

No miracles occurred.

No happy ending.

If it isn’t obvious, I was in complete denial leading up to my mother’s death. I guess denial isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Denial could also be related to hope in a way. At least in this context.

My mom was put on Hospice for about a month or so before her passing. In retrospect, I feel kind of silly for having hope. I was young and didn’t understand the concept of Hospice. But I guess it was good to remain positive.

Or was it?

Did it make the inevitable even more heart wrenching?

As you know, memories often fade, but the day the Hospice worker requested our family have a meeting with her, is a day I will never forget.

Still in my delusional state, I wondered why she was asking for the whole family to meet. She didn’t leave me hanging for long. She got right to the point.

 “Cathy isn’t going to make it. She probably has a week left, so cherish this time and say your goodbyes,” she expressed to my family.

The walls came crashing down around me. No. No, this isn’t happening. This only happens in movies. My mom isn’t leaving me. It’s. Not. Happening.

The Hospice worker told us the devastating news on July 4, 1999 and my lovely mother passed away peacefully in the early hours on July 6, 1999.

It’s been 20 years since the worst week of my life. I can hardly wrap my mind around this much time passing. Anyone who has lost someone, knows that you never stop missing them, but grief changes through the years.

Grief is an ever-evolving process. How I feel today is very different from how I felt 20 years ago.

Then, I would randomly cry, because it hurt so badly to have her gone or seeing something that reminded me of her.

Now, I grieve only knowing my mom for such a short time on earth. I’m so scared of forgetting her. I’m scared of losing our memories together. So much time as passed, it feels like a lifetime ago.

There are memories of her that will never fade. Her infectious laugh and beautiful smile are imprinted on my heart. She had lovely laugh lines that I admired. As a child I thought they were beautiful, and I wanted ones just like them. She thought I was silly for admiring them so much, but to me, they were just a part of her beauty.

Nowadays, I only have pings of grief here and there. I miss her, but not like I did when she first passed. In a way, I don’t really know her anymore. It pains me to say that, but it’s true. That’s part of the “fun” of losing her so young.

BUT, my love for her will never fade, like memories do.

20 years have passed quickly and slowly all at the same time.

Until we meet again, mom. I love you.

7 thoughts on “20 Years Ago

  1. Amy says:

    Very sweet and heartfelt. Choked me up. Thank you, melissa for sharing your personal feelings and grief that you went thru. Your mother was the sweetest person I have ever known. I know she is in a heaven, and I know she watches over you and your sweet family.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Susie says:

    This is beautifully written. It breaks my heart for you, and I choked up just reading it. I’ll be thinking about you on the 6th and sending so much love your way. I hope you know how incredibly proud your mom would be of you. 🤗


  3. Sammie Howard says:

    It’s been 51 years since my mother died of cancer. I felt such emotion during your mother’s illness because I loved her and I also loved that she was my cousin. I felt a kinship with you, even though I’m much older than you, because I was 13 when my mother died. I wanted your mother to be able to raise you and to know her grandchildren. Sometimes I yearn for both our moms to have had the special moments in life that they didn’t get to have.

    Your mother was a very wonderful woman. Thank you for writing about her. I hope you know that she would be so proud of you and also of your precious husband and children.


  4. Nicole B. says:

    This really pulled at my heartstrings. And made me more thankful to still have my mom. Better call her and let her know I love her. Thanks for sharing your painful memories with all of us.


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