Losing a parent sucks — I wish there were a more eloquent way of saying it, but there's really not. It's tough, it hurts, it stings in an indescribably confusing way.
My mom was diagnosed with aggressive stage three breast cancer at age 30. Her prognosis was poor, but her outlook was positive. I was six years old at the time. I remember her putting my little hand on the palpable lump on her chest on our ride home while she was explaining to me that she was sick. I remember lots of appointments, her losing her pretty, strawberry blonde hair, the wigs, the ball caps and the eventual medical equipment that was moved into our house years after her uphill battle began.
A different childhood, sure, but it was not a bad one, and there's a very good reason for that.
There came a time when my mom realized that she might not make it long enough to see the flowers bloom in the spring. She lived and laughed for years after her diagnosis, with many up and downs in between the bad news and the worst news, but when she was 34 years old, she accepted that celebrating her 35th birthday was a long shot.
My parents were divorced, though they co-parented like a couple of champs and always put my needs first. My mom remarried, but she and my dad continued to share my custody. They both came to all of my ball games, events and parties, and never once did I feel a rift in our slightly dysfunctional family.
Once my mom's cancer had spread into her bones, she and my dad began to make the sort of plans that no one looks forward to — the sort of plans that don't involve vacations or palm trees, but rather wills and last wishes.
Not too long after that, I started living with my dad basically full-time. My stepfamily was great, but they weren't my dad, and my mom was insistent that I was to stay with him. My dad and I were already close, but my mom and I were really close — like, writing-my-crush's-name-down-on-a-Doodle-Bear-and-confiding-in-her-about-my-playground-romance kind of close. She knew that, and she knew I would miss her, so she put her own needs aside for the sake of the future that my dad and I would share together.
Because of her sacrifice, I don't remember a lot of the more difficult aspects of her illness. Instead, I was out playing softball tournaments and fishing with my dad. We were watching 3-D movies and hosting sleepovers and grilling out in our backyard. I still have to ask my family about some of the details of my mom's illness because I honestly don't remember too many of the more painful facets of her last months. Of course, I absolutely wish that I had more memories with her, but I am so, so thankful that I don't recall her suffering.
My mom knew that I needed my dad. She knew that he had a good heart and that he was more than capable of caring for me. I can't imagine being in her position, but having been on the receiving end of the sacrifice that she made, I've got to say that she did the right thing.
It has been 19 years since my mom passed away — she was just weeks away from her 35th birthday, and yes, she did get to see the flowers bloom. Today, my dad and I couldn't be closer. We've had some hardships, sure, but we're still here thankful and appreciative of all that we have — which on paper might not look like much, but the bond that we have is immeasurable.
My dad is my friend, my hero, my rock. He doesn't wear a cape, but he drives a Harley and he listens to me rant. He's given me literally all that he's had to give — even if he didn't have two nickels to rub together, he made sure that I was never without. I can't imagine that being a single dad and raising a teenage daughter was an easy, nor comfortable, feat, but I'm 28 years old now, and I have the utmost respect and appreciation for that man, so he must have done something right.
Our story might not sound like a typical fairy tale, but I can assure you that it most definitely has a happy ending. My mom might not physically be here anymore, but that doesn't mean that she's gone. Her sacrifices have lived on long after her body did, and I still thank her for that every single day.
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