It's a weird thing to miss a loved one for nearly thirty years.
But that's what happens when they die young.
Sadly, too many people die younger than age 56, but nonetheless, 56 is young to leave this world.
And as I've reached a handful of years away from that number myself, I realize how extremely young it is.
My mom died 29 years ago, on July 31, 1987. She was 3 weeks shy of 57.
Every year since then, July 31 causes me to take stock of my life, and of life itself.
Every year, it causes me to further appreciate my mom, her life, her legacy, her death, and how she dealt with all of it.
Every year, it causes me to re-evaluate where our relationship is, because relationships don't die with the individual. It took me many years to understand that, but I now find it comforting.
We went through a lot together when she was on planet earth, and we've gone through a lot since that time.
I hear her voice and thoughts in my head and heart often.
I'm not the same person I was when she left this world, But then, neither is she.
I was finishing up college when she died. Her last year of life was painful, tumultuous, terrifying, and a gift - for her and the rest of us.
She was diagnosed with colon cancer the previous summer. It was a shock. She'd always been healthy and well. She exercised. She ate relatively healthfully, based on the knowledge of what food was healthy and available at the time.
It was a different culture and world then than what we live in now, in so many ways. It was a time when the word 'colon' was still whispered, as 'breast cancer' had still been whispered the previous decade.
The doctors didn't tell her, but they gave her six months to live. She survived for a year.
It was a testament to her hope and attitude, strength and determination.
She endured surgery, recovery, chemo and radiation. It wasn't until her last month that she knew she wasn't going to be one of the fortunate ones to beat the odds.
She still fought, even as she lost her grasp on life.
At the end, I could have picked up her tiny frame. She was 5'6". I was 4'6". It was humbling for us both.
Still, she had such a dignity about her, even at the end.
Through all of the craziness of that last year, all of the question marks and roller coasters, physically and emotionally, she taught us about grace, about determination, and about acceptance.
When she was first diagnosed, her immediate concern wasn't for herself. It was for me.
She had been my caregiver all my life. I was her youngest, and I was handicapped.. I'd lived with the ramifications of severe rheumatoid arthritis since age seven.
She was my everything, and got me through life and all of its challenges as a handicapped child and young adult.
She physically cared for and provided for me. She fought for me against the rest of the world, including insurance companies and schools and their policies and stupidity. She was my best friend and ally. As an overly protective mother, she was my nemesis. She didn't want me to grow up because she didn't want me to endure more pain and challenges. So she kept me as young and dependent as she could, for as long as she could.
We waged ongoing wars over my need to grow up and gain independence, and her reluctance to let that happen.
Just as I was finally getting the chance to mentally and socially catch up to my age and my peers in college, she was diagnosed.
She had surgery to determine the initial extent of her cancer, Afterward, in her hospital bed, when the doctor gave her the discouraging news of what they found, she shed a few tears. Then softly said, "What will happen to Kris?"
A mother's love covers her children's concerns far more than her own.
I like to think she'd be proud of what I've accomplished. Of how independent I am. Of how strong she helped me become.
I went from being dependent on her for nearly all life skills, even in college, to becoming her caregiver, and then my own, during her last year.
It wasn't an easy switching of roles for either of us.
Being the last child at home, much of her care was on me. Dad helped, too, of course. He wasn't home as much. And care giving wasn't what his generation of men was raised to do. But he did the best he could, as we all did.
During the course of that long year, Mom told a friend how proud she was of both Dad and I, and how we were taking such good care of her; words that didn't come easily for her to say to us directly. I was grateful that this friend shared Mom's words with me after Mom was gone.
It meant the world to me then, and still does.
We never outgrow the need for parental approval.
Looking back, I would care for her much differently now than I did then. I recognize how much more I could have done to offer help, and to make her more comfortable, and to buoy her spirits But she gave grace and overlooked all that wasn't done for her.
It's humbling. But I have to remind myself that I wasn't much more than a kid, and still really was a kid in so many ways.
We can only do what we're equipped to do at any given point in time. Life adds skills, knowledge and experience as we go, whether we like it or not.
I imagine her visiting me as an adult. She'd be an old woman now. I'd possibly be taking care of her again. But we'd have terrific adult conversations, ones I wasn't equipped to have when she was still of this earth.
That's what I miss the most. The conversations that never were, never could have been, and never can be.
But I know her spirit is still with me. I sense her presence and her peace. And I know one day that 30+ years will have been nothing, and we'll meet again and continue conversations we never had a chance to start.
I miss you, Mom. Thank you for holding on, and for letting go.
About Kris Harty: Kris Harty is founder and CEO of shortCHICK, llc, She brings perspective and wisdom to the table, and helps smart people like you move from overwhelm and obstacles, to over it and moving on, in life and work, Step by Step. She's a speaker, author, podcaster, and creative, giving voice to hope, joy, encouragement, and wisdom.
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