My mom died 34 years ago today. She was 48. I was 13. This year, I’m 47. It’s my last year to be younger than she was when she died. Those words keep repeating in my head: My last year. My last year.
At my mom’s funeral, everyone commented on how young she had been. I knew that in theory, but I didn’t really understand. Forty-eight is young, but not when you’re 13.
Forty-eight was the end of her life. At 13, I believed that it would be the end of mine as well. I looked like her. She carried me in her body. I carry her genes in mine. It made sense that I would die at the same age as her.
Surviving Teenage Logic
It became an irrational truth in my barely-teenaged mind. And then, as traumas began to pile up, I stopped thinking I would make it to 48. By the time I was 16, I didn’t think I’d live to be 20. Not that I told anyone that. I carried that belief inside and survived each day, giving up on a future, and waiting for it all to end.
Then circumstances changed. My driver’s license came with an unexpected sense of agency. I was tired of surviving and hiding my pain. I looked for ways to escape the people who were hurting me. I began to stand up for myself.
It wasn’t a straight path. It was years of major missteps and self-destruction. All hidden behind a shiny smile and a desire to make others happy. Those years were full of whispers that nothing I did would matter. That I wouldn’t have a long life. That I didn’t deserve a long life. Not after I’d failed my mom. Because my teenage brain was sure I could have saved her life if I’d only done a million little things differently. Not argued with her as much. Cleaned my room more. Called the ambulance when she told me not to.
Making it to 40
By my early 20s, I had two kids of my own and needed to stay alive until they became adults. That was my only real goal. Stay alive for my kids. But as I did, I continued to heal. I’d moved away from the town where I’d been broken and was learning to stand on my own. Until I was 25, there were still some major upsets, but I was making progress. I was realizing that I wouldn’t make it to my 40s carrying around so much pain.
I read books on trauma and psychology. I started therapy. I began to understand my barely controlled PTSD and dig into the underlying trauma that had been compounding for over a decade. And my healing finally began.
By the time I was 30, I was living, not just surviving. By the time I was 40, I had started making plans for a life that would continue past the age of 48.
Crossing the Threshold
Now here I am at 47. It’s my last year of being younger than my mom. Last month, her birthday hit me with a pain I didn’t see coming. She would have been 82. That realization shook me. She never made it past 48, and there’s a good chance that I will. Next year, when her birthday comes around, I’ll be 4 months past my 48th birthday. She only made it 5-and-a-half weeks past hers.
Each year after this one, I will be older than my mom ever lived. Maybe that shouldn’t be such a big deal. It’s sad, but it happens. Most days, I can accept that it is what it is and not be wrapped up in the anger and sadness and myriad emotions that come with grief. But on these anniversaries, the numbers matter. The math gives the pain added context and shape.
I Will Survive
This morning I woke up from chaotic dreams with Golria Gaynor’s I Will Survive playing through my mind. I don’t know how long I will survive. None of us do really. There’s still a chance I won’t live past 48. Or I could live to be 100.
I understand that grief often comes with a side of survivor’s guilt. That’s something I still need to work on, and it will likely keep coming up intensely for the next year or so. In between, I’ll remember my mom with love, embrace my family and friends, and continue to enjoy the life I have.