“Oh, I’m sorry!” is how every person responds after I tell him or her that my mom passed away when I was younger. I am a physical therapist, so this phrase often occurs around Mother’s Day when I am making small talk with my patients and someone asks what I am doing for my mom for Mother’s Day. My response to their apology is usually something like “It’s okay.” But is it really okay? I definitely don’t feel okay with the fact that I have lived for more than half of my life without my mom. I don’t feel okay with the fact that happy, joyous occasions like Mother’s Day, Christmas, and birthdays unfortunately for me now come with a sense of emptiness and sadness. My mom passed away from breast cancer in 2003 two weeks before my 13th birthday, and she is no longer here to share those special occasions with me. It’s not just the big days when I miss her presence. I miss the everyday normalcies, the daily interactions. Growing up, I missed having her at my softball games. I missed seeing a handwritten note in my lunch wishing me good luck on a test. I missed her going prom dress shopping with me. Now as a young adult, I still feel her absence daily. She is not able to hug me after a tough week, congratulate me after an achievement, or send me a “good morning – have a great day” text.
Not only do I miss having her in my life as a mother, but I also am saddened by not having the opportunity for our mother-daughter relationship to morph into a friendship. As a 28-year-old female, I watch so many of my friends and peers develop amazing friendships with their moms and I almost feel envious watching them have what I never had the chance to create. Weddings, babies, growing up – they all do these things with their moms by their side and I don’t have that, and sadly will never have that. However, I am blessed with friends who have turned into family, whose moms have loved and hugged me like their own daughter. I am blessed with a loving boyfriend whose mom I adore and whose selflessness, thoughtfulness, and generosity reminds me so much of my own mom. I am also blessed with a dad who worked so hard all my life to wear both hats – mom and dad – and did a damn good job at it.
Mother’s day is usually a day when social media can cause me to experience a roller coaster of emotions – sadness, anger, and jealousy, but also appreciation for the strong women in my life who I admire. I have learned to accept that it is normal to experience a range of emotions when I reflect on the loss of my mom and her physical absence in my life. It took me years to achieve this mentality. Right after my mom passed away, I struggled with how to deal with my grief. I would post cryptic away messages on AOL instant messenger filled with emo song lyrics and hope someone would message me and ask me if I was okay. Well, I definitely wasn’t okay… and how I was handling my grief by indirectly begging for someone to reach out to me wasn’t okay either. Family Lives On gave me an outlet to handle my grief in a healthy way. The kind-hearted and patient volunteers offered the opportunity to talk about my mom and things we enjoyed doing together. Their bereavement education materials provided an opportunity to not only talk about my experience losing a parent, but also help others in the same life-changing situation. The traditions program allowed my dad, sister, and me to continue my tradition of seeing the Nutcracker Ballet each year as a way to honor my mom’s legacy.
Since I graduated from the program at age 18, I have continued my Nutcracker tradition to some extent at Christmastime each year. Sometimes it is going to see the ballet (my boyfriend even surprised my dad, sister, and me with tickets last year – he definitely inherited his mom’s thoughtfulness), and sometimes it is just listening to the soundtrack and setting up my collection of nutcrackers on my living room windowsill. I enjoy reminiscing about how I acquired each one, and am reminded about the many years my mom took me to see the show. We would always go out to lunch and she would let me pick out a Nutcracker souvenir, which is how I ended up with such a vast collection.
I truly believe in the power of traditions, which is why I have continued my involvement with Family Lives On as a member of the Board of Directors. I bring a unique perspective to the board since I lost a parent and was a beneficiary of the organization growing up. I serve as an advocate for the organization and am working to expand FLO’s mission and resources to New York, as part of the FLO New York Advisory Board. I enjoy staying involved in such a wonderful organization whose powerful mission is so close to my heart. Losing my mom will never be okay. Growing up without a mom is not okay. But thanks to continuing traditions, grieving in a healthy way, and living life surrounded by family and close friends, I will be okay.
– Alexis DiClemente