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Losing my mom at 13 years old made me the woman I am today

Skye Kalkstein


I got home from camp three weeks later, both excited and anxious to see Mom. When I opened the front door to my house, I was surprised to see that my grandma was staying with us. Another Rose was added to the mix.

Grandma led me into my parent’s bedroom to see Mom — she didn’t look like the same person.

Her face had completely sunken in; her skin clung to her skull. She was wearing blue sapphire dangling earrings and a full face of makeup. She tried to look her best for me, to ease my trauma.

“Hi Baby,” she said, her voice cracking, signaling tears were on the way.

“Hi Mommy,” I said and gave her a hug, there was barely anything for me to grab on to. The rolls in her fingernails were the only part of her body that was untainted by the cancer. She was still a Rose, cancer or not.

After just a moment, I had to flee the room. I ran to my basement, the farthest place in my house from my parent’s bedroom upstairs. I didn’t want anyone to hear me crying.

Nevertheless, my grandma followed me down there and I sobbed in her arms. I no longer believed in miracles. I had lost all hope. After I had come to grips with the fact that my mom was actually going to die, I wanted to spend every moment I could with her.

The eve of her passing, Aug. 24, 2001, I lay next to her until my dad told me it was time for me to leave, which really meant she was on the verge of crossing over.

The love in the room that night was immeasurable. It was a love I felt through my entire body, a love that has carried me through the darkest hours following her passing. When I said goodbye to Mom, I promised her I’d write about us one day. She nodded, using whatever strength she had left to let me know she approved.

Writing had always been our shared passion.

I got up from their bed, and began to walk toward the door, but I looked back. And using one of her very last breaths, my mom squeezed out three words of the utmost significance.

“I love you”

I turned back toward the door and walked out. Closing that door was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I spent the rest of the night sobbing in my bed, only to be comforted by my grandmother, but I was simply inconsolable.

I finally drifted off to sleep, exhausted from crying. Later that night, the abrupt buzz of the massage pad I’d been using and had plugged in next to my bedside woke me. I once heard that the dead could use electronics to communicate their presence — I wasn’t alone. It was her; she was letting me know she was still there, that she’d always be there.

She was pronounced dead in the early morning hours of Aug. 25, 2001.


During the fall of 2004, when I was a senior in high school, I was just far enough removed from my sadness to clearly reflect upon how much I had changed, on how much my entire life had changed.

For about one year following her passing, I remained so incredibly sad. Nevertheless, my life went on, and I slowly arose from my emotional black hole. It wasn’t until recently that I realized why my brother internalized his emotions. I think it was his attempt of being the strong one, because Dad and me were so clearly grief stricken.

I suppose he thought it was what he was supposed to do, that it was somehow his duty. I was nervous he was ignoring his feelings, but one day during the fall of 2004, while I was doing my sisterly snooping, I found lyrics he had written in his desk drawer — we dealt in different ways.

I remember family and friends coming to see Dad, Robb and me the day after her passing to comfort us.

I sobbed to my aunt Amy. “What am I going to do? How am I going live?” I tried to say through a stream of salt water and mucus.

The only thing that could make me smile during the days following my mom’s death was the movie Saving Silverman. Something about the combination of Jason Biggs’ awkwardness and Jack Black’s complete ridiculousness quieted the voices in my head and lulled my sadness.

After the initial days of hopelessness, I realized that I was going to have to learn to take care of myself and my family. While Robb may have thought it was his duty to be the strong one, I knew it was my duty to become the caretaker of the house.

The death of one Rose, caused another to grow faster.

I started to do whatever I could to make the lives of the people I loved easier in any way that I could, the same way my mother did. Even though Robb complained I served him the same turkey sandwich for the entirety of his high school career, I kept on making those sandwiches because I somehow knew he appreciated it.

I no longer let small things upset me. Other girls my age might have stressed when a friend failed to return a phone call; I began to shrug those things off — I’d rather save my energy for more important things.

When faced with other emotionally trying situations, I dealt with them. I let myself feel every emotion, which continues to help me expel any anger and sadness. I just think — nothing can get much worse than what I went through, and if I survived that, nothing can break me.

I lost the most influential and important person in my life at the age of 13, and I overcame that. I didn’t let my loss define me, I grew from it and defined myself.

The days when I miss her most, I feel the rolls in my thumbs’ fingernails and remember who I am, what I’ve been through and where I come from.

I am a Rose, and even though I was forced to grow up faster than the Roses before me, this Rose has yet to bloom.

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