I sat on the couch opposite my therapist staring at my wringing hands. “Two weeks ago made ten years since my mother died. Next week will make a year since my mother-in-law died. Some days I don’t feel that I’ve fully processed that,” I said. My eyes lifted to find her smiling brightly at me, and she met my confession with the challenge, “Honor their lives through your life.”
Today’s blog will be a little different from what I normally share, but this is what is truly on my heart and what I desire to say. Now more than ever, I strive to only say what I mean.
January 26, 2010 – the day my mother passed away.
February 17, 2019 – the day my mother-in-law passed away.
These two dates have been two of the most significant days of my short life and forever etched in my history because they mark at least two times that it felt as if my world ceased to revolve around the sun and rotate on its axis. On those two days, it seemed as if my heart stopped as well, even if for a moment. It is no secret how much I loved (love) my mother and how adulthood (the brief portion I spent with her) allowed us to become best friends. Before she passed, we reached a point where I felt as if she was one of the only people who truly understood me. Maybe that’s because we were (are) more alike than I realized. Ironically, I walk like her, I now say many of the things she used to say, and if you close your eyes as I speak in church, you may just hear a bit of Christina coming out of my mouth. I’d like to think I have my mother’s empathic heart and inability to hate people – which I’ve found to be a blessing a curse (smirk). Just the same, I believe I inherited her “take no nonsense, I’ll set you straight if I need to” nature that dwelled just beside her nature to be a peace maker/keeper. She was such a wonderful paradox! Losing my mother made me feel like I lost a part of myself… a part that I have been trying to find over the last decade. Interestingly enough, I have indeed found bits and pieces of my mother tucked into the corners of my being. As I have evolved and developed, I have seemingly revealed Christina within Christen. You know how people say clichés like, “Your love one will always live on in your heart”? In my case, I’ve found that to be true though it once sounded farfetched. The discovery that my life is more than just a reflection of my mother’s but in some ways built of the foundation of her essence coupled with the gift of time, I have been able to properly and healthily grieve the loss of my mother.
I can’t say the same for my mother-in-law.
I met Margaret Everett on May 12, 2006. It was my senior prom and my boyfriend’s 18th birthday. My boyfriend – her son – and I had been secretly dating for over a year. It wasn’t a secret to any of our friends at school or our peers at work. I guess it really wasn’t a secret at all, I just didn’t have her blessing for one reason or another. As I exited the After Prom following a full night of dancing, laughing, eating, and taking pictures with her son, the same son that I had shared classes with and had even worked shifts with at Old Navy, I bumped in to Margaret. Despite it being after midnight, she patiently waited for me on a bench near the exit, and my heart began racing at the sight of her. I just knew I’d get a tongue lashing for going to prom with her son behind her back. We had matching outfits, took two sets of prom pictures, and even coordinated our arrivals. He pulled up in his mother’s Chrysler 300 blasting Kanye West Touch the Sky, and I followed behind him in my mother’s Jaguar blasting Common’s Go. We were so cheesy back then, and it makes me smile just thinking about it. Seeing Margaret waiting for me reeled me in from the LaLa Land that I had floated around all night long. She asked me to come sit beside her on the bench, introduced herself as I didn’t know who she was, and then she did something that I never expected. Margaret Everett apologized to and accepted me. And the rest is history…literally. The next week I began coming to her home after school daily to spend time with my boyfriend. To my surprise, more than being cuddled up with him, many days I’d be in the kitchen or watching a TV show or cracking jokes with her too. I developed a love and respect for her that I hadn’t imagined, and the love stood the test of my failed marriage to her son. Even after he passed away some years later, we held a place in each other’s hearts. She never stopped calling me her daughter, and she never made me feel like I didn’t belong. I’d still come over to watch TV with her and eat her good cooking. She’d still text me to “check in” or ask me the name of a song with only four or five of the lyrics. Then our time together dwindled because I was in school. I know it’s no excuse…I’ve beat myself up every way possible. Though our communication never stopped, I wasn’t around as much to pop in or watch TV, and before I knew it, she was gone. One year later, I still struggle with that. I still carry guilt that I wasn’t there like I should have been. I haven’t processed the fact that Meme is gone. Unlike the decade without my mother that has brought acceptance and even peace, these past 368 days since Margaret left have not provided that for me. My heart is still just as broken.
As tears streamed down my face and as I explained the voids that I felt because the only two official mothers I ever had were gone, she asked me a series of questions. “What were your favorite things to do with these women? What would you laugh or talk about? Were there any special places you would go together? What are some things these women are remembered for?” After a few scattered answers, she encouraged me to do some of those things and go some of those places in their honor. Furthermore, she challenged me to honor their lives through mine…to not let them die as long as I live.
With that in mind, I write this:
To the Women I Love,
Thank you. In the both of you, I have found a love that is irreplaceable and unconditional. You have seen me for who I am, and you have chosen to love both the best and worst parts of me. There was never a minute that I felt far from you heart or beyond the scope of your prayers. One of your greatest gifts to me, beyond the direct effects of your care for me, was the blessing of watching how you loved others. Whether through your home cooked meals that seemed to feed small armies, the random gifts that you gave away, the time that you opened your home so people could find safety, the way you lent your ear to anyone who needed to share, or the security that was released when one hugged you, you two were the epitome of God’s love. In honor of the lives that you lived for 52 and 60 years, I seek to continue to love others the way that you loved…the way that God loved.
There will forever be a space in my heart that is reserved especially for you. Though I will shed tears and even wrestle to understand, I can confidently say that best parts of you still live within me. Thank you for being you. I’ll forever love you with my whole heart.
I hope this helps. I love you with my whole heart, and I mean it.