Longing for Memories
How do you miss someone you’ve never met? These are lyrics to a song by Alexander 23. To be frank, I’ve never been a fan of it. I always thought the lyrics were cheesy. It wasn’t until I was laying in bed one night, unable to fall asleep, that this lyric started lingering in my mind. The song is about longing for someone or something indescribable. Now, it’s important to understand that I am an extremely rational person. I like to make sure that I fully understand and can rationalize my emotions. So as I mulled over the lyric, I made the decision that I couldn’t miss someone that I hadn’t met so I couldn’t miss my mother.
I have exactly two memories of my mom that are purely mine: the time when I woke up early from a nap and she sent me back to bed and her return home from the hospital when she gave me a pink blanket with monkeys on it. My mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer in 2010. She had to undergo intensive chemotherapy that took all of her hair and left her small body even smaller. She passed away in 2011, 13 days before my 5th birthday.
I have a very vague recollection of the time directly before and after her death. I remember my dad spending more and more time at work, either to make up for monetary losses or to have something to immerse himself in. I remember my grandmother moving in to help my dad take care of us. I remember family friends reaching out with phone calls and flowers. I don’t remember her. I remember meeting with a guidance counselor in kindergarten who would let me play games and eat lollipops. I remember spending time at home and biking in the driveway. I remember eating cool ranch Doritos in a hospital, but I don’t remember her. All my knowledge of her has been told to me by someone else. Every memory I have of her has been supplemented by photos. I don’t remember her luxurious fashion sense. I don’t remember her inability to follow the speed limit. I don’t remember her love for science. I don’t remember her ability to make people laugh. I don’t remember her stubbornness. I don’t remember her smile.
Now that I have lived without my mother far longer than I lived with her, I can say that I don’t miss her. Not because I don’t love her or didn’t love her, but because I don’t have enough to miss. I can’t miss her jokes, her hugs, or her love for me because I just don’t remember them. In middle school I would whenever I saw people with their mothers because I understood that I would never have that experience. I would never get to participate in mother-daughter events without feeling like an imposter. I would never be able to receive motherly advice. I would never get to go get my nails painted with my mom. Eventually, however, I began to realize that I didn’t long for my mother, but rather, I longed for a mother.
Over the years, I have tried to reason whether this is for better or worse. On one hand, I have almost no recollection of the woman who loved me, birthed me, and held me dear and I will have to deal with that for the rest of my life. Yet on the other hand, I was left with less to deal with when she died. Although this sounds depressing, I have seen what happened to those who did know her and have memories of her. It’s been almost 11 years and they still become sullen when they think of her. They still struggle to say her name. Their eyes still become dark whenever cancer is brought up.
Cancer isn’t fair. Not only for the people who are diagnosed, but for the people that it leaves behind. They are left to wrestle with the loss of someone they held dear and naturally everyone will wrestle with it differently. My father barely mentioned her and has only recently started talking about her again. My aunt still gets emotional when she sees me because she sees our similarities. Other family friends speak about her with joy as they reminisce happily on a woman who had profound impacts on their lives.
I dealt with it by trying to reason with my emotions. I felt extremely guilty about being seemingly unaffected. I wanted to understand why I felt this way and realized that it was because I felt as though I didn’t have anything to affect me. I still feel somewhat guilty for feeling this way. It’s like I’m not doing her justice or being respectful to those who were affected much more than I was. I continue to understand that no two people will react to a diagnosis or the loss of a cancer patient in the same way. I have reached a place where I have come to terms with the way I feel but have also accepted that it’s ok to recognize the effects that it had on me. When I was younger, I chose to believe that I was in no way hurt by the loss of my mother but as I grow older, no matter how hard I try to be unaffected, my eyes will still water when I think about what could’ve been.