I have a ritual I do in November, no fail. Since I am mathematically challenged (and directionally challenged, but more on that later), I close out of social media sites, emails, and texts to focus on my calculator. I know when I solve this particular problem, I will stare at my screen in disbelief for a while.
I hurriedly type the equation—in this case, it’s 365 x 8–eager to know the answer, but then I stop myself, almost like I would before impulsively devouring another slice of pizza. Do I really need to do this? Why am I doing this? Anxiously, I resist the urge to round up and calculate quickly. Instead, I contemplate, with the proverbial Jeopardy music regurgitating in my head, but, inevitably, I bite. I need to know the final answer.
It’s 2,920, by the way…as in days I have lived without my mom.
During those days I have managed to go on without her impeccable and irreplicable brand of glorious love and unfiltered understanding, I have fallen, hard. I have failed, beyond miserably. I have made countless mistakes, relentlessly suffering from her cruel departure, from the silence I hear when I desperately need her guidance.
Of course, I expected this…the uncertainty of my footing after the seismic shift in my life, as she was always the one to steady me, to give me courage to take the next step, to convince me that I would eventually hit my stride. But I could never anticipate this feeling of going through the emotional inventory of the past 8 years, realizing what I have endured without her physical presence.
I have moved three times, once driving myself 1,357 miles, boy and dog in tow, to a place I didn’t know a soul.
I have loved my kids through the gut-wrenching death of their beloved dad.
I have experienced the true heartbreak of another failed relationship.
I have fulfilled my mother’s dream of becoming a children’s book author with the publication of two multi-award-winning books, Goodnight Star, Whoever You Are and When You Lived in My Belly.
I have experienced the absolute high of shifting perspectives and transforming lives by writing about grief, heartbreak, and parenting for various publications–including Scary Mommy!– in my authentic voice.
I have supported my family by working tirelessly, showing them that there are payoffs for being a dreamer.
I have laced my son up for every hockey game; attended my bonus daughter’s virtual graduation for her Master’s degree; adopted the most loving and loyal dog who was once a single teen mom living in a dumpster in Memphis; taken spontaneous road trips; logged thousands of miles on a book tour; and dabbled in the art of self-mockery to make my kids laugh when they needed it (and sometimes when they didn’t).
I have cried in the shower and still managed to get dressed, never forgetting the power of a good lipstick.
I have made holiday meals using my mom’s cherished recipes, remembering the techniques I absorbed working alongside her for decades in the kitchen.
I have been there for my friends, delivering random cards or gifts as pick-me-ups, listening to them until they felt heard, always showing up when plans were made.
I have survived the turmoil of an ongoing pandemic, doing everything in my power to keep my loved ones safe (and schooled).
I have smiled—without a filter—during times of internal conflict with her “don’t worry about something until there’s something to worry about” mantra ringing in my head.
I have belted out ‘80s classics at stoplights, completely off key, with wild abandon.
I have waited alone for the mammography, transvaginal ultrasound, and uterine and endometrial biopsy results, mostly required due to her #OvarianCancer diagnosis at age 52, steeling myself for the worst, but always hoping for the best.
Just like she taught me.
For the first time since I started my bizarre mathematical ritual, I realize I am simply not as alone as I always thought I was watching most of my friends enjoy life with their moms all these years.
Bruised and bloodied, there’s no doubt I have my footing. I am still standing. And it’s only because my mom continues to show me how.